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Using Hand Tools: An Ode to the Paint Scraper

Ted Moores files the blade of a Richard paint scraper to a custom curvature, with the scraper braced against a work table and a second scraper seen beside it

We lose perspective in the workshop sometimes. To us photos of Ted diligently scraping away on a C4 were just business as usual, but when we shared a few last week, Ted’s choice of tool provoked a surprising amount of curiosity. Odds are good you’ll be familiar with the paint scraper method of shaping the hull if you’ve already built your own canoe, but if you used an alternate method or are looking to refine your technique, read on for an ode to the humble paint scraper.

Outside of the block plane and spokeshave, paint scrapers are one of Ted’s favourite tools. They’re cheap, widely available, and versatile. In the early days when he was still developing his process, he used paint scrapers primarily to scrape off excess glue before sanding the hull to prepare it for fibreglass. He experimented with using paint scrapers to reduce the amount of dust, which was bad for the lungs and made it difficult to monitor his progress. He discovered that paint scrapers were an easy-to-control alternative, with the added benefit of reducing dust and noise. These days he’ll spend a day scraping a 20’ C4 canoe, but only two hours sanding.

Ted cycles through three scrapers when working on a canoe hull, each filed to the shape he wants to create. The first is flat with rounded corners for the sides of hull and outside curves, the second has a pronounced curved to follow the bilge, and the third sits between those two shapes. All three have their edges filed like a plane blade with a steep angle of attack, so it takes a bit of practice to find the cleanest cut.

Ted finds Richard-brand scrapers ideal, because the hardness of the steel makes it easy to file while still taking a moderately aggressive bite out of the wood. He estimates a sharpened edge will last about five minutes before it needs to be sharpened again. He also finds the nut-and-bold attachment system preferrable to the tongue method of some scraper blades, which reduces the level of control.

Thinking about the number of machines that have been created over the forty-five years he has been building boats, it strikes Ted that an inexpensive scraper does things a $400 profile sander would do without the control or pleasure of using one's hands. When he finishes scraping and imagines the pile of shavings on the floor as dust floating around the workshop, he’s even more grateful to have a few handy scrapers in his arsenal.

Watch two short clips of Ted working with paint scrapers:

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