What is a Woodworking Card Scraper?

Card scrapers are exactly what the name implies – cards you use to scrape wood.  Why would you want to do that, though?  What about a planer or a joiner?  And what about sandpaper?

Good questions, and we’ll try to answer them for you today.

Imagine a credit card in your hands.  Hold it with thumbs on one side of the card and fingers on the other side.  Bend it a little, create a curve in it by pushing the ends away from you and the curve in the middle of the card.  Then, run it along a flat surface like your kitchen cutting board.

Then, imagine the card is made of steel, and you are running it along the surface of wood you are working on for a project.  Push the card along the surface rather than pull it.

If the angle you create with the card is sufficient, you’ll pull shavings from the wood surface; and if the angle is not enough, all you will get is a little dust.  Maybe there are power tool marks on the surface from your planer, for instance, and you want to remove those tool marks. 

What Are Card/Cabinet Scrapers Used For?

Card scrapers are a shaping and finishing tool used on wood surfaces.  With it, and used properly, it will remove small amounts of material and is especially useful with a tricky grain when a hand plane might cause a tear out of the wood.  Instead, shavings can be scraped away.

The degree of the angle you create when bending the card will determine how deep the scraping will be and how much material will be removed.  The curved part of the card created by that bending creates the cutting edge and determines the depth of the burrow or channel you make and the amount of material removed. 

A card scraper is most appropriate when working with hardwoods and can replace sandpaper as an option.  It’s a very simple tool but is quite versatile.  It’s very good at smoothing rough woods and minor defects either naturally occurring in the wood or caused by some other tool that would be difficult to cure with a traditional hand plane.

Here’s a helpful video that shows how to use a card scraper.

As you will see, a rectangular scraper is simply a thin piece of steel that has been lightly sharpened and, when used properly, will be great at cleaning up marks on your wood surface or level glue-ups and generally smooth out wood surfaces.

A gooseneck scraper is distinguished by its shape – – curved edges that can be used to create convex and concave surfaces such as you’d want for a furniture project or a musical instrument. 

The advantage of a scraper is that it will not leave scratches that sandpaper might otherwise cause.  And, as mentioned earlier, it’s easier to control than a hand plane and can handle tricky grain without damaging the wood surface being scraped.

What Is The Difference Between a Card Scraper and a Cabinet Scraper?

In theory, there is no difference between a card scraper and a cabinet scraper, and the terms are often used interchangeably.  While they are used for the same purpose, though, there is a difference:

  • A card scraper is shaped like a card, thus the name; and,
  • A cabinet scraper usually has grips

Card Scraper

SnapOn 474-150-0.80 Bahco 6-Inch Cabinet Scraper

Cabinet Scraper

Kunz #80 Cabinet Scraper Plane

Notwithstanding this difference, the purpose and the function are the same.  They remove small amounts of wood to create a smooth and level surface.

Do You Need To Sharpen a Card Scraper?

Yes.  However, the process is as easy as sharpening a kitchen knife if you are accustomed to using a honing stone.  Rather than explain the process in words, though, here are two videos that show how easy it is:

In a matter of minutes, you can have your card scraper ready for use again.

How To Store Your Card Scraper

Like your kitchen knives, you don’t want to store them loosely in a drawer where they run the risk of the edges being nicked or dulled.  There are several ways to store them safely to protect the edge, so you don’t have to sharpen them every time you want to use them:

  • Use a router to create insets in a spare piece of plywood to the size of the card(s) being stored;
  • Building a wooden cranberry scoop-like box but with cuts on the face side into which you can slide your cards to separate them from each other;
  • A French cleat rack with dowels on which you can lay your cards individually to separate them from each other.

How To Make Your Own Card Scraper

Perhaps you have a small piece of leftover thin steel plate from a previous project or an old table saw blade that you don’t or can’t use anymore.  These can be used to make your own card scraper simply by cutting to shape and size and then sharpening the business edge for use.

You’ll need a power tool for cutting the steel plate into shape, but after that, it’s simply sharpening the edge and putting it to good use.

Here’s a video to show you how one fellow made his own card scraper.

We found card scrapers of carbon steel for as little as $2.99, fancy cabinet scrapers for as much as $80, and sets of various sizes and curves for $18 and up to $58, depending on different shapes in the set and the number of scrapers.  So even if you decide to purchase rather than fashion one for yourself, a good card scraper won’t break the bank or your budget.

They are a useful and simple tool that every woodworking shop should have, as the need for one will arise often in a variety of projects and with a variety of wood conditions.  For smoothing a wood surface, they are hard to beat or better.

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