Ultimate Buyers Guide to Rasps and Files

Rasps and files are some of the most common tools in a woodworker’s arsenal but these are also often confused as being the same, however, this isn’t the case. Knowing your tools is important, as choosing the right ones can change the outcome of the whole project. Well in this ultimate buyer’s guide to rasps and files, we will tell you everything you need to know about these tools.

Choosing a rasp is all about the situation and the project you are working on. However, if you need to choose then, always buy one that is hand-stitched. This means that the teeth of the rasp have been made by hand and because of this, there is an irregular spacing between them. Though this does significantly increase the price of rasps, due to the irregular spacing the results are also finer.

If you are choosing a file for woodwork, we would suggest a coarse wood file. They can be used to smoothen out surfaces that you have used a rasp on earlier. But you can also use them by themselves for shaping wood and taking off material.

While machine-made rasps are mostly cheaper, they also give less smooth and rough results. This is why professionals usually choose hand-stitched rasps, as they chatter or bite less. Then again, the price difference is huge, and the finer the grit, the more expensive it will get. So unless you are an artisan who sells their pieces at a great value or has money to spend, a few machine-made rasps do the job just fine.

Difference Between a File and a Rasp

Most people get confused about whether they need a file or a rasp. It is because they don’t know the difference between them. Yet, the difference is quite obvious if you put both a file and a rasp under a magnifying glass.

The difference between a rasp and a file is that while rasps have teeth that protrude from the surface a file has parallel diagonal grooves on it. Another difference in both of these is that while rasps are categorized under files, files can be of many types. A file was primarily designed for milling metal, it can also shape wood as well. Meanwhile, a rasp is not strong enough to shape metal.

So in short, their functionality and their designs are very different. The teeth of the rasp are used as an abrasive for taking down wood. They are manufactured in various coarseness and grits and are numbered from 1 to 15, with 1 being the most coarse and 15 being the finest. The teeth of the rasp take off much more material compared to sandpaper. So it is perfect for shaping, while sandpaper is good for removing marks and scratches from a work surface.

You can also take off a lot of material from a wooden project using a file, but rasps primarily do a much better job. A file can be found as a coarsest, a second-cut, and finally the smoothest that has the finest grit.

How to Choose a Perfect Rasp and File

Choosing a Rasp

A good rasp is one that does not chatter or bite into the wood. Any rasp that does chatter will ruin your work surface and instead of shaping it, it might tear on it. On the other hand, a rasp that does not chatter, whether it is machine-made or hand-stitched, will be perfect for you. The only issue with machine-made rasps though is that they clog with sawdust faster. This is because they are designed to have teeth with equal positioning and spacing.

Alternatively, a hand-stitched rasp, due to having randomly positioned teeth, does not clog that much. So you do not require clean-up as often for your rasp to keep performing. Not many brands sell hand-stitched rasps anymore either, there is only a handful. The reason is that it requires an exceptional level of artisan skill for one to make the same length teeth throughout the whole metal surface.

Not only that, but you must also be able to work steel, temper it perfectly so that it is durable and lasts for a long time. So the price tag is justified by the amount of work that is being put into making a single rasp. But if you are short on money for purchasing a hand-stitched rasp, you can actually purchase machine-made ones that are durable and perform really well.

Also, choosing a rasp will also depend on the tasks that you usually use them for. For instance, you will not be using a needle rasp for working on large-scale projects.

Types of Rasps

There are many types of rasps in the market that are available, but three of them are most commonly used. Let us go through each of them and learn of their functionality.

If you are looking for a set to try a bit of everything, we strongly recommend you go for something like the Glarks 18Pcs Assorted Wood Rasp Set. This set is very cheap and has everything you need to give rasps and files a first try. The set is of course not hand-made, but unless you are a wood carving expert you will not notice such a huge difference.

Cabinet Rasp

The most common rasp in any woodworker’s arsenal, and also the first rasp that you will buy is a cabinet rasp. It has a tapered end with a pointed edge in the front. This end is used to work in the most narrow spots and to remove material in corners mostly.

Usually used for larger projects, the cabinet rasp will allow you to work on all kinds of surfaces.

If you would like to buy a better cabinet rasp than the set above offers, check out this Faithful 10-inch half-round cabinet rasp. It’s a perfect first rasp to have, as it provides all the functionality you need, while not costing too much.

Needle Rasp

Needle rasps are just as the name suggests, shaped like a small needle. These allow woodworkers to perform shaping with more delicate pieces. A woodcarver could hugely benefit from this while working on designs. These can move into very narrow spaces and help you shape them better.

Rat Tail Rasps

The rat tail rasp or a round rasp is rounded off like a skewer. This gives it an advantage when using it for rounding off surfaces. So whether you have to take off material and widen a wooden hole or round off a flat surface to create a curvature, this rasp can do it for you.

Other Type of Rasps

Ironing Rasp

An ironing rasp has a slight curve on its surface. While it looks straight from the above, the curve can be seen when you view it horizontally. The edge is pretty slim and the curve is subtle as well, so an ironing rasp allows you to work in narrow spaces with ease.

Double-Sided Flat Square Edged Rasp

This rasp is, as its name suggests, double-sided, with one side being one grit and the other side being another. So it saves you some money and gives you two rasps in one. It is flat on the surface and has sharp squares throughout the ends. It does taper off slightly on the edges and it is also great for working with flat surfaces and taking off material without rounding wood too much.

Shinto Rasp

Shinto rasps, also known as Shinto Japanese saw rasps, are unique in terms of their shape. But when it comes to removing material, no other rasp does it like these ones. They don’t clog up, due to their design, and are very aggressive but also easy to control.

They are designed with Japanese saw steel, and they look like zigzagged saw blades that are riveted together. This unique design also makes them suitable for other materials, like MDF, soft steel, etc.

Tips and Tricks to Using Files and Rasps

There are some things you need to keep in mind when you use files and rasps to shape wood. Otherwise, you might end up either tearing the wood or losing the durability of your tool fast.

  • When using files and rasps, use them only in the front direction, do not stroke it back as it will break the tool really fast.
  • Hold the tool with both hands, with one tool on the handle and the other hand on the back of the end to help apply force on the wood.
  • Just like sandpaper, use coarse grits first and then move to a finer grit. This helps in removing the marks from the previous one.
  • Clean your rasps and files often to ensure they are not clogged for best performance.
  • With a file, the direction of the grain does not matter, but draw-filing allows for a smoother work surface, meanwhile, it is slower compared to cross-filing. But cross-filing risks a rougher surface and wood chipping.
  • When using a rasp, try to use the whole surface, this ensures that one area of a rasp is not dull compared to the other.

Cleaning Your File and Rasps

When your rasps or files get sawdust between their teeth and grooves, it impedes their optimal performance. This means that whether your rasp or file is new, they will not do too well if you do not clean them up periodically. It is not that difficult to clean them both either, all you need is a bristle brush for a rasp and a metal brush for a file.

Just brush any sawdust that is clogging up the teeth of a rasp or file. If there are stubborn pieces of wood stuck between the teeth or grooves, you can use a brass pick to remove them. But be careful not to damage the teeth or groove while doing so.


Can you use a rasp on metal surfaces?

Unlike a file, you cannot use a rasp on metal surfaces. It is specifically made and designed for wooden surfaces only.

Can you shape wood with a metal milling file?

Unlike a rasp, you can use the same file on both metal and wood. Though, a metal file is intended to be used on metal and should be done so. For wood, a wood file should be used for better and controlled results.

Can you file over a rasped surface?

Usually, files are used to smoothen out coarse rasped surfaces.

Can you file wood without rasping it?

A file can be used to shape wood by itself, you do not necessarily require a rasp to be used before filing wood. But doing so will give you much better results and help you take off wood at a much more significant rate.

What is the difference between sandpaper and a rasp or file?

Sandpapers are used to smoothen out wood surfaces to remove tool marks and scratches that might become more visible after applying a finish. Though it does take off material, it is very minute compared to how much a rasp or file can do. Rasps and files are used to shape wood and take off excess material specifically, they do not smoothen wood as much as sandpaper would even with the finest grit.

Final Thoughts

To know what tools are required for your woodworking project, it is vital to know the difference between all the tools. With this article, we hope that there is no confusion between files and rasps. Though both perform similarly, you can achieve better results from one than the other depending on the use.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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