Why is there rust on this new file?  Keep reading to find out.

  2016 Aug.     Tech   Metal & Shop


It wasn't that long ago when Nicholson files were made in USA.  They were also the best in the world. 

Then Nicholson moved their production out of the country. 

I just wanted to see if that had any effect on the quality.

This is a review of two different Nicholson files that were made in Mexico.

The Importance of Good Files

Some people claim that machinist files are not really necessary anymore.  They say that industry no longer makes stuff by hand filing.  But so what?  For the most part, industry hasn't made products by hand filing since the early to mid Twentieth Century.

Anyone who works with metal or does handyman jobs has need of a good file.  Machinist, carpenter, renovator, repairman, mechanic, metal artist, welder, woodsman, farrier, farmer... all of you need good files.  (Now that I think of it, even vintage-camera repair calls for a set of good files.)

As more people get into making stuff, there will be an increase in that demand.  Files are one of those core hand-tools that can't be substituted.  They're extremely tough to make in your backyard. 

Five or six tools in your whole toolbox?  One of them should probably be a file.  (Pliers, hammer, adjustable wrench, one each Phillips and flathead screwdriver... and a file.)

We need good files.

First, The Bad

The first file I tried here was a Nicholson 4 In Hand, purchased new this year.  The 4 In Hand used to be one of the most useful files around.    This type of file has a flat side and a rounded side.  Each side has two sections:  a rasp for wood, and a file for metal.

Yes, metal... at least that's how it used to be.  For many years I used one of these to do everything from sharpening garden tools to shaping wood.  Many other people did, too.

The 2016 version looked identical, so I expected it to work like that.

It didn't.

The file wouldn't bite.  It just skated off the metal.  Worse yet, the teeth galled up in one use. I know it was the file, because I tried another file that was decades old, and it worked great... same piece of mild steel that the new 4-In-Hand file wouldn't so much as graze. The old file was even dull, and it still filed the steel.

I was so disappointed with the new file that I left it out in the rain.  That's why the file has some rust on it. 

At first I thought this was a heat-treating error.  Then I looked again at the packaging.  It says the file is for "Wood" and "PVC".

OK, now I think I get it.  The 4-In-Hand has been reinvented as a "PVC and Wood"-only file.  I guess it doesn't have the heat treatment that would allow it to file metal. 

What's crazy, though, is that it seems to be SOFTER than mild steel.  Doesn't that take special effort?  But why do that? 

I bought this file expecting it to be the same as the old Nicholson 4-In-Hand files, but I guess it's not the same as those.  The rasp portion is obviously for wood and PVC, but the metal-file-looking portion was always supposed to be for filing metal.

Next, The Good

To be fair, I decided to give the new Nicholson files another chance.  This time, I bought an 8" Mill file.  That's a single-cut, almost-coarse metal file, which is properly called a "bastard" file.  That means it is halfway between coarse (which I don't even think they make this type), and second cut (which is too fine for many uses).

This is the type of file you would use for sharpening lawnmower blades, garden shears, and that sort of thing.

Sure enough, the packaging shows a picture of a lawnmower blade and a pair of garden shears.

This time, I was not disappointed.  The file worked!

The file cut into the steel immediately.  No skating.  No insta-dulling of the file teeth.  It worked as I hoped it would.

How long this file will last, I don't know.  Update here:  after about three or four months of sporadic use, the file is dull.  This was very typical all-around usage, which included sharpening some tools.  That's what really dulled it, I think.  I've read other articles where people have said the same thing:  these files are passable for sharpening, but they could be a lot better.

At least it didn't dull in ten seconds, as the 4-In-Hand file did.

One good thing I noticed about these files:  the country of origin is incised, not printed on.  A lot of big companies today have weaked out on this, using printed-on letters.  It's not as though they didn't have the machines to do real lettering;  they're just being cheesy.  When the letters wear off, you've got no way to prove who made the tool... so whoops, no warranty anymore.  At least Apex Tool / Nicholson was willing to put the Nicholson name on these, indelibly.


There are a lot of comments out on the Internet about the offshoring of big-name tool brands. 

Like many of the commenters, I know what Nicholson's USA-made files were like.  They were simply awesome.

Today it seems to be a mixed bag.  The 4-In-Hand file that I tested was not usable, in my opinion.  PVC and wood filing, maybe, but when you also have what looks like a metal-file on there, it should still be able to file metal.  That's the whole point:  if you could only ever carry one file in your pack, the old Nicholson Four-In-Hand would have been the file. 

I've also read about the Nicholson saw-sharpening files wearing out too quickly.  I haven't tried them myself, but based on my experience so far, I believe it when someone like this says so.  Here is another article from a few years back, saying essentially the same thing.


With as many brands of files as there are today, really there are only a few companies that actually make them.  I don't know of any that are made in USA anymore.

Nicholson / Apex (Mexico)
Simonds (Mexico or South America)... haven't tried these yet.
Corona (Mexico).... passably good 4-in-1 file; could be improved; see my review, here.
Tekton (China).... see my review, here.

Europe-made brands I haven't tried yet:

Bahco (Portugal)
Pferd (Germany)
Stahlwille (Germany)

Keep in mind any of the countries-of-origin could change.  These are just what they were at the moment I wrote this, based on what I could find.


The 4-In-Hand file that I bought was completely unsuitable for filing metal, even mild steel.  The packaging mentions only "Wood" and "PVC".  I found that to be a bit surprising.

This got me looking at other brands of files.

To be fair, the Nicholson 8" mill file worked well on mild steel.  For sharpening tools, though, I think we still need better files than this.

Bahco files made in Portugal are probably the next ones I'll try, since I've now tested Nicholson, Corona, and Tekton.

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