All about Hand Scrapers

What are hand scrapers?

Hand scrapers, often called card scrapers, are a great finishing tool. Like most woodworkers, I hate sawdust for the mess and expense of sandpaper. On most surfaces, especially hardwoods, the card scraper can be used to get the finely finished surface. At most you will just need to use a light final sanding with fine grain sandpaper. Another advantage of scrapers over sandpaper is that it does not clog up the pores of the wood with dust or leave torn fibers. Use it in between coats of finish on your project instead of sandpaper to prevent the dust build up.

Card scrapers are just flat pieces of high carbon steel of medium hardness. The key is that you want it hard, but not harder than your burnisher. If it is too hard then it can’t be worked to create a burr. Theoretically you can make your own scrapers, but most of us buy our scrapers. I have the Lie-Nielsen hand scraper set and an older set of gooseneck scrapers. The advantage of the Lie-Nielsen scrapers is that they come ground square making it much easier to get started with.

The other key element to hand scraping is a burnisher. A burnisher is simply just a piece of highly polished metal that is made of harder steel than your card scraper. It is used in the sharpening process to “turn a burr” (which we will talk about later). I use both the hock burnisher and the Lie-Nielsen carbide burnisher.

Types of hand scrapers.

The two most common types of card scrapers are rectangular and gooseneck scrapers. There are many variations of these including shape, size and thickness. One key variation is the thickness which dictates how stiff the scraper is. Depending on whether you are using it for smoothing or curved work you will want to change to a different thickness. Gooseneck scrapers are curved scrapers for working on surfaces. In addition there is an infinite number of different types such triangular, half-moon and oval.

Using your hand scraper.

A properly prepared scraper has a burr created on one of its sides. Depending on how big the burr is and how much of a hook it has will determine how aggressively it cuts. To remove lots of wood you create a burr that is hooked. For fine finishing a simple small burr will work. To use the scraper, you tilt it in the direction you are moving it. You can experiment on the different tilts (which change the effective angle of the burr) on some scrap wood. After a bit of practice, you will get a feel for using it. If you get any tearout from the corners of the hand scraper you can flex it slightly.

My approach to preparing a hand scraper changed earlier this year after seeing a demo from Gary Rogowski at a Lie-Nielsen tool event. Gary runs the Northwest Woodworking school in Portland which I highly recommend. I have made a slight variation to his approach since I use Shapton Glass Stones instead of Diamond sharpening stones. Gary has a cool video you can find here. What Gary does that is great is he turned the whole process on its side. Instead of trying to hold a file flat across the edge of the scraper, he puts the file in a vice and runs the scraper against it! Simple, but brilliant.

Step by step sharpening your card Scraper:

1) Put a file in a vice on your workbench. Lay your card scraper flat on the bench and run it across the file until you feel a small burr on each side.

2) Now we need to polish the filed surface. If you have Diamond stones, you can place them in the vice the same way as the file. I have Shapton Glass Stones, so my process is a bit different. I start on 1000 grit, move to 4000 grit and then finish on 8000 grit. The key is to keep to hand scraper perfectly vertical while running it across the stones. To do this I press the hand scraper against a scrap of wood and run it back and forth on the stone. Either way you want to end up with a mirror finish on the filed surface.

3) Now we need to remove the burr created by filing and polishing. You do this by laying the scraper flat and running the burnished back and forth across the surface. Do this on both sides.

4) Now we add the final burr. You do this by putting the scraper vertically in the vice and run the burnisher back and forth at 90%. Now slowly tip the burnisher to about 7 or 8 degrees while continuing to run it back and forth.

Now your scraper is ready to use! If you have comments or more questions, please e-mail me at