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What is a Cabinet Scraper?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 17, 2024
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A cabinet scraper is a hand-held, steel woodworking tool. These flat, metal pieces may have handles or a frame holder of some type. Cabinet scrapers may be rectangular in shape or have a more curved, oblong form. Like sandpaper, cabinet scrapers smooth wood, however, they tend to cause less surface damage. Cabinet, or card scrapers as they are also sometimes called, are designed for use on intricate woodwork; they're often used to smooth shelf and table top edges on furniture made from hardwoods such as cherry, mahogany, maple or oak.

Removing old paint or varnish is another popular use for the cabinet scraper. While cabinet or card scrapers tend to be associated with fine furniture because they are more labor intensive to work with than sandpaper, even boat builders use these sanding tools to remove excess blobs of glue. Cabinet scrapers are available in a range of sizes as well as shapes. For smoothing rounded wood pieces such as bowls and staircase post tops, a curved type of cabinet or card scraper called a French curve is often used.

Some cabinet or card scrapers have two handles at the top to add easy grips when sanding or scraping. Other cabinet scrapers feature the flat metal inside a cardboard frame cover. The metal piece may be slid up in the frame to hold it in the hand more easily.

Before a new card scraper can be used, it must be sharpened, or burnished. In burnishing, a file is first used on the scraper's sides and upper edges to prepare the surfaces for use with a burnisher tool. A basic burnishing tool is a narrow, cylindrical piece of hard steel with one or two bent ends. Roller burnishers are wider and feature a round, solid wheel-shaped piece on one end.

A burnishing tool is pressed along the scraper's edge to create a pointed lip, or hooked section, called a burr. The burr on a cabinet scraper makes the most contact with a wood surface. As it does the cutting, the burr gets dull and typically must be resharpened at least several times during a wood-finishing project. Although using cabinet scrapers is slow compared to sanding with sandpaper, their flat shape allows them to fit easily into corners. Like sandpaper, a cabinet scraper should always be used in the same direction as the grain of the wood.

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