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by Ward French and Howard Acheson

I never had much luck using a cabinet scraper. The shavings were inconsistent and the sharpening process seemed to make little sense. I used my scraper only when absolutely necessary until I tried the process below. Now I use a cabinet scraper on many of my projects. The feel of the shavings coming from beneath such a simple tool is quite gratifying. Once you understand the reasons for the course of sharpening, you won't need to memorize anything. It will come back to you like riding a bike.

Start the sharpening process by preparing the edge of the scraper. It should be dead square and very smooth. Make a sandwich of the two pieces of wood with the scraper as the filling. Bring the three pieces even and clamp them in the vice, with the edge of the sandwich close to the jaws. You will be using the thickness of the three pieces to hold the file square to the edge as you dress the steel square and smooth.

Holding the mill file as square as you can, draw file along the edge, taking wood and metal down together. The thickness of the sandwich will hold the file square enough to the edge of the metal to get the job done properly. File until all the nicks and dings are out of the metal and the edge is as smooth as a file can make it.

Next, squirt a little oil on the wood and steel sandwich and oil the Arkansas stone as well. Stroke the scraper edge lengthwise with the stone until it is absolutely square and smooth. Again, the wood is acting as a guide to keep the stone square. The smoother you make the edge the more cleanly the scraper will cut in use. You are creating the foundation of the cutting edge at this point.

After filing and being sure the edge is flat and 90 degrees to the sides, put the scraper flat down on, and slightly back from, the edge of your bench. Run your burnisher along the flat side of the scraper pressing at so the burnisher is tight at the edge. This starts causing the edge corner to extend. This is a step that burnisher jigs can not do.

Now put the scraper in your vise extending up about an inch. With your burnisher, run it along the edge at 90 degrees from the sides. Take 2 or three not too heavy strokes. This causes the corner raised in the first step to be bent toward the sides of the scraper. Then tip your burnisher up slightly (10-15 degrees--really makes no difference) and take two continuous, firm strokes on each corner. That's it.

You will have to try scraping at various angles to find the "sweet spot." As the scraper becomes dull, go through the same three burnishing steps as above. You can burnish 10-20 times before stoning or filing is again required. It takes less time than changing sandpaper in a sander.

I greatly favor a real burnisher for two reasons. First, it is really hard metal. Second, it it highly polished. Both of these attributes mean that there is little chance of galling (or tearing metal from) the scraper edge. Galling makes for less than a smooth cut. The smoother the burnisher, the smoother the burr. Screwdriver shafts may or may not be hard enough and the chrome plating will eventually deteriorate. Using a valve stem from a car that has been highly polished is an alternative but why not just get a burnisher.

Finally, you can control the aggressiveness of the scraper by the way you file/stone it and how you use the burnisher to make the burr. Stoning with a fine stone after filing and then using lighter pressure on your burnisher will give you a less aggressive but finer cutting burr and a smoother finish. I have a thicker scraper that I sharpen to an aggressive cutting burr that I use for initial work (i.e.: ripple removal after jointing/planing) and then a set of thinner scrapers that I put a finer edge on for finish smoothing and cutting down and smoothing varnish finishes.

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