Not all wood projects need to be square and flat. In fact, curving edges and surfaces of a project adds drama, movement and a certain artistic flair that helps bring a project from ho-hum to WOW!
While many woodworkers may think first of routers and band saws when they consider adding curves to their projects, but unless you are very careful and use jigs or other hold down devices, your project can go from whoa to D’oh! in the blink of an eye.
That’s why when I need to add delicate curves to a project, I will reach for some pretty scary looking tools. Meet the shaping team.
From left to right, I have:
A Shinto rasp. This is one of the newest tools to my collection, and I am growing to love it more every time I use it. Basically, it is a series of what appears to be hacksaw blades bolted together to form a boat-like shape. It has a coarse side and a fine side, and a comfortable handle that allows for a firm two-handed grip on the tool. This sucker can remove waste wood like nobody’s business, yet allow for extremely fine passes and great control. I like that I can also shape up to the edge of a leg or other obstacle on a project because the sides of the tool are smooth.
A Microplane interchangeable rasp kit. Now, we are talking. This baby gets the most work in my shop. Basically a plastic frame with three different interchangeable inserts, the Microplane tools shave the wood rather than tear it. I can get a very heavy cut with firm pressure, yet get an exceptionally smooth cut with much more care. The interchangeable inserts allow me to work on a variety of different shapes with ease.
My rasps and files come next. From left to right, I have a second cut cabinet rasp, a Nicholson rasp/file combo with an integral handle, a flat bastard cut file that is primarily for metal work, but can also do very fine work on wood and a round rat tail file. Great for working on tight radii. Of course, I also need my file card, the brush like device all the way to the right, to get the sawdust out of the teeth of these tools as I work. I find I have incredible control with these tools, but they can be a little rough when shaping across the grain. That’s why I find myself using the Microplane tools more.
At the top is my draw knife. A pain in the butt to sharpen (I’m getting better at it) but a real joy to use. The draw knife can take off mighty chunks of wood in certain circumstances, yet, when wielded with care and finesse can take off shavings as thin as you can with a smoothing plane. Right now, I hold the work I’m working on in my bench vise when using this tool, but one day I will have to build a shave horse – or at least a little shave pony – for my shop to use this tool to its fullest potential.
To give you an idea of what can be done with these tools, here is a pagoda style box with a gently sculpted lid. While the original plans to built the lid involved a delicate balancing act on a band saw and drum sander, I found the task easy and immensely rewarding with just a rasp and a little bit of layout work. The process is an enjoyable, quiet and much safer way to spend an hour or so.
What kind of care do these tools need? They are pretty rugged, but will serve you a whole lot longer if you store them so they won’t bump up against each other. Of course, I am always looking to upgrade my collection with some premium rasps and maybe a few exotic tools, but I have this feeling I have yet to truly tap the potential of the tools I already have in my collection.
But, hey, who wouldn’t like new tools?