After a part is laid out and cut from the rough stock, the edges need to be trued up, and brought to finished dimensions.

Straight and square are two fundamental aspects of any build. Our eyes can see very small errors in misalignment quite easily. Edges that aren’t straight and corners that aren’t square will greatly detract from otherwise fine work, as both situations impact the fit and finish everything that comes afterward. With brass, and metal work in general, a tight fit is important. Unlike other materials where you can compensate for a poor fit, metal is unforgiving. As with measuring and marking, this is where craftsmanship begins.

Ready to file. When I need to remove a lot of material or create a precise edge, the work piece is clamped in a vise and the vise is clamped to the bench for stability. This allows me to use both hands to guide the file.

A range of files for the job. These three files are my typical choice for the initial work. Depending on what I need to do and the size of the piece, needle files will also come into play. 

Craftsmanship starts here. These three squares are also my first choice for evaluating the work. The six-inch combination square on top also makes a good straight edge. 

A good fit. As the square reveals getting a precise edge and a square corner is possible with hand work.

Thickness matters. A key to getting a tight fit is to pay attention to the mating edges. The square shows this edge is ninety degrees to the face of the piece. Getting this edge right means minimal gaps in the joint.

Good outcomes are achievable. A good fit makes for a strong, clean joint where solder will flow easily.

Why bother with such anachronistic stuff?
As always, my reference is quarter-inch scale where fit and finish have a greater impact on the completed model. Like the measuring and marking skills from the previous post, this information may seem basic, and it is. Few people actively build from scratch in brass, so why bother with such anachronistic stuff?

While the prevailing attitude currently leans heavily toward digital printing technology, that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, nor is it the panacea people want it to be. I enjoy the direct contact with the work that hand tools provide. I enjoy making the fullest use of the tools I have available now, rather than spend months trying to learn technology that doesn’t interest me all that much in the first place.

I’ve found an immense satisfaction from taking responsibility for my enjoyment of the craft. Learning a handful of basic skills opens doors that many people will never walk through. I want to make it clear that I’m no expert in this stuff. I’m simply finding my way (often with comic proportions) along a path, and sharing the experiences as I go.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I hope you enjoy time with your loved ones.



  1. Simon

    A couple of posts back, Craig mentioned about the need for quality tools. This is always true, of course, but especially so for measuring, marking out and filing. Without a true straight edge, accurate measurement and a fine point for marking the line (it needs to visible, but no more!) then nothing will fit properly. But the key is to cut just outside the line and then file back to it: quality cutting tools help get closer to that line, but a file is what gets you there, and gets you there square.

    The oldest tools I still have are some German-made “needle files”, followed by a quality English rule and square; all are still going well after over 4 decades. For nearly every modelling job, these tools come into play.

    I actually bought the 6 shapes of file that were available in my local hobby shop: but other than specialist needs, only 3 are required: a 3-square (triangular) because you can get into corners on one edge, a half-round because the flat side is useful generally, and the other side can be used for gentle curves if applied at an angle to the plane of the metal, and a round (rat tail) for getting into smaller curves where a drill will be too aggressive, and a broach not the right tool (it is for opening up circular holes, not filing into “corners”. A flat file, rectangular in cross-section, would be my next choice as it is easier to control when draw-filing the edge to get it square, but it isn’t essential.

    A broken file – I have a few cheaper ones which did this – can be ground into a very useful scraper for removing excess solder, partially a knife-edge file. I keep the tang and whatever is left, and smooth the edge on a grinding wheel. Pop the tang into a small holder, and scrape away!

  2. mike

    Hi Simon,

    Like a lot of folks, I find myself returning to a small set of tools that cover 95% of my needs. I bring in the specialist tools as needed for the task.

    I’m always experimenting too, looking for ways to do things better. That’s the majority of my time at the bench these days. -Mike

  3. Craig Townsend

    I keep seeing you use a sharpie to mark your brass. Have you ever used bluing fluid? Link below. This stuff works great for marking out brass or steel. Goes on and dries fast. The little brass work I’ve done this made a huge difference in layout of parts.

    New DYKEM 80300 Steel Blue Layout Fluid Brush-in-Cap (4oz)

  4. mike

    I’m aware of the Dykem fluid. I use the marker because it’s on the bench and one less thing to clutter up the shop with.

  5. Craig Townsend

    Good to know. I only recently learned about it myself.

    Your exploration in working with brass has encouraged me to keep pursuing excellence in my areas of struggle.