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A sharp blade is the most important thing. After that, look for a plane that's comfortable, heavy, and bevel-up.
Not so long ago, I wrote a blog explaining why planes don’t continuously cut into shooting boards, which would give you no good way to control how much wood you removed and would wear away the shooting board pretty darn quick. That’s probably the question I’m asked most often when I get a chance to meet readers and other hand tool nuts like myself. The question that I’m asked nearly as often is which plane is best suited for a shooting board. Let me start by saying this: The best plane is a sharp one! As long as it’s sharp, you can use almost any plane with a shooting board, except for ones like a shoulder plane, where the blade extends the full width of the body. A block plane will work. So too will a bench plane. I know some folks who prefer using a big No. 7 for shooting. Also, the sole of the plane must be exactly 90 degrees to the side it will ride on. Otherwise, you’ll plane the end grain of out square from top to bottom. Taking those two points as given, there are a few features that I value in a shooting board plane. I’ll explain them below. Of course, if you disagree, feel free to post your thoughts in the comments below.
Comfort is the most important thingWhen I made my first shooting board, I used a No. 4 smoothing plane with it. It worked fine, but I don’t use it anymore. Here’s why. If I used it to shoot for anything more than a few minutes, the hand I held it with would begin to hurt. If I had a lot of shooting to do, my hand would hurt the rest of the day, possibly into the next, and occasionally it would get bruised. Why? Because bench planes aren’t designed to be used on their sides and held by the sidewall, frog, blade assembly. So, when I could afford it I bought a Veritas low angle jack plane, which has several distinct advantages over my smoother. First, it is made to be used on a shooting board (among other things). It has fairly tall sides walls, which makes it stable when laid on its side. There is also a nice little circular indent on the side wall–the perfect place for a thumb. And because there isn’t a frog, it is very easy to grasp the side wall with your hand. It adds up to a comfortable plane for shooting. I’ve also used the Lie-Nielsen low angle jack with the hotdog attachment. It too is very comfortable as a shooting board plane. (And trust me, I’m already scheming a way to justify owning it as well!)
A low angle of attack is nice, tooWhen it comes to end grain (and 99% of shooting is on end grain), you want to slice through the fibers at a low angle of attack. The higher the angle, the more likely the blade is to break the fibers rather than cut them cleanly. In order to get the blade at an angle low enough for cutting end grain, you’ve got to turn it bevel up. If it were bevel down, the bevel angle would have to be less than the bedding angle and that would make it too weak. So, you should look for a low-angle, bevel-up plane.
Beefy is betterThat last thing I look for in a shooting plane is heft, because it’s easier to get through end grain with a heavier plane. That’s why I use a jack plane. It has just the right amount of mass. Anything bigger is, in my opinion, too tiring. Anything lighter doesn’t glide through end grain as well.
Finally, let me go back to a point I made earlier. Keep your plane sharp. In fact, sharpen it before you use your shooting board. And keep it sharp as you use it. Nothing is more frustrating or counterproductive at a shooting board than a less than razor sharp blade. It takes way more effort to get through the end grain and the surface you leave behind won’t be smooth.
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When one sharpens a blade for shooting should the blade be left square as opposed to cambered.
Also could you please give me sources and part numbers for the hardware that goes with your shooting board.
Anyone have any experience with the Lie-Nielsen No 51 Shooting Board Plane?
I think I will try the ln low angle jack. Thanks for the info. bobswood
The Lee Valley blade is gray on the back from the lapping process that makes it dead flat. Sounds like there was a little lapping compound left on the sides of the blade. As an old tool engineer I would much prefer seeing this gray surface which indicates lapping than see a polished surface which is cosmetic.
The Lee Valley BU Jack has an interesting design for shooting. The lever cap has been intentionally made to fit your fingers. Put fingers under the cap and your thumb in the indentation on the side and start shooting - no hotdog required.
LIE-NIELSEN VS. VERITAS LOW ANGLE JACK PLANE
I have several planes and other tools from Lie-Nielsen and I have nothing but praise for all of these tools, both in function and in form.
Recently, however, when I decided to order a low angle jack plane, I decided I liked the design and features of the Veritas plane over the Lie-Nielsen. When examining the Veritas low angle jack plane for the first time, I was surprised to notice that the blade was not highly polished on all sides, like I’ve come to expect from Lie-Nielsen. The back of the blade was a dull gray color and it looked like some dark colored coating had dripped all over the sides of the blade and is very sloppy looking. Although the top of the blade was polished, it wasn’t the best job. The blade was definitely razor sharp right out of the box and the plane does perform flawlessly, but esthetically, it is a bit of a disappointment.
In addition to the blade disappointment, I noticed the knob and tote were not finished to the level of a Lie-Nielsen. The LN handles are finished to absolute perfection – they are high gloss and super smooth, a pleasure to touch and feel. The Veritas knob and tote were dull in comparison and the tote actually felt rough – far short of the quality of LN.
The Veritas low angle jack plane does perform flawlessly, both upright and on it’s side for shooting. It is an excellent plane and has some interesting features like set screws to stabilize sideward movement of the blade and a thumbscrew to use as a stop on the mouth setting, both of which are lacking in the Lie_Nielsen version. But for the price, I expected the highly polished blade, knob and tote that I consistently get from Lie-Nielsen. I’m still debating whether I should return the plane and purchase the Lie-Nielsen instead.
If I never owned or touched a Lie-Nielsen plane, I would have been thrilled with the Veritas low angle jack. Like I said, functionally, the tool is excellent, but I’m afraid I’ve been spoiled by the best. Both firms manufacture excellent, hard working tools. Lie-Nielsen tools, however, are also a work of art.
You're right. I should have said "should be." I'll edit the sentence to read: "Also, the sole of the plane should be exactly 90 degrees to the side it will ride on. Otherwise, you waste time fiddling with the lateral adjust to bring the blade square to the board, especially when you've returned it to the plane after sharpening."
Now I'll offer some advice to anyone looking to get started with shooting boards and needs a plane. If you buy a new plane and its side isn't square to its sole, send it back and get another one. If you come across an old plane that's out of square, put it down and keep looking.
"Also, the sole of the plane must be exactly 90 degrees to the side it will ride on."
This is not true. What is important is that the iron can be adjusted square to the surface of the shooting board. You can use the lateral adjuster to do this regardless of the state of squareness of the sides of the plane to the sole. The plane's sides do not need to be square to the sole to make the iron square to the shooting board.
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