Getting Started

Files, one of the tools that you HAVE to have, actually files are a bit like pliers, you can really never have too many! But to start off lets examine what the main types are. Needless to say that we are talking metal files so although for some tasks like wax shaping you could use a wood file quite effectively I’m only looking at the metal files in this post.

Generally the files come in different sizes:

Full size: between 4” and 12” cut, often jointly referred to as hand files

Midsize: around 4” cut, either called midsized or sometimes Habilis

Needle: 4” cut (or smaller)

Jewelers files 02

A selection of different sized files plus the shared handle and cleaning brush

Like most other tools files only cut when deployed in one direction. So although you very often see people file forwards and backwards over a piece of metal (or timber for that matter) the file only actually cut on the push stroke. I’m not entirely sure why people go across the work piece both forward and backwards but it’s a bit like the saw you run that in both direction as well to keep the momentum I guess.

Must Have Files

So what exact shapes of files should you have in your stash of tools? Well if you approach it from a really minimalistic angel a simple half round mid-sized fine cut file will get you a long way. Unfortunately it won’t cover all your needs.

As a minimum I recommend you get a good set of quality needle files with all the popular shapes like flat, half round, round, square, triangular represented.

The needle files are actually incredibly useful as they are small enough to be used on almost any typically sized piece of jewelry like rings, pendants, brooches etc. Yet they can still be used on larger pieces as well.

Extending the File collection

Of cause if you want to extend your file collection beyond the basic there are a ton of different shapes and sizes to choose from. On top of that you will find several different cutting grades for each shape of file.

The cutting grades or coarseness of the file is normally categorized from 00 to 6 where 00 is the coarsest and 6 is the finest cut.

There are a couple of other trades to look for: files with more or less the same cutting pattern i.e. which sides of the file has gutting groves on it, come in different shapes typically you will see tapered or non-tapered as the major deviation.

So a flat file with cutting pattern on all 4 sides will have a different name if it is tapered at the font. To make matters more confusing the humble flat file can come as a straight flat file with cutting pattern on all 4 sides called an equaling hand file. If it has cut on all sides but tapered front it is called a warding hand file. If it’s got cuts on the two wide sides it’s called a Pillar file or a Checkering file and simply called a flat hand file if it has cutting pattern on the two wide and one edge side.. Confusing… Just a bit..!

Over and above the shape of the file there is also hardness and brand to consider.

The hardness of the file obviously determines what types of metal it can be used on. No point in using a file that is softer than your work piece! you will just end up destroying your file.

For Jewelry work there are the traditional files that are used on the softer metals like silver, gold, copper etc. and there are a harder type of files called Valtitan files that are used for Platinum Palladium and other hard metals. Typically recognisable by the yellow tang (The tail part that is normally inside the handle) Obviously you could go for just the one set of Valtitan file but at more than twice the cost you may just want to consider how much Platinum work you will ACTUALLY be doing.

Valtitan Files

Brands of files are a little more tricky again price may dictate your choice but as you have probably heard me say lots of times across many other posts.. it’s better to have fewer good quality tools than having a large selection of “el Cheapos” that may break or at best not work in the intended manner.

So if you ask me I’d go for the good quality brand named files like Gobet, Friedrich Dick, Vallorbe, Honauer. Unfortunately even some of the high quality brands are moving their production off shore. This is not necessarily equal to a substandard quality but given the choice I’d always choose the locally made tool even if I have to spend a little more..

I’ll list the name used on Otto Frei’s website being one of the leading online jewelry tool suppliers they seem to have the naming terminology sorted. From what I have been able to establish the names of the files may even be different if the American names are used. Like a tapered flat file is called a mill file as an example.

File Shapes

Hand File Hand File

Flat straight tip file with cutting pattern on the two largest flat surfaces and one edge. The file is amongst many other things useful for filing out corners and general flat filing work.

Checkering File

Checkering File

Flat straight tip file with cutting pattern on the two largest flat surfaces only, i.e. the narrow sides of the file do not have a cutting pattern. The file is amongst many other things useful for filing out corners where one side of the corner should not be filed.

Barret File

 Barrett File

Flat Tapered tip file with cutting pattern on one surface only, Sides are angled inwards to the centre of the file and smooth, The top is smooth too. The file is useful for shaping or smoothing larger areas into tight angled corners where a normal flat file would mar one side of the corner material.

Crochet File

Crochet File

Flat tapered tip file with rounded edges with cutting pattern on all edges. The file could be used to get into narrow oval spaces where all sides are to be files e.g. a chain link or a bail.

Crossing FileCrossing File

Oval shaped file with a tapered tip almost same shape as the Crochet file but with the wide sides being rounded instead of flat. Similar this file could be used to clean out or shape an oval object.

Half Round File

Half round File

The file has one flat side and one half round side. Most often the files is has a tapered tip. This is the file most often included in Jewelry sets or packages as it it quite a versatile tool for work like ring making or for smoothening out flat surfaces. The file has cutting pattern on all sides.

Knife FileKnife file

As the name describes this file has the same shape of a knife i.e. a thicker flat back that tapers to a fine edge. This tip is normally tapered to a point. All sides except the top of the back have cutting pattern. This file could be used for filing into a tight angle where both sides of the work piece are to be filed or I guess to actually “cut” groves like a knife..

PipPippin Filepin file

Similar shape to the knife file except the back is rounded and has cutting pattern the shape resembles a teardrop when seen from the tip towards the handle. The file can be used to file into a rounded curved object or as the knife file it can get into a very tight angled object.

Round FileRound file

The shape of the file as the name says round it can be straight where the sides are parallel end to end or it can come with a more or less pointed tapered front tip. The file is used for all applications where a round or curved object is filed on the inside like the inside of a ring.

Slitting FileSlitting File

If you look at the cross section of this file it looks like a flat diamond shape with 4 sides all sloping from the center to the edge. The sides are normally parallel and there is a cutting pattern on all sides. The file would have a laot of different applications like being able to get into tight corners or “cutting” groves a bit like the knife file.

Square FileSquare File

The square is one of the more common files in a “standard” file set. All sides are equal width and has cutting pattern on all sides. It comes either with parallel sides or sometimes with a tapered point. The file can among other things be used either like a flat file in  smaller tighter spaces or to create 90 degree cuts.

Three Square Triangular fileThree Square / Triangular file

The three square file is a bit od a strange name. What we are actually talking about is a triangular file with cutting pattern on all sides. The file typically comes either with straight sides or a tapered point. Like the square file the triangular file can be used in a similar fashion to a flat file or to cut 45 degree patterns in a work piece.

Warding FileWarding File

The Warding file is basically just a very thin flat file with a tapered point and cutting pattern on all sides including the thin sides. The file is perfect for filing narrow flat slots or even like the knife file to cut a parallel sided slot in a work piece.

Over and above the standard grooved metal files there is also a large selection of diamond files that can be used in the same manner as metal files. The added benefit of the diamond files is they can be used on material that you would not normally be filing like glass and stone.

I must admit I have not really explored the different diamond files. The only one I ever tried went dull in the space of no time by a combination of the diamond material being worn off and probably wrong usage.. But after that experience I haven’t really gone back to see if the technology had improved since my last experiment.

At this point I have not had a great deal of need for manually filing glass or stone. I would generally use the flex shaft for those applications.

Hopefully this gives you an understanding of the basics around files and which once to start out with. As mentioned files are exactly like pliers you can never have too many and you can literally buy yourself silly in different styles, types, cutting grades etc.


The only other thing to touch on is file handles. Like anything else there are quite a lot of options from plastic, rubber, neoprene, timber and a lot of other materials.

The main thing to decide on is whether you will give each file it’s own handle or share one or two across all files or perhaps you may want to skip file handles all together.

At the moment I have a shared handle that I swap between files when I need to do some larger jobs. For most other work I actually just use the file without the handle sometimes wrapping a piece of cloth around the tang to avoid my hands getting trashed but mostly just holding a bit further up on the blade of the file.

I think the main reason I have not yet gotten handles for all my files is pure laziness (read stinginess..) the handles I wanted when I looked at it last was pretty costly and could only be ordered from the US. So I got lazy and no handles have so far been acquired..

Wooden File Handle

The Lutz Skroo-Zon File Handle

OK enough for now there are a lot of different places on the net you can get more info about sizes, shapes, cutting patterns etc. You can even jump on You Tube to learn how to probably use the different files. So get filing..