Filecutting by Hand

mediaeval file cutting

This illustration shows a Mediaeval file maker's workshop in which the techniques used are very similar to those still in commercial use up to the mid 1800s. The man on the left is hardening and tempering the files in a furnace whilst the man on the right is cutting the teeth.

Filecutting by hand

Even up to just a few years ago, some files were still cut by hand and the steel 'blank' was held down onto a lead block on a stake by means of a leather band which was held in place by pressure from the filecutter's feet in stirrups at each end . Use of a lead block was, of course, to protect the teeth already formed on the underside whilst the top side of the file was cut and also because the relatively soft lead 'deadened' the blow and stopped the metal bouncing up at each blow.

hand cutting chisel chisel pic from my collection

Hand Filecutting Chisel

This is the traditional triangular shaped chisel used for hand file cutting. It is made from high quality tool steel with a wide cutting edge and a narrow striking tip. The width of the blade must exceed the widest cut to be made, that is, it must be about 1.5 times the width of the file blank to allow for the angled cuts. The striking tip is made narrow so that the force of the hammer blow is spread evenly over the cutting edge.

filecutter's hammer from my collection

Filecutter's hammer

This is the hammer traditionally used in cutting files by hand. It has a heavy head and short handle and the working face is angled towards the worker so that it strikes the chisel in the direction it is cutting. The head of the hammer is made of wrought iron and the working face has a piece of tool steel forged welded to it. In this case, the steel facing is about 1/8" thick. The hammer itself has a head of maximum dimensions 4.5" x 2.5" x 2" and the handle is 6.5" long. This hammer has had long use and it is interesting to see the wear on the shaft from the workman's hand. This is particularly noticeable near the hammer head where the worker's thumb has worn almost half way through the shaft. The opposite side is also worn away by the forefinger and, towards the other end of the shaft can be seen the wear produced by the palm. The hammer is shown almost life size and so, by holding your hand up to the screen, you can 'fit' your hand to the wear points. This hammer is of 'medium' size and was used for making 4" - 6" files. Larger and smaller hammers were used for other sizes and the weight of the hammer had to be matched to the width of the chisel and the depth of cut needed which was determined by the 'cut' of the file.

  This work is Copyright to Ian W. Wright 2003. You may use it for your own private purposes but reproduction by any means or its use for commercial gain is strictly forbidden without the written permission of the author.