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This is why I'm always recommending files to people

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One of my first classes was making a pipe hawk, and if you want some filing experience, it's a prefect project to get some. 

About 10% of the class was forging, the rest was all file working.

To me, there is no better way to get a true flat surface other than to draw file it.  Angle grinders cup the surface, so just like Alan I was taught to just use them for your initial removal, then trust your files.  I've actually come to enjoy draw filing vs grinding as #1 there isn't a ton of dust in the air, and #2 if you make a mistake with a file, its a little more forgiving. 

I've make my pipe hawks from actual pipes, but you also don't need a lathe to get nice rounded surfaces.  I normally lay out all my lines with a 3 corner file.  Once I get a line on a round surface, I found that if you do your cutting stroke (push stroke) with an extreme arch rocking away from to the work, it creates a pretty evenly round surface. Your in a way minimizing the contact surface that the file meets the rounded surface in the way it would in a lathe. 


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I've been working on a pipe tomahawk head and finished up the filing on Sunday.  After taking the last few strokes with a 3" needle file, and seeing the 16" mill bastard next to it, I thought it would

Do all the above steps for all the inlays on this hawk (cap, mouthpiece, two stars, two ovals, and two diamonds in addition to the band), stain, oil, and you're done!

Next, celebrate finishing one major project by making something that requires  ZERO filework or finishing.  Done in three hours? Yes please, thanks!

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This doesn't have much to do with filing, but since you guys seem to like the way this is going here are a few more progress shots.  This is a re-creation of an original from around 1800 by a guy named John Small of Vincennes, Indiana.  He inlaid a silver knife on one side and a silver spear on the other, then engraved it.  

First, cut the knife out of 0.025" sterling sheet with a jeweler's saw, and file the edges clean.  Then superglue the knife to the hawk.

Burt's hawk 4.jpg

Scribe a line around the knife, then remove the knife with acetone and a thin chisel.

Burt's hawk 5.jpg

Now you have an outline to work from.  Take a graver and cut the outline.

Burt's hawk 6.jpg

The edge is sharp now, and the tape prevents unnecessary bloodstains. 

Now take a flat die-sinker's chisel and remove the interior of the inlet.

Burt's hawk 7.jpg

Use every graver you have that will get into the corners, make the walls of the inlet straight, then undercut them with an onglette (point) graver.  The knife inlay should almost snap into the inlet at this point, with a hair of clearance.  The inlet is about 3/4 the thickness of the silver, because you want the silver to flow into all the undercuts and locking pins you make next. Use the flat chisel to open up the undercuts a little, and with the point graver cut a few little teeth to act as locking pins.  Once the inlet is ready, anneal the silver, carefully set it in place, and set the inlay by carefully hammering it into the inlet.  I lay a leather pad on the anvil to protect the off side, and use an 800-gram hammer with a polished face to get the initial lock going.  Once it's set, I use a polished fullering tool and a small ball peen hammer to move the silver into all the undercuts and recesses.

Burt's hawk 8.jpg


You can see the marks this leaves, and why you want the silver thicker than the depth of the inlet.

Now you get to file some more!  


Burt's hawk 9.jpg


Cleaned up:


Burt's hawk 10.jpg

Now engrave to match the original, but leave it a little different so it can't be sold as a forgery.


Burt's hawk 11.jpg

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I've been preaching the Gospel of Files according to @Alan Longmire since you posted this thread, thank you very much!

There's another beginner I'm helping along as I learn, but his information retention abilities are a bit lacking......and at times when I have to listen to his complaints about his lack of equipment I get a bit frustrated, and more than once I've had to point out the use the same files he has........

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I'm surprized at how long you can make files last Alan. I use them up like sandpaper, even on bronze. They can cut longer, but it just saves me time to replace them as soon as the sharpest bite has gone. Mind though, I mostly use small rat tail files, and most work is done with just the front 2cm or so of one. 

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One trick I learned when I first got into muzzleloading gun making is to keep a separate set of files for use on non-ferrous metals.  Never use those on steel and they will last a lot longer.  Brass and bronze (and silver) are really sensitive to the sharpness of your files.  I keep a couple of Grobet swiss-pattern files for that stuff.  Once you file steel, it takes enough sharpness off the teeth they'll seem dull on non-ferrous metals.  And aluminum is nasty.  Gums up files and is almost impossible to clean out of the teeth.  Pewter is gummy too, but at least it pops out when picked with a needle.

Also, while wrought iron is a joy to file compared to steel, the slag can cause problems just like scale, as it's harder than iron.  If you're filing on gnarly slaggy wrought or bloomery steel, expect to lose a few teeth.  Luckily slag is very brittle and tends to turn to dust as it dulls your files unless it's a really big lump.


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14 minutes ago, Alan Longmire said:

Brass and bronze (and silver) are really sensitive to the sharpness of your files.  I keep a couple of Grobet swiss-pattern files for that stuff.  Once you file steel, it takes enough sharpness off the teeth they'll seem dull on non-ferrous metals. 

That explains why most of my files just seem to glide across brass even though they cut steel.

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You can also use files on wood.  I have to inlay a sterling silver band flush with the surface of the handle on this hawk.  To do that, I cut the strip of sterling and filed it parallel, annealed it, and bent it into place around the handle.  Then I use an exacto knife with a #11 blade (the pointy one) to scribe a line around one edge of the silver band.  Ignore the pencil line in the picture, that was just to tell me about where to put the band.  Carefully deepen the scribed line, then take a chisel and gently shave a beveled cut along what will be the inlet.

Burt's hawk 13.jpg

Then take a file with one edge ground smooth and carefully remove wood to the depth required on this edge.  Snap the silver band into that half-inlet and scribe the other side, and repeat the chisel-file operation until you have a perfectly straight and flat-bottomed groove around the handle.  As you can see, that's what I'll be doing Saturday.  Had to stop at this point last weekend.

Burt's hawk 14.jpg

Oh, and the head is marinating in the browning solution until it looks grungy enough to clean up a little.

Burt's hawk 12.jpg

As of yesterday afternoon it got a gentle wet-scrub with #0000 steel wool, which evened out the colors and polished the silver inlays.  It also revealed a couple of spot that will need touching up.  I'll let that be working away over the weekend while I'm doing the handle work.  Browning works fast in humid summer heat, slowly in dry winter air.  I know I could build a humidity box, but given how little I do this it hardly seems worth it.


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I really want to start engraving, but i don't have anything to make the tools with. Are there places i can buy them?

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Of course!  Jantz sells a few basic gravers and hammers, as well as all the high-end power tool goodies I want but can't justify. :lol:  All the engraving on that head was done with a #4 square graver.  The inlay was done with a #4 flat, an onglette, and the die sinkers' chisels I made from 3/8" O-1 drill rod. 

Gravers are ridiculously easy to make, just get some 1/8" drill rod and grind the point, then harden and barely temper.  The hard part is sharpening the buggers.  See the pinned thread here

and also the threads in the Carving and Applied Arts subforum.  I'll warn you it is nearly impossible to just pick up the skill on your own.  Doable, if you're the right kind of person, but darned difficult.  Once you know the basics, though, it's not that hard to do.  At least not the simple stuff I do.  But then I work in the naive style of 18th and early 19th century gunsmiths.  The stuff Mr. Stirling does is beyond me.

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A few ridiculously late update shots:

Burt's hawk 15.jpg

Inlet complete, silver band awaiting fitting.

Burt's hawk 16.jpg

It fits, almost perfectly, but stays a little sprung open out of the perversity of sterling silver to retain a bit of springiness no matter what you do to it.  Time to nail that sucker on.  First you drill a hole and countersink it, leaving a pilot hole in the wood a few thousandths of an inch undersized.  18 gauge is about 0.040" and I broke my solid carbide 0.040 bit doing the cap on this hawk, so these were drilled with a #62 drill (0.038") and countersunk until the small end of the hole in the silver got to about 0.039".

Burt's hawk 17.jpg

Then you make some nails out of 18 gauge sterling silver wire and gently hammer them in.

Burt's hawk 18.jpg


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How do you make a silver nail, you ask?  Hold the very tip of a length of silver wire in the flame of a propane torch until it balls up and quench immediately before it drips off.  This also anneals it, so you will now age-harden it by heating to around 500 degrees and air-cooling.  This hardens it just enough that you can drive it into the predrilled wood.

Burt's hawk 19.jpg

Snip off the ball end of the wire about 3/16" from the bottom of the ball and drop it in the hole of that nail header pictured above.  The larger hole is for brass escutcheon pins and is 1/16" diameter, the smaller hole is 0.041" and heavily countersunk.  The header is case-hardened wrought iron, because that's what was ready at hand when I needed to do an inlay 18 years ago, and it's lasted.  Using a small ball-peen hammer, flatten out the ball.

Burt's hawk 20.jpg

There's your nail. That cone will fill the countersink in the inlay, since the countersink in the header was made with the exact same tool as the one in the inlay.  Repeat as needed.

Burt's hawk 21.jpg

Nailed it! (I know...)  Now file the nailheads flush with the inlay (see?  Still talking about files!)

Burt's hawk 22.jpg

The seam is invisible, but I don't have a good picture of that.

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Do all the above steps for all the inlays on this hawk (cap, mouthpiece, two stars, two ovals, and two diamonds in addition to the band), stain, oil, and you're done!

Burt's hawk 23.jpg

Burt's hawk 24.jpg

Burt's hawk 25.jpg

Burt's hawk 26.jpg

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Next, celebrate finishing one major project by making something that requires  ZERO filework or finishing. :lol: Done in three hours? Yes please, thanks!


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Just stunning Alan!

The blacksmith in the same complex as my afternoon job showed me a trick recently....chiseling! 

He says he uses the technique so much he's surprised it wasn't taught during his apprenticeship in Germany.

He uses key steel to make his own chisels, and from what he showed me I'd definitely like to try it next time I need to make a tang slot in brass.....   

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I swear you must know my tomahawk instructor Alan, That last hawk looks so close to a few of his.  I want to make another one but I think I'm already winding up with a wall of them. 


I like to watch the black bear forge videos on youtube - and I like the phase of 'I'm a file Snob' that he said in one of his demo videos.  I like my 100 year old sand paper a 20" 60 grit wood rasp - never wears out I save a ton on sand paper sanding belts etc. 

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On 12/4/2018 at 11:23 AM, Alan Longmire said:

Unless it was Hershel House, Nathan Allen, or Melvin Lytton, probably not.  And I'd love a 20" rasp!

Unfortunately none of those fine fellows. 


Now, 20" I spoke too soon, I'm really not positive it's that big. There here are my go to tools for making or modifying handles.  The draw knife is a beast of a tool if you use it.  My spoke shave is pretty new, The bigger-4-in hand is just a bigger-4-in hand than what I've seen.  What I've for 15 years been calling a wood rasp (because I was told by my elders it was for wood) Is some kind of huge half round monster of a lumber eater something.  Its is probably a farriers rasp of some kind, but the teeth are worn off enough that it shreds hard wood better than any tool I have on hand.  The other 4-in-hand it might also be a farriers tool.  Its teeth rip wood because their not as worn but the other side has the fine pattern on it works good.

I have no idea how old the "old" tools are.  They have been lying around my grandfathers garage for 40 years before I picked them back up. 


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Because I do a bit of wood work in the rife stock making vein I have a Logier hand stitched #4 rasp and in my opinion there is simply nothing better for serious removal of wood. The difference between a hand made rasp and a machine made one is that the teeth on a conventional rasp are lined up behind each other so end up creating groves in the wood where the Logier hand stitched rasp has the teeth alternating  and eaves a much smoother cut without the grooves but tears a lot of wood of in the one pass. A little expensive but well worth the cost when its capabilities are seen.





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Yes, those hand-stitched rasps are great.  Auriou makes them as well.

For stockmaking I used to use a Stanley Surform rasp/plane.  Shinto saw-rasps are good too.

If you see me get the drawknife out, stand back!  It is a weapon of mass destruction, but nothing is better for roughing out an axe handle.  Spokeshaves are good too, as are block planes if you know how to use them.

Iwasaki carfiles are excellent.  They cut as fast as a cabinet rasp yet leave a smooth surface.

I've used everything from a carving axe to an exacto knife.  Whatever works for you is the tool to use.  The last run of axe handles I made were almost entirely done with a bandsaw and a 60-grit belt on the KMG.

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