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Samples of metal swarf, with a compressed block of swarf in the middle
The wood shavings created by a spokeshave are a type of swarf (etymology 1, noun sense 1)
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Etymology 1Edit

From Middle English *swarf, *swerf, from Old English ġeswearf, ġesweorf (iron filings; rust) and/or Old Norse svarf (metallic dust), both from Proto-Germanic *swarbą (that which is rubbed off; shavings), from Proto-Germanic *swerbaną (to mop, wipe; to rub off); see further at swerve. The word is cognate to Old English sweorfan (to rub, scour; to file).[1]


swarf (countable and uncountable, plural swarfs)

  1. (uncountable) The waste chips or shavings from an abrasive activity, such as metalworking, a saw cutting wood, or the use of a grindstone or whetstone. [from mid 16th c.]
    • 1770, Samuel Baldwin, “The Package Table of Rates Outwards”, in A Survey of the British Customs; Containing the Rates of Merchandize as Established by 12 Car. II. C. 4, 11 Geo. I. C. 7, and Other Statutes; with Tables of the Net Duties, Drawbacks, Bounties, &c. Payable thereon, under All Circumstances of Importation and Exportation. Also a Distinct and Practical Account of the Several Branches of the Revenue Called the Customs. With a Appendix, Containing an Abstract of All the Laws now in Force Relative to the Customs. The Whole Continued to the End of the Session of 9 Geo. III, London: Printed for J[ohn] Nourse, bookseller in ordinary to His Majesty, opposite Catherine-Street, in the Strand, OCLC 642753014, page 43:
      Filings of iron, called Swarf, the barrel — — 0 [shillings] 2 [pence]
    • 1866, John Henry Pepper, “Iron”, in The Playbook of Metals: Including Personal Narratives of Visits to Coal, Lead, Copper, and Tin Mines; with a Large Number of Interesting Experiments Relating to Alchemy and the Chemistry of the Fifty Metallic Elements, new edition, London; New York, N.Y.: George Routledge and Sons, Broadway, Ludgate Hill; New York, 129, Grand Street, OCLC 937891873, page 372:
      The softest and almost the cleanest iron for turning for cotton and other machinery is made from wrought iron swarf (or turnings). Sometimes the swarf is worked by itself, but commonly a ball is made of good swarf, and while hot, fine swarf is thrown into the furnace, and the ball is rolled about so that the swarf adheres to it, and it is then taken to the hammer.
    • 2004, Strother Purdy, “Making Sense of Sandpaper”, in Traditional Finishing Techniques (The New Best of Fine Woodworking), Newtown, Conn.: Taunton Press, →ISBN, section 1 (Surface Preparation), page 5:
      As sandpaper is pushed across wood, the abrasive grains dig into the surface and cut out minute shavings, which are called swarf in industry jargon.
    • 2008, Christophe Granet; Graeme L. James; A. Ross Forsyth, “Aperture Antennas: Waveguides and Horns”, in Constantine A. Balanis, editor, Modern Antenna Handbook, Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, →ISBN, section (Swarf Control and Removal):
      Turning of the internal features of horn antennas is an operation where particular attention must be paid to swarf control. Techniques such as the use of extreme flood coolant, interrupting the feed to break swarf, and regular withdrawals of the tool to clear the working area may be necessary, particular on CNC [computer numerical control] machines where the operator has no "feel" or sight of the process.
  2. (countable) A particular waste chip or shaving.
    • 1940, The Metal Industry: An Illustrated Weekly Journal Dealing with Non-ferrous Metals, volume 56, London: Louis Cassier Company, OCLC 220554643, page 456, column 1:
      These swarfs, especially if they are of the tin bronze type, can usually be re-melted, after passing over a magnetic separator, by adding a small percentage to each charge of the alloy issued to the foundry for melting.
    • 1979 May, Cormac McCarthy, Suttree, New York, N.Y.: Random House; republished as Suttree (Vintage Contemporaries), 1st Vintage International edition, New York, N.Y.: Vintage Books, 1986, →ISBN, page 95:
      Harrogate looked at the ground. A black swarf packed with small parts in a greasy mosaic.
    • 2017, Yoshimi Ito; Takashi Matsumura, “Mechanisms for Metal Cutting and Grinding”, in Theory and Practice in Machining Systems, Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature, DOI:10.1007/978-3-319-53901-0, →ISBN, page 226:
      When the uncut swarf thickness increases beyond the minimum swarf thickness, the elastic deformation phenomena decrease significantly and the entire depth of cut is removed as a swarf as shown in Fig. 9.9c.
Related termsEdit
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout#Translations.


swarf (third-person singular simple present swarfs, present participle swarfing, simple past and past participle swarfed)

  1. (transitive) To grind down.
    • 1958, “Rockford Hydraulic Swarfing Machine”, in Machinery, volume 65, part 2, New York, N.Y.: Industrial Press, ISSN 0024-9181, OCLC 17158626, page 160, column 1:
      A machine for swarfing the joining edges of parts or sub-assemblies having compound angle surfaces is announced by the Rockford Machine Tool Co., Rockford, 111.
    • 1959, Aircraft and Missiles Manufacturing, volume 2, Philadelphia, Pa.: Chilton Company, OCLC 11396749, page 114, column 1:
      Hydraulic mill is used for swarfing the joining edges of parts or sub-assemblies with compound surfaces.
    • 1976, Bulletin of the Japan Society of Precision Engineering, Tokyo: Japan Society of Precision Engineering, ISSN 0582-4206, OCLC 224077520, page 90, column 2:
      This weakend[sic, meaning weakened] layer is swarfed off by rubbing of chip, consequently, severe cratering is manifested on tool face after total cutting time Tc. However, the whole interacted layer is not swarfed off, and the influence of thin residual layer is ignored at the theoretical analysis.

Etymology 2Edit

From Middle English swarven, swerven (to go; to deviate, turn aside; to stagger, be unsteady; to swerve), from Old English sweorfan (to wipe; to polish; to rub, scour; to file), from Proto-Germanic *swerbaną (to mop, wipe; to rub off). The word is cognate to Middle Dutch swerven (to rove; to stray) (whence Dutch zwerven (to roam)), Low German swarven (to rove; to stray; to riot), Old Norse svarfa (to sweep; to be agitated, upset), Norwegian svarva (to agitate), sverva (to whirl). See swerve.


swarf (third-person singular simple present swarfs, present participle swarfing, simple past and past participle swarfed)

  1. (intransitive, Scotland, obsolete) To grow languid; to faint.


swarf (plural swarfs)

  1. (obsolete) A faint or swoon.
    • 1795, John Adamson, The Loss and Recovery of Elect Sinners: With the Difficulty of Their Coming Back Again to Glory. Methodically Held Forth under the Similitude of Captives Ransomed and Returning from Slavery, Paisley, Renfrewshire: Printed by J. Neilson, for James Gillies, bookseller, Glasgow, OCLC 315745580, page 227:
      And when they had ſo continued feaſting for a ſhort time, they had been ſo ſerved before, and the food was ſo rare and excellent, that they fell into a ſwarf, and cried out, Cant[icle of Canticles] ii. 4, 5. 'He hath brought me into the banqueting-houſe, and his banner over me was love. O ſtay me with flaggons, comfort me with apples, for I am ſick of love.'


  1. ^ swarf” in Merriam–Webster Online Dictionary.

Further readingEdit