Mr. McInturf and the Card Scraper

As I relentlessly bore down on the vibrating sander, I peered through the cloud of dust and saw Mr. McInturf motioning me toward him. As I turned off the machine and maneuvered between my high school Wood Shop classmates, I could see Mr. McInturf was holding a thin rectangle of metal, a shiny steel card of some sort. I watched, mystified, as he laid it near the end of his desk and rubbed what looked like a triangular file with no teeth against the faces and edge. Next, like some sorcerer in a green smock, he pushed that card along a board, lifting wispy curls before it and leaving a smooth surface behind. Then he handed it to me with a smile.

That was over thirty years ago, but I’m reminded of that magical moment every time I pick up a card scraper. I don’t use one often, but it is ideal for certain situations. If I remember right, chair maker John brown said it would be the tool he would grab if his workshop were on fire. I’d grab my adze, but I did pick up my card scraper recently for refining the surface of a bird bowl carved from a maple branch.

The photo above is from the post that I wrote about that bird bowl.

Here’s a shot of a scraper I like for sculptural shapes like this. I bought it years ago from Lee Valley, and I see they’re still selling them. This one is the thinnest of the four in that group (.016″ or .4mm). I’m sure there are other thin options from other suppliers out there, and you can also use an old handsaw blade. I’ve ground one edge to a gentle curve to add some versatility. I wrote a post a few years ago about using curved edges on scrapers for bowls.

The flexibility of this thin scraper allows it to conform to a variety of shapes and makes it light and nimble to handle. Thicker scrapers are better for heavier cuts and other situations.

honing/polishing the face of the scraper.

There are tons of articles and information out there on how to sharpen a card scraper. I’ll add to the confusion by showing you how I go about it.

Regardless of the specific method, the main idea is to hone the edges and face and have them meet at 90 degrees. Then, using a harder piece of polished metal, deform that edge a bit to form a small burr toward the face.

Above, I’m honing the face of the scraper to remove any of the old burr. I just lay the stone flat on the scraper and go back and forth near the edge. Then I clamp the same sharpening stone in a hand screw clamp.

Honing the edge of the scraper.

I don’t remember if I’d seen this exact method somewhere before, but there are lots of ways to achieve 90 degrees. Diamond stones are ideal for this, since they won’t be gouged by the narrow edge of the scraper. Clamped like this, the stone is held at 90 degrees to the side of the adjacent surface of the clamp. I keep the scraper flat and go forward and back on the stone. In the case of the curved scraper, I just rotate slightly as I move the scraper. I progress quickly to the finest stone on face and edge.

To create the burr, I usually use a burnishing rod, but you really just need any polished steel that is harder than the scraper. Here I’m using the backside of a carving gouge. Cover the tip of that gouge first for safety, or better yet, get something like this. I hope it goes without saying that I have no connections or deals with Lee Valley Tools, but I’ll make that clear anyway.

Put a drop of oil on and rub it along the edge.

Using a little pressure, run the burnisher along the edge smoothly, at 90 degrees a couple times. (I forgot to take a photo, but I rub the burnisher flat on the face a couple times before burnishing the edge.) Then tilt it a few degrees and run it again, then a few degrees toward the other face for one last time. Now both faces are ready to go. You can always use more pressure to make a more aggressive burr, but that is not necessarily better. Experiment and see what best suits your preferences and the situation. You can re-establish a burr a few times by burnishing before going back to the stones.

Typically, the scraper will be pushed with the thumbs supporting from behind, but all sorts of grips (and pulling) are possible, especially on oddly shaped pieces.

Then make magic like Mr. McInturf.

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9 Responses to Mr. McInturf and the Card Scraper

  1. John Wayne Rollo says:

    Thank you for sharing your time, inspiration, instructions, knowledge and skills.
    You are a great person for doing so, I felt I should say so at least once.
    You’ve been a very interesting teacher to me for a long time, I would not be where I am today without you being so open and sharing.
    Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Eric Goodson says:

    Thanks for this article, Dave, and the reminder about scrapers. Love that sharpening method!
    I don’t use them much, though years ago Dan Dustin saw some of my early, rough attempts at spoon carving, and diplomatically suggested I use a scraper. These days, I think I might have a real use for them. Occasionally I turn a bowl from a blank that is a bit too fresh, and I get some “fuzzy” spots on the “uphill” portions of a bowl. Once dry, these portions have to be dealt with, and I usually take out a knife and carefully give the bowl a shave. Next time I will try a scraper. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bobs Email says:

    Dave, Once again your posts provide a valuable learning. Never before have I seen a hand screw clamp used to establish 90 degrees. What a super idea. Thanks.

    Bob Simmons, Sun City West, AZ

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bernd Grunwald says:

    Hi Dave,

    thanks a lot for your beautiful website as well as for your highly appreciated posts. I always learn a lot from these posts.

    I would like to ask if you can provide (maybe in one of your next newsletters?) some information about the carving-knives you use (or you would recommend) in order to proper carve the small letters on the spoons? Which ones are good or even the best for this special job? And who are the manufacturers? I guess you know where people can buy good knives suitable for letter carving.

    Therefore, I (or perhaps others, too) would be glad to receive some information about your letter carving knives in order to avoid bad purchase.

    Sorry for my poor English. Best Regards from Germany Bernd

    p.s.: If you are interested, here you can see my first greenwood bowl (I acquired a taste for it):



    • Dave Fisher says:

      Hi Bernd,
      For the smaller sized lettering, I use the penknife blade (finely sharpened) of my Boker “Whittler” pocket knife. That said, that is not absolutely essential. I do like how the carbon steel blades take a fine edge and are relatively easy to sharpen. I also like the curved profile to the edge. It is what I have gotten used to after experimenting with it years ago. That said, I would like to do more experiments and development of a simple fixed blade knife that would give folks easier and cheaper access. And I am currently trying out the carbon steel penknife blade of a knife I purchased from a small manufacturer near me called Great Eastern Cutlery — less than an hour away. I also like the knives made by Case here in Pennsylvania as well. There is much you could do to modify an existing knife you have to accomplish the same thing. The key is to then get to know it well through working with it a lot and developing your technique.
      Here are three old posts that have information related to the knives:

      “Fish Say…” Shrink Pot

      The Infant of the Sword

      Greenwoodworking in White Oak

      And here is a video filmed at Spoonfest in 2019 in which I discuss the knife and do a short demo:

      Again, I hope to be able to make the tool selection more straightforward over time.

      Thanks for sharing your first (!!) greenwood bowl. What a lovely form and an incredible job on the necklace around the rim. Wonderful design that shows sensitivity to the material.
      Happy carving!


  5. Steve Gardner says:

    As always, thanks for the post. Great explanation and photos! Best wishes!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. pidog314 says:

    Many thanks for this very simple sharpening tip … and for your very beautiful carvings.
    Clarke Hambley


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