The card or cabinet scraper is another one of those ridiculously simple tools that should find a home in almost any woodworker’s toolkit. It’s so simple, there’s just one component in it and that’s a blank of rectangular steel. When an old saw comes to the end of its useful life, don’t throw it away; turn the remaining blade into a cabinet scraper. The edge is used to remove shavings but, and here’s the rub, there’s slightly more to a cabinet scraper than one might suspect.
First of all, before learning how to use one, it needs to be sharpened. Used blunt, a cabinet scraper will just remove dust, but when there’s a keen edge it will take off whisper thin, ethereal shavings from the most difficult areas of grain.
Over the years, I’ve been asked many times about the right technique for sharpening a scraper and, as with all other woodworking tools, if it’s not sharp, it won’t cut. Strictly speaking, there isn’t one edge but four; two on each side of the blank, so a 150mm scraper has a total useable cutting edge of 600mm.
Any burrs that remain are then removed by rubbing back and forwards (arrowed) on a fine diamond stone.
The sides of the blank will now appear to be square, but there’ll be file marks on the edges which need to be removed, to leave both perfectly square and polished. Rest the flat side of the scraper on a square block and then push it back and forth (arrowed) across the diamond stone to polish each edge.
A carbide burnisher is next used (arrowed) to turn each of the four cutting edges parallel to the flat face of the scraper; if we could look closely at the side under a loupe, it would now resemble a very shallow ‘U’ shape.
The final stage in the process is to use the burnisher to turn each of the four edges through around 100° to form the characteristic ‘hook’ which takes the shavings. The scraper is placed vertically in the vice and the burnisher is held at around 10° from the horizontal; the handle is slightly lower than the carbide blade. It’s then drawn smartly a couple of times along each cutting edge to form the hook. If you’re as good at sums as I am, you’ll have no doubt by now realised that the scraper needs to be positioned in the vice four times, once for each cutting edge.
Although you won’t be able to see the hook on each edge, you should be able to feel it with a fingernail if the sharpening process has been done correctly.
The cabinet scraper is very easy to use as well. Hold in both hands and tilt it by around 10-15°, at the same time flexing it into a gentle curve, with the thumbs directly behind the section of the blade that’s doing the cutting. With rapid use, a great deal of heat builds up and the steel becomes quite hot. Some users even wrap masking tape around their thumbs to insulate them!
Alternatively, the Veritas Cabinet Scraper Holder or the Axminster Rider No. 80 Scraper Plane can be used, which not only keeps the heat away from delicate pink digits, but also imparts the correct bow in the scraper.
If you’re trying to clean up an area of gnarly, awkward grain, it’s also very tempting to use the scraper solely in that particular small location, the result being that you’ll end up with a dish-shaped depression in the surface which will only be magnified once a polish is applied. To avoid this, it’s always advisable to use a cabinet scraper over as wide an area as possible around a troublesome grain.
Having examined the use of a hand-held, flexible cabinet scraper, the next logical step is to see how a scraper behaves once it’s installed in a plane body.