Carpentry Guides

Shaping Wood by Hand

Although much of the cutting and shaping of wood is best done with power tools, being able to shape wood using hand tools is a useful skill to have. Jobs such as shaping rounded corners and adding a bevelled edge to wood is very possible with power sanders and saws, but a better finish (and some might say a more satisfying one) can often be achieved using chisels and rasps.

Shaping Wood using a Chisel (Paring)

Cutting a shape, such as a curved corner, into a piece of timber can easily be achieved using a hand saw and a chisel. As with any diy job, using the correct tool for the job is essential. Even more important when planning to pare wood with a chisel is making sure the chisel is properly sharpened. This really is half the battle! You can learn more about sharpening chisels here.

With your super sharp chisel ready, mark out the curve or other shape onto the edge of the wood. Clamp the wood firmly to your workbench and use your hand saw to trim off as much of the waste wood outside the curve as you can without cutting inside your marks. You should now be left with a rather angular curve with some waste wood still needing to be trimmed or pared off. This is where you use the chisel.

The key to using a chisel is to work gradually, taking of fine shavings rather than trying to gouge off huge chunks of the waste wood with each pass. Shave the waste wood back until you have a smooth curve and then finish it off with a fine rasp and finally sandpaper/glasspaper.

raspsShaping Wood Using A Rasp

Rasps, which are often confused with their metalworking equivilent the File, are designed to be used like a very coarse sandpaper. Rather than cutting shapes and curves into wood they should mainly be used as part of the finishing process, when they are perfect for evening out and smoothing a cut edge. However, Rasps can be used to create very small curved corners or if you need to create a shallow corve into the body of the wood.

Mark your curve or corner and clamp the piece of timber securely in a vice or workbench. Hold the handle of the rasp in your right hand (or left hand if you are left handed) and support the end of the blade with your other hand. With the blade flat to the surface of the wood, push the rasp forward (rasps cut on the forward stroke). Repeat this stroke, moving the contact point around the curve as you go to create the required shape. Move the rasp away from the wood often to check that the curve or corner is as you need it.

If you are creating a concurve curve (into the body of the wood) either use a half-round rasp and use the rounded side of the blade or use a round rasp. It is best to alternate the side you work from as you create the curve to avoid splintering the edge of the wood.

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Shaping Wood Using a Surform

A surform is great for bevelling the edge of a piece of wood or for creating long gentle curves. Surforms work in a similar way to Rasps, except the larger teeth are stamped out of a sheet of steel and take off much more wood with each stroke. You can buy Surforms with flat, curved or cylindrical blades and each is used for a different purpose. Curved blades are used for shaping concave curves whilst the cylindrical blade is perfect for shaping tight curves and holes in timber.

Hold the angled handle in your strongest hand and grip the end of the Surform with your other hand. Surforms cut on the push stroke, so lean into the wood and push the tool away from you to start shaping the wood. Surform Shavers, which are smaller versions of the tool, have a blade which cuts on the pull stroke. This is perfect for use in tight corners or areas where the larger version cannot reach. It is important to clear the shavings from inside the Surform from time to time to stop the teeth getting clogged up. Finish of any edges with a rasp folled by fine sandpaper.

Shaping Wood Using a Plane

If you need to shave small amounts from the edge of a piece of wood, a plane is by far the best hand tool for the job. However, it is essential that the plane is set up correctly and that the blade is very sharp if you want the best results. To do this, look along the sole plate of the Plane and check to make sure the blade is perfectly square to it. If not, use the adjustment screw behind the blade to correct it. The blade should not project more than a couple of millimetres from the face of the sole plate. This can be adjusted using the second screw between the blade and the handle.

Clamp the timber in a workbench or vice and mark how much you want to shave off on both faces. Marking only one face makes it hard to shave the edge equally and you may end up taking off more wood than you need as you try to even things up. Hold the Plane by both handles and use full, even strokes along the full length of the timbers’ edge. The Plane should run off the end of the wood at the end of each stroke. Keep an eye on your marks (Planes will shave wood surprisingly quickly) and reguarly remove shavings from behind the blade.