Thursday , February 22 2018
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The Files Every Machinist Should Have in His Toolbox

files every machinist should haveRecently I was putting together my Christmas list and I asked my friend Barry Young for his opinion on selecting files for the machine shop. I have a set of inexpensive needle files that are adequate for plastics and soft metals, but they haven’t held up well when I’ve used them on steel. I needed to upgrade to a better set of files and I had my eye on a 12 piece set of Nicholson needle files. But before I added them to my Christmas wish-list I wanted his opinion. The following was his educational reply:

“Hi Tyler,
Nicholson makes excellent American-pattern files, I do not care at all for their Swiss-pattern needle files. For those, get files from Glissard or Grobet.
Grobet are easiest to find. The 33.907 model number Grobet is an excellent 6 piece set (all you will ever need) of fine files. In needle files you want the finest cut you can get. Cut 6 files are wonderful. Cut 2 (coarser) are readily available while cut 6 (fine) are harder to find. The 33.907 is Cut 6 (fine).

Grobet 6 piece set (cut 6 #33.907) Fine

Grobet 12 piece set (cut 6 #33.909) Fine

For an explanation of files check out this PDF, which is an excerpt from Machine Shop Know-How.

I have a set of 6 Glissard Cut 6 (fine), a set of 12 Grobet Cut 6 (fine) and a set of 12 Grobet Cut 2 (medium) as well as a set of 8 Grobet rifflers which I have used a total of once for about two minutes. I do not recommend that you buy any of those at all. Just buy the Cut 6 (fine) Grobet files and learn to use them. You do not need the 12 piece set but if you feel the need get a 33.909 set.
That takes care of needle files. To round out your set of files you will need:

Which leaves us with all but the most important of files: the smoothest, longest pillar file you can find.   That’s about it. I don’t see much need for the barette’s or other fancy shapes. They just don’t get used enough.

Hope that helps!
– Barry”

Thanks Barry!

If anyone else would like to chime in with their file expertise please do so by joining the discussion via the forum link below.



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About Tyler

Tyler is a hobby machinist and 3D printing aficionado. He teaches computer programming and web development at Highline College near Seattle. Tyler founded Projects In Metal in 2008 because he was frustrated by the lack of free plans available for hobby machinists.

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  1. Files are something very few people know how to use properly.  Guy Leutard in one of his bedside readers covers the subject very well.  Another person was my metal shop teacher Mr. Greer for my sophmore year.

    One of Mr. Greers projects, required for graduating his class was to file a 1″ cube of mild steel.  Just one, had the whole year to do it.  I do not want to admit how many times I restarted and the hours devoted to it.  I did learn which end of the handle to hold!  If it was pretty, it was out of tollerance.  If in tollerance then sratched and ugly.  What a chore.  I had that cube for years before it finally disappeared.  In my senior year I turned a cube in the lathe.  The filed (scratched) it accordingly.  Took it over to Fred, out came his trusty bent variable calipers and measured.  Looked me in the eye and said he would not buy it.  Wise old man!  Fred was a retired Army Colonel and treated us more like soldiers then teenage idiots.  We loved him for it.

    I find filing to be a very relaxing job giving instant feed back of just how good (?) you are with your hands.  Draw filing gives the most wonderful finish when mated and blended correctly.  Custom rifle barrels are all draw filed before bluing for that wonderful lustre finish.  Keep your white cotton gloves on so as not to contaminate the metal, yes it is that critical.  Read up on it as there are many little tricks used to enhance the job.  One of my favorites, go to the local office supply store and ask for railroad chalk.  They will hand you a piece of chalk as big as a horses leg and cheap in cost.  Take your single cut file and fill the groves with chalk and use light strokes, you will be amazed.  Get a file card, when you pick up a file pick up the card.  You need to use it every time you file.  Keep the teeth clean with the brush using the hooked steel teeth only to clean out the stubborn filings.  Use the cut of file proper for the job.  If you are welding use a 12″or 16″ bastard file and get the job over with.  But when looks are called for use a second cut.  Sized to the job, shaped to the job and let the file do the job.  Every once in a while tip the file on edge and tap on a hard surface.  That will knock out the majority of shavings.  And on and on!

    The file is your friend and a very good one.

    Now get back to making swarf.


  2. Barry showed me draw filing a few years ago and I was amazed that a file would even cut that way, much less the finish. I was cleaning up a brass piece that went inside my Atlas mill – so nobody would ever see it unless they took the knee apart. But once I saw how shiny and smooth one surface of that brass part could look I took the time to draw file every surface.

    Barry came over a half hour later wondering what I was still doing filing and laughed. I was hooked.