I taught a short class about scrapers this afternoon. I’m beginning to think that a scraper is as close to a perfect tool as I’ve come across.
Of course, they come in many flavors. There are cabinet scrapers like a Stanley #80, scraper planes like the Lie-Nielsen series, and the ever-popular card scraper. When it comes time to define perfection, the card scraper comes to mind.
I asked today’s class to toss out attributes of their imaginary “perfect” tool. The list was a good one: descriptive, and it hit all the high points. Going by memory (which at this point in my life is good, but short) they said Effective, Easy to maintain, Inexpensive, Easy to Use and a few others. Because of my own workshop biases, I added Quiet and Safe.
A card scraper is all of these things. Imagine the genius of that tool. A simple rectangle of steel. No moving parts. No brushes to replace. No cords to trip over. It works during power failures.
Admittedly it does make a bit of sound when used – but not enough to drown out normal conversation or music, and certainly not enough to warrant hearing protection.
If it’s tuned up properly, it makes shavings, not sawdust. Nothing to breathe into your lungs. No flying chips to poke out your eye. While it is a good idea to wear safety glasses of some sort any time you’re in the shop, I wouldn’t feel nervous about not wearing mine when I was scraping. If I could see without them, that is.
Among all the cutting tools, it is the one least concerned with grain direction.
They are easy to modify. If you need a radius, grind the long or short edge until you have what you need. Or if you’re really flush, buy a gooseneck scraper and have a bunch of radii all in one tool.
Used in tandem with a well-tuned smoothing plane, sanding is substantially reduced, or potentially eliminated. Have I ever mentioned that I hate sanding?
Okay, sure, there are down-sides to a scraper. They take a little time to prepare for use, especially the first time when you’ll want to polish up the sides to a nice sheen. Rolling the burr can be fussy, and it takes a little time to perfect that technique. And my particular failing – I often hand-hold the scraper when forming the edge (rather than clamping it in a vise) and I have come off the near end of the scraper during the burnishing operation and taken a hunk out of my thumb. (Of course, I learned immediately that those corners need to be nicely rounded over. I still miss once in a while, but I don’t bleed as much or as often.)
They can get a little bit hot in use. The oh-so-simple solution for hot thumbs? A refrigerator magnet. Ideally, a free one.
On balance, there’s not much to dislike about a card scraper, and a lot to like. The day you master this tool is a happy one.
I’d have to say it’s my “perfect” tool.
Jeff Zens owns and operates Custom Built Furniture in Salem, Oregon. He is a frequent woodworking instructor and writer.