Not long ago, I volunteered to test a rasp made by Liogier, a French company. Liogier’s rasps are premium tools, made by expert craftsmen who punch each tooth by hand. The whole process is fascinating. This is a 9-grain, 12″ cabinet-maker’s rasp.
I should say up-front that I don’t have any business writing a normal review of these tools. I haven’t used enough hand-stitched rasps made by other companies to be able to tell anybody how the Liogier compares. What I can tell you, however, is how a hand-stitched rasp compares to other hand tools that are often used for similar purposes: shaping curves and contours.
As it happens, I am making a batch of mallets out of pecan, a very tough and stringy wood that can be difficult to shape. There are several contours on each mallet that require shaping. Normally I would use my Veritas low-angle spokeshave for these tasks, so I decided to see how the Liogier rasp compares to the spokeshave at each step.
The first job is probably the toughest. The top of each head is arched. I have cut out the profile on the band saw, so now it is up to a hand tool to remove the band saw marks. The spokeshave works fairly quickly, but when working across 3″ of hardwood, it tends to leave chatter marks, and the throat clogs easily. The rasp worked more slowly here, and of course a rasp leaves tracks that must be cleaned up, too. (The head at the top was shaped by the spokeshave; the one in the vise was shaped with a rasp.)
I used a sharp card scraper to clean up each one. It took about a dozen strokes of the scraper to remove all the tool marks from the spokeshave, but it took more than twice as many to remove the rasp’s tracks. The spokeshave is the clear winner in this event.
Next is the shaping of the handle, which is crucial for the comfort of the user. My goal is to shape the handle like this:
The handle should be smooth, but it should also have just enough facets on it to prevent the user’s hand slipping in use. It’s a delicate balance.
This profile was shaped with a spokeshave, which goes quickly. However, the wood had some minor irregularities in the grain, resulting in significant tearout. Most low-angle spokeshaves are prone to tearout in such situations. While a sharp scraper can usually take care of it, the rasp had the advantage on the difficult grain. It doesn’t care whether the grain is straight or irregular.
The rasp leaves a reasonably clean facet on the wood, albeit with a little spelching on the exit-edge. (That means the far edge is a bit ragged rather than sharp.) With the rasp, I had to remember to stop a little earlier than I would with the spokeshave, since I have to expect to remove a little more stock with the scraper.
The rasp works quickly here. With more practice I could shape this profile with a rasp as fast as I do with a spokeshave.
This profile was cut with a spokeshave. The spokeshave can be pushed or pulled, which is useful in situations like this. I shape the profile by cutting from each end into the middle. The rasp works only when pushed, so I find it a little more awkward in this situation. But for most purposes, they are comparable tools for this job.
The rasp came into its own when shaping the ends of each handle, though.
In order to round over the ends, I first cut a 45-degree chamfer, then removed each edge, leaving a roughly-round shape. I blended the facets with either a file or sandpaper.
My spokeshave cuts the end-grain well enough, but sometimes the surface is uneven because it’s hard to balance the tool on a very small surface. The rasp worked much faster here, creating the above facet required about a dozen quick strokes. It was very easy to clean up after the rasp with a smooth file.
To conclude, here are a few observations after using the Liogier rasp side-by-side with a Veritas low-angle spokeshave for an afternoon:
- The Liogier rasp leaves a cleaner surface than any machine-cut rasp I have ever used, and while a true cutting tool like a spokeshave usually leaves a much smoother surface, sometimes the rasp is the better tool for the job. This rasp is excellent on end grain, as well as on difficult or irregular grain. For straight grain and/or wide surfaces, stick to cutting tools.
- The rasp leaves nice facets with minimal spelching, but still more than a cutting tool normally leaves.
- Clean-up after the rasp takes some time, usually with a file and/or a scraper. I suppose you could go straight to sandpaper after the rasp, but I don’t like sanding. Clean-up is easier after the spokeshave.
- Although the Liogier is superbly made, I’m still not fond of rasps in general. They are uni-directional, so workholding can often be a challenge. While they hold their cutting edges for a long time, they eventually get dull. They can be resharpened, but that usually requires sending them away to a professional. Furthermore, they leave dust and small chips instead of shavings, which are easier to sweep up afterward.
If I were going to buy a hand-stitched rasp, it would definitely be a Liogier. It is exceptionally well-made and easy to use, from the handle to the profile to the teeth. It would be nice to have, but I don’t need it. (It’s not over-priced, considering the skilled labor that goes into its making. But at over $70 with shipping, it’s out of my budget range.) I have other tools that do its job acceptably.
Oh, and if you wondered how those mallets came out…