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Using files, basic filing techniques
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Dean W


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 1:15 am    Post subject: Using files, basic filing techniques Reply with quote

Hi all;

This is a quick tutorial on the use of files.  These are just the basics, but by following a few steps they will help in doing good
file work.  It's not like it's a lost art, or something, but it's one of those things that takes a little learning.


First a little bit on files themselves, and other stuff.




Right after that first old metal worker invented the chisel, he probably came up with the file too.  Once he had a file and
chisel, along with a hammer, he probably became the first machinist.  That's the story, anyway.

Above is a shot of a few different kinds of files and a couple other things.






Something that is handy when filing is a piece of chalk.  Some people like a certain type.  The type that is kind of soft
seems to work best for me.  The hard chalkboard kind seems to make a lot more dust and falls out of the file faster.

The chalk is used to "chalk" the file.  By filling all the grooves of the file with chalk, it helps prevent pinning.  
Pinning is the result of the file taking a cut, and is just part of the process with some kinds of metal.  The problem starts when the
little pins get stuck in the teeth of the file.  Then you start having problems with finish, and the file won't cut as well.  
The chalk helps to keep those pins from sticking in the file.  

The best way to deal with pinning is to prevent it.  To chalk the file, run the chalk over the file teeth and let it fill them.
If you don't mind a mess, you can keep oil on the file, and it will also help stop pinning.  I've tried this, and it works, but the file has
to be fairly dripping with oil.  I like chalk better.






This is a file card, or file brush.  It's used to clean stubborn bits from the file teeth.  (If you chalk, you won't have to use this so
often...)  Some materials are simply gummy, and will stick in the file teeth, even with chalk.  The file card will help get it out.

Some folks don't like these.  A few guys have told me that they dull the file.  Honestly, I don't know how you dull something that is
dead hard without something else that is dead hard, and I don't think the bristles on the brush are.  They are just steel bristles.
I use one of these when I think it is necessary.  Some guys are with me on that, some are again' me.  You just have to decide for
yourself on that.  Often, if you chalk the file regularly, the pins will just fall out of the teeth when you tap the file on the work bench.  
Each time you tap the file, or clean it with the brush, you need to chalk it again.
Note, if you are going to tap the file on something to dislodge the little pins, do it on a piece of wood.  Don't rap a file on a steel
bench or on anything that has a ceramic content.  The file can be damaged.







Part of success with files, is using the right one for the job.  
The file above is a double cut mill person, and it's made for heavy material removal, but it won't make a real smooth finish.  If this is
the only kind of file you have, you need more files.
You can see, if you look close, that it looks like it has a bunch of diamond points on it.  That's from the double cuts crossing.







This is a single cut smooth flat, the same length as the file in the previous picture.  It makes a much smoother cut, but doesn't remove material as fast.

These two files are both 8" long.  The cut on a file is dependent on the length of the file.  All of the cuts for a given length of file will
match from the finest to the coarsest cut, only for the given length of the file. So, if you desire a full range of cuts in a set of files, get them all in the same length.







This is a single cut mill person, which looks much like the previous picture, except smoother.  It's only 6" long, but if it were 8", it
would be a faster cutting file than the 8" smooth cut in the previous pic.  That's what I mean about all sizes being relative only
to each other.  The 6" file of a coarser cut can be smoother than an 8" file of a finer cut.







This is a taper file, and it's triangular shape is good for cleaning up corners, (in the smaller sizes of files), but it is also easy to screw
things up because of the 120 degree angle.  








This is a ruined file, and I'm putting it here so you will know what to look for.  If you're not into filing, then you may not realize that
the reason you have a hard time getting a good finish is because your file is ruined.  
This damage was done, by me, in a "dumb mistake" moment.  Cutting a piece of hard steel on the lathe, the bit suddenly dulled
because I'd work hardened a spot on the work piece in the previous pass.  Sometimes you can get a file under a hard spot
and pull out the work hardened spot, but I didn't go at it with enough conviction and the file skipped over the hard spot.  
In a second, a good file was relegated to the scrap bin.

Save your ruined files.  They can be used for other tooling.  There's not much in your shop that is harder than a file, and you can heat
them and make cutters from them.







So, everyone is probably thinking, "when is he going to get done blabbering about files and show something"..  
Okay, when you set up something to file, first, get it in a position that will lead to a good result.  That means start with your piece
held firmly, and start with it "on the level".  Starting with the piece level will help to keep the cut level.
Put it in a position that is comfortable to work on.  You want to position yourself in a way that you will not lean to one side.  If you
are leaning, your cut will likely be leaning too.





 

Filing is not sawing.  Probably one of the biggest mistakes made, and often seen, is someone sawing away at a piece with a file.  
The file is made to cut in one direction, (for regular filing).  Push the file away from you.

Chalk your file.  Get in postion behind the work piece and lay the file flat on it.  Rock it side to side to make sure you are not putting
more down pressure on one side.  Hold the file with both hands. One hand grips the flat end of the file, either by lightly pinching it
between your fingers, or, if it is a great big ol' file, put the ball of your palm on the flat end of the file, and wrap your fingers around
the end.  The other goes hand on the HANDLE.  You need handles on all your files.  That goes double if you are using the file on the
lathe!  The handle not only gives you something to hold onto.  It keeps the file tang from piercing your tender body if you should
happen to run the file into a spinning lathe chuck.  It also greatly increases your control of the file, helping you make better cuts.

Start off with a couple of light cuts, pushing away from you as in the picture above. Push with an even stroke, going the same
speed at the end as as the beginning of the stroke.  As you reach the end of the stroke, lift the file slightly so it just comes off the
work.  Then go back to the starting position and make another stroke, making sure to get the file FLAT on the work piece again.  

After a couple of strokes, look at the work piece.  By examining the cut, you can determine if you are holding the file flat.  Is the cut
the same width on both sides?  If not, now is the time to correct the problem, before you get half way into the work and have a big
mess to straighten out.  This takes practice.  There's no way of getting around that. It's a technique that takes a bit to figure out.
If you continually get a cut that is deeper on one side than the other, reposition your body and try again.  Just moving yourself
an inch or two to the right or left can make the difference.  

If you sit while you are filing, like you would when working on a very small piece and need to get your face close to see, keep your
elbows off the work bench.  If you put one elbow down, you will probably cut a bevel, and you tend to slide the file toward the
planted elbow.  Keep the elbows up.







Here's a shot of how you would grip a larger file.  Instead of pinching the end between the fingers, make a fist around it.  
The file in the picture is not big enough for this grip, (for me), but it's the largest one I had handy.  Usually you will use a fist grip on
the end if you are using a 12-14" or longer file that has a coarse cut, like a big double cut or a rasp.

How much down pressure you use depends on the file, and how smooth you want the finish.  If you are roughing a piece down with
a double cut file, you can push down pretty hard, but the stroke still needs to be steady throughout.

For finishing cuts with a fine file, less pressure is needed.  As you come to your final strokes on a finish cut, you only need enough
down pressure to keep the file from skipping over the cut.  You want it to cut every time, no matter how light you press on it.  If it
doesn't cut a little, you can get chatter, just like with a lathe or mill.  A good quality file will cut with very little down pressure.








This shot, and the next, demonstrate draw filing.  Draw filing is a method of getting very fine finishes with certain file cuts, and for
doing work on thin edge sections, like the spokes on a wheel, (clock gear).  If you want to file the edge of a piece of 1/16" thick
metal, this is about the best way to do it.  Filing across such an edge will sometimes make so much vibration that it's impossible to
get a good finish, but draw filing along the edge makes it easy.

To start a draw file stroke, put the file on the work piece sideways, at the point on the piece that is farthest away from you, and
"draw" it toward you, as in the picture above.







Pull the file toward you, and end your stroke at an imaginary point somewhere past the point where the file comes off the work.  All
the things about regular filing apply, with regards to a steady stroke, even pressure, and keeping the file flat on the work piece.

Because of the need to use both hands for the demo shot, and to get my hands in the picture while keeping out of the way of the
camera, my grip is not optimum for demonstrating this.  Normally, I would grip the file the same with both hands, and usually more like
the grip on the left.  The main thing is to do it in a position that will let you keep the file flat, and pull it toward you with an even
stroke.  Take care not to increase the down pressure on the file as you bring it toward you.   It's what you are normally going to want
to do, so concentrate on that aspect.  




The following two shots are just examples from my current engine build.  



This first shot is before filing.







And this is after a few minutes with a 6" single cut mill person.  This is about as smooth as I want this piece, because I want it to
maintain more of a sheen than a shine.  With finer files, you can make things almost bright looking, and from there about all that
can be done is light sanding.

I hope this wasn't over long for a single post.  It's mainly basic information.  






One last thing;  Files should be stored in a manner that prevents the cutting edges from rubbing together.  Some folks use a
block with a number of holes cut in it and stand the files on end, one file to a hole.  That would be good.  My bench space
is quite limited, so I keep my files grouped together on a shelf.  In order to prevent the file edges from touching each
other, I just make simple sheaths from grocery store bags, or craft paper.  How ever you do it, store your files so they
cannot knock into each other.  Just tossed in a drawer with no protection for the edges is not so good.  It dulls the teeth.

Dean
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 1:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Most excellent Dean ... as usual!!!

Thanks!
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 1:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent tutorial.
This I will certainly come back to
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 1:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hats off for your excellent tutorial, information that many dont already know but didnt think that they didnt.
Good files and the knowledge of how to properly use them is essential for many trades.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 1:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the refresher course in filing.

All my clock maker files are stored in their original packing in my clock makers tool box.
I keep the rest in anothr toolbox that has 3 sections.
Most are in their original packages to keep them apart and the few that aren't are stored in different sections from each other to prevent them touching, although I must admit I still need to improve my filing technique
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 2:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very well said Dean, you have a great knack for explaining things.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 2:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Holy cow Dean...and here I was using my various files like a piece of sandpaper.  Ignorance is bliss...but I can see better results now I know something!!
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Dean W


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 2:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks fellows.
Bernie reminded me that I forgot to mention about filing in the lathe.  When doing so, the file must be kept moving,
just like if you were filing a piece held in a vise.
I didn't go into lathe filing as that can be a thread in itself, but since I did mention it, I should include a few more things;

Again, ALWAYS have a handle on your file.  That is terribly important when you file on the lathe.
Mind the jaws on the chuck.  Be very aware of them.
If you are able, cultivate a left handed filing technique for filing on the lathe.  That will help put your hands
out of the way of the spinning chuck.
The main thing is, be very alert!
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 2:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Dean, very useful info. Been doing a bit of scratch building and not having any flat bar stock i'm having to make everything out of round bar. I have been doing alot of grinding and filing.

I'm not a machinist so have alot to learn.

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 3:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent tutorial Dean!

Of course, I do it all wrong, but that's just the way lots of us are.  

A bar of Ivory soap works too.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 3:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

One can really get injured Lathe Filing ( I know ) IMHO although very tempting, it is something that should be avoided by the novice
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 4:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

johnreid wrote:
One can really get injured Lathe Filing ( I know ) IMHO although very tempting, it is something that should be avoided by the novice


Maybe, John.  I don't know how to judge a person from novice to intermediate, or whatever it would be called.
It's safe to say that just turning on a lathe should be avoided by the novice.  I don't know how he will learn, though.
(That is not meant as a wise crack.)  
Whenever a person decides to take a new step in an activity, there is surly a chance of screwing up.  Filing on the
lathe is a standard machining practice.  I don't want anyone to think it is some kind of unusual or uncommon
procedure.  As with anything that involves moving parts, one can be injured if they are not familiar with it.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 7:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is very informative, thanks for taking the time to explain it all.  
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 7:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Perfectly explained Dean!

Took me all the way back to the apprentice shop. Weeks, spent filing a V block, from a casting I'd spend days roughing out, on the shaper.

Still got the V block, and the original file card!  
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 8:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for that, Dean.
Took me back many years to the metal-work classes at tech.
Perhaps this thread should be moved to the reference section as it's definitely worth it and easier to find in the future.

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