Shoulder plane setup and use
Bob Van Dyke demonstrates how to properly use a shoulder plane: checking for square, honing the blade, inserting and adjusting the blade, and using the plane to adjust tenons, clean up rabbets, and refine moldings, among other tasks.
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Synopsis: The shoulder plane is one of Bob Van Dyke’s three must-have handplanes. He says nothing does as good a job at refining and straightening surfaces, adjusting a shaped edge, and precisely dialing in the fit of a joint one shaving at a time. Here’s how to handle your shoulder plane from the moment you open the box: checking for square, honing the blade, inserting and adjusting the blade, and using the plane to adjust tenons, clean up rabbets, and refine moldings, among other tasks.
There are three planes I would be lost without: my No. 4 bench plane, my low-angle block plane, and my shoulder plane. These essential tools allow me to pick up where the machines leave off. With a typical plane shaving 0.002 in. thick, nothing does as good a job at refining and straightening surfaces, adjusting a shaped edge, and precisely dialing in the fit of a joint one shaving at a time.
Shoulder planes differ from bench or block planes because the iron extends the full width of the plane body and the sides of the body, being reference surfaces, must be 90° to the sole. The mouth on most shoulder planes can be adjusted, allowing the user to close the mouth significantly for the finest shavings.
The shoulder plane is usually not used to create joints but it is the perfect tool to fine-tune them. It is most commonly used to adjust the thickness of a tenon, but it is also the first tool I pick up to correct an out-of-square tenon shoulder. Because the iron is the full width of the plane body, rabbets that need a slight adjustment can be quickly and accurately fixed and a molding’s sharp edges that might be inaccessible to other planes can be quickly relieved and softened.
Like any plane, a shoulder plane that is not properly tuned up and sharpened will not work to its fullest potential.
Out of the box
When purchasing a shoulder plane, verify that the sides are square to the sole and the sole is dead flat. The plane iron will usually be a hair wider than the body because it is essential that the plane cut right into the corner where the shoulders and cheeks of a tenon or other joint meet. The iron must cut shavings of full width and equal thickness.
It might seem ideal that the plane iron be exactly the same width as the plane body with the iron sharpened exactly square. This is a standard that many woodworkers set for themselves, but an iron that is around 0.005 in. wider than the body allows a little wiggle room.
From Fine Woodworking #286
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