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A brief history of files

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The origins of files

Stone age scraper made from jade used for smoothing and sharpening stone, like a file Files are one of the oldest known tools for stone working, metal working, finishing and sharpening. The image to the left shows a stone file with a rough edge that would have been used to sharpen other stone tools.
A sandstone rasp - one of the earliest types of file known to man and used in the Stone Age for smoothing and sharpening Stone rasps are common stone age finds. It is believed they were used even before stone axes and knives.
The bible, which contains the first mention of files being used to sharpen other tools Files are referenced in the bible, where they are cited as being used to sharpen a range of other tools.

Yet they had a file for the mattocks, and for the colters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads.” (1 Samuel, 13:21)

Metal files in the bronze and iron ages

Minotaur holding a file - possibly the first ever metal file created in Crete in 1400 BC The oldest metal file found by archaeologists is thought to be over 3,400 years old. It was found in Crete in the Mediterranean.
Egyptian pharaoh showing that ancient egyptians used files in 1200-1000 BC The Egyptians used brass and copper rasps from around 1200 BC.
Assyrian horseman to illustrate that Assyrians used metal files from 700 BC Iron rasps were used by the Assyrians in the 7th Century BC.
Celt warrior to show that the Celts used files from around 666 BC Meanwhile, Celts in Britain were also using metal files, dating back as far as 666 BC.
Hand forging a crude rasp from iron These types of tools would have been forged by hand, with only the crudest available form of heat treatment to toughen up the metal and make it resilient and durable.
Roman senator to illustrate ancient roman times in which files were used for shaping wood and sharpening metal References to files began to crop up in Latin from around 100 BC and, interestingly, different words were used for files for use with wood and files for use with metal.
Wonkee Donkee explains the difference between the two types of Roman files, scobina and lima
Convex roman shield, shaped through filing The Romans were also the first recorded civilization to use files of different shapes. Most were flat, but some were half round (semi-circular) in shape, allowing them to file surfaces to be concave or convex as well as flat.

The evolution of files

Set of needle files, the smallest files currently in production By the time the 13th century rolled around, file forging skills had increased to a point where smaller and more precise files could be produced.
Iron gate in Paris, France, showing the degree of skill with which metal workers plied their craft. Files would have been used to deburr the metal and create the intricate shaping Being able to use a file well was a sign of master craftsmanship. In 13th century France, ornamental iron work was at the pinnacle of file mastery.
Leonardo da Vinci - responsible for planning the first file making machine In 1490, Leonardo Da Vinci drew up a plan for the first file-making machine, which would ensure precision and uniformity among all files. His design never came to fruition.
French locksmith like Chopitel who invented the first working file making machine in 1750 Over a century later, a French locksmith named Jousse attempted another design. However, it wasn’t until 1750 that another man from the same trade and of the same nationality, Chopitel, created the first file-making machine.
Flag of Switzerland - home of the Swiss pattern file invented by F. L. Grobet in the 19th Century All of these developments led to a landmark for files in Switzerland in 1836. Toolmaker, F. L. Grobet, created a precision file-making machine that could reliably produce files that were accurately cut to uniform specifications.
Riffler files cut to swiss pattern specifications This was the origin of the Swiss pattern file, a type of file that is still widely used in the modern day.

For more information, see: What is a Swiss pattern file?

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