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Machining With Files/Hand Tools

some layout dye or a sharpie

dividers

a height gage

eaven in a modern shop a few licks with a file often saves hours of setup

time

being able to layout saves hours of cad time on a one off part

also learning to read a print from highspot blue ,sharpie, or paint and remove

the offending metal will benefit more than any other skill
 
I have been working for years doing clock restoration using traditional tools and techniques. The most important tools in my shop are the 2 Wilton bullet vises, a 2" (with smooth hardened steel jaws) and a 3" that I bought new about 20 years ago. Crappy vises are the worst and can cause constant frustration. Before i got the baby Wilton, I wore out a new Polish vise in less than a year because I had to constantly over tighten it to get it grip anything.
 
During the Colonial period, many things were forged and then finished with a file. Setting up a coal forge can be done relatively easy and inexpensively. If interested, lock for the closest ABANA chapter and attend some meetings.
 
You need to add sawing to your list.

Drilling and sawing are the most efficient ways to remove metal when roughing out a part.

The files are for bringing to final dimension.

Also, you will need some kind of layout blue (a Sharpie works), at least a combination square and a sharp scribe to make layout lines.
 
As was suggested early, any basic machining text up to WWII will spend it's spend chapters covering bench work. I'm fond of the Shop Theory from the Henry Ford Trade school. It has good illustrations and pictures, which are more important when teaching yourself, without in-person demonstrations.
 
One of the things to remember about working metal with hand files and other such tools is that today, we have a fraction of the range of such tools available as there used to be.

For example, in American-pattern files, there used to be several more "cuts" of file than you can buy today. There used to be at least six cuts in American pattern (single-cut) files: Rough, coarse, bastard, second cut, smooth and dead smooth. Today, you cannot get the "rough" or "coarse" cut of file. Today, you can buy only bastard, second cut and smooth in American pattern files.

In Swiss pattern files, you used to be able to get 000 cut files, which are very aggressive. You used to be able to buy 000 to 8 in Swiss pattern files. Today, you can typically find only 00 to 6.

If you had the muscle and the workholding, these old, very aggressive cutting files could remove quite a bit of material very quickly.

I've taken courses from an old English gunsmith from Birmingham who told us how the "best gun" makers used to make guns. Most of the metal on guns was removed with hand tools, not mills and lathes. On a side-by-side gun, most of the metal removed to form the action was taken off with a cape chisel and hand files. The water table and breech face were machined to get the angle(s) set quickly, but the fences, tangs, etc were worked by hand. Barrels were struck by hand, and they were also bored and chambered by hand - using discarded hand files with a driving shaft brazed to the tank. The files would be ground on the edges to make a bit to "spill bore" the barrel.
 
Thank you! I'm a patient person so I'm not concerned about the time or elbow grease required. I just want to learn how to do things the right way. I'm curious: How do you file to .001" tolerance and maintain squareness by hand?

First, you have to have the workpiece held correctly, at the correct height.

Today, most benches and vises on benches are at the wrong height for most people. When you're filing (and as a gunsmith, I do a LOT of filing in my shop), if you want to file accurately, flat and true, you need your workpiece to be at a height that is found by holding your forearm parallel to the floor, and then measuring from the bottom of your forearm to the floor. That should be the height of your workpiece from the floor. Having the workpiece at the correct height prevents rounding off the near or far edge of the workpiece.

When the workpiece is too high for you, you tend to round off the nearest edge; when the workpiece is too low, you tend to round off the far edge.

When you have a workpiece held in a proper vise or fixture, at the correct height, and you choose the correct file, and you are taught some technique for filing, you learn to "read" a file by the "feel" you get in your hands as you're filing.

Then, something to learn is "for an average stroke, with a file of cut "X," how much am I removing with every stroke?" When you learn this, you can start to approach your sizes more precisely. You measure your workpiece, and you see you have 0.005" to go - you choose a file that will start smoothing out your finish, but still removing material at a half-thousandth per stroke. So you take a few strokes, leaving an expected 0.001". You measure, then you "downshift" to the smoother cutting files, and sneak up on the dimension with the smoother-cut files .

When I teach students how to file, they start out disbelieving that they can hit a specified size. In a week, they see that they can not only hit an expected size, they can also hit an expected finish.
 
Something you left out.

Drawing a file towards your body versus away gives more control when doing fine work. That came from a teacher.
 
BASIC HAND TOOLS
BUREAU OF NAVAL PERSONNEL
NAVY TRAINING COURSE NAAVPERS 10085-A

is one of the best manuals you'll ever find. It's 200 pages of solid how-to, including illustrations.

jack vines
 
Apologies if I've posted tjhis before (I blame me age ;) )

Re filing, .a few years back, a guy came to me wanting rectangular holes cut in 2mm / 0.080'' brass sheet he had already cut to size (40off rings a bell) but they had to have dead square corners (no radius) along with a block of steel that had to slide through without rattling or jamming (aka gauge)

Because of the sharp corners nobody would touch the job / or wanted a mint to make the tooling to cut them out etc etc.

He accepted my price (which I considered nigh enough to choke a pig) .................after cutting out the hole with a 3mm 3F EM it took me all of 4 minutes absolute tops! to file the corners and drawfile the edges.

One happy customer, ......... and one even happier Sami :D
 
As far as filing is concerned I have found from bitter experience the actual file is the most important thing, get a good file, look after it, new files, retain for brass and non ferrous, once worn use them for ferrous, try (!) not to mix, good file handles, avoid cheap plastic, wood, sanded smooth, oil finished to fit your hand, I have warding (about 4-6”) files with larger handles, find your comfort level, get the vise or vice over here the right height, an anglepoise light is invaluable.
A flat plate (chunk of granite worktop off cut or glass ) rule stand ( good first project) scribing block, a rule is in fact a tremendously accurate thing once you learn to use it, you can easily work to a couple of thou, with a magnifier at my age, you should be able to split a 64th
Most of the good metalworkers I know use basically that equipment, not expensive,
Hacksaws, don’t cheap out on blades, I like 32 tpi all hard, rarely Bimetallic, get the tension right, and saw about 10% slower than you have an urge to!
It’s not a race, steady strokes it’s actually faster, you can get so close to the line there’s hardly any file work so overall you work faster.
I find a mat on the floor by the vice a help, eases foot fatigue,
Just some stuff that popped into my head
Nicholson files are good, Stubbs over here, of course there’s the German offerings but that’s because US manufactures were sold out by money grabbing “ businessmen” aka bastards with Swiss bank accounts
True story, think it was November 95, Bethlehem steel closed, I worked at a steel plant in Wales, we had a 2 minute silence, tragic we had quite a few links with those guys, we went there, they came here, sold out, rant over
The industrial revolution may have started in Britain but the US perfected it
Mark
 
Apologies if I've posted tjhis before (I blame me age ;) )

Re filing, .a few years back, a guy came to me wanting rectangular holes cut in 2mm / 0.080'' brass sheet he had already cut to size (40off rings a bell) but they had to have dead square corners (no radius) along with a block of steel that had to slide through without rattling or jamming (aka gauge)

Because of the sharp corners nobody would touch the job / or wanted a mint to make the tooling to cut them out etc etc.

He accepted my price (which I considered nigh enough to choke a pig) .................after cutting out the hole with a 3mm 3F EM it took me all of 4 minutes absolute tops! to file the corners and drawfile the edges.

One happy customer, ......... and one even happier Sami :D

I had make two square holes like that in HDPE. Made a cutting tool from a 3/4" bar. The tool had a 90 degree edge with a sharp on the end.
Held bar in mill head and stroked the tool down into a corner, raised tool, micro-adjust table to move tool farther into corner. Repeat until square.
Method would work for soft metals. Idea is not mine but from a machinist out of regular work and toughing it out at a tool supply place, while waiting
for his regular job to come back in 2002.
 
I had make two square holes like that in HDPE. Made a cutting tool from a 3/4" bar. The tool had a 90 degree edge with a sharp on the end.
Held bar in mill head and stroked the tool down into a corner, raised tool, micro-adjust table to move tool farther into corner. Repeat until square.
Method would work for soft metals. Idea is not mine but from a machinist out of regular work and toughing it out at a tool supply place, while waiting
for his regular job to come back in 2002.

BTDT many times Ron - especially on plastics, ............ and it will work in soft NF and even mild steel ...but for that brass job a file was quicker.
 
As far as filing is concerned I have found from bitter experience the actual file is the most important thing, get a good file, look after it, new files, retain for brass and non ferrous, once worn use them for ferrous, try (!) not to mix, good file handles, avoid cheap plastic, wood, sanded smooth, oil finished to fit your hand, I have warding (about 4-6”) files with larger handles, find your comfort level, get the vise or vice over here the right height, an anglepoise light is invaluable.
A flat plate (chunk of granite worktop off cut or glass ) rule stand ( good first project) scribing block, a rule is in fact a tremendously accurate thing once you learn to use it, you can easily work to a couple of thou, with a magnifier at my age, you should be able to split a 64th
Most of the good metalworkers I know use basically that equipment, not expensive,
Hacksaws, don’t cheap out on blades, I like 32 tpi all hard, rarely Bimetallic, get the tension right, and saw about 10% slower than you have an urge to!
It’s not a race, steady strokes it’s actually faster, you can get so close to the line there’s hardly any file work so overall you work faster.
I find a mat on the floor by the vice a help, eases foot fatigue,
Just some stuff that popped into my head
Nicholson files are good, Stubbs over here, of course there’s the German offerings but that’s because US manufactures were sold out by money grabbing “ businessmen” aka bastards with Swiss bank accounts
True story, think it was November 95, Bethlehem steel closed, I worked at a steel plant in Wales, we had a 2 minute silence, tragic we had quite a few links with those guys, we went there, they came here, sold out, rant over
The industrial revolution may have started in Britain but the US perfected it
Mark

Thank you for such a detailed reply. Actually, thanks to everyone for their helpful replies. I really appreciate it and I'm excited to get started. BTW, in my community the closure of Bethlehem Steel was a terrible blow to the region that has had lasting negative effects to this day.

When you say "a rule is in fact a tremendously accurate thing once you learn to use it, you can easily work to a couple of thou, with a magnifier at my age, you should be able to split a 64th," are you referring to something like a Starrett spring tempered rule? What is the technique used in being accurate with a rule?
 
One of the basics is, never (except in rare circumstances) use the end of the rule as a gauge. It gets beat up and is sometimes not accurate to begin with so you start with a good line, often 1", cm whatever, and read literally 'between the lines'. You need a rule with very fine markings too. Fine as in narrow line width. A good one is easy to work with to 1/64" and even split those without too much trouble. You need a scribe too, as no ink or paint marking device is fine enough.

You also need to really pay attention. Avoid parallax, use good lighting and magnification/glasses where necessary.

And something that is related: practice 'moving' a punch mark. If you haven't done that already you'll find that you don't have to settle for anything less than perfect. Works good in all metals you're likely to work by hand.
 
Hand filing is probably a lost art and a great skill to learn. If it has not been brought up, once you get skilled at hand filing, you could advance your art with a machine called a die filer. Again a machine from the past, kind of like a jig saw, but you can do very accurate work with one and also use it as a saw. The files may be hard to get, but you can find the machines sometimes at a reasonable cost. good luck
 








 
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