The Shinto Raspy Thingy!

When is a rasp not a rasp? When it’s a series of saw blades strategically locked together to form an aggressive cutting tool for shaping wood. Sounds like a rasp but it’s not. Really it deserves its own title but then no one would know what it is because most of what we use is recognisable first by its name. As it is with many new designs in tools the maker somehow has to bridge the divide to say it does what this other tool does but it’s not that its this. The maker or inventor must make a tool that identifies its function and purpose, otherwise the category and title might displace the tool and people are unlikely to discover it. Hence planer, filer, filer rasp, file, rasp file rasp and finally Shinto saw file rasp. The makers usually don’t care too much about coming up with any other name than their brand. All they want is a saleable piece. The tool is one of those tools that relies only on assembly work and not a skilled artisan. There’s nothing wrong in that, but comparing or naming a tool a rasp does not make it a rasp so nomenclature is everything. When we talk about a rasp in it’s traditional sense we are talking about carbon steel that’s been systematically and rhythmically stitched by eye and hand. Using his skill, the maker employs a hammer and a punch to cut and lift the surface of the steel in a series of arched cutting teeth according to his pattern of stitching. The pattern he establishes with each stitch becomes his signature and no two makers follow an identical pattern. With each stitched tooth forming a strategic presentation he optimises the cutting dynamic to what becomes the natural sweep or arc of the new user-owner. The smoothness in cut of a true rasp is the most amazing sensation with depth of cut and rhythm set by the user according to his working. But, as with all tools, not all tools are created equal. You can get good and bad rasps and a hundred levels between the two extremes. Once you have used hand stitched rasps by makers like Auriou or a Logier you are hooked (pun intended) and you will never go back to a cheap rasp. But cheap rasps work short term to see if you really need them for your type of working. Here is another truth. If you are shaping or making only one product such as a spoon, and you do not intend to make more and on a grand scale, buying a £110 rasp becomes prohibitive to most if not all woodworkers. I cannot imagine life without one.

The Shinto rasp justifies the title ugly. It’s not a pretty thing like a well made and finely tuned rasp so let’s not pretend. It does however have one critical characteristic that makes it stand out from the rest of the so called rasp family and that is it works and it works well. Running this tool alongside a finely made rasp you will reach for the finely tuned, hand made version over all others – hand stitched rasps stand out. But run it alongside a cheap rasp with machine stitching and the Shinto wins hands down. What I am saying is that often we are not comparing apples for apples.

The Shinto saw rasp is two cutting surfaces in one tool, coarse-cut one side and fine-cut the other. The coarse-cut face removes material as rapidly as a hand stitched cabinet rasp, almost, but I will not say that the surface is as good. It’s not. I’m not sure if that really matters though because usually we do further refine coarse surfaces with more work, be that from another rasp, a scraper or sandpaper. In the case of the Shinto it’s simply a question of flipping the rasp over to where you have the refining face of finer saw teeth that indeed produces a smooth finish. Follow on with a fine, 10″ flat file and the surface smiles back at you. Now a cabinet maker’s rasp is also two rasps in one too. This rasp has both a flat face to one side and around face on the opposite side. Something a Shinto cannot match.

Coarse cut on left with 10 ppi, finer cut in centre with 24ppi and finest following with the flat file.

So just what is the difference between the true rasp and the Shinto alternative? There is a rhythm that comes from using a hand stitched rasp that I did not get using the Shinto and my feeling was that you cannot get the same feel because the teeth are not hand stitched and are therefor perhaps too uniform. When teeth are perfectly uniform in any saw type there is a harmonic that sets up that is not so much a mere sound as such but more the ‘wolf’ you get with bowed instruments like violins and cellos. This ‘wolf’ robs the instrument of its pure note; not all the time but often when you least expect or want it. This harmonic I speak of in the rasp means that the tool motion you use is more counterproductive than effective and counters the effort you make in the same way any vibration can become counterproductive to energy. Think the shudder of bike brakes, an unwanted vibration in an engine that just keeps developing and developing, that kind of thing.

Conclusion: A definite positive buy. I found that a combination of two or three tools maximised my efficiency and reduced the wear and tear on my premium rasps. Using the coarse and fine on my Shinto did well to reduce the stock down close to size and then the follow up with my rasps gave me the refinement I wanted. The file smooths everything to a glass like finish. Very effective.

Whether you are making a canoe or kayak or a new surfboard, or refining the neck of a guitar or cello, this Shinto thingy will take you pretty much all the way. It’s a serious tool.

52 Comments

  1. Michael Barnes on 8 July 2019 at 10:54 am

    I have used a Shinto rasp for quite a few years now, I use it to remove stock from guitar necks, I create facets with the Shinto and then refine the shape with a spokeshave, finer rasps, sand paper and scrapers.
    It’s a great tool, not pretty, not all that comfortable to use sometimes but it certainly removes the stock quickly and does what I need it for.

  2. Adam Chin on 8 July 2019 at 11:16 am

    Same as Said above. I find using the Shinto rasp a great tool to get guitar necks quickly down to the ball park desired shape. They’re very popular in the Luthier community.

  3. Semir Hadzimuratovic on 8 July 2019 at 11:18 am

    Hello Paul, I can’t decipher it from your photos, but does it cut on a push or pull stroke?

    • Raphael on 8 July 2019 at 11:53 am

      On the push stroke.

      It’s the kind of tool that I should use much more but forget I even own. You are right that it would save some use off my rasp but it is not a very pleasing tool to use.

    • Paul Sellers on 8 July 2019 at 1:34 pm

      The push stroke generally but you can flip it if the handle doesn’t get in the way.

      • nemo on 8 July 2019 at 9:52 pm

        Could you elicit? I’ve been using one for ages, didn’t know I shouldn’t. Would help to know why I shouldn’t.

        Did some quick searching myself before commenting, came across this on the Fountain of all Knowledge, Wikipedia:

        “Woodworker Sam Maloof described their use in chairmaking: “Once I have roughed out the arm on the bandsaw, I use a Surform® (Stanley® model No. 295). This tool does about the same job as a spokeshave — it can take off a lot of wood very quickly — but I can use it without worrying about grain direction.” [18]”

        My Surform is actually an original one, before Stanley bought the company. Don’t use mine often, but it’s a tool I wouldn’t want to be without in the shed. Blades are still available new in our local hardware stores & big-box stores, but a tad expensive

        • nemo on 8 July 2019 at 9:55 pm

          Strange my comment ended up here. Was meant to be in reply of the “Never use a surform in wood – Aargh!!!” reply of mr. Sellers.

  4. Keith on 8 July 2019 at 12:14 pm

    Paul, you mention kayak building in your blog.
    Nick shade of Guillemot Kayaks uses one of these Shinto rasps in one of his videos of strip building a kayak. In his case, he uses it to remove runs of epoxy. It appears to be very aggressive and quickly removed the epoxy which will be tougher than wood.
    It looks like a versatile tool but I have a hand stitched rasp and will give this tool a miss. Thanks for the information, I enjoy your blogs.

  5. Ed Minch on 8 July 2019 at 12:21 pm

    Don’t forget the Nicholson 49 (fine) and 50 (course) hand stitched rasps. They are still made, but the 15 year old ones that were made in the US are the ones to have. And don’t forget that that if you find a used one, that files and rasps can be sharpened with a dip in acid – citric acid for a couple of days and a stronger acid like muriatic for a couple of hours – watch the progress carefully.

    • BobH on 8 July 2019 at 6:46 pm

      i agree with Ed. I have both the 49 and 50 Nicholsons that I bought a decade or 2 ago. They are fine rasps.

  6. Max™ on 8 July 2019 at 12:52 pm

    Take a shinto rasp and set a rag or something on your knee then CAREFULLY drag a smaller workpiece across it to kill the juddering tendencies you get from moving it over something.

    REALLY want a half-round version, I’ve been experimenting with making one from a quartered hacksaw blade and a piece of wood, surprisingly effective actually.

    My only complaint with the shinto vs my cheapo machine punched rasp?

    When you ding or donk a finger lightly with a regular rasp it hurts and maybe leaves a scrape that bleeds for a second.

    If you ever so lightly hit a finger with the shinto?

    Yeah, before you do anything else, before you even move that finger, grab a bandaid, it’s going to bleed a surprising amount… trust me.

  7. Paul Frederick on 8 July 2019 at 1:07 pm

    I just got one of these earlier this year. I was at a town wide yard sale and I happened across an old woman with a blanket of her husband’s tools on the ground. A side handle version of one of these rasps was there with the rest of the kit. I didn’t even know what the strange thing was precisely. Having never seen one before. But I suspected it was some kind of a wood shaping rasp by its appearance. So I bought it on a lark. Because she of course had no idea what it was either. Once home I searched the Shinto name I found embossed in gold on the handle on the Internet and confirmed my suspicions that it was indeed a wood rasp. Score!

  8. Geordie Smith on 8 July 2019 at 1:54 pm

    Your analogy with wolf tones is revelatory. That’s exactly what it feels like when you’re using a machine cut cutting instruments!

  9. Gary Docken on 8 July 2019 at 1:56 pm

    What about re-sharping these tools? Is that do able?

    • Paul Sellers on 8 July 2019 at 4:24 pm

      Nope. Most tools Japanese made for woodworking these days are throwaway tools.

      • Bjørn Olav Monsen on 13 July 2019 at 10:45 pm

        I’m not sure what you mean by this. As someone who have been using Japanese tools almost exclusively, I find them on par or superior in almost every way. Handcrafted saws, planes or chisel of the finest steel. The Japanese craftman will celebrate their tools each new year, putting them on their toolbox and place them in special shrines along with rice paper and two grains of rice, a symbol of prosperity and richness of life. Im wondering what Japanese tools you have experienced to warrant suchs a harsh judgment

        • Paul Sellers on 14 July 2019 at 7:51 am

          Simple really. Let’s look at the reality. The Japanese culture may have elements to it to be admired or disliked, which is of course as in any and all cultures. They made and make versions of saws to make lots of money. Their version of the rasp is such a tool. It’s not a skilled piece of workmanship, just stamped out saw blades crimped by machine benders and pop-riveted together here and there.It works but it is a throwaway tool and as yet I don’t know of its longevity quality though I can suspect. These disposable throwaway tools like 98% of Japanese saws made are throwaway and left by comparison only a handful of finely crafted smithed versions which at the end of the day are more for the discerning and dare I say more wealthy woodworker, mostly hobbyist individuals seeking a more purist version of a hand tool. I see nothing wrong with that. The Japanese are like all other cultures that pursue consumerism. Now they too, like most other cultures around the world, may not make them in Japan but turn to more economic options in other parts of the world: churned out alternatives to the old world methods of previous centuries. Now they pursue methods that can make them by the hundreds of thousands to cater to the demand.

          The “judgement” is not as you say “harsh” in any way at all, I’m not sure why you would suggest such a thing. I simply acknowledge the reality of recognising sound, modern-day business practice that suits consumerism. Furthermore, whereas I may not bow to the tools I highly respect, if indeed that is what you allude to, I do respect the tools I have used for half a century made by Record and Stanley, Preston, Veritas and many others in no less proportion to those in Japan owning Japanese tools. But all good things come to an end and here they are being copied for mass manufacture at the lowest cost to cope with the high demand and dare I say it make a few business owners with no soul for craftsmanship a profit. Whether the cheap mass market versions are less worthy than the hand wrought ones I have no way of knowing as I do not use such saws and see no need to at all as they work no better than the western versions I was raised with and highly respect. It’s simply what they export that’s all. It’s such good business sense though. One man somewhere makes a million and profits to become a wealthy person from it. Their goal is to make money, and not good, long lasting saws, and lots of it. Dare I say further that that model is identical to Irwin, Spear and Jackson and many of the rest. I conclude that most if not all businesses in all cultures ultimately end up being greedy. They must make money for their investors. That’s the cost of consumerism. Japan, like all cultures from all continents is about being a consumerist and a consumerist provider. Within those cultures there are a few groups and individuals who simply enjoy being less embroiled in it. That might be you and me, to whatever degree.
          Oh, and when I see words like “harsh judgement” I question why? Bandying such words around is usually to make a point that’s not really there and far from true. And again, you don’t say, “on a par or superior in almost every way” to what.

          • Bjørn Olav Monsen on 14 July 2019 at 8:28 pm

            I think the word is replaceable blade saw, throwaway means it’s to be used a couple of times and then discarded. I have saws with several years of use behind them still on their original blade.



          • Paul Sellers on 15 July 2019 at 6:22 am

            Pure semantics here. The blades at best can only be recycled, so calling them “replaceable” is no different than the famed Stanley utility knife and the so-called Safety Razor, which guarantees to keep people coming back to buy the blades – very disingenuous, don’t you think, Bjørn? Can you see that? As with 98% of Japanese saw blades (and now of course western saws too), the blades are in fact to be discarded and thrown away; basically they can only be recycled. Very crafty marketing that people must literally buy into, and very shortsighted in my view because once people lose sharpening skills, and 99% of woodworkers have, they are forced to buy into Japanese throwaway blades. Most of the saws I use daily are over 120 years old and have another 100 years life in them.I also use new Spear & Jackson saws that I sharpen regularly because they are indeed resharpenable.Great.
            Here is an interesting fact that might help. Back in the 1990s the Spear and Jackson catalog used two sentences as explanations. One said, “Lasts five times longer than conventional saws.” and the other said, “resharpenable”. What it should have said instead of the first sentence is, ‘will retain sharpness five times longer than with a conventional saw’. They were at that time phasing out resharpenable saws and in fact did so for a decade. But because of the work we do to encourage resharpenable tools they reintroduced the saws developed in the 1960s.



          • Steve on 15 July 2019 at 3:55 pm

            Fair enough. I have and use both east and west saws. I have a Gyokucho ryoba saw that I use regularly. It was inexpensive, and the blades are replaceable. I use it for various things, knowing if the blade gets damaged or dull, I can replace it for $20, and amazon prime gets me a new blade delivered the next day.

            Now compare this with an old Harvey Peace back saw I picked up fairly inexpensively because it needed to be completely re-toothed. I am actually following Paul’s video on “recutting and resizing saw teeth” So far I have spent about 2 hours filing the old teeth off and filing it flat. Making the guide for the teeth. Hammering and filing the hacksaw blade, and sawing through the saw plate with hacksaw to set the spacing. I have filed maybe 2 inches of the blade. So probably have another hour or 2 to get this thing sharpened and set. So the art of shaping, setting, and sharpening a saw has to also be looked at as a hobby in itself, and I can only spend time on this between other projects. Once done, I will respect this saw more, and will be more careful using it.

            I guess the point is in this day and age where people value time more than money, most people are looking for something they can use quickly. I have to say the thought of sharpening a saw, especially re-toothing is a bit foreboding for most people. I am usually pretty handy and even I was a little hesitant to try it, so I can certainly see why repelacable blades are attractive to the average busy hobbyist.



          • Paul Sellers on 15 July 2019 at 5:05 pm

            Sorry again, everyone, just need to add more balance here. Most saws, that is the majority, I’d say 99.99%, do not need nor ever will need retoothing. Fact! Setting and sharpening any saw for me is about 10 minutes. Once you have developed the skill through a modicum of practice, western saws can be sharpened very quickly and there is no reason why someone on an amateur level, or, as others put it and not me, ‘hobbyist’, cannot achieve the exact same results by practicing half a dozen times on some old and discarded saws. I say this because I would just hate for anyone to think sharpening a western saw takes hours of tedious work. Not at all. You set only every 6 to 10 sharpenings at that and never each time. Someone working with saws one day a week will be unlikely to need sharpening more than once in a year. That would mean setting every six to ten years. Four minutes per saw is standard for me to sharpen anything from an 8″ dovetail saw to a 26″ handsaw, both cross- and ripcut, and you too can do this. Please don’t any of you be put off.



          • Steve on 15 July 2019 at 9:56 pm

            Fair enough. I did pick up an old Disston rip saw, and was able to sharpen and set it in about 20 minutes, mainly cause I was watching your videos, I would then rewind, watch again, do one step, next step etc. I had never used a saw set before. I imagine next time will be faster. The saw that needed retoothing was cheap, about $140 cheaper than the LN version. But I did get a LN dovetail saw and carcass saw. I think saw sharpening is kind of intimidating for most people though.



  10. Andrew on 8 July 2019 at 2:31 pm

    Anyone remember the Surform? My recollection is that it could do useful work, but the perforated blade sheets were expensive and became blunt too soon. Mine ended up in the bin years ago.

    • Paul Wood on 8 July 2019 at 3:16 pm

      I have a pack of new Surform blades that belonged to my father, plus a couple of his Surfoms and one of my own. They don’t get much use, but I have a Stanley curved hand tool that I use daily.

    • Steve P on 8 July 2019 at 3:34 pm

      I have had one for about 25 years. They still sell them actually, and I think the blades aren’t too bad on amazon. I don’t use it for woodworking, but they do work nice for drywall/plaster type of work, as it shaves it off nice. I think the Microplane rasps would be better for woodworking. And by definition, these are all technically rasps.

    • Paul Sellers on 8 July 2019 at 4:22 pm

      Never use a surform in wood – Aargh!!!

  11. S Richardson on 8 July 2019 at 4:45 pm

    I inherited a lot of unused Surforms from my uncle, I might try one one day. I did use an old worn one some sixty years ago at a junior school “woodwork” class where as far as I can remember we all made wooden knives or swords with tools we brought from home. I don’t think this class was repeated very many times !

  12. Donald L Kreher on 8 July 2019 at 5:01 pm

    I too have the shinto and a hand stitched Auriou Cabinet Rasp .
    (I think must of them are machine stitched, I was lucky.)
    Anyway I agree completely with your article.

    • Jason M. on 8 July 2019 at 9:03 pm

      I believe all Auriou rasps are hand stitched.

      • Michael Ballinger on 8 July 2019 at 9:40 pm

        I think he meant most rasps on the market are machine stitched as opposed to Auriou. I have 2 Auriou rasps and I love using them but I opt for other tools first to try and avoid wearing them out… not sure if that’s a good thing or not?

  13. Brian Ward on 8 July 2019 at 7:05 pm

    Ah, the Shinto saw rasp. It’s not a subtle tool, and I find it at its best when used in a less-than-subtle manner. However, this is not to say you should be careless with it.

    I’m sometimes surprised at how often I use mine, but I guess I shouldn’t be.

  14. Ed on 8 July 2019 at 8:20 pm

    Could you write about maintaining rasps, please? Wood gets lodged in the teeth of the Auriou rasp and sometimes cannot be removed with a soft bristled brush. They say not to use wire brushes, but admit I try brass brushes occasionally. Still, I have the sense I’m not caring for these tools as I should and not getting them as clean as a craftsman ought to do. Maybe you could discuss this?

    • Michael Ballinger on 8 July 2019 at 9:42 pm

      Use a bit of warm soapy water with a nail brush Ed (a tip I got from Paul previously). Then I make sure I dry and oil it after. Seems to be more of an issue with soft woods like pine. It’s especially an issue if the wood is green.

      • Ed on 8 July 2019 at 11:23 pm

        Thanks! I’ll give that a try. Maybe it is resin sticking the chips to the teeth.

        • Paul Sellers on 9 July 2019 at 9:37 am

          I don’t think I can do with the washing thing at all. I have used a brass wire brush on mine throughout the time I have owned mine and seen no noticeable deterioration at all. It only takes very light application and flicks out the solids immediately.

          • Ed on 9 July 2019 at 2:42 pm

            I’ve actually tried the brass brush without luck. To be honest, I’m hesitant about using water since it will be hard to dry. The comment about pine makes me wonder about pitch/resin, so I’m going to try some solvent plus brush next time I think of it.



          • Ed on 10 July 2019 at 12:19 pm

            I found some information from the manufacturer that says to apply a light oil, like Camelia, let it soak, then use a non-metal brush. I tried the brass brush dry again first, just to confirm that it was not cleaning whatever is in the rasp in this particular case, then tried camelia oil and a toothbrush. It worked well. Only a few teeth were still clogged afterwards, few enough to clean with a wooden toothpick. I don’t know why my file was problematic. I’d think other light oils would work.



          • Michael Ballinger on 10 July 2019 at 6:47 pm

            https://paulsellers.com/2018/08/auriou-rasps/

            Paul Sellers on 3 August 2018 at 5:46 pm
            Nylon nail brush works great. A little soapy water on it and it comes right out.

            I wouldn’t quote you without being certain Paul for fear of spreading misinformation.



          • Paul Sellers on 10 July 2019 at 8:17 pm

            OK< I hold my hands up! You got me.



    • Max™ on 9 July 2019 at 11:51 pm

      I found a weird looking brush in an old satchel of assorted tools and random things downstairs a while back which I completely ignored the first time I saw it, only more recently did I notice it said “Nicholson U.S.A.” with crossed files between the words and sure enough it’s one of their old (no bristles on the back) file brushes.

      I’ve got it hanging where I can just flip it around and drag a file across it now and then.

  15. Tom Brown on 8 July 2019 at 8:58 pm

    Just found this on the internet:

    To clean wood from a rasp or file, dip the tool in hot water for a few seconds. The wood will quickly swell as it soaks up the water and will pop out of the pockets it’s filling. Remove the tool from the water, brush out the wood, and let the tool dry.

    So would dipping an expensive rasp into hot water cause damage, i.e. rust?

    • Erik on 8 July 2019 at 9:51 pm

      If you dip the rasp in hot water long enough to get the metal hot as well and dry it, immediately after removing the wood particles, with a dry rag, the remaining water will evaporate because of the heat/warmth of the metal. Once it’s dry, it will not rust.

      I have no experience with oiling a rasp to protect it again oxidation, I fear it will become too “sticky” , causing it to get clogged sooner.

      • Donald L Kreher on 9 July 2019 at 4:42 am

        tools I have “washed” with water , simple, green, window cleaner etc. after drying to be safe I spray with water displacement 40 (WD 40).

  16. Christopher Johnston on 8 July 2019 at 11:30 pm

    Surgeons are very useful tools . They are razor sharp agressive and the blades are cheap

  17. Daniel on 9 July 2019 at 12:58 pm

    Thanks Paul! You know they are probably going up 25% by next week? 🙂 Great review, thanks for telling us of this.

    • Mike on 10 July 2019 at 1:49 am

      Good point! I’ve had one in my Amazon wish list, but have not pulled the trigger yet. Probably should.

  18. Robert Brunston on 9 July 2019 at 3:51 pm

    Thank you Paul! Your suggestions are like gold.

  19. John Cadd on 9 July 2019 at 8:23 pm

    The Shinto is very similar to a tool I improvised from broken bandsaw blades.I fold them over to make a rasp about 9 inches long and use masking tape to cover the ends as small handles.The blades are only about 1/4 inch wide and the folding means the teeth work in both directions . As with the Shinto there is no clogging .The folded bandsaw blades are springy and a quick tap removes sawdust .I was delighted with the Shinto when I found it but working in both directions would be a plus. The handle needs some improvements though . There is something not quite right with it .But very glad I bought one. Throw away is a pejorative phrase that belittles Japanese carpentry in a way . Their difficult to sharpen saw blades can be almost classed as throw away for practical .economic , reasons . But they insist on going the extra millimetre to achieve such great results .

  20. Bjørn Olav on 11 July 2019 at 10:54 pm

    Most Japanese tools made these days are throwaway? I’m very into Japanese tools and that’s not at all in line with the Japanese mindset. You can get planes with replaceable blades, and most of the cheaper saws have disposable blades s. But aside from that, you have quite a few blacksmiths still handforging their blades, and any one of these will last you a lifetime of good use.

    • Steve P on 12 July 2019 at 7:04 pm

      Tools for Working Wood sells the feather files for japanese saws, as well as the master forged japanese saws. They are out of my price range at the moment. I would love to get my hands on one. I have a couple hand forged japanese tools from master blacksmiths in japan and they are on another level.

  21. John Cadd on 12 July 2019 at 4:30 pm

    Well said Bjorn. Although I also objected to the word Nope in Paul`s comment (Not in the article itself ). Nope spells –Smug– to me . Sorry that`s how I feel about it . Smug does not suit Paul . It`s not his image at all .But if a japanese maker decided to emulate a top class rasp with uneven (?) teeth in a Thingy who knows what we could buy . What would worry me about a top class Japanese saw is getting it sharpened again. Send it back to Japan? Like –send your Rolex back to the makers for regular attention . Rolex —for all the Wimbledon watchers .

  22. Pieter Kotze on 12 July 2019 at 5:23 pm

    I have inherited two rasps from my late dad. I can recall playing with these as a small kid, and I am 75, so these could be 90 plus. The bigger one is a Nicholson made in Canada, cutting surface length of 275 mm. The smaller one is marginally finer with a cutting surface length of 225 mm. It has no name on it, but its logo depicts a horse jumping through a hoop, and was made in Germany, so it must be a PFERD. Google says the PFERD company is more than 200 years old.

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