Modifying Your Steel Files to Make Them Better Tools
by Kylie Jones
Files are great at smoothing edges and giving a uniform finish but they can also gouge and scratch your work when the sharp edges of the file accidently come into contact with your work. Some files come with a safety edge that has no teeth, but even this edge is generally not perfectly smooth and needs to be refined so you have a better file. If you have never modified a steel tool before you may want to start on an expensive tool first.
Steel can be shaped and polished with basic tools. Steel tools are tempered so they are hard enough to maintain a cutting edge without dulling but not so hard that they are brittle and can shatter. This temper will be destroyed if you overheat the steel, so when shaping steel it is important to make sure the steel doesn't get too hot. If the steel changes colour it is too hot. If you can hold the steel in your hand it is fine. Using hand tools or tools in a micromotor or flex shaft shouldn't get steel too hot as long as you move along the file rather than just staying in the one spot. If you are using larger power tools like a bench grinder or angle grinder you will need to quench the steel to stop it from overheating.
Kylie Jones's Modifying Your Steel Files to Make Them Better Tools - , Tools For Wire Jewelry, Tools, modifying your files
The first file I have modified is a barrette needle file. It has 3 very sharp edges on the back and 2 sides that need to be rounded to make it easier to use. Rounding off the back edge also makes the file much thinner and more useful as it can be used in smaller spaces. Many files like this barrette file have a really sharp pointed tip and I also round this point so it can't cause any damage. You can see from the photos of the tube earrings that I'm making that the original barrette file could have easily gouged the other tube settings, but once the file is smooth and thin it is easy to maneuver around each tube without contacting the other tubes. The same goes for wire designs, having a thin rounded file means it will be much more useful in getting into cramped areas.
Kylie Jones's Modifying Your Steel Files to Make Them Better Tools - , Tools For Wire Jewelry, Tools, modifying your jewelers files
Kylie Jones's Modifying Your Steel Files to Make Them Better Tools - , Tools For Wire Jewelry, Tools, modifying your jewelers files
Kylie Jones's Modifying Your Steel Files to Make Them Better Tools - , Tools For Wire Jewelry, Tools, modifying your jewelers files
I started to refine this file with the diamond wheel to get rid of the edge. The fumes or residue from steel are harmful and messy so I do this inside my polishing tent. The sandpaper wheel smooths the area where the diamond wheel has been. I continue with the sandpaper sticks to get a polished finish on the edges. You can also use silicone polishing wheels. I don't worry about the areas that are not going to be in contact with anything and I just leave them as is but if you like your tools to look more uniform you can spend time making it look beautiful. The finish on the edges of the file that may come into contact with the metal are really important because that finish will be imprinted onto any metal it comes into contact with. If your edge is polished it will leave a polished finish, if it has a 400 grit sandpaper matte finish it will imprint the same matte finish onto any metal in comes into contact with.
Kylie Jones's Modifying Your Steel Files to Make Them Better Tools - , Tools For Wire Jewelry, Tools, modifying your jewelers files
Kylie Jones's Modifying Your Steel Files to Make Them Better Tools - , Tools For Wire Jewelry, Tools, modifying your jewelers files
Another file I polish the edge on is a half round needle file. I use these files to clean up the solder on jump rings on the inside and outside. The sides of the file where the teeth from each side meet can have a really sharp uneven edge and this edge is more coarse than the rest of the file. The gouges are hard to fix on jump rings as you don't have excess metal that you can just file away so the best option is to create a smooth polished edge on both sides of the file. For this file I just used the sanding sticks and progressed through the grits until I was happy with the polish on the edge.
Kylie Jones's Modifying Your Steel Files to Make Them Better Tools - , Tools For Wire Jewelry, Tools, modifying your jewelers files
Kylie Jones's Modifying Your Steel Files to Make Them Better Tools - , Tools For Wire Jewelry, Tools, modifying your jewelers files
Kylie Jones's Modifying Your Steel Files to Make Them Better Tools - , Tools For Wire Jewelry, Tools, modifying your jewelers files
Many flat files come with a safety edge which is a side of the file that has no cutting teeth. But these edges are not smooth or polished. The teeth from the joining sides protrude onto the safety edge and these need to be smoothed away and the edge polished before this safety edge is useable. An easy way to see how good your safety edge is, is to run it along a scrap piece of metal or timber. You can see from my photo that this safety edge is quite sharp and will need a bit of work before it is a useful edge. I used sanding sticks and silicone polishing wheels to get this finish on the safety edge of my flat file. I finished it with polishing compound and a small buffing wheel in my micromotor.

Refining files in this way does take time but the new refined files also save time. Steel files last a long time and these files have become my treasured tools.

Kylie Jones's Modifying Your Steel Files to Make Them Better Tools - , Tools For Wire Jewelry, Tools, modifying your jewelers files
Kylie Jones's Modifying Your Steel Files to Make Them Better Tools - , Tools For Wire Jewelry, Tools, modifying your jewelers files
Kylie Jones's Modifying Your Steel Files to Make Them Better Tools - , Tools For Wire Jewelry, Tools, modifying your jewelers files

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GROBET FILE - BARRETTE CUT 2, 6"
FIL-31.030
  • FIL-31.030
  • Lesson Quantity: 1.00 pieces
  • Purchase Quantity: 1.00 each
  • Price: $31.20
  • Gold Club Price: $23.40
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GROBET FILE - BARRETTE CUT 4, 6"
FIL-31.031
  • FIL-31.031
  • Lesson Quantity: 1.00 pieces
  • Purchase Quantity: 1.00 each
  • Price: $35.10
  • Gold Club Price: $26.33
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GROBET FILE - HALF ROUND RING CUT 2, 6"
FIL-31.130
  • FIL-31.130
  • Lesson Quantity: 1.00 pieces
  • Purchase Quantity: 1.00 each
  • Price: $42.30
  • Gold Club Price: $31.73
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  • Category: Tools
  • Technique(s): Tools