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Hand Tools around the World

  Liogier Rasps and Rifflers by Douglas Coates

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Noel Liogier is a quiet, unassuming French toolmaker – the present generation in a long line of Liogiers making hand-stitched rasps and rifflers.

The LIOGIER workshop is located south west of Lyon, in Saint-Etienne,  France.  Noel Liogier continues the century-old family tradition making high quality hand-stitched (hand cut) rasps, and has been the largest producer in Europe for many decades.

Liogier was recently awarded the elite status of ‘Ambassador of French Excellence’ by the French government, representing the nation’s finest craftsmanship and joining an elite group which includes Louis Vuitton and Chanel.

For over a century the area has been rich in coal-mining and hence steel production. With access to very fine steels, Saint-Etienne became a centre for forge-based tool production.

Even after WW2, there were well over 100 makers of files and rasps in the region, as well as some renowned gunsmiths. In fact Saint-Etienne has been to France what Sheffield is to England or Wupperthal to Germany… the center for tool-making.

There are reasons why Europe has been and remains the World’s great producer of hand-stitched rasps, but no one seems clear why France specifically – the 2 remaining and best known makers are both French: Auriou and Liogier.

In mainland Europe rasps and rifflers (more of those in a moment) have been as widely used as chisels by woodworking craftsmen for many years. It seems the ways of working are different there and a lot of fast stock removal and shaping is done with rasps.

In Europe, rifflers are as popular as rasps – Liogier sells as many rifflers as rasps in Europe. Yet in the UK and The States rifflers are far less widely used. It’s probably down to what we are used to and what went before.

The dramatic decline in forges since the mid 20th Century is partly due to the arrival of low-cost machine-made equivalents. But a further big factor is the acute shortage of skill needed to make them.

Noel has trained 8 stitchers (as they are known) in his life. It takes around 18 months to train, working daily… and not all succeed. I recall Noel telling me once that it actually takes the first 12 months to discover if the trainee will ever be any good. Of the 8 Noel has trained three failed, two have now retired, and the remaining 3 work with Noel today.

What makes hand-stitched better?

Anyone who picks up a fine hand-stitched rasp for the first time is normally surprised. They are very quick and intuitive to ‘learn’; the speed of stock removal is remarkable; and the quality of finish is far better than you expect.

We have all used rasps and files of various types before so using a hand-stitched rasp comes naturally. But the performance is entirely down to the fine differences that hand-stitching brings. Machine-made rasps have a uniform tooth pattern which will result in furrowing of the surface.

One of the key skills in hand-stitching (but by no means the only one) is the semi-random placing of the teeth over the tool’s surface and right up to edges and the tip. These teeth have to be very sharp, of uniform height and pitch… and of course placed with great skill.

The result is a very versatile tool which fast becomes one of those core tools you pick up far more often than you ever thought you would. Many users will say it changes how you do certain things, and a good rasp or riffler will make some tasks far easier, faster… or just make them actually possible.

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