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Two Stanley Surform planes
Two Stanley Surform pocket planes

A surform tool (also surface-forming tool[1]) features perforated sheet metal and resembles a food grater. A surform tool consists of a steel strip with holes punched out and the rim of each hole sharpened to form a cutting edge. The strip is mounted in a carriage or handle. Surform tools were called "cheese graters"[2][3] decades before they entered the market as kitchen utensils used to grate cheese.[4][5] In addition to graters, surform tools include planes, files, rasps, shapers, drum type sanders and cutters, and discs for use in random orbital sanders. Surform planes have been described as a cross between a rasp and a plane.[6]

Although similar to many food graters made of perforated sheet metal, surforms differ in having sharpened rims. Also, a surform typically is used to shape material, rather than grate it.


Etymology and history

An early Surform made by Simmonds Aerocessories Ltd.

The word surform is an apparent blend of "surface" and "form".[7] It is unclear whether this is a genericized trademark or the opposite, a common name that was subsequently trademarked.

The first surform tools were the invention of a British company. A patent for a surform tool blade was obtained in 1949 in Australia by Firth Cleveland Pty Ltd of Wolverhampton England. An affiliated UK company, Simmonds Aerocessories Ltd., was an early manufacturer of surform tools. They made 3 planes using this blade.[8] These were marketed by another affiliated UK company, British Lead Mills Limited, in or before 1956.[9]

Stanley Works (Stanley) first bought United States manufacturing rights, then bought the company. Stanley began marketing its first surform tools, a plane and a rasp that used the same blade, in 1956.[10] By 1959, Stanley offered a choice of fine and coarse tooth blades.[11] By 1966, the product line had grown to include pocket plane, files (round, half-round, and flat), and an electric drill drum. Reflecting their many uses, Stanley used the slogan it shaves everything but your beard.[12] A feature of the product line was that on all the tools the blades were replaceable;[11] this was important because they could not be sharpened.

Stanley used the name Surform from the start of its marketing campaign in 1956,[10] and became owner of the Surform trademark in Australia in 1967.[8]

Stanley now has several competitors that manufacture surform tools. These include Microplane, a manufacturer of woodworking tools and kitchen utensils; Sherrill, a manufacturer of utensils for working with clay; and G-Rasp, a manufacturer of small kitchen rasps. In addition to its own tools, Microplane markets stainless steel replacement blades that fit some of the Stanley surform tools.[13] In the kitchen utensils market, Cuisipro offers perforated steel rasps and graters under the brand name Accutec.


There are several types of surform tools, used to make different shapes. They include flat plane; flat, half-round, and round rasp, and a variety of other shaping/shaving tools. Larger surform tools are designed for two-handed use; smaller ones for one-handed use.

Although some of these tools are called planes, the United States International Trade Commission has ruled that under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States they belong to the class of files, rasps, and similar tools.[14]


A Microplane surform rasp used to grate fresh ginger

Compared to a conventional rasp or sandpaper, the advantages of a surform rasp include a faster cutting action, no clogging of the tool with material being removed, and little or no dust.[15][16]

In woodworking, surforms are used for rapidly removing wood from curved surfaces. They remove less wood than a drawknife, so they are easier to control. Even though surforms leave very coarse finishes, the worked areas can be easily smoothed with finer tools, such as files and sanding blocks.

Trimmed nails on an elephant's foot

In farriery, surforms are used to remove excess hoof wall from a horse's hoof. They may also be used to "manicure elephants' hooves".[12]

In horticulture, surforms are used to smooth pruning cuts and shape exposed wood. Surforms are popular among creators of bonsai, especially among those who use deadwood bonsai techniques.[17]

Surforms are used also to shape surfboards, trim drywall,[18] and in sculpture.[19]

In automobile repair shops, for decades panel beaters have used surform files and rasps to shape plastic body filler.[15] There, these surform tools are commonly called "cheese graters".[3]

As kitchen utensils, surform tools are a recent innovation. The Microplane wood rasp, a sleek stainless steel surform rasp first marketed as a woodworking tool and known generically as a microplane, recently became popular as a kitchen utensil for, among other uses, grating cheese (see Zester). An early mention of using a Microplane "rasp-like grater" in the kitchen was a cookbook published in 1999.[20] This was soon followed by mentions such as one of the finest kitchen tools to come along in decades[4] and a miracle citrus zester and hard cheese grater.[5] Initially, it was available from kitchen supply stores[4] and Lee Valley Tools.[5]

In popular culture

In the 2001 film Pearl Harbor, in a beach scene a man is seen using what appears to be a surform tool to shape a surfboard. This is an anachronism, as the scene is set in 1941.

See also


  1. ^ William Perkins Spence (1999). Carpentry & Building Construction: A Do-It-Yourself Guide. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.. pp. 704. ISBN 0806998458.   page 649
  2. ^ Stanley Works (April 1974). "Advertisement". Popular Science 204 (4): 143.  
  3. ^ a b Don Taylor and Larry Hofer (1994). Paint & body handbook (revised ed.). HPBooks. pp. 144. ISBN 1557880824.   page 73
  4. ^ a b c Michele Anna Jordan (2000). San Francisco seafood. Ten Speed Press. pp. 224. ISBN 1580082165.   page 217
  5. ^ a b c Seppo Ed Farrey, Myochi Nancy O'Hara, Dai Bosatsu Zendo (Monastery), Eido T. Shimano (FRW) Roshi (2000). Three bowls: vegetarian recipes from an American Zen Buddhist monastery. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 254. ISBN 039597707X.   page 243
  6. ^ Garrett Hack, John S. Sheldon (2003). The handplane book. Taunton Press. pp. 272. ISBN 1561587125.  
  7. ^ "Stanley "Surform": An all new surface-forming tool does 1001 jobs [Advertisement"]. Popular Mechanics: 270. April 1957.  
  8. ^ a b "More early surforms". OldTools Archive. 2001. Retrieved 2009-10-03.  
  9. ^ D. Frankl, ed (1956). Welwyn Garden City. The Official Handbook 1956. Ed. J. Burrow & Co. Ltd.. pp. 92.  
  10. ^ a b "New shaping tool grates wood and metal". Popular Science 169 (3): 211. September 1956.  
  11. ^ a b "Stanley surform is a versatile tool (advertisement)". Popular Mechanics (April): 292. 1959.  
  12. ^ a b "Popular Science salutes Stanley for its "Surform" tools". Popular Science (September): 140–141. 1966.  
  13. ^ "[Advertisement"]. American Woodworker: 25. April 1998.  
  14. ^ "Ruling CLA-2 RR:CR:GC 966668 RSD". United States International Trade Commission. November 3, 2003. Retrieved 2009-05-29.  
  15. ^ a b James E. Duffy, Robert Scharff (2003). Auto Body Repair Technology (4 ed.). Cengage Learning. pp. 1002. ISBN 0766862720.   page 323
  16. ^ Michael Morris (June 4, 2007). "Microplane Sanding Discs & Rasp Plane Blades: Sanding tools that are easier on the lungs". TOOLS OF THE TRADE Magazine. Retrieved 2009-05-26.  
  17. ^ Dick Beltran (2008). "Ted Matson carves up a storm". Golden State Bonsai Federation. Retrieved 2009-05-27.  
  18. ^ Larry Haun, Vincent Laurence, Tim Snyder, Millard Fuller (2002). Habitat for Humanity, how to build a house. Taunton Press. pp. 282. ISBN 1561585327.   pages 217, 219
  19. ^ John W. Mills (1976). The technique of sculpture. Watson-Guptill Publications. pp. 168.   page 52
  20. ^ Daniel Boulud's Cafe Boulud cookbook: French-American recipes for the home cook. Simon and Schuster. 1999. pp. 400. ISBN 068486343X.   page 383

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