Build Your Own Shoulder Plane: Does this Kit Pass the Test?
I like to make tools, but I don’t make them just for fun. Typically, I only make one when I can’t find what I want out in the land of commerce (like these planes or this marking gauge). However, when I saw that Hock Tools now sells a shoulder plane kit, I thought I’d give it a try. Part of what drove my decision was curiosity. I’ve made hand planes of my own design and I wanted to see how someone else does it. I’ve also been contemplating the possibility of making a rabbet plane, which isn’t too far off from a shoulder plane, so I thought Hock’s plane might give me some good ideas. I was also drawn to its price. At $90, it’s about half the cost of a new metal bodied shoulder plane from Lie-Nielsen, Veritas, and Clifton (comparing 3/4 in. models). There was a point (I’ve only barely gotten past it) when I couldn’t afford tools and I wanted to know if the Hock plane was a viable option for others in that position. Well, now that you know why I decided to give it a try, let’s get on with my review.
I’ll start with building the plane, because, well, I started with building the plane. There are only three parts to be glued up: two beech sides and a piece of jatoba (aka, Brazilian cherry) that does double duty as the sole and the bed and throat (NOTE: I was wrong about the wood species. It’s bubinga, not jatoba. And there are 4 pieces of wood, not three. The bubinga is cut into two pieces. One make the bed, the other the front of the throat). Putting them all together couldn’t be easier. Line up the parts, clamp or tape them together, drill four holes for alignment pins, and then glue it together. I did have one problem with the glue-up. Both of the beech sides in my kit were slightly cupped, not surprising given that these parts came across the entire country to get from California to Connecticut. I don’t really have a problem with it (hey, wood moves), but I do give you this warning. Before you glue up the parts, make sure you’ll be able to remove any cupping with clamping pressure. If you can’t you should give Hock Tools a call and talk about your options. You want those glue joints to be nice and tight, because the parts are pretty much at final dimensions. That means that if you remove any thickness from the sides to make them flat, you’ll probably have to grind the blade down too. (The width of a shoulder plane blade should be equal to the body’s thickness.)
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After the glue dried, I shaped it, trued the sole, opened the mouth a bit, and sharpened the blade. Then I put it to use. The plane does its job. Because it’s a bevel down blade, it handles long grain well, so you can trim grooves and rabbets. But the iron is bedded low enough (37 1/2 degrees) to handle end grain without trouble. I do have one complaint. I think the plane needs a bigger opening for shavings to escape through. My plane’s throat tends to get clogged, and it’s tough to get a finger in there and pull them out. A slightly bigger opening would solve the first problem, and I wouldn’t need to worry about my finger getting in there. Now, I’m the type of guy who is not afraid to modify a tool, and I’ll enlarge the opening myself. I suppose you could count that as part of the fine tuning that needs to be done to get the plane working great, but I’d rather not have to do it.
As with all wooden planes, adjusting the blade depth is a delicate dance. It’s one that some folks glide through like Fred Astair, but which others execute with all the grace of a drunken fraternity brother. I’m somewhere in between. The more I use my little grooving planes, the better I get at setting the blades. But it’s still a bigger hassle than setting blade depth on my metal body shoulder plane.
In the end, the plane is a great value. With a little bit of sweat equity you get a shoulder plane that works well and that’s a fair trade to save close to $100.
A big note about shaping the plane: I strongly recommend that you mill up some scrap to the same size as the shoulder plane and test out shapes on it. You want the plane to be comfortable to hold and that shape you think looks cool may not be comfortable.
Instructions that are easy to follow! Not only that, the blade comes wrapped in a piece of paper that some great sharpening instructions on them.
Add glue. It's really quite easy. Add some wax to the throat area so that glue is easy to remove later.
Watch it grow. It goes together fast and pins keep everything aligned without fuss.
Shape, shape, shape Senora. Shape your body line. With a wooden plane, you can personalize the body however you want, just make sure it's still comfortable to use.
All aboard. Hock's shoulder plane kit is a great value. The shape of mine was inspired by diesel train engines.
Great where it counts. A plane is worthless if it doesn't work. The Hock shoulder plane does and that makes it a great deal.