hand files

Handheld Metal File Tool

Metal files are a hand tool that have been around for centuries, but still have a place in every metal working toolbox. Hand files for metal and wood are a simple, but useful, tool that efficiently removes material to shape and file metal, wood, hard rubber, and many other surfaces.

Common uses of Metal File Tools

  • Deburring

  • Filing inside pipes

  • Creating grooves

  • De-scaling

  • Stock Removal

  • Sharpening saws, axes, spades, knives, and other tools

  • Sculpting

Types of Metal Files

There are several different traits for metal files that separate them from one another, including the cut grades, length, cross-section cut type, and shape that you should consider when shopping for one of these tools.

Metal File Cut Grades

The coarseness of these metal hand files is measured by different “cut grades” on the face of the file tools. Cut grades are a measure of the number of teeth per inch on the files. The three most used grades are smooth, second-cut/medium-cut, and bastard cut.

Smooth Cut Files

As the name suggests, these hand files have a smoother face. They are used mainly for getting a flush surface after it has already been filed down with a coarser tool.

Second Cut Files

Also known as “medium cut” files, these can be coarse enough for some material removal, but 2nd cut files can also be used to finish smoother surfaces.

Bastard Cut Files

Bastard files are more abrasive than the previously mentioned cut grades. They are the best metal files for aggressive filing on rougher surfaces to remove more material than the smoother options.

Lengths of Hand Files

The difference in size between a small handheld metal file and a long metal file also determines how abrasive it will be. The amount of teeth per inch gets lower as you move to a longer file size. With less teeth per inch on a longer hand file, the increased gaps will make it more abrasive for heavy duty material removal.

Because of this feature, longer files like a 14” mill bastard file will allow for more aggressive filing than an 8” mill bastard file which would have tighter grooves/teeth making it more useful for finer filing. Getting a smoother finish with hand files is similar to using coarse grits of sandpaper on wood and moving to finer grits to smooth it out even more.

Cut Types

The different types of metal files are usually broken down by their cut types. These are specific patterns of parallel teeth that affect how you use your file.

Single-Cut Files: Diagonal teeth that all line up parallel to one another. Meant to be used in one direction only.

Double-Cut Files: Diagonal teeth that line up parallel, but also intersect with a second set of teeth that run parallel to each. These can be used for aggressive filing in both directions. Also known as a second cut file.

Curved-Cut Files: The teeth of the file are curved and parallel to each other. Popular among auto body workers because the mill curved teeth cut fast, but can help smooth large, flat surfaces.

Shapes of Metal Files

Filer tools are available in countless shapes, but the most practical and most used shapes are:

Flat File Tool: Flat on both sides of the file. A flat metal file tapers out in width and thickness from the middle of the tool to the end.

Mill File Tool: Flat on both sides like a flat file, but with a milling file, the taper starts at the base of the file face and continues to the point/end.

Round File Tool: Cylindrical shape with teeth on all sides. The best metal file for working with contoured surfaces.

Half-Round File Tool: A combination of a flat file and round file. One side is flat while the other is rounded, giving this tool multiple uses.

Metal File Handle

Looking at a metal hand file, you’ll see that it significantly tapers in at the base and has a small hole in the center of it. This is part of the design that allows you to install a reusable wooden handle. It is highly recommended that a handle is always used, for safety reasons, and to get the best filing abilities out of the tool.

Metal File Maintenance

Just like any other abrasive tool, metal files are prone to loading, or having the crevices fill with material that has been grinded down. An economical way to extend the life of your tool is to regularly use a file cleaning brush to remove the residue that has accumulated in between the grooves.

Need Help Choosing a Metal File?

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