The Furniture Restoration Tool List: Scraping and Abrading

Scrapers and Burnishers

In new work, after the reductive carving  work of the Rasp and File or the final smoothing with a hand plane, surface preparation for finishing begins with the Scraper, a relatively thin plate of tempered steel, very like a handsaw blade. Scrapers are made in varying thicknesses and a number of  shapes. Convex, concave, and complex profiles can be purchased or you can shape them yourself with a grinder and metal files. As noted elsewhere, the term “scraper” is a misnomer; when properly sharpened the cutting action of the Scraper removes a very fine shaving of wood.  These Scrapers are usually rectangular in form and referred to as “Card” Scrapers.  In use, a Card Scraper is grasped at each end and bent into a slight bow at its center with pressure from your thumbs, and you can vary the vertical position of the tool relative to the surface of the wood, finding  the best cutting angle at the edge. A scraper may build up significant heat from the repeated friction generated during it’s use, and this will become surprisingly clear to you, in an abrupt and intense sensation at your fingertips. There are also cast-iron Cabinet-Scrapers, plane-like jigs having a flat sole. Most of these hold a thicker scraper blade at a fixed angle. Like most hand tools, scrapers do require a bit of fussy preparation to work their best, and their constant companion is the burnisher, a hardened steel rod used to manipulate the softer steel edge of the scraper after filing and dressing it on a stone. Depending upon the quality of their steel and the manner of their use, time between re-sharpening scrapers will vary. I use the scraper sparingly in restoration, and then usually to remove a bit of stubborn finish or glue. A specially sharpened Card Scraper may also be used to level and refine a rough or bumpy finish smooth before sanding.

I have a variety of shapes available but most of the time I am reaching for the basic rectangular Card Scraper. the smaller of the two here is made by Sandvik, reliable for their quality. The convex and concave profiles at the rear have proven very useful. The goose-neck profiles at the front see only occasional use in comparison.

We are fortunate as restorers, our work has already been sanded. If we are mindful of that and proceed accordingly during our work, we will have minimal recourse to abrasive papers. Often, when tables arrive, they may have severely compromised top surfaces and there’s no avoiding sanding.  When we replace missing parts, we will need to match their under-the-finish surface to the color and texture of the original object as closely as possible, and that may mean leaving surprisingly coarse sanding patterns on some work. On the bright side, we will often simply be re-applying finishes, so steel-wool and the higher grades of sandpaper as well as polishing compounds will often see use, which is at least a little less dusty.


Dust, its bad for you. the particulate from the wood and the friable grit of the abrasive paper will be all over the shop after you sand. You will find many feet away, a thin but noticeable residue that has moved with the air to settle over on the table saw. A hanging air-cleaner is good, it does help, but your face is right above the worst part of this process, so wear a mask rated for wood dust.

The aphorism “you get what you pay for” could have originated with the purchase of sandpaper. If all goes well during restoration, minimal sanding would be needed. You’re more likely to use quantities of steel wool or abrasive pads for the finish.

Sandpaper variety
These are the sandpapers that I keep directly behind my bench. A number of these are premium grades, usually only available in bulk, unless you have a really great old hardware or paint store in your town. Three types of sanding blocks are shown, from left; a shaped walnut block with an applied cork face, a solid cork block and a felt block. A small sample of three contoured sanding grips used to smooth molding profiles is also included.

© 2019 Joseph Hoover. Sticks and Glue. All Rights Reserved.

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