Photo: John Kelsey
When you want to break out of jail, have someone bake you a cake with a hacksaw in it. But if you'd rather make a key from a spoon and quietly slip away like Houdini, ask for a cake with a 6-inch slim taper file.

Files shape, trim, and smooth anything made of metal, wood, or plastic. With their closely spaced, hardened steel grooves, they can sharpen a lawn-mower blade, knock the rust off a shovel, and remove burrs from a product with "some assembly required." Rasps are files made specifically for wood. Their coarse, individual teeth, punched up from the steel surface, are perfect for grating away at lumber. Both files and rasps are meant to be used between the rough cut of a saw and the smoothing of sandpaper — not instead of either one.

Because of all the possible combinations of teeth patterns, coarseness, shape, and thickness, there are countless kinds of files and rasps made for every common material and need. On the following pages, you'll learn how to tell a four-in-hand from a rat-tail, and find a selection of types that will help you through most jobs on the homestead.

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