The steel scraper blade is one of the most used tools in my guitar making workshop. Don’t be fooled by how simple it appears, it is actually a very intuitive tool requiring experience to master the subtleties of using it to its fullest potential. At first glance, it seems like it’s just a piece of metal, but the scraper can be an amazing tool for creating both flat and curved surfaces.
Choosing The Right Scraper
Scraper blades are made in many different shapes for different applications. When choosing the right scraper though, there is more to think about than just the shape. The thickness and flexibility are also an important factor to consider. In fact, the flexibility is what makes it work for me. I use the same scraper for almost everything I do on my archtop guitars. I just bend the scraper to create a tighter radius and to scrape tighter areas. I let the blade relax to a flat shape when I’m working more wide open areas, and I flip it over for flat surfaces and even on the flat side of the blade I still flex it to remove material from different ares in a controlled way when creating a perfectly flat surface.
Flat Surfaces & Glue Joints
The micro amount of control that a flexible scraper provides is especially important when creating flat surfaces. One example is creating the surfaces of a glue joint. If using a water based glue, the scraper is the perfect tool to remove a little extra wood from the center of the piece to be glued by flexing the blade to target specific areas. Creating a very slight concavity with your scraper will compensate for the wood surface expanding and bowing ever so slightly when the water based glue is applied. It will ensure that the glue joint is tightly fit. Having that type of suction fit, makes a glue joint that looks and even sounds better. The scraper is a simple way to get that subtle precision into your work efficiently in many different areas.
I have several different scrapers that I have acquired and used over the years, below I’ll show you some of them and explain what I find to be their best uses.
I never could use this one, I mean, I think I did use it for a few guitars because it was all I had, but eventually I bought a new set because I just never connected with this shape. I think this set was a little thick for me too when working on the curves of an archtop guitar top or back. Many people use this shape and love it though.
I have no idea what year I bought this set, but I know it was a long time ago, maybe 2000 or something. I liked the idea of having so many different shapes for different things when I bought it, but what I did not know was that the one larger blade in this set would become one of my main tools used every day for over 100 guitars and counting.
I use the other small scrapers, but not that much for scraping wood. I think I mainly use them for cleaning glue squeeze out or scraping the finish off from under the bridge area after I do my french polishing, and other related tasks.
This set is still available here, and I’m guessing that it is still the same thickness of metal and such, but I am not sure. I wish I could just buy a few more of the large size blade by itself.
Lie Nielson Scrapers
For Christmas a few years ago my lovely wife bought me a wonderful set of Lie Nielson scrapers. One is a bit thicker than the other. They are both made with the amazing precision and quality of all the Lie Nielson tools, but even though they are so great, I just don’t use them as much as that one blade from LMI. The thicker one is just too stiff for me to be able to flex comfortably and on top of that, they are just too good! I feel afraid to abuse them with my sloppy sharpening techniques and my bad habits of just filing the edges over to round them and protect surrounding parts of the guitar. Maybe I’m just like that, I have a couple nice notebooks that I have never written in because I’m just too intimidated by how nice they are, and I don’t want to mess them up! Maybe you have experienced something similar before too, or maybe I’m just weird. Either way, every time the situation calls for a scraper I go for the Lmi one, that’s the test of a tool or even a guitar for that matter right?
Customizing Your Scraper
Don’t be afraid to customize the shape to fit your style and your application. The first thing I did way back when after getting this scraper was to make some deep scratches while using it, almost ruining a guitar top from the sharp edges one either side of the curved part of the blade.
So I grabbed the nearest flat file and rounded over those points. Once I made that little alteration to the blade it was my instant favorite!
Sharpening Scraper Blades
I will share with you a couple of my bad sharpening habits that I use to put a super fast edge on my scrapers. I simply rub the edge a couple of times on a file followed by a quick pass with the scraper burnisher tool that I bought at the same time I bought my set from LMI. That’s it, it’s simple.
I call it a bad habit because I do change the shape of it sometimes, and I don’t always get the edge perfect. I’m sure there is a more proper way, but for me, I need speed. When I’m refining the contours of an archtop guitar top or back, I work hard to get into the flow of it, to get to the point where I’m just watching my hands remove the wood that is in the way of the perfect shape. The last thing I want to do is get my brain engaged and in the way as I stop and sharpen the scraper in some long elaborate, yet “proper” way.
With my sharpening method I can draw up a new edge in a matter of seconds without even thinking and be back at it; scraping and shaping the wood intuitively and from my heart, and that is the goal!
So that’s what I think about hand scrapers for guitar making, be sure to share your discoveries and tips with me in the comments below and share this on Facebook too!