This week I have worked substantially with two tools used in woodworking and sometimes in other materials like stone and plastic. One is definitively known as a rasp. Rasps come in various widths, lengths and shapes. Hand-made rasps, known as hand stitched, can be expensive. My favourites thus far are those made by Auriou of France; the one I rely on most is the Cabinet rasp. This rasp is flat on one side and round on the opposite face. The end follows a gradual boat shape culminating in a pleasing and useful point and for most of us these are the most useful and practical types regardless of size. Mine is now thirteen years old and it still cuts wood more than well; beautifully is the word, really. The smaller and narrower versions, maybe 1/2″ to 3/4″ wide and 6-8″ long, are excellent for tighter, smaller work, shaping handles and such. No matter the size, they are beautifully balanced in the hand and cut superbly efficiently.
In the past, I generally suggested the four-in-hand rasp, the type used by farriers for trimming horse hooves after reshoeing horses. These are an almost decent starter rasp for tasks like shaping be that removing hard corners to curves as in spoon and spatula making, cutting boards and so on, but in recent years these rasps have come in with softer steel and fail to keep their edge for very long or are indeed are just flat poorly made, a facsimile of what was the industry standard. When a rasp loses its cutting edges it becomes a bruising implement bluntly attacking good wood to leave it more bruised than finely cut. I like the kind of ‘bite‘ and edge retention you get from the hand-stitched versions as with Auriou and Logier. My hope is that they will continue to survive and keep raising future generations of skilled rasp makers.
With regard to the four-in-hand rasp: what’s truly valuable is that you get four surfaces on the same rasp. They have no handle as the steel itself is the hold you get and what you have is good grip. The flat side gives you a half-length of actual rasp with the essential layers of barbed stitching while the other half of the length is essentially a file with finer cutting and smoothing ability. The reverse side is round and on this side, you again get the rasp and file but in the round so to speak. I am not sure why the best makers of rasps have not replicated a top-notch version of this tool — a 12-14″ long version with the boat-shaped ends would be a superbly useful tool and probably a best seller for them. Nudge, nudge! Well within their capacity.
I remember the day I switched from the four in hand to the Auriou cabinet rasp; the 12″ #10 stitching. It was a night and day experience yet I also recall a four-in-hand version that was truly well made and extremely handy all in a single tool. They rapidly declined in quality and this was a direct result of cheaper imports robbing decent makers by coming in at less than half the price with a look-alike that fooled everybody into thinking they were in fact getting one and the same tool. By the time everyone realised the difference, the good makers were gone. That said, four-in-hands as distinct from farrier’s rasps do work and work well enough. They are just not as good as the premium versions. They are ideal for seeing if what you want to use rasps for will be a part of your future; we often use a transitional tool like this before we spend money. on extra special ones.
It was sending a new woodworking maker to buy a £140 rasp that caused me to rethink things. The farrier version is certainly still a good fit for starting your kids out or if you are only making a few items requiring shaping by this method of hand work. Anyone reaching into the future for long-term shaping will now know to consider the hand-stitched versions and there are different makers out there who make very nice rasps, some from places like the Czech Republic are really excellent and are usually less expensive too. I own a couple and enjoy them.
I bought the Shinto saw rasp as an alternative and have tested it out for a good length of time. I used one in place of my Cabinet Rasp to try to work out its longevity, functionality and so on. Its main downfall is there is no round face to it so it is mostly useable on flat and convex surfaces. Hollowing is out of the question. Its advantage is that it has both coarse and fine in a single rasp. As far as price goes, the price has risen. It seems it will cost you somewhere around £30-35. After a year’s use, it has less bite than the Auriou, to the point that I ordered its replacement. Comparing the 13 years of use with the one year of the Shinto leans towards getting one-quarter the time I got from my Auriou but my Auriou is still going and I prefer the heft and feel of it generally. So, my conclusion is that there really is little difference in overall cost except that we do have the round back to the Auriou and the coarse and fine faces of the Shinto.
For the main part, I can live without the coarse side of the Shinto though I can see it being very handy now and then for taking off material in quantity and quickly. What I cannot live without is the round back of the Auriou or other makers I have. A quick flip of the wrist to deal with hollows and rounds equally well with the same fineness. But I am content now that I know it is not an either-or. I can extend the life of my Auriou and double or even triple its longevity by using both sides of the Shinto saw rasp.
Conclusion: After long-term testing, I enjoy owning both the more expensive rasps and the Shinto but the four-in-hand- meets different criteria. If you start with the four-in-hand you will lose nothing starting out and it is good for children to work with. Then consider the Shinto if you think you will have no need for the round face of a proper rasp; this could be a stepping stone to owning a premium rasp. There is true joy in owning an Auriou and keeping it for best work long term. I suspect for most woodworkers with limited time of a day a week at the bench that this will become a lifetime tool for them