View Full Version : What is draw filing?

Forrest Addy
04-03-2004, 12:03 PM
I've seen several references to "draw filing" in recent posts. Who can give a vivid description of it.

04-03-2004, 12:29 PM
Henry Ford Trade School in the Shop Theory book, 1934 edition described it thus;
With the file held in position shown in Fig. 19 (at 90 degrees to the work), grasp it with both hands, the thumbs being one-half or three-quarters of an inch from each side of the work, and pull or push the file. By using the file in this manner, the teeth will have a shearing action and give a smooth finish to the work.
Essentially, the file is held flat with both hands and drawn across the work at 90 degrees to the normal position for filing.

[This message has been edited by JCHannum (edited 04-03-2004).]

Ted Coffey
04-03-2004, 12:30 PM
Draw filing is a method of smoothing metal by holding the file in both hands like a draw knife and pulling or pushing the file at right angles to the metal surface. Similair to using a draw knife to smooth a wooden tool handle.

04-03-2004, 12:31 PM
I believe Guy Lautard has an excellent description of draw filing in one of his "bedside readers", I think it its the first one but could be wrong.

04-03-2004, 02:34 PM
Hello Forrest
I would add to the above information.
Use a mill file. I used the draw file method
to file the flats on my muzzzle loading rifle. Took 8 hours to do draw file it.
The file is held perpendicular to the barrel
length. It can be pushed or drawn toward you.The file planes down the metal leaving a
nice smooth finish. worthwhile technique to

04-03-2004, 02:41 PM
I learned how to draw file when I was a teenager. You need to keep the file clean, sometimes cleaning it every stroke. I have fine brass brushes that work better than a file card. It also helps to flip the file from right to left so you can better see what you are removing.

[This message has been edited by Evan (edited 04-03-2004).]

John Stevenson
04-03-2004, 03:12 PM
Hey Forrest,
I checked the date on the post - no April the 1st so is this a wind up?
Draw filing, a basic apprentice exercise coming from you.

Ok I'll buy it.....

John S.

Al Messer
04-03-2004, 03:52 PM
Have any of you guys ever checked to see exactly how flat a surface can be made by draw filing? I have not done so, but it has seemed to always be satisfactory in the past for producing falt surfaces for me anyway.

04-03-2004, 06:15 PM
Evan, I use soapstone on my files to keep them clean, it makes them slick so the material won't collect in the gullets of the file, works especially well for solder, brass, aluminum, copper and lead.


04-03-2004, 08:17 PM
I'm with John. I smell a rat, Forrest!!!!

Is this a pop quiz in Uncle Forrest's benchwork 101 class or are you fishing for material for your next HSM article? http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif

04-03-2004, 09:53 PM
Oh come on now,there is no rat at all,Forrest is merely rubbing our noses in the fact that he has never done such medeial manual labor http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif After all he's a knob and switch guy you now http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif

04-03-2004, 09:54 PM
Draw filing;the reason surface grinders were invented http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif

04-03-2004, 11:27 PM
Al Messer- Draw filing is how we file skis. In flat filing the bases, you have to be careful not to flex the file, because you can make very un-flat surfaces. So while it may be possible to make a very flat surface, it also far from a sure thing.

04-03-2004, 11:33 PM
Yeah, something fishy here, I to smell a rat http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif I think he is trying to trip us up... Can't wait to see his reply http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//smile.gif

Forrest Addy
04-04-2004, 12:44 AM
No tricks intended here. All definitions of draw filing agree with the way I was taught. Files and filing won't apear won't come for a year or more in HMS's "The New Hand" at the present rate.

My reason for posting this topic is there were a couple of places in previous posts where draw filing could have meant something like "filing with care (or caution)" as opposed to the excellent descriptions above.

One thing not mentioned was that files are seldom flat and it behooves the filer to ascertain the convex side for use in bringing high spots dowm to the plane of the work.

And yes, I've done a little filing in my checkered past.


I don't know it all but I know most of what goes on in a naval shipyard machine shop and small to mid-sized job shops. There's some sharp hombres posting regularly on this board. Rest assured I'll resort to no tricks if I need to dredge up information. I'll flat out ask for help and credit the source of any material I use.

[This message has been edited by Forrest Addy (edited 04-04-2004).]

Excitable Boy
04-04-2004, 04:07 AM
While we're on the subject, I've a couple draw filing questions. I learned the basics of draw filing when in my teens in high school, but like so much from back then that has not been used in the last 25 years I'm a little rough on a few details. When I tried draw filing a 1.00 flat on a piece of ATS34 stainless that I was trying to make a knife out of, after rough filing the blank, I started finish draw filing with a 8" single cut mill file but found it flexed too much. So I ought a big old single cut 12" bastard mill file and got much better results in flatess and also learned how important cleaning your file is. I'm starting to think Evan's idea about cleaning between every stroke is on the money for a decent finish. I've also learned that even a 12" file will flex and give you a curve if you lean on it too hard, but hadn't thought to check my files for flatness. Now that I think about it it only makes sense.

My questions are as follows:

Do file cards really dull files prematurely?

Where do you get the special brass brushes mentioned above to keep from prematurely dulling your files?

Does using something like chalk or soapstone actually help?

If I get good with my surface grinder, can I quit filing forever?

What do you guys think?


PS: When I first saw Forrest's post, my first thought was that someone had obviously hijacked his account.

Pursue Excellence and the rest will follow.

[This message has been edited by Excitable Boy (edited 04-04-2004).]

04-04-2004, 04:42 AM
I get the brass brushes from my wife. I use chalk, too.

04-04-2004, 05:36 AM
......I'd read somewhere that as one test of competance years ago was to submit an iron cube the student had filed into shape from a chunk of material. Whether this was in a gunsmithing trade school or machinist's I don't recall. Didn't matter how small it ended up being, but all the sides had to be parallel and perpendicular.

I have drawfiled several octagon rifle barrels and actually drawfiled a round tapered barrel to a tapered octagon. It was slow repititious work that I divided up over time to a months work. You can loose feeling in your fingers doing that much for very long.

For drawfiling a barrel I make a fist of both hands and have my thumbs up on the top surface of the file. Both curled index fingers ride along both sides of the barrel.

I have files for steel and files for brass, aluminum, and copper. A file for the softer metals is ruined for them if used on steel, compared to one which hasn't seen it.

I use a regular filecard for the steel files and the others get a crimped wire brass brush. These are just those inexpensive wooden handled ones. I chalk the teeth for the soft metals. Filing steel to finish doesn't require a lot of pressure and pressure is what causes the teeth to load.

The steel removed in drawfiling should come off almost as dust and not as chips and slivers you can see as such by eye. Stuff like that is for hogging where the finish at that point doesn't matter, but is a pain and a coarse file is used anyway.

When draw filing to finish, the steel removed should move almost as a fluid along behind the teeth and exit out one side for the most part. When you lift the file there should be even rows of metal dust left on the surface. As I got back for the next cut I use the flat of my right hand to wipe the surface clean.


The above is a Rigby style long range (1000 yd) muzzle loader I built and the barrel was draw filed from a rough machine finish. It doesn't show much of the 34" bbl, but it all looks the same. All the flats meet evenly down their length with no wavyness. The lockplate was supplied as a sand casting and was also drawfiled to finish.


[This message has been edited by Buckshot (edited 04-04-2004).]

04-04-2004, 05:57 AM
I also have done that. This is a 50 cal Hawkin Mountain Rifle.


Ted Coffey
04-04-2004, 01:28 PM
On the subject of files, I looked around in my books and found an old copy of "File Filosophy" published by the Nicholson File Company. Very good reference on file manufacture, file types and applications and filing technique.

04-04-2004, 02:27 PM
A friend of mine that apprenticed as a die filer uses vixen files to draw file with. They are rigid and the large curved flutes do not load up as much as with the mill files I used for years.

Forrest Addy
04-04-2004, 02:32 PM
File cleaning 101

Every file card should have the steel bristled leather pad (the card) ripped off and burned. It's function is to dull and only indidentally clean the file teeth. The steel pick on the end should be removed and melted. It's function is to chip out and blunt the file teeth.

The fiber brush side of a file card is the only part one should use. Some materials do require you to clean the file with every stroke and the brush side of the file card is the perfect tool to do this.

Use only a non-abrasive means to clean files. My favorite is to take a 12" stip of hard maple or birch 1 1/2" wide x 1/4" thick and sharpen it like a chisel on the end. Use it as you would a chisel to push crap out with a motion parallel to the teeth. Sharpen it on a 45 degree bevel on a belt sander or trim it off with a shop saw.

The virtue of a wood stick is that the beveled edge instantly conforms to the teeth pitch, penetrates harmelessly to the bittom of the tooth space, and lifts the caked file swarf out of the teeth without affecting the cutting edges.

Got a cabinet shop in your area? Ask to select a few maple or birch strips from their ripping pile.

Pins (hard acculations stuck in the teeth) may be removed with a brass scribe. Particularly hard pins may be picked out with a hard steel scribe but do so with care. It's easy to chip the teeth and the chipout is the site where the pins want to recur.

Files are expensive and they don't stay aggressively sharp for long. Even smart old mechanics will toss files in a drawer or store them in bunches on end in a coffee can. Start buying them out of your own pocket and you'll soon store them in canvas rolls or wood racks. And you'll never, ever card them. Right?

04-05-2004, 01:49 PM
Forrest, I agree. I only use a fine brass brush to clean my files. Also I never use my files meant for aluminum on steel. My files for aluminum last forever.

Mike W
04-05-2004, 02:45 PM
An empty brass cartridge works good to remove pins. You push it sideways along the teeth.

Al Messer
04-05-2004, 03:44 PM
While we are on the subject of files and filing, are there any good American made files on the market and where as they for sure ain't at my local hardware store or Wally World!

04-05-2004, 10:18 PM
Nicholson and Federal files also Simonds

Al Messer
04-05-2004, 11:30 PM
Thanks---now to find a retail outlet!!

Al Messer
04-07-2004, 10:44 AM
to Evan and Buckshot---BEAUTIFUL work, guys!! Congratulations! Makes my stuff look like something out of the junkpile.

04-07-2004, 06:16 PM
I think the best files I've ever used were the Black Diamonds. I occasionally run across an old one that's still in pretty good shape, and they just seem to cut much better. But a few years ago when starting my first machining class, the instructor offered us a good deal on files he'd gotten by the case. They were from India, and suprisingly the one of those I bought was very good. The standar hardware store files aren't worth taking home, except for throwing. Did anyone else ever throw a file? They make an interesting "Buzzz" when thrown flatly. ...oh well, I guess I'm just easily amused. http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif

04-07-2004, 09:34 PM
coolest file discovery was Nicholson's "Magicut". Very fast, don't load up so much: worth the bucks if they still make them.

04-08-2004, 02:11 AM
Home Depot sells some Nicholson files.
Sears appears to sell Simonds files under the Sears Craftsman name.
I like Nicholson better.
I do have a big set of Simonds/Craftsman files I bought 5 years ago. Cost $85.00, as I recall. Good files. I just like Nicholson better.
'Course, Sears does have a lifetime "If you're ever not satisfied" warranty on their files.
For me, drawfiling removes metal quicker than regular filing does, in addition to giving a nice, flat finish.

Dad has some old Black Diamonds. Like them a lot and would love to know where to get new ones.

04-09-2004, 06:49 AM
.........You all can blame these O/T photo's on Al Messer, he twisted my arm :-)

The whole rifle.

Since a muzzle loader has less fall in the wrist then a cartridge rifle I had to cut off the existing sight staff base and fabricate and MiG weld on a new one.

The locater used to keep the sight upright on the tang lug is an ejector and spring from an M1 Garand which is under that screw on top of the base.

The front sight. All the windage adjustment is in the front sight. You have to stand up to reload after each shot so it's not a hardship. Windage adjustable vernier tang sights came in after the heyday of the British long range muzzle loaders anyway.

This particular front sight is actually from a Swedish Ljungman 6.5mm gas operated semi auto. I cut off the barrel ring attachment and filed the base to fit the octagon contour, then silver soldered it in place.

The normal load for this type rifle in 1000 yard work is generally between 80 and 100grs of 2FG black powder and a conical (paper patched or grease groove) bullet of 530 to 560grs, for MV's in the neighborhood of 1100-1250 fps.


Al Messer
04-09-2004, 10:01 AM
And I'm glad I twisted your arm---this is a BEAUTIFUL job! Congratulations!!

Toolmaker Extrodinair
04-09-2004, 11:05 PM
Buckshot, I worked for an engineer from Germany in my early years. he swore that when he started in the trade a shop gave him a piece of steel and a file and told him not to come back until it was square. had to do the same thing in my apprenticeship but it was a drill gage could only use a saw and a file. sad that nowadays all you need is a computer background to start out.

04-11-2004, 08:20 PM
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Jaymo:

Dad has some old Black Diamonds. Like them a lot and would love to know where to get new ones.[/B]</font>

Wholesale Tool sells them. I think MSC might too.

I have no affiliation with either firm.