What Are Needle Files?
Needle files are small hardened steel files that are available in different profiles and cuts. They are used for filing, shaping, deburring, setting, chamfering, smoothing and finishing metals, wood, plastics, and polymer clay.
Needle files come in various different profiles: Round, Half Round, Barrette, Pillar (Flat), Warding, Knife, Crossing, Square, Oval, Slitting, Crochet and Three Square (often referred to as Triangle). Each shape serves a different purpose. More about the various shapes and what they do further on in this article.
Needle files consist of cutting 'teeth'. The cut is indicated on a scale ranging from 00 that is the coarsest, to 6 that is the finest. Each cut has a certain number of teeth per square centimetre.
Splash out once and buy quality Swiss made steel needle files. Cheap sets of needle files are a false economy and the quality difference is very apparent when you compare one against the other.
Vallorbe Glardon are by far the best brand of Swiss needle files and if they are looked after and used properly they will last a lifetime. More on the advantages of buying good quality Swiss needle files further on in this article.
What Are Needle Files Used For?
Needle files are superb for designing, smoothing, shaping, chamfering, setting, filing and finishing work on soft metals, steel and steel alloys, wood, plastics, ceramic, polymer clay, glass and stone.
They are an essential tool for detailed and intricate work.
- Enlarge holes in beads
- Smooth the edges of ceramic tiles and porcelain work
- Shaping wood, metal and stone
- Filling the inside edges of small projects
- Smooth the ends of cut wires
- Smooth out scratches and tool marks on metal
- Reshape cut metal
- File into tight intricate areas
- Puncturing material
- Engraving details into material (Guilloché)
Who Uses a Needle File?
Needle files are used by all jewellers, clock makers, luthiers, goldsmiths, micro engineers, metalsmiths and craftspeople.
Many trades will use a variety of needle files to finish and shape small pieces of work.
- Micro Engineers
- Guitar Makers
- Luthiers and fine instrument makers
- Miniature makers
- Model builders
- Precision Engineers
How To Use a Needle File And The Common Mistakes when Using Them
A common mistake when using needle files is to use them in a sawing action, back and forth. Needle files work in one direction and must be used in a push action, filing gently away from you in one direction.
If used incorrectly the teeth of the file will round off and dull quickly making them unusable.
Diamond needle files differ from metal needle files in that they can be used with a back and forth, sawing action, if you would like to learn more about diamond files and how to use them, have a read of this article:
How to Look After and Clean Your Needle Files
These files are fine and delicate, and with proper care and use will last a lifetime, so do treat them with care.
- Do use a dry toothbrush or a stiff paint brush to clean them with if the teeth become clogged
- Do keep them dry
- Do use them in one direction only
- Do store them on their own, back in their packet
The Do Not's
- Do not let them roll off your bench
- Do not drop them
- Do not bend them
- Do not put excess strain on them
- Do not use them in a see-saw, back and forth action
- Do not store them where they will become damaged by friction against other tools
Why buy Swiss Made Needle Files?
Vallorbe have been making files for over a century right in the heart of the watch and clock industry in Switzerland. Over this time they have become world renowned for quality and precision.
Once you take a closer look at their needle files you can instantly see the Swiss quality. You will notice how fine the engraving is at the ends, how crisp the knurling is. The points are filed right up to the end. The Vallorbe files are machined and rounded with perfect attention to detail. Each file is precise and even.
A set of Vallorbe Glardon needle files comes in a plastic wallet, each file is 160mm long and the cutting surfaces are about 80mm long. The handles are just over 3mm in diameter. Each file is manufactured from high-carbon steel.
Needle files consist of cutting 'teeth'. The cut is indicated on a scale ranging from 00 that is the coarsest, to 6 that is the finest. Each cut has a certain number of teeth per square centimetre:
- Cut 2 (Course- medium, 38 teeth per cm)
- Cut 3 (Medium, 46 teeth per cm)
- Cut 4 (Fine, 56 teeth per cm)
- Cut 6 (Very Fine, 84 teeth per cm)
The advantages of Glardon Vallorbe needle files
- High-carbon steel for optimal performance and hardness
- Cut all the way to the tip
- Consistent precision and quality
- Extremely long lasting
"I always use vallorbe files, they are well worth the extra money as they last much longer and are more acurate than the cheap ones. The fine cut 6 are great to use instead of coarse wet and dry paper""I'm in the process of building the Alan Timmins Long Case Regulator and with no experience of clock making. Finding and having the correct tools such as the vallorbe needle files improves my chances of completing the task sucessfully""Have always desired a set of Vallorbe files, now I have two sets ! SImply the best out there""My boyfriend loved them! I was so pleased, he was absolutely delighted! he uses them for Railway Modelling and now wants another set! - Cut 2 next time"
What Do the Different Shapes of the Needle Files Do?
The Pillar file is a flat file with a wide, rectangular cross-section. There are teeth on all four sides cutting down towards the tip. This is a great general purpose file for working on flat surfaces, filing ends away. An absolutely essential needle file.
Again with teeth on all four sides cutting towards the tip. The square file tapers gradually down to a fine, sharp point giving you the advantage of 90 degree angles, great for filing corners or up against posts. There is also the very fine point and the corners, so a very useful file.
Three Square (Triangle)
Vallorbe Swiss needle files have what they refer to as a three square file which to you and looks like a Triangle. They make a range of different triangular shaped files and because this particular file has three sides all with equal angles they call it a three square. Like the square file, it tapers to a fine point, so you can use the point, the flat sides and the nice sharp edges. This file is great for filing grooves. When you bend a sheet of metal, the three square is great for smoothing out the marks left behind.
This has a circular cross-section and the teeth are all the way round it, 360 degrees cutting towards the tip with teeth at the very tip. This file is wonderful for getting into tight, intricate areas like inside jolt rings or inside clasps and perfect to use as a reamer for enlarging and opening up holes.
These were originally designed for filing crossings, the spokes inside clock gears. The curved shape is perfect for the inside of rings and for filing and smoothing any small curved shape. Crossing needle files are one of my personal favourites.
Barrette comes from the French, meaning burr-ette or literally a small burr. It has a triangular cross-section but the back has no teeth, so there is no danger of filing any other surfaces. This means you can get right up to an edge without any danger of marking it. Perfect for cleaning up solder joints on flat surfaces or for getting into really tight corners, without any danger of filing the wrong side. You might also see these referred to as safety back files because the back is safe. i.e there are no teeth on it.
Popular with Luthier's for filing fret ends on guitar repair without damaging the wooden finger board.
Warding files were originally designed for use by locksmiths to work on 'wards' in keyholes, or notches of keys. For jewellers and general metalsmiths they are ideal for opening up square holes and filing square corners as well as creating slots and notches.