Some things that I've learned about finishing. Some of them I also use. #1: Using Scrapers

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Blog entry by Karson posted 06-23-2007 08:00 AM 2708 reads 8 times favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Some things that I've learned about finishing. Some of them I also use. series Part 2: Home made wood fillers, Pumice and Rottenstone. »

Sharpening and using a scraper.

When I suggest that you should use a scraper in your woodworking. Some are going to say “What?” Others are going to say “I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work!” And maybe others are going to say “I use them every day!” To the latter I’d say “Get a life!” To the previous I’d say “Hang on and we’ll fix your problems!” And to the first I’d say:

Scrapers have been used in woodworking for a long time. It is believed that the earliest scrapers were made out of pieces of handsaw blades that had fulfilled their usefulness of sawing. Today we have many kinds of scrapers.

Not this kind

They are used for paint scraping. They are also useful for getting glue off board glue-ups. The carbide blade scrapes away the glue from the joint. Use them for that. They work.

Not this kind

They are used for scraping out seats in a chair. Getting rid of punk wood on that slab you are going to use for a table top. You can sharpen them on a grinding stone and put a lot of pressure as you make them work. They work, but they are not for finessing wood they are a rough cutting scraper. Others may quibble with that, and I’m OK. You can use a tire iron to work on a lathe, but that might not be the correct tool. But if it works for you, I’m not here to tell you to stop.

As I’ve said these are things I’ve learned, others might have had a different teacher. Or they learned their skills at the school of hard knocks.

This is the scraper that I’m talking about.

They come in different sizes, different shapes, and they come in different thicknesses.

They also have a different hardness in the metal structure. They are somewhere between soft (they wouldn’t have a very long life) and hard (be impossible to sharpen)

They will rust

If you leave sweat on them when you are finished and you just leave them on your bench.
First thing you want to do if you purchase a new shaper is (Open the package) LOL. What you want to do is get the edge flat. Clamp the scraper in a pair of wooden jaws in your vise and with a fine file go lightly down the edge to make it nice and flat. Look at it and make sure that there are no high spots.

Then I take the scraper and slide the edge over some 600 grit silicon carbide sandpaper. To keep a flat straight edge, bend the scraper with both hands, maybe a ¼” curve and then slide it down the sandpaper. It’s tough for me to hold it with both hands and take the picture. So this is a one handed bend and slide.

After you’ve done that a few times and the edge is nice and smooth, you want to remove any burr that might be on the edge. So now slide it on the edge across the same sandpaper.

Do that on both sides of one edge.
It might be good for me to tell you this bit of knowledge. DO NOT SHARPEN both edges of the scraper. You are going to be holding this with your dainty fingers and hands and you don’t want to be holding razor blades and squeezing them tight. Blood messes up woodworking projects.
Now you have both surfaces of one edge nice and smooth and no burrs. As you use a scraper you will have to periodically re-true it up by doing the above steps over and over again. That is not a one-time when I buy a scraper function.

Take the first finger of your right hand (Do it right now, I’ll wait) Take that finger and place it in the valley between your right ear and your head, just in behind your ear lobe. At that point on your body you have an over-abundance of oil. Slide your finger through that oil filled valley and then rub the same finger down the edge of the scraper. You have just lightly lubed the surface of the scraper so that your sharpening tool will slide easily. Notice you don’t need a quart of 10W-30 motor oil for this function. Ear oil is enough. I failed to mention there is another spot that contains the required amount of the aforementioned oil. That is the valley between your nose and your cheek. Not the little hole (were not using bugger material for lubrication). The spot where all of your pimples started when you were a teanager.

Place the scraper on the edge of your bench, table saw, kitchen counter, some place where you have a solid edge. Then use a screwdriver, engine valve stem, hardened steel rod, if you use a screwdriver get one that doesn’t have chrome plating on it. Just a nice hard shiny metal rod. Slide it across the edge, by drawing the shaft of the screwdriver toward you. You want maybe a 5 degree angle on the hardened steel rod. What you are trying to do is to slide a microscopic edge of metal toward you. On that nice smooth edge you just made you are now creating a razor sharp edge, which is sliding toward you. You should slide that hard steel rod back and forth a few times, continuing to pull the metal toward you. After you do this a few times you will know when to stop.

If you continue until the edge of the scraper looks like a knife edge, I can tell you this, “You have gone too far!” and “You have pressed too hard!”

Now you want to take the scraper and put it back in the nice wooden jaws of your vise. You want to take your hardened steel rod and bend that curl of metal you pulled to the front edge and curl it to the side.

I now will now show you some of my artistic ability, Not!

The top picture is placing the behind the ear oil on the scraper. The second picture is drawing the metal on the edge toward you. And the third picture is forming the curl unto the side of the scraper. You can put the curl on both sides of one edge. If one is not sharp then rotate it and use the other side. It is OK to sharpen like that, just don’t put it on the opposite side of the scraper. If you have 3 or 4 scrapers when you sit down to sharpen them it goes quite fast and you put off having to work with a dull scraper until you are really tired of it. Just grab another one and keep trying until you find a sharp edge.
The burr that you make is not the size that you see in the picture. It is quite small, but you can feel it and if you run your fingers down the edge, they will cut.

To use it hold the scraper in two hands, give it a slight bow, maybe 1/8” and with your thumbs in the middle, and your fingers on the outside push it down the board. What you will get is dust. What you are supposed to get is shavings.

You will notice the scraping dust on the board just above the scraper edge.

This occurs when you are not holding the scraper correctly. You will remember the burr that we turned on the edge of the scraper. What you want is those burrs to cut wood not scrape along the surface of the board. You held your hardened steel rod at about a 5 to 10 degree angle as you turned that burr. You now want that scraper to be held at about the same 5 – 10 degree angle. So it is almost straight up and down.

If you’ve tried this before and it didn’t work. It’s either the burr was not made correctly or you didn’t hold it correctly. That’s all there is. Nothing fancy. It makes a surface on the board that you can’t get with sandpaper. It’s glassy smooth. You can get rid of planer snipes and washboard surfaces. Hold the scraper at a 45 degree angle as you move down the board so you don’t follow in the valleys. You want to cut the tips off all of the high places.

You don’t want to be like a boat riding between waves in the ocean. You want to be like a pier that cuts across all of the waves.

A couple of other things. Single edge razor blades make great scrapers to remove paint and varnish runs. Let the finish dry and then just scrape the blade down the high spots to level the finish out with the rest of the finish. Hold the blade like you were taught to hold your scraper. Don’t cut the finish off, just scrape it away gently.

You can also buy holders for scrapers. They are handy it you are trying to scrape a log slab that you are making into a table because the scraper will get hot enough to be uncomfortable.

You use the center knob to put the curve into the scraper.

You hold it in both hands with your thumbs in the indentions and push. Again holding at the correct angle.

You can also buy jigs to help you file and sharpen your scrapers. I’ve got three different kinds.
Do it like I showed you here, that way no matter where you are you can sharpen a scraper. You won’t have to say, “If I had my jig I could sharpen it!”

You always Have your ear, or someone else’s. You can find a screwdriver. And you can get away without the sandpaper, but, it is better with it. You don’t need the jig to hold it, use your hands. You just might have to cut up a perfectly good handsaw to get your scraper material though. Too big to carry in your billfold, you might have to start carrying a gym bag though.

Updated next morning:

I noticed the picture of the sandpaper where I had been cleaning up the edge of the scraper after using the file. If you noticed that there were black marks in rows which meaned that this previously planed board had an uneaven surface. So this morning I thought I’d take a picture again after I’d done the practice scraping picture taking. Here is the new picture with the sandpaper from the earlier sanding.

There is still an uneaven surface but it is definetely smoother from when I started. I don’t recommend using this technique to tell when the board is smooth. your hand is usually close enough.

(C) Copyright Karson Morrison 6-22-2007, 6-23-2007 All right reserved.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

16 comments so far

View WayneC's profile


14358 posts in 4550 days

#1 posted 06-23-2007 08:06 AM

Great info Karson. I’m more in group too. I really need to get my skill up.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1809 posts in 4538 days

#2 posted 06-23-2007 09:08 AM

Great blog Karson. I need to get a set.

-- Bob

View frank's profile


1492 posts in 4658 days

#3 posted 06-23-2007 11:26 AM

Hi Karson;
—-what a well and informative article you written here!

Also thanks for the detail pictures you have taken, this part of picture taking as I go along in the shop is hard for me, as when I’m in the heat of the process I find it hard to stop and take pictures.

Thanks for taking the time to write, photo and share this wealth of knowledge with us….

-- --frank, NH,

View Roger Strautman's profile

Roger Strautman

657 posts in 4586 days

#4 posted 06-23-2007 11:37 AM

Thanks for sharing this helpful scraper blog, Karson. I already knew the process of sharpening scrapers but I never gave it a thought to show others this process, I guess I took it for granite everyone knew how. Wrong! You explained it very well and used well thought out the pictures. Nice!

-- " All Things At First Appear Difficult"

View oscorner's profile


4563 posts in 4763 days

#5 posted 06-23-2007 01:28 PM

Blood messes up woodworking projects. Does this apply if you are planning to stain it red? LOL. Very good point, not to sharpen both sides of the scraper. Your blog is very informative and those fine shavings are a testiment of you skill.

-- Jesus is Lord!

View furnitologist's profile


198 posts in 4465 days

#6 posted 06-23-2007 02:12 PM

That was really good….........2 things stuck out most for me.

1. the ole straight razor in the finishing room. Difficult to find by me, just spend a morning this past week looking, ended up having to buy a scraper handle in order to get that 5 pack of blades.

2. Karson….......your comment on having to understand that ..”you may have had a different teacher” in mentioning differing approaches. This maybe why I like LumberJocks so much…..the open mindedness of differing techniques… me; an indication of woodworking maturity.

I enjoyed your post….............Neil

View gizmodyne's profile


1780 posts in 4542 days

#7 posted 06-23-2007 02:32 PM

Thanks for the info Karson. Great photos too. I am trying to learn to use this tool.

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View Karson's profile


35194 posts in 4853 days

#8 posted 06-23-2007 04:51 PM

Thanks guys for the comments. Rog, I’ve read a bunch of articles and still made dust, then one day I tried it again and the scraper stopped sliding. It had dug into the wood. WOW says I. I pushed harder and had shavings. It’s the skill in holding it that makes it cut shavings

You can run a scraper out of the package across the wood and get dust. I do do that when I’m finishing shellac or varnish. Don’t sand the surface to make it smooth. Run a dull scraper over the surface and all of the nibs on the surface disapear. And you still have your gloss.

Mark: Red stain coveres just about everything so in that case it’s OK.

As to prices of scrapers, one of the packages that I had shown was a pack of three for 12.95. Not the most expensive tools in your finishing drawer. Definetely cheap enough to try. No other excessories required. Except a fine file and sandpaper. But everyone should already have those items.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View doyoulikegumwood's profile


384 posts in 4445 days

#9 posted 06-23-2007 05:13 PM

hey all just some food for thought if you wince at the thought of scrapers when was sand paper invented and what did they use befor sand paper

-- I buy tools so i can make more money,so ican buy more tools so I can work more, to make more money, so I can buy more tool, so I can work more

View Karson's profile


35194 posts in 4853 days

#10 posted 06-23-2007 05:27 PM

I’m sure that the cave dwellers used rocks and other sharp things to smooth off the logs that they used to sit on around the campfires. Scraping devices have been around a long time.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View mot's profile


4926 posts in 4489 days

#11 posted 06-23-2007 07:25 PM

Great tutorial Karson! A definite favorite thread.

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4546 days

#12 posted 06-23-2007 08:45 PM

Indeed. Just favorited. Thanks Karson.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4767 days

#13 posted 06-23-2007 10:49 PM

Mine is always in use…usually for those harded to reach places and that missed glue spot. Good job Karson!

View Karson's profile


35194 posts in 4853 days

#14 posted 06-23-2007 11:22 PM

I agree Dennis. They are so handy to use. Do you use them for smothing nibs off your finish. I find that they are so great for that. Put on your varnish with a brush and then make it smooth with the scraper. Or smoth the overspray.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View Roger Strautman's profile

Roger Strautman

657 posts in 4586 days

#15 posted 06-26-2007 03:39 AM

Karson, do you have any stainless steel scrapers? One day at work I had to pick up some metal at a sheet metal shop and I noticed some stainless scrap cutoffs under their shears and asked if I could have a few pieces and the answer was sure. I got all different shapes of scrapers. The shears makes a natural bur and it is straight. They will not rust and up to now I haven’t had any need to re sharpen them, ss is very hard. Just a thought at how to get some cheap scrapers that have and edge that lasts very long.

-- " All Things At First Appear Difficult"

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