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  Selecting and Using Files by James F. Hobart, January 10, 1885 1 of 2  

How many machinists know a good file when they see it?

I don't believe one in fifty can take a pile of files and pick out the best one.

The average man will pick up two or three, turn them over, squint along the corners, pick out the straightest one and call it as "good as any." They don't seem to have any idea that a file may be soft, or fire-cracked, or burned.

If they were choosing a cold chisel, they would look out for all these things, but "a file is a file" so long as it has teeth and tang.

Talk about certain tools being abused in the machine shop, or in any other shop. What is more abused than a file?

No matter what job is on hand, it is expected to take right hold of it and never let go. Hard iron, soft iron, steel or lead, brass, copper or wood, it makes no difference. The file must go at it hammer and tongs.

If the job is covered with 1/8 in. of grease and dirt, it is all the same. The workman uses one corner of the file to scrape off part of it. When he gets the file well filled with oil he tries to wipe it off on a piece of dirty waste, or the leg of his overalls. He succeeds in filling up the remainder of his file, rather than in cleaning it.

If the job is covered with a generous coat of rust, what matter; the file must scrape it off, and then before it would be half worn out by proper usage mage, it is pitched into a corner, or dumped into a load of lathe chips.

To choose a good file, just hold it between your eye and the light, point towards you; you can see he cutting edge of every tooth. See if they are all clean, smooth, and sharp. If they are notched, racked, uneven, and irregular, then they belong to a poor file. Look a file all over for fire cracks; hold up to your eyes as before, put the point towards the light, and see if it is all one colour.

 If it shows a chequered appearance, it is uneven in temper, hard and soft in spots. Toss the file into the air, and strike it with the handle of your pocket-knife, or some other hard substance. If there are any flaws in that file, the ring of the steel will give them away.

Buy large files; they stand re-cutting better than thin ones. Machine-cut files are not liked very well by some; it is claimed that they will not do as much work as the hand-cut, but I have used machine-cut files, and didn't know it until afterwards.


I remember one chap that came along with a nice looking lot of files. He sold a lot to nearly every shop in town. He sold them "cheap " - he said - but when the boys came to use those files, the cat tumbled out of the bag, and that "agent" was wanted by the boss. The files were nothing but poor iron. They were treated with prussiate of potash, and came out case-hardened a little, and looking nice and clean.

I always think of that dodge when I see a man selling a "job lot" of files. Don't buy low-priced files, thinking them cheap; that is unless your men make scrapers of them as described. If that is what you want them for, the case-hardened ones are just as good as any.

When I get a new file I always fit it with a handle before using. Just try that once and you will always stick to it. The machinist has, of all men, no excuse for not having handles to his files.

Nearly every shop in the United States has a speed lathe connected with it, and handles may be had for the making.

If I were bossing a shop, files would be fitted with handles before they left the tool-room. If a man can't get at a speed lathe, let him knock out the live centre of his engine lathe, whittle down the end of a pine stick, and drive it into the spindle; bring the tail spindle up to it, and turn out a handle with a hand-tool.

Learn how. Discover why. Build better.
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