The rasp is an ideal tool to use when there is a lot of stock that needs to be removed, particularly on convex or concave surfaces, or where you need to quickly bevel or chamfer an edge. The technique I find easiest is to cut out as much of the rough profile as I can on the bandsaw, followed by shaping with one or more rasps, and then final smoothing with card scrapers or sandpaper as needed.
Not only do rasps cut quickly, they also provide a high degree of control and precision. Smooth cutting rasp (those with smaller, more numerous teeth) provide a relatively clean finish, with minimal tear-out, even on highly figured wood. And, they’re quiet in use, which is an important consideration for anyone who works in a fairly small shop.
Once you’ve tried a rasp, you’ll find it indispensable for shaping chair legs and arms, spindles, guitar necks, oars, bows, tool handles, the edges of table tops, and sculptural pieces. Though it excels for work on convex and concave surfaces, you can also use a rasp for quick removal of stock on flat surfaces, for example, final fitting through tenons on trestle table legs.
Though they look similar, files and rasps perform different functions. A file is primarily a smoothing tool, while a rasp is a shaping tool. The difference is easily seen by looking closely at the cutting surfaces.
A file has a series of parallel cutting ridges (the ‘teeth’) milled diagonally across the face of the file. A rasp has individual teeth raised above the surface of the file.
File teeth are small and typically more closely spaced, making them ideal for final smoothing, either as an alternative to sandpaper, or in places that are awkward to reach. Use files for tasks like smoothing narrow curves or small holes, and cleaning up end grain on hard wood plugs and the ends of through tenons.
Files are more commonly used for smoothing metal. Use a smooth cut flat file for jointing the edges of card scrapers before honing the edges, and whenever you need to smooth jagged or sharp metal edges. Round and triangular files are also great for making custom beading blades.
Woodworkers use rasps exclusively for shaping wood. As with files, they come in a fairly wide range of lengths, shapes or ‘profiles’, and grades or ‘cuts’.
You’ll find rasps as short as 5″ and up to about 12″ long (measured by the length of the blade, excluding the handle). The three most common rasp shapes are flat, half round, and round. Of these, the half round rasp – flat on one side and convex on the other side – is probably the most useful for woodworkers. You’ll find rasps referred to as either wood rasps or cabinet rasps, based on how the teeth are formed.
Wood rasps have the largest teeth, cut in straight rows across the width of the face. They remove material the fastest, but produce the coarsest finish — this is because each tooth follows the channel cut by the tooth in front of it, and parallel rows of teeth end up tearing wood fibres at the same time. This is the kind of rasp a carpenter, renovator, or sculptor might use to remove lots of material quickly, particularly if they aren’t overly concerned about the quality of the finish. It isn’t a rasp that you’re likely to find in very many furniture or cabinet shops.
Cabinet rasps have smaller teeth cut in a staggered pattern — the teeth in each row are offset — and they provide a smoother finish than wood rasps. Cabinet rasps with larger teeth that cut quicker are sometimes referred to as ‘second cut rasps’ while those with smaller teeth are termed ‘smooth cut rasps’. Occasionally you’ll see a rasp referred to as a ‘patternmakers’ rasp, with the most common of these being the Nicholson #49 (coarser) and #50 (smoother) models. The teeth pattern on patternmaker’s rasps is more varied than on cabinet rasps.
As with most hand tools today, the vast majority of rasps are made (or ‘cut’) by machine. However there are still a few companies that make them by hand. While on machine-cut rasps the teeth pattern is fairly uniform (photo below, left), on hand-cut rasps (photo below, right) the teeth are noticeably randomly distributed. You can see in the photo on the right that the teeth are also cut diagonally. It’s this unique variation in tooth placement that differentiates these rasps from their machine-cut counterparts.
Most hand-cut rasps are referred to as cabinet or cabinetmaker’s rasps, and, as you’ll see below, they use a different method for describing the coarseness of the finish they produce. Technically, you’ll find that there is a difference in the profile between ‘half-round’ hand-cut rasps and ‘cabinet’ hand-cut rasps. As you can see in the illustration below (courtesy of Liogier), the convex side of half-round rasps has a smaller radius than the cabinet rasp. There is also a ‘modeller’ style, which has an even smaller radius.
It’s not a bad idea to have at least a couple of rasps in the shop. A less expensive, rougher cutting rasp for the grunt work of quickly refining a shape, and a second smoother cutting rasp for final shaping and detail work. Sharing the work load this way will likely prolong the working life of the smoother cutting rasp, which is likely to be more expensive.
Woodworkers have a fairly limited range of choices when it comes to selecting half-round or cabinet style rasps. I decided to look at three of the more commonly available rasps made by machine — Bellota, Corradi, and Vallorbe — and four hand-cut rasps — Ajax, Auriou, Gramercy, and Liogier.
There are other rasps brands that I haven’t included here, including Bahco, Nicholson, Pferd, and Tekton.
I used the rasps to shape a variety of concave, convex and flat surfaces on both long grain and end grain, on hard and soft woods. This gave me a sense of the heft and feel for each rasp, how it handled, and its cutting action.
For the photos in this review I then made a scalloped cut with each chisel across the long grain of a soft maple board. To keep things somewhat comparable I used thirty strokes to form each scallop. I also formed a 1/4″ chamfer across the end of an alder board.
Of course, this is all pretty subjective. Your stroke technique, how much pressure you apply, how frequently you remove debris from the teeth, the nature of the wood you’re working – these all have an impact on the quality of the finish that you’ll obtain. But hopefully this information will help you make the right decision when it comes to purchasing your next rasp.
The three machine-cut rasps I looked at are manufactured outside North America – the Bellota, available through Lee Valley Tools, is made in Spain; the Corradi, available online, comes from Italy; and the Vallorbe, which you can order though Grobet USA, is manufactured in Switzerland.
These three rasps do share some similarities — they come unhandled, are classed as 10″ files (they have approximately 9″ of cutting surface), and are roughly the same weight (between 6 and 8 ounces) – but they have distinct differences, in their shape, width and teeth configuration.
The Bellota Smooth Cabinet rasp is the most conventional looking of the three, with teeth cut in straight, staggered rows. This makes it, in my view, much more similar to a wood rasp than the other two models. As you can see in the photo above, it has the largest teeth among the three rasps — and larger teeth leave a rougher finish.
Overall, this rasp is 12″ long (it comes unhandled) and has a 9-1/4″ face (cutting length). The body is 1-1/8″ wide with an almost imperceptible narrowing at the point (the end of the rasp). This wide point makes it more difficult to work in narrow places, or to shape small flats or concave surfaces. At 2-1/2″ I found the tang fairly short and a bit on the stubby side — handles suitable for 10″ rasps didn’t fit very well on this rasp.
With approximately 30 teeth per square centimeter the Bellota left the roughest finish, with deep grooves clearly visible across the surface. It was the slowest cutting of all seven rasps, and had a tendency to grab onto the stock, particularly with grainy wood, which may be due to dull teeth. It didn’t feel well balanced in the hand, being somewhat tip heavy.
At just under $20 it’s the least expensive rasp, and if you’re looking for an economical rasp for occasional stock removal, then the Bellota will do the job. However, for a few dollars extra, I’d recommend the Ajax rasp. There are two other Bellota models available in a shorter length.
The Corradi G415 is part of the company’s ‘Gold Precision Rasp’ line. It’s classified as a #8 cut (72 teeth per square centimeter) cabinet rasp. It’s about the same length as the Bellota, but at 8-7/8″ it has a shorter face. At 1-1/4″ it’s the second widest of the seven rasps. The top 2-1/2″ of the rasp tapers to 3/4″ wide at the point, somewhat narrower than the Bellota.
The Corradi has the most unusual tooth pattern I’ve seen on a rasp. The teeth are cut in a wavy pattern across the face of the rasp right up to the edges, on both the convex and flat sides. This has the effect of presenting the teeth to the wood in an irregular manner. The result is a much smoother finish than the Bellota rasp, and almost indistinguishable from the finish that I got from the Vallorbe rasp. It was one of the quickest cutting rasps — along with the Vallorbe, Auriou, and Liogier — and took the least amount of effort to remove stock. It did an excellent job shaping a piece of Ipe that I had on hand.
While I really liked the cutting action that the Corradi gave, and the fact that it seemed to glide effortlessly across the stock, it did feel chunky and somewhat on the heavy side — at 8 ounces (unhandled) it’s the heaviest of the three machine-cut rasps. When you add a handle it tops out at around 11 ounces, the heaviest of all seven rasps. Similar to the Auriou, the wide face makes the Corradi very suitable for working wider curves and larger flat surfaces.
The Corradi is priced at $53, which makes it, I think, much better value than the Bellota. Unfortunately there is, at this time, no North American distributor for this rasp, and shipping adds another $40, bringing the price tag to just over $100. Shipping though, is very expedient – orders are shipped via express courier and typically take only three days from the time the order is placed. The Corradi is a great rasp that I think anyone will thoroughly enjoy using. Three other models are available.
The Vallorbe 30.983 is part of the Grobet-Glardon tool family, who have been making files and rasps for over 140 years. The first time I looked at the tooth pattern on the convex side of this rasp I thought it was hand-cut. As you can see in the photo above, the teeth appear to have a random pattern — I suspect this is the result of computer controlled machine milling.
At 12-3/4″ (unhandled) the Vallorbe cabinet rasp is just a tad longer than the Corradi. The Vallorbe has 9-1/2″ of usable rasping surface, and at 1″ wide and 6 ounces in weight (unhandled), it’s the narrowest and lightest of the three machine-made rasps — and the same width as both the Ajax and Gramercy hand-cut rasps. It’s classified as a #7 cut, with approximately 50 teeth/cm². The teeth are cut right up to the edges.
I enjoyed using the Vallorbe rasp — it cut smoothly and quickly, and is very light in the hand. Like the Gramercy it’s very well balanced (even after adding a handle). The narrow, 1″ width, and long tapered point makes it easy to work small curves and flats. Of the three machine-cut rasps I enjoyed using it the most. It cut equally well on hard, grainy woods like oak and ash — not as cleanly as the Corradi, but much better than the Bellota and Ajax, and nearly as good as the Auriou, Gramercy and Liogier.
Unfortunately, the Vallorbe is stratospheric in price — almost $160 CA and $135 US – making it the most expensive of all seven rasps. Which is a pity, because it really is a fine tool. There are ten other models available.
The Bellota, which was the slowest cutting rasp, didn’t load up at all. The Corradi was one of the three rasps that loaded up very quickly (the others were the Auriou and Liogier). However the debris was quickly removed with a brush. The Vallorbe loaded up slightly more than the Corradi, but less so than the Ajax, Auriou and Liogier. Removing the debris was very easy.
What’s apparent right away is how little the Gramercy loaded up with debris. It took noticeably longer for the Gramercy to load up regardless of the type of wood I used it on. The Liogier loaded up quicker than the other rasps, but this had no detrimental affect on the cutting action of the rasp.
For all four rasps, a quick rub down with a stiff bristle brush easily removed the debris.
There used to be a time when all rasps were made by hand. Today, there are only a few companies that manufacture hand-cut (or hand stitched) rasps. The major advantage of hand-cut rasps is that the slight irregularity in tooth size and placement gives a smoother finish, as the teeth are less prone to catch in the wood.
These rasps are made by a process called ‘hand stitching’. Essentially, each tooth on the rasp is formed by hand — a very talented and highly experienced fellow uses a hammer and punch to raise (stitch) the teeth. The process is quite laborious, as it can take upwards of an hour and a half to stitch a typical 10″ rasp. The rows are formed diagonally, which serves to stagger the teeth.
Obviously, the skill of the stitcher is important in ensuring that the teeth are raised to the same relative height and that the shape and angle of the teeth are correct. Also important is the knowledge and experience of the foundry in selecting the right kind of steel, and then shaping, grinding, heat treating, and tempering the blank. The whole process is quite lengthy.
All of the hand-cut rasps I looked at are imported, the Ajax & Blundell rasps (Lee Valley Tools), are made in the Czeck Republic; Auriou rasps (Lee Valley Tools and Tools for Woodworking) come from France; Gramercy rasps (Tools for Woodworking) are produced in Pakistan; and Liogier rasps (available online from Liogier) are also made in France.
As you can see in the photo to the left, the teeth run in a diagonal pattern from left to right. Less obvious is the orientation of the teeth. Typically the teeth are oriented (stitched) to the right, which may favour right-handed people. However, both Auriou and Liogier also make rasps that have the teeth oriented to the left, which left-handed people might find more effective. The teeth on Ajax and Gramercy rasps are unhanded, that is, not angled to the left or right. Given that you often skew the rasp when using it, the benefit of right or left handed teeth is debatable.
Machine-cut rasps are classified as smooth, second, or bastard in terms of their cutting action — smoothest, smooth, and rough would be the relative equivalents. Ajax rasps are not classified (they’re simply referred to as ‘hand cut’). The Gramercy rasps are classified by the number of teeth per square inch. Auriou and Liogier use a scale of 1 to 15 to describe the relative coarseness of the rasp teeth (what both companies refer to as the ‘grain’), with 1 being the coarsest, and 15 the smoothest. There are more, smaller teeth as the scale number (i.e. the grain size) increases.
The photo below (courtesy of Liogier) provides a relative comparison of the difference grain sizes. For both Liogier and Auriou their most popular rasp is the grain 9. The Ajax rasp appears to be most similar to a 7 grain (possibly a 6), while the Gramercy looks to be a 9 grain. The higher the grain number, the smoother the finished surface will be, as the scratch pattern will be smaller. However, the rasp will cut less quickly. Regardless of which grain number you use, you will still want to clean up the surface of your work piece with sandpaper or card scraper.
All four rasps are about the same overall length, with blades approximately 9″ long and the teeth cut right up to the edges.
The Ajax rasp is most unlike the other three rasps, in that it has a flat end and virtually no tapering. For most furniture work a tapered face ending in a pointed tip would be more desirable. All four rasps have the teeth stitched up to the edges.
The Ajax is the only rasp with a short (4-1/4″) plastic handle. The other handles are approximately 5″ long.
The Liogier handle is 1-5/16″ at its widest, which I find makes it feel somewhat chunky. The Gramercy is sized to fit its narrow face width, though if you have overly large hands you might find it a tad to small. The Auriou handle suited my mid-sized hand (3-1/2″ palm width) the best. While the handle shouldn’t be a determining factor in choosing a rasp if you think you’ll want to replace it, make sure you ask for an unhandled rasp (expect for the Ajax, which you’d have to remove yourself). Besides, making your own custom tool handles is a great way to use up those exotic wood cut-offs.
At 10 ounces the Ajax 62W25.10 is the heaviest hand-cut rasp, and second heaviest of all seven rasps (after the Corradi). The body is 1″ wide with a slight tapering at the end. I counted 32 teeth per square centimeter, the same as the machine-cut Bellota, making them both equivalent to a #7 cut (possibly a #6).
The Ajax cut quickly enough, about on par with the Vallorbe, though it left a finish that wasn’t, in my view, as good as the Vallorbe, or the other three hand-cut rasps. In use if felt more like the Bellota. The absence of a tapered tip and the short, chunky plastic handle probably have something to do with how I feel about this rasp. Unlike the other hand-cut files, and even the Vallorbe, it didn’t provide much tactile feedback in use.
The Ajax makes a decent, if not outstanding rasp, certainly much better than the Bellota. And, at just under $35 you won’t find a less expensive hand-cut rasp. Two other models are available.
It’s probably safe to say that anyone who has heard about hand-cut rasps knows the name Auriou. As with any top quality tool, word gets around, and the word has always been highly complementary for Auriou.
The Auriou L.250 G.9 rasp is made of high carbon steel and the teeth are case hardened. The face on this rasp is 1-9/64″ wide (the broadest among the four) and 8-5/8″ long (the shortest). However it weighs the same as the longer Liogier — 9 ounces.
The fulcrum point on the Auriou is a bit closer to the tip than on the Gramercy or Liogier — when holding the Auriou by the handle it feels noticeably ‘end’ heavy. This might be due to the fact that the face doesn’t have as much of a taper as the Liogier, or that it has somewhat of a smaller handle. However, this really isn’t overly crucial, as, when using the rasp, you’ll always maintain one hand on tip of the rasp.
The Auriou cuts very quickly and loaded up slightly less than the Liogier. Removing the debris was easy. The quality of the cut is, in my view, about the same as the Liogier, and slightly better than the Gramercy. The walnut handle is very nicely shaped and comfortable to hold, which, I think, contributes to the overall positive impression when using the rasp. Once you get into a rhythm, this rasp is a joy to use.
At $115 ($110 US) the Auriou is the most expensive hand-cut rasp on the market. About half a dozen dealers carry Auriou rasps, and there are 11 models to choose from (though not all dealers stock the full line).
The Gramercy GT-CMRASP.C1 is the more streamlined of these hand-cut rasps, closer in size to a modeler’s rasp than a cabinet rasp. The face is 1″ wide and provides 9-1/4″ of cutting surface, tapering to a point along the last 2-1/4″ of the face. At only 7 ounces, it’s the lightest — and the 2 ounce differential is very notable. To complement the narrow size of the rasp Gramercy has chosen to add a fairly thin handle. At its narrowest the handle measures 5/8″ wide, and at the widest it’s only 1″. I found that the slim handle made this rasp much easier to manipulate, particularly when working narrow curves.
The Gramercy is made of surgical grade stainless steel so you won’t have to worry about rust forming on the teeth. Unlike the Auriou and Liogier, Gramercy uses the number of teeth per square centimeter (or inch) to describe rasp coarseness. The 70 teeth/cm² (11 teeth/in²) is probably equivalent to a #9 cut. On the Auriou and Liogier the teeth are right-handed — cut on a slight orientation that presents the face of the teeth at a slight angle to the wood fibres — whereas on the Gramercy the teeth are unhanded. I’m right handed, and didn’t notice any disadvantage to the unhanded Gramercy rasp.
The Gramercy cut rapidly enough, though not as quickly as the Auriou or Liogier, and didn’t load up at all on the two test pieces I cut. I found that it was superbly balanced, and because of its narrower profile, provided wonderful control. At just over $70, the Gramercy represents excellent value in a hand-cut rasp. If you like a narrower design, then you won’t go wrong with this rasp. There are five other models available.
Liogier is likely a name that is unfamiliar to most woodworkers. However, the company has been in business since the early 1920s. They make an astounding variety of rasps and rifflers — well over 800 varieties across sixty models. And virtually all their rasps are made to order, in either a right or left version at no additional cost.
The Liogier 00FAU250 is among their most popular rasps. It’s made from high carbon-alloy steel and is available in three variations. The ‘Traditional’ version, which I tested, is tempered to a Rockwell 60; the ‘Titan’ to Rockwell 72 (which makes the teeth harder so they’ll last longer); and the ‘Sapphire’ which is an ultra hard treatment. According to Liogier this new process produces a rasp that will last four times longer than a Titan rasp. The Sapphire is rated at 3800 Vickers — comparable to a Vickers rating for tungsten carbide of 2283. An approximate conversion would put the Rockwell 60 traditional rasp at about 800 Vickers.
The Liogier is marginally narrower and has a slightly longer face that the Auriou and Gramercy, and it has a more pronounced taper, which I prefer on a cabinet rasp. Even though it has a rather bulky handle it feels very well balanced overall – better than the Auriou, but less so than the Gramercy.
Handles aside, the Liogier cut just as rapidly as the Gramercy and Auriou, but loaded up somewhat more quickly. Interestingly, I found that the Liogier still cut quickly and smoothly even with the teeth heavily loaded with debris. As with all the other rasps, removing the debris was quick and easy. The Liogier has a solid, commanding presence in the hand. In use, it did an excellent job on soft and hard woods, as well as some pretty gnarly oak. I think that most woodworkers would find it very difficult to decipher the difference between the cuts done by either rasp.
At $84 the Liogier is priced very competitively, even when you factor in the $19 shipping charge.
As for most hand tools hold your rasp with both hands – one hand at the tip of the tool, the other holding the handle. You’ll be able to control the rasp much easier. Get into the habit of making long, smooth strokes, the full length of the face. It takes a bit of experience to determine how much downward pressure to apply. As much as possible you want to let the rasp do the work. Applying too much downward pressure makes it difficult to control the rasp. As you approach the end of shaping your work piece lighten your touch to produce a finer scratch pattern.. As you approach the end of shaping your work piece lighten your touch to produce a finer scratch pattern.
To get the most out of your rasp you should treat it as carefully as you would any of your other tools. One of the surest ways to damage a rasp is to carelessly toss it into a tool box or drawer with other tools. The teeth are fairly brittle, and can be easily chipped. So keep the teeth from hitting against other metal tools (including other rasps). Gramercy and Liogier ship their rasps in convenient, reusable protective cases. Otherwise, store rasps separately in a protective leather or canvas tool roll. Alternatively you can insert a small hook in the handle and hang them on a shop wall.
Except for the Gramercy, which is made of stainless steel, you’ll want to keep moisture away from your rasps. While you could wrap them in oily cloths, I prefer to lightly spray them occasionally with a non-oily rust inhibitor like Boeshield T-9.
Not all rasps come handled. And while there isn’t any rule that mandates a handle, they do make it easier to hold and manipulate the rasp. You can turn your own handle, or purchase a self-threading model, which comes in a range of sizes to suit different sized rasps.
Self-threading versions have hardwood handles and a steel ferrule that holds a tapered hardened nut that that you thread onto the tapered tang of the rasp. I use them on my unhandled rasps, and find that they hold solidly in place. A nice feature is that you can remove the handle to use on other rasps. But the handles are so inexpensive that it’s more convenient to purchase one for each rasp. Available from Lee Valley for around $9.
If you like the look of the ash handle on the Gramercy rasp you can purchase it from Tools For Woodworking less than $5.
Rasps are meant to be used two-handed — one hand on the handle, the other hand holding the tip. This makes it easier to deliver long, continuous strokes. However, when you’re doing a lot of aggressive rasp work, those tiny teeth can dig into your fingers. Some people suggest wrapping the tip with a short piece of electrical or masking tape to protect both your hands and work piece from errant scratches.
A much better option is the Veritas Auxiliary File/Rasp Handle that attaches to the tip of the rasp (or files for that matter) to provide a second handle. It accommodates rasps up to 1-3/16″ wide. The Veritas handle makes it a lot easier to control the rasp, and you can quickly move it from one rasp to another. The 1-1/2″ diameter wood knob fits nicely in the hand, and it only adds about 3 ounces to the overall weight of the rasp. Available from Lee Valley for around $20.
Just like files, rasps load up with debris fairly quickly, which is one reason they become less effective. I’ve found the best thing to do is keep a cleaning brush at hand, and use it on a regular basis, as soon as I notice that the rasp is becoming clogged up, rather than waiting until the teeth become overly loaded. While I end-up frequently reaching for the brush, I think that I spend less time overall cleaning the rasp.
Both Auriou and Liogier caution against using metal brushes, like those found on a file cleaner. You can, however, use the bristle brush side of the file cleaner. In fact, any stiff, natural or synthetic brush will do the job. File cleaners are available at most woodworking supply houses including Lee Valley for under $15.
You can get a small natural bristle brush from Tools for Woodworking ($3.95 US) that is just 2-1/2″ long, the perfect size for storing in a shop apron.