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GUNS Magazine June 2011 Digial Edition - Page 30
• h A M I L t O N S . B O W E N • Milling machines for the masses. hen civilians think of custom gunmaking shops, W many see buildings bulging with lathes, milling machines, jig borers, surface grinders and the like. Indeed, many do but in serious gunsmithies, the humble file is still the most important metalworking machine in the place. for some jobs, there is no substitute in terms of speed, handiness and flexibility. A few hundred words will barely scratch the surface of the subject of files, but we’ll cover some basics for home craftsmen. As always, the MSC catalog will have an excellent primer on most any machine-tool subject. Files are no exception. If you do not already have this catalog, you owe it to yourself to lay hands on one, not only for the wealth of useful tools for sale but also for the excellent technical descriptions and discussion of their uses. The Brownells catalog is another source and will often have dedicated gunsmithing files not available in mainstream suppliers. I use a file nearly every day in my shop. We’ll need to remove lettering from a barrel or receiver, preparatory to applying new caliber markings. A sight blade will need to be cut to height for regulation and shaped. Some will need serrating with a checkering file. Occasionally, sear surfaces on hammers need re-angling. S&W ratchets need to be filed in to set carry-up timing. Custom parts need shaping. Grips and stocks need shaping and detailing. The list could go on until next week. If you do not use files much and don’t know where to start, you will need some sort of general-purpose file simply to remove material and true surfaces, flat or otherwise. My own preference is for untapered files so I use lots of “hand” files. Hand is a term of art in the file world, describing shape not source of power. These come in a variety of cuts (coarseness) and lengths. The longer the file you can manage, the better in terms of operator precision. I suspect for most of us, the 8" length is handiest. Although “pillar” files are tapered over their main filing surface, their narrow width-to-thickness ratio makes them handy in confined spaces and slots. From there, you will eventually find you need other shapes, either to get into acute corners or to provide contouring. Triangle and knife-edge barrette files are especially useful for hammer-sear surfaces and double-action revolver ratchet work. Untapered-rounds files fILES from 1/16" to 1/4" or so are essential for shaping parts and herding holes around. Same for half-round files. If you do any sight work at all, a selection of checkering files is essential for serrations, let alone checkering. Don’t hesitate to regrind files if indicated. Oftentimes, you will need a ‘safe’ edge and will wish to remove cutting surfaces to protect a work surface. You may need a sharper corner or edge to properly clean up an interior corner. While you can use a bench grinder, I like to use a belt grinder with a squared, trued platen. Just keep a water bucket handy and don’t let the file overheat, else it might be de-tempered and softened. Files are not a place to skimp on quality. Run from cheap imports and use only the very best domestic or European files you can afford. Nothing more discouraging than to be filing away, achieving a smooth surface only to have a deep gouge appear in your work without apparent cause. Care And feeding Good files are expensive and demand care. They are hard as the back of God’s head and will chip very easily if banged around with each other. I never let files touch each other. All of my files are stored in individual plastic sleeves to minimize damage. I never let them clog with chips, and attack them with a file card or scribe at the first hint of loading. Otherwise, gouges will result in your work and mean extra polishing time. Files should be kept clean and free of grease and oil. Bear in mind files only cut in one direction, so try to lift a file off work or at least release heavy downward pressure when retracting for the next stroke. This will slow wear a great deal. Odd as it may seem for a hand tool, files are very dangerous tools to use and can produce some nasty wounds. While using a file on a lathe to shape or smooth a part is a common, accepted practice, it is a practice fraught with peril. If you ever have lathe chuck reach out and grab a file, you can end up with whole or partial files flying around the shop, sometimes embedding in your hapless self. It pays to be extremely careful around the lathe. But, even filing at your vise can Files come in endless variety. You’ll be adding more and more as time goes on. Buy the best you can afford. 30 WWW.GUNSMAGAZINE.COM • JUNE 2011