Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Shooting Down the Planes

A Natural Progression

Sometimes I'll meet fellow woodworkers who don't yet utilise a shooting board in their workshop arsenal. In my mind I think that they don't fully understand how much this simple appliance can help hand tool users accurately perform tasks in woodworking. This article is not about the shooting board as much as it's about my personal journey through the stages of shooting board hand planes. Let's begin...

A few years back I made myself my first shooting board, at the time I had a nice old Stanley #5 Jack plane; it's 14" long and at just under 5 lbs it made for a great shooting plane. It had been given to me by my father who acquired it from my grand uncle, John Pier; he probably bought it new some fifty-plus years earlier. When I got it it had the usual signs of good use, some light surface rust, a small crack in the tote and some dirt and grease. I took the plane, cleaned and oiled it, flattened the sole and replaced the iron and chip breaker with Ron Hock replacements. I also replaced the original knob and tote with some aftermarket Rosewood replacements. This thing shined like a new dime and worked like a dream. One cold, early morning in February I was about to begin trimming a few shavings off of some nice birds eye maple when it fell to the cold, hard cement floor of my then un-heated shop. As my stomach turned, I was afraid to look down...cracked. Completely in half at the throat...the old cast body was no match for the cement of my garage-turned-wood shop and I felt like I was going to need a psychiatric evaluation. Well, to make a long story longer I decided to try my hand at plane making. I had recently read The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking by James Krenov and was looking for an excuse to make a, what has now become known as the 'Krenov style plane'.

I modeled the overall dimensions of the wooden bodied, dedicated shooter after my old Stanley (RIP). The new plane turned out to be in the 14" length by 2 1/4" wide. I used a nice piece of quarter sawn white Oak harvested and milled close to my home back in Cape Breton and to add even more protection/armour I laminated a piece of Jatoba to the sole creating a versatile shooting/Jack plane. I also used the Jatoba for the wedge and cross pin. Again, using a custom Ron Hock chip breaker and iron, I was quite pleased with the results. Well at least for a few days...it turned out that even in my attempt to make the plane sides accurately square to the sole I missed my mark a little. The plane functioned perfectly as a kind of Jack/Smoother, but as a shooting plane it just wasn't up to snuff. So on to brighter days. The spring time came after that long, lonely winter and I decided it was time to replace the old #5. I did some research and discovered a modern replacement that not only would be an ideal shooting plane, it by far exceeded my good 'ol buddy Jack.

The Lie-Nielsen # 5 1/2.
Amazing, simply amazing. What more could be said, this thing arrived right out of the box ready to work. It's just over 14" long and weighs in at a whopping 7 lbs. As a dedicated Shooting plane I've been quite happy using this tool day in and day out. Sometimes while smoothing larger panels like the top for a trestle table I built last year, I would re-adjust the mouth and actually use the 5 1/2 as an over sized Smoothing plane. Again the performance of this plane excelled and for jointing short boards, ideal. You won't ever regret owning this heirloom quality hand plane. And with that I say, "Why stop there?"

Bring out the IRON MITER...

That feeling of revelation or better said, awe inspired-mouth hanging open, dumb-foundedness I sensed all those years ago when I finally decided to build a shooting board came flooding back this past week when my Lie-Nielsen # 9 arrived from their head office in Warren, Maine. To finally know and truly feel what a dedicated Shooting plane is like was really something special. This thing smokes! Seriously, if you were ever half considering but couldn't justify purchasing a 'dedicated' hand plane like I had been doing for the past couple of years and finally want to make the plunge, I say go for it. You will not be disappointed. While all of the other planes mentioned in this article performed from adequate to quite well, this is the real-deal. Effortless and consistent. The blade adjustement controls perform like a finely tuned race car and the body and workman ship-a true master piece. What more can be said...I'll still use the 5 1/2 as a (to quote David Charlesworth) 'Super Smoother' and the Krenov style wooden plane still finds it's way to the workbench on ocassion; but the Iron Miter, this #9 will be from this day forth my Shooting Plane.
My dedicated 'Shooter' and cement floors be damned! Cheers.