View Full Version : Lathe Files

05-10-2006, 12:28 PM
This should probably be under the heading of that post a while back about things that are high-value. That was really about brands, but this is about a specific item.

It may seem old news to those of you who are seasoned in this hobby, but I recently bought a Nicholson long-angle lathe file. What an improvement over any other file for cleaning up work on the lathe! I paid $10 for a 10" one on sale from Enco. They had import models for about half that and they may be just fine. The issue is not just how sharp it is, but the *long angle* and the fact that they are single cut.

I get a *much* smoother finish out of this than any other file I have tried...something closer to the use of abraisives, but with a better ability to cut quickly....and *no* loading up. The loading up problem will quickly produce a poor finish as you end up dragging steel blobs across your finished work, galling it. This thing produces a sort of "mini chips" rather than traditional filings and they tend to fall out as you make a pass rather than clinging in the file. In a sense, it is a cutting tool rather than an abraiding tool...as a file should be.

I know it is a small thing, but it is another example of something that turned out to be well worth the investment and another example of the difference the right tool can make.


05-10-2006, 12:45 PM
Yup very handy, I had 2 , now I only have 1 But I know the SOB who stole it.

Weston Bye
05-10-2006, 12:57 PM
Never heard of them. I must not be paying enough attention. Thanks for the tip!

05-10-2006, 12:57 PM
Humm.. I got one of those about a year ago, and I've had terrible results with it. I've wondered if it's maybe because I'm lefthanded.

05-10-2006, 01:06 PM
If you are left handed, does your lathe turn the other direction ;)

I wouldn't being a lefty would make a difference. After you posted that, however, I did get to thinking that if you don't hold it square to the work (either direction) you get a very different angle than what is designed into it and I would think that if you went much longer with the angle that it would likely not cut well...and would tend to follow the ridges in the rotating work.

I only tried it on a piece of scrap 4140 that I had turned just to test it out. We all know how lead angle on any lathe tool has to vary with the material, so maybe the material being cut makes a big difference too. Maybe my test should have been a little broader before posting:confused:

05-10-2006, 01:17 PM
"If you are left handed, does your lathe turn the other direction ;) "

Nawww, He stands in back of it. ;)

05-10-2006, 01:38 PM
Always go Nichelson, save up the money if you have to; I've got one at least 25-35 yrs.old, and he still has some "bite" to it. I bought 12 last year on ebay for 27.00, shipping included! I don't think they knew what they had. Just love those kind of sellers. 11 of them were slightly rusted but brand new.

05-10-2006, 01:41 PM
Now that we all want one.


05-10-2006, 02:01 PM
Mr. Wolf, PM an address and I'll mail you a couple. I hate thieves with a passion. In Turkey they cut off their hands; my form of justice would be to cut the whole damn arm off, maybe a foot or two, also. You can probably tell I have been ripped off before. Almost forgot, those files are excellent for draw filing.

05-10-2006, 02:29 PM
There's really a common theme where brand vs cheap import is concerned: metallurgy. If what you are purchasing depends on good metallurgy, you will generally be unhappy with the cheap import. Cutters, files, and this sort of thing resonate strongly with that theme.

If what you are interested in can be made from basic metallurgy, you MIGHT be happy with the import. There are certain things that I remain queasy about there. Very high precision items seem to be better purchased as name brand--if I wanted a 0.0001" indicator, it would need to be Interapid, for example.

I have also found it advantageous to eschew having too many bells and whistles on the import. Try to find the version where they invested in the basics as much as possible. I'm definitely not in the camp that says all things import are useless either. Bought a sand blast cabinet for $85--it's great. Lots of people like the inexpensive Harbor Fright tool grinder. I like my Lathemaster 9x30 lathe, which is a great example of picking the one with less gadgets (no quickchange gearbox).

BTW, if you bid on something you are sure is a good item, but lose, take a minute or two to check out the feedback on the guy that beat you. Go look at what he is buying. He may be clueless, or he may just educate you on how he is finding some great stuff out there. Heck, why do you think I asked you all to contribute to the brand thread mentioned at top? I wanted to know what to search for on eBay, of course!



05-10-2006, 02:38 PM
Brownell's www.brownells.com used to sell 'em...haven't checked in a while....

05-10-2006, 03:11 PM
As usual, McMaster Carr has them in stock, $9.90 for the 10", $13.37 & $18.08 for 12" & 18" respectively.

They are good for their purpose, nothing will quite match them. They will pin though, and chalking will help prevent it.

I picked up a copy of "File Filosophy" a few weeks ago. It is a 48 page pamphlet Nicholson put out in the 40's. It was available from several of the used book sources and is an excellent reference on files and their use.

My step-son in law is a Nicholson, the family no longer owns the company, but they are still among the best files available.

05-10-2006, 11:56 PM
There's another file out there that will really open your eyes, called the Magicut. Very aggressive metal removal without the pinning. Again, these are a Nicholson item and they're amazing. I'll have to try a lathe file now! Thanks for the heads up.

05-11-2006, 08:30 AM
They are definetly best for shaving a piece in the lathe. A file card is a must to keep them lasting. BTW, somethin a guy came up with years ago and we now all use in the shop is the way we "hold" the file. Run the lathe in reverse and instead of "pushing" the file you are "holding" the file. Hold with left hand and apply a little pressure on back side with right. Just a safety thing in case the file grabs. Makes the difference from dropping it on the back side or having it shoved up your Wrist. Any of you guys ever used a Vixen file on aluminum. If you find one, try it. Cuts like the material is wood and won't foul.

05-11-2006, 02:26 PM

By running in reverse you have more control of how much pressure you put on the cut because it is not trying to dig in as bad. You are right about the vixens. They are so sharp new that they will cut you if you hold them too tightly in your hand. They also make a miniture version that is 1/2" wide by about 10" long. It is an "aluminum cutting rascal" too.

Jim (KB4IVH)

05-11-2006, 04:47 PM
...at least ten characters...

05-11-2006, 04:55 PM
...at least ten characters...

05-11-2006, 04:56 PM
Re the Vixen files:

McMaster-Carr http://www.mcmaster.com lists "Flat and Half-Round Files for Aluminum" on page 2501 of their catalog. The description says "Special tooth design prevents clogging. Tapered in width and double cut." Prices range from $9 to $20.

As is normal for McMaster, no manufacturer listed, but they sound like the Vixen files.

05-11-2006, 05:24 PM
The Vixen type files are listed as Milled Curved Tooth Files on page 2502 in McMaster. They are also called body files as they were & are used for lead as used in auto body work. They are also sold as flexible flat files for use in the adjustable holders.

The Nicholson aluminum file is a double cut mill style file with a fine overcut to prevent clogging.

05-12-2006, 11:40 AM
Ooooooh Evannnnnn! Where are you? Evan seems to be a bit of a "file nerd", so I'm suprized he hasn't weighed in yet.

Seriously, though, this is good information and a great thread. I've seen the recommendation many times before that, when it comes to files, if you care about the work, get the "good stuff". Now I see some names being mentioned - good. I've seen Nicholson everywhere, but wasn't sure if it was like the "Sears of files". It's good to see some feedback on the quality. I know the old adage of "you get what you pay for", but paying more doesn't always mean getting more.

Are there other names folks would recommend besides Nicholson (generally) and Vixen (for Al)? Thanks again, fellas.


05-12-2006, 08:24 PM
I've gotten real good service from Grobet files. They make some interesting patterns as well. Again, not a cheap date but worth the price difference.

05-12-2006, 09:07 PM
Long angle lathe files are great, especially when you have made your finish cut and it's still .001" big.

Lathe filing is perhaps the most dangerous thing you can do on a lathe and a short 10" file makes it even more dangerous. All a spinning chuck jaw has to do is just touch the end of that file and you're impaled. A longer file is more likely to always have it's far end beyond the chuck.

Always keep both hands on the file, one on either end and hopefully you will keep your hands out of the chuck.

Jim W.

05-12-2006, 11:11 PM
Simonds and Grobet make really good files too.

Buy good files, keep them clean, and make sure they don't bang together in storage. They'll last a long time.