How To Clean Aluminum Out Of Your Hand Files (Updated)

I’m pretty sure I posted this before but it was a long time ago and I just had a reader named Steve ask me about this in the comments on another post.

It sounds crazy but I actually tried it and it works.

He also asked if there was any way to sharpen some old files he has laying around.

There are all kinds of people claiming that you can do that if you look on Youtube but I’m pretty much calling bullshit.

Once the cutting edge has been dulled I have not found a good way to get down in those little grooves to make them deeper and cut a new edge.

Getting them as clean as possible will usually help but once that edge is rounded off they are only good for material to make other things out of, like knives.

That’s my $.02, YMMV.


Because invariably I am going to get comments saying that yes you can sharpen files,

I went and did some more digging.

Turns out I found this video made by not only a machinist, but a machine shop teacher, who took the time to explain how to sharpen your files.

16 thoughts on “How To Clean Aluminum Out Of Your Hand Files (Updated)

  1. Hey,
    Thanks for the response; I appreciate it. I had a feeling you would give me a straight answer.
    Man, that technique was slicker then snot on a doorknob! I’m going to go to “big box store” this afternoon and get some brass to try it.
    Yeah, I had a feeling that Dad’s old stuff was going to become a wall hanging, but hey, at least I have some of his old stuff.
    Many thanks again and If you need any opinions from a germanic old farmer….I’m your guy!

    Liked by 1 person

      • I will bet a hidden key is that the copper pipe gets work-hardened as you pound it out flat. Makes it a bit harder than aluminum but still a lot softer than file steel.

        I doubt it would work as well with annealed copper.


  2. There used to be a worker, prior to 1920 or so, in machine shops who was a file sharpener. He was replaced when sand blasting became practical. So yes, files can be sharpened. Not cost effectively, but they can be sharpened.


  3. Thanks for the info. Very interesting way to clean a gunked up file. I did get the willies, though watching him plug it up with aluminum. I never use a file without a handle like he did. Not even for a couple short passes. I’ve impaled my hand more than once over the years before I learned my lesson………….


      • Those bits clogging the file’s teeth are called pinnings. To clear them, an empty brass cartridge with its mouth crimped closed with pliers works well. A 308 or an ‘06 works fine. Prep your file with soap prior to use.


  4. My dad used a large nail and hammered the pointy end flat and then ground it straight at the end. Then he used it to clean his files in a similar fashion.


  5. I seem to remember a tip to clean aluminum out of the teeth by dipping the file into a jar of Muriatic Acid (HCL, or Hydrochloric Acid) as it attacks the aluminum much faster than the steel, eating it away and leaving the file clean.

    Was also supposed to “sharpen” the file by slightly thinning the teeth, and restoring the edge.

    I’ve used it to clean files, but never noticed if they were “sharper” than before I cleaned them.


  6. I always used a file card. Works every time. Once the file is smooth(done) then take it over to the grinder and put an edge on it. Now you have twine knife….or other.


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