Nancy LT Hamilton
Last updated: 6/9/20
I made a little video on how to round metal edges.
I have a question about file cuts. What do the numbers mean? What file to use?
I want to buy a set of needle files and they ask if I want number 2 or 3? I don’t know which number will give me the most versatility? I want a file that will smooth cut edges and can file a flat spot on jump rings for soldering.
The larger the number, the finer the cut. Most Swiss cuts run from 00 to 6. The 6 is the finest cut with the 00 being the roughest cut. A 3 or a 4 is in the middle so, it would be the most versatile.
In the beginning, it’s wise to buy a file with a cut somewhere in the middle but, as time and your experience grow, you’ll find yourself purchasing the same file in several cuts.
A half-round file (aka: ring file, inside ring file) will always be the most versatile because you have both a flat side and a curved side. These larger files are great for larger jobs like, (surprisingly – not) cleaning up solder from inside rings or filing edge flat (obviously with the flat side!). Square files are great for cutting 90° grooves, round files for cutting channels, etc. So many files, so little cash!!! Haha!
My favorite files are escapement files because they fit in tiny places. A barrette needle or escapement is my most used file shape because there are only teeth on one side. This is great for not inadvertently filing something you didn’t intend to file. You can highly polish the sides and tops of these files and then, if you accidentally brush against another part, like a prong, they polish the metal instead of scratching it!
I love, love, love my files – they are one of my favorite tools. In summary, (one is needed after so much blathering!) I’d go with the #3 or #4 cut. A set of files is a good way to start your file hoarding! Thanks and happy creating!
Which Files Should I Purchase?
“I have been doing a lot of research on files to see what would be best to use with brass, copper, and other metals to fix all of my wonky edges. There is so much information out there and all sorts of varying opinions that I have just managed to confuse myself. I want to buy files that will hold up throughout the years, but on the other end, I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a file set. I know they come in different levels of coarseness as well as shapes and I really don’t know what levels be best for this kind of work. Any chance you could point out files (and brands if possible) that you feel are a necessity and some that would be beneficial when working with metal?”
I’m working on a page on files. It is so extensive and it’s taking me forever. I’ll announce, on Facebook/Instagram, when it’s up. This is a huge subject. Huge. I’m going to give you the briefest explanation that I can – although, it’s a webpage in itself!
Friedrich Dick and Glardon Valtitan are good brands. Try not to buy the cheap Indian or Pakistani made ones: the teeth aren’t consistent, the steel isn’t good, they are not well-made tools and they don’t last or do a good job!
Files come in different cuts. Briefly and basically, you’ll want at least two cuts. Cuts can be measured by the American system: 1, 2, and 3.
- Cut 1: Bastard Cut – aka medium-coarse. Bastard files have 26 teeth per inch. They remove a lot of material.
- Cut 2: Second Cut – aka middle/half smooth. These are for moderate removal of material. Second cut files have 36 teeth per inch.
- Cut 3: Smooth Cut aka fine, are for finishing or for areas where you want to remove just a little material. These are very fine with 100 teeth per inch.
There are also Rough Files which are coarser than a bastard cut with 16 teeth per inch and a Dead Smooth File, which is very fine, with 100 teeth per inch.
Files also come in single and double cuts (double cuts have two rows of crossing teeth and are very aggressive). There are other types of cuts but, jeweler’s don’t usually use them like rasps, etc.
Make sure that you purchase metal files and not wood files – the steel is harder.
Files are also measured by the German and Swiss numbering system. To streamline this, let’s just say that the higher the number, the finer the cut. The Swiss system has more grades than the German and both have more cuts than the American.
There are so many types of files and, yep, you’re right – they’re costly. I just spent almost 200.00 on 5 of them. I have over 65 files (just did a rough headcount!) and I use almost all of them. You need to choose files that will fit the type of work that you are going to do.
- Are you working in tight spaces? Purchase a small set of escapement or needle files. Escapement files are about the same size as needles but, the cutting area is smaller A round, square, triangular (aka three square), half-round and a barrette are a good start. The barrette has only one cutting surface so, it’s awesome for not filing away surrounding areas. I like them for stone setting and cleaning up prongs.
- If you are making hinges, making prong settings, or other types of jewelry where you will need consistent, even grooves, purchase a few joint files. They only have a cutting surface on their rounded edges. They come in sizes that are approximately sized to the most common metal gauges.
- It’s a good idea to have two big files on hand. I have a 12″ mill, single cut bastard Mill File and a 12″flat, double cut, bastard file which is a very rough cut. These are great for squaring metal and removing lots of it. I use it to straighten and square edges on metal, polymer clay (baked), metal clay, etc. I like them large because I don’t have to make many strokes because they are really long. Having them wide is also awesome for when you’re trying to remove a lot of metal on, let’s say a metal box. Here’s a size comparison of a needle, habilis, and hand file.
- Habilis files are bigger than needle files but, are smaller than hand files. I like habilis files – they remove a lot of metal but, they aren’t as big and bulky as a hand file.
- A ring file (aka 1/2 round, inside-ring file) is great for cleaning up insides of rings. It is basically a half-round file and can be used for many other things.
Since this is such an extensive subject, I’m going to stop here. My advice is: when you encounter a situation where you think: “I wish I had a file that…” then that is the time to buy one. The more experienced you become, the more you will encounter those situations. I’d get a few needles, a few habilis, two hand files, and a ring file. Of course, if hinges or basket settings are in your future, you might want to consider the joint file too.
In a magical world, where we have every tool and the money to buy them, you’ll have every file, in every cut but, I don’t know many who live in this place.
Another thing: don’t throw all of your files in a drawer together. They shouldn’t rub against each other. The jostling can break the teeth and make your files dull before their time.
Also, invest in a file card or file brush
– basically a brush that removes metal from the file’s teeth. Even though they don’t look like they can, they can even clean needle files. You can also use a hard bristle toothbrush for cleaning out your files.
You can buy or make handles for your files. Saves your hands. You can use either polymer clay, Jett Sett,
or other thermoplastic
to make your own. You’ll need a clay dedicated toaster oven for the polymer. The Jett Sett and Plastiform are warmed in hot water then shaped.
Here’s an image of my weird (I made it) file storage for SOME of my small files. The others I keep in either silverware separators or in my PVC-glued together tubes.
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