Long (Grain) Shooting Board Notes (and New Video)

Squaring up small workpieces has been a pain for me as long as I can remember. It’s not unique to me; several old publications also mention the problem as well as making a longer shooting board for just this thing.

So I made a prototype. It got the job done, but it wasn’t easy to set up, and I had trouble keeping the longer pieces held in place with one hand as I was planing with the other.

It seemed to me like there were things that they don’t tell you, and perhaps not coincidentally, there is an article in The Woodworker (C.H. Years) Volume II (pp. 497-498) titled “Things They Don’t Tell You: Shooting Board Technique.” Does it address the above question? Well, no, but that’s not to say that it’s useless; I’ll get back to that in bit.

After several months of consideration, I made a new long shooting board that is a bit less traditional than my usual fare:

That’s right: Plywood, T-tracks, jig hardware. Knobs and screws and stuff. You know, standard fare in the realm of power-tool fanatics. But other than my bandsaw and drill press for a few odd jobs, I used hand tools to make it.

I made a video as I was building, also explaining where I got some of the ideas, and how it works in practice, so if that sounds like something you want to know, here you go:

Essentially, I got the idea of a modified tapering jig in my head, and it wasn’t going to leave until I built something.

There are a couple of tidbits that I didn’t put into the video because they were not terribly captivating (or, at least, I am not yet talented enough to make them appear so), but if you’re interested and literate, here we go:

The Fence Angle

I gave the fence a very slight overhang. When I say “very slight,” I mean it:

This is to discourage stuff from slipping and riding up the fence. There isn’t anything special about the angle, I just didn’t want it to be tilted in the other direction. There are probably other options, such as lining that edge with sandpaper.

You might be wondering why the fence edge seems to undulate a little. This is because the glue in plywood can be murder on edge tools:

I mention this in the video; obviously, you don’t want to make a regular habit of subjecting your blades to this kind of abuse. Really, if you have to use plywood all the time, just get a track saw or something. But for a one-off like this, you can just go back to your coarse stone, raise your burr, hone, and get on with your life (possibly with a little bit of cringing in the interim).

The Plane

I’m using a Millers Falls No. 18, a Stanley #6-equivalent that I wrote about a while back. Another possibility would have been a #5-size jack plane.

However, this brings us back to the Things They Don’t Tell You article (let’s call this TTDTY:SBT). It states that plane soles are usually not square to their sides. This would have applied to almost any kind of Bailey-style plane of times past, and mine is no exception. So you can’t just set the plane for an even cut and expect it to cut square in a shooting board. The article doesn’t give any rectifying advice than the usual blurb of “oh, if you’re edge-jointing, just flip the other board for the supplementary angle effect” (and hope the grain runs in the correct direction, which is a TTDTY).

There’s a simple solution for most metal planes: The lateral adjust lever. Put the plane on its side, put a square next to it, and adjust until square.

But what if I were really obsessed about the square sides thing?

Other Planes

So let’s say that I had all of the money in the world and could get another plane for this shooting board. What would I get?

You might think that I’d go for one of the contemporary versions of the Stanley #51, like the Lie-Nielsen No. 51 or the Veritas Shooting Plane. But I’m not so sure. For one, they are made in left-and right-handed versions. You need the left-handed version to go from right to left, which is what I found felt the most natural with the long board (as a right-hander). A normal bench plane like mine can just be flipped on either side to go in either direction.

The other thing about those planes is that they are really meant for shooting end grain; their blades have very low angles achieved by skewing the blade. If you happen to hit an unlucky grain direction, crazy stuff could happen.

Incidentally, TTDTY:SBT says that a low-angle block plane works well for end grain, with photos illustrating bench planes for edges.

I think that just the usual #5 or #6 bench planes from Lie-Nielsen or Veritas would be just fine for an extravagance. Perhaps the best plane would be some sort of crazy 16″ mitre plane, which doesn’t really exist.

Another idea is that if a normal bench plane could be conveniently attached to a wooden base with a couple of nice ergonomic handles, it would slide really nicely and feel a little less weird. But this is not enough of a problem for me to matter.

Straight, Flat Cuts

TTDTY:SBT describes differences between shooting an edge with the grain versus endgrain. It asserts that when shooting with the grain, you want the workpiece to overhang a bit, and let the plane’s sole do the work of getting the edge straight. You are not expected to run the cut until the plane stops (presumably because the guiding edge of the shooting board is not expected to be straight).

However, with the plywood, I was able to get the guiding edge reasonably straight, and I demonstrate that in the video. As long as it stays that way, I don’t see any reason why I can’t use that for most purposes.

But for edge jointing, I likely will not do it this way. In the video, I also go through the process of planing down to a line. For edge joints, I’ll want something more along the lines of so-called sprung joints, and that’s easy enough on the shooting board.

Other Fence Ideas

I had originally played with the idea of trying to lock down a thin, wide panel by putting it on top of the fence. That didn’t work; the plywood fence was too flexible.

But I don’t want to give up on this idea. I think that perhaps I can just make a simple half-length fence out of a piece of bowed solid wood, and it might be able to lock down a panel (or a piece of veneer, or whatever) with relative ease. Maybe I could put a piece of sandpaper on the underside, too.

Plywood.

Having used plywood to make a few shop appliances in the past year, you might wonder if I’ve gone plywood-gaga. I hope not. I was even thinking about making this out of quartersawn southern yellow pine, but I didn’t have enough of that on hand. Eventually, practicality won out: I made the shooting board (plus a tapering jig and a drill press table) out of a single 5×5′ piece of 3/8″ baltic birch plywood.

With this project, I think I’m done with plywood for a while.

New Video: Mortise Notes

I made a little video with some mortising notes, including the grain-direction tidbit that I posted about a while back. Aside from some sweet mortising action, it features an impersonation of a riveting figure who rives.

It features some boring action, which I don’t think I’ve done in a video before:

That chunk of southern yellow pine has really hardened up. I forget how old it is. It’s approaching ossifrage status.

Tidying Up

For the first little bit of this year, I’ve got a small goal of organizing and cleaning up. The biggest problem I have right now is wood storage. The first thing I did to address that might seem a little counter-intuitive: I built a project, the “Kitchissippi” chair that Lee Valley sells the plans for:

(I haven’t rounded over the edges or painted the thing yet, but that can wait for somewhat warmer weather anyway.) So the shop was a bit of a mess while I was working on it, but the goal was to use up a stack of cedar that had laying around. This worked; it turns out that having less wood in storage makes it easier to organize. And because it was built to a plan and I didn’t have to think about much other than where I’d be making the cuts from, it didn’t take the usual 27 years that it normally takes me to complete something.

Then, over the last week, I’ve been making some sort of effort to clean up the place for Chinese New Year (新年快樂, y’all). Maybe it sounds like a good idea at the time, I dunno. I cleared shelves, reorganized lots of stuff, and streamlined my scrap/offcut piles. There will be no cleaning tomorrow.

Above all, I’ve been making plans. I’m not done with this cleanup task. For the next stage, I’ll be making a few more projects. Some are for the shop, including one to finally end my planes-under-the-bench problem. Others are for the house, where (I think) I have the wood necessary to make a project or two.

Preparing Wide Glue-Ups for the Planer Sled

With its ability to flatten wide stock quickly and effortlessly, one of the things that my planer sled design has enabled is a little more flexibility and ease when I need to glue up something wide. Ironically (or perhaps not so much), the jack plane often comes into play here. A quick treatment with everyone’s favorite “rough ‘n ready” sometimes saves even more time.

By way of example, I’m working with a bunch of suboptimal cedar at the moment. I need 10-inch (~255mm) stock, and I don’t have any. So I glued up sections of three (crummy) 4-inch stock, first roughing out the stock on the bandsaw, then planing slightly “sprung” edges using a jointer plane. I didn’t make the edges perfectly square to the sides because the sides were rough and uneven from the bandsaw (and the thicknessses varied anyway)–all I cared about was getting edges that would join together.

When doing something like that, you end up with a glued-up board resembling something from the Cubist style, for which the conformist cries out to flatten. And we oblige. For the planer sled to work correctly, you want the face you put on the bottom to be “roughly” convex, but there’s no particularly exacting standard. So you can grab a jack plane to (effortlessly) knock off a bit from the sides near the edges:

Wedge shows the part that I planed off.

Now, you can flip it over, pull out the planer sled, and fix the whole mess in place:

Yes, this is a strangely-shaped piece.

And just like that, you’re ready to feed the whole mess into the thickness planer and flatten it in one shot. The process of knocking off the edges, fixing in the planer sled, and flattening with the thickness planer only takes a few minutes (I spent a lot more time taking the photos and writing up this post).

Perhaps there’s a need for a “moral of the story” trope-ish thing in here, so here you go: The jack plane is invaluable. Even though I don’t need to use it nearly as much as I did in my prep-stock-by-hand days, I’d still be lost without it.

Plane for Shooting

Shop time has been limited, yet nonzero, in the last couple of weeks. Other than a bunch of cleaning up down there (which has gotten much easier as I find better ways to organize), I finally set out something to do about the plane that I use for shooting. I’ve been using a low-angle block plane for a while, but have wanted to try out something with a little more heft.

While doing some of the aforementioned cleaning, I came across a Millers Falls No. 18 (Stanley #6 equivalent) that I bought years ago but never did anything with. The sides were already nicely square to the sole, so I decided that maybe I could try it out with the shooting board.

It was was fairly rusty and completely filthy. A couple of hours spread over a few days with rust remover dealt with that. The iron was badly pitted, so I dug out a Hock replacement that I had on hand. And so somewhat surprisingly, everything went together fairly quickly today:

No one’s going to mistake this thing for a completely restored plane, of course. And it may not be one of those neat specialized planes with the low-angle skewed blade, but it has the advantage of being available for service right now. We’ll see how it goes.

15 Years of Galoototron

With a decade and a half on this blog’s odometer, I got to wondering if I really have any more of a clue now than I did 15 years ago. Recall that I started this blog when I started woodworking.

Then asked a question that felt odd: How much does having a “clue” actually matter?

And how do we define “clue?” Through some way or another, I have managed to build a bunch of stuff for the house. It gets done, but I’m not very quick at it. By contrast, many of the publications that we read about woodworking are written by or influenced by professionals. It’s natural, when reading Nancy Hiller’s work, to feel a bit discouraged when she writes of the pace that keeps her business going.

But I thought of something: Hey, wait, I’m a hobbyist woodworker. This is not my day job. I don’t want it to be.

Perhaps there are advantages to that. Maybe there are more options available and there isn’t much point to emulating a professional if it makes no sense. Sure, you want your dovetails to fit and everything, but here’s something to ponder: You actually have the option to do hand-cut dovetails on your own work; you can make those mortise-and-tenon joints the way you want to. A professional may not have these options if the budget does not suit the project.

Traditional nailed dovetail joinery. Hey, those fancy cut nails really are better.

And if you screw up, you can always just go back to the drawing board.

Then there are techniques and equipment. Professionals almost universally use jointer machines to flatten their boards. They have to in order to survive. But I used hand planes for years; I didn’t have the space for any machines at first. Then I took my time and designed a planer sled that might actually be worthwhile. Though I don’t think the sled is particularly suited for the professional (except for wider stock, maybe), it’s been great for me, the hobbyist. I have different constraints: I want to keep the size and number of machines in my shop to a (bare) minimum, I’d like something a bit safer than a jointer, and I don’t mind a minute or two extra setup time.

This does not, however, mean that you need to be a Frank Sinatra. We’re fortunate to have a lot of good instructional material that shows plenty of traditional and “contemporary” ways of doing stuff. Deviating wildly from standard practice might not yield the results that you want.

Or be a Frank Sinatra if you like; it won’t make any difference to me unless you show up on my doorstep and start crooning.

Being Shopless and “The Lifestyle Question”

A related advantage to being a hobbyist is that you can put it down if necessary, or if you just want to take a break. Before moving to my current digs, I spent a few years in places that had inadequate or otherwise nonexistent shop space (yes, even worse than the apartment in San Francisco). To tell the truth, I wasn’t thinking much about woodworking then. I knew that I couldn’t set up my shop, so my mind moved to other things, such as bicycling.

But the woodworking experience, being able to make my own stuff, did change my perspective on certain lifestyle choices. During one of these shopless times, I wasn’t able to find a cycling cap that fit me correctly. I started to wonder if I could make my own, and, well, it turns out that you can. I decided see if I could learn to sew, because SHMBO had a sewing machine that she’d never even opened the box of.

And boom, just like that, I was off on another crazy craft before I knew it. But I digress.

OK, So, Do I Have More of a Clue Now?

I think it’s safe to say that I’ve learned a thing or two about woodworking in the past 15 years. Really, maybe just one or two things. I still consider myself fairly clueless, and there’s a fairly simple reason. I don’t talk about it much here, but I am a victim of grad school. One thing you learn there (at least if you’re paying attention, which admittedly has never been my strong suit) is how much you don’t know. Even in a field as new as computer science, the amount of related knowledge is so vast that it boggles the mind.

That the old-timers were so strong that they could bore with a brace all day long, this boggles the mind.

It seems that every day, I learn about some kind of woodworking that I’ve never touched, such as the crazy Hakone yosegi-zaiku marquetry, and that I’ll likely never get to try. I don’t know what to make of this.

About Those Videos

I have a few videos out now. I made the first one because I had to teach something (unrelated to woodworking) and wanted to practice presentation after nearly two decades of hiding. The second came along because I wanted a way to share the planer sled design outside of this blog. The most recent… eh, I dunno, I just had the idea, wrote it up, and made it.

This is likely not going to become much of a habit. Videos are extremely time-consuming to produce, and offer little in return. I don’t currently make anything from them, and even if I did manage to get enough subscribers to monetize, it wouldn’t generate much. I’m not a performer, no Roy Underhill, no Nick Offerman. At best, words stumble off my tongue and litter the floor. I could probably train it, but I probably don’t want to. And that is OK.

Handplane techniques video test shot. You gotta put it down on the side; otherwise, it gets dull.

What’s Next?

I have a lot of furniture projects lined up that are in the same spirit of past projects. Part of that means frame-construction pieces, sometimes with drawers. But I’ve also been doing some stuff with staked construction lately. I fuss over these things way too much, but I’ve also gotten a little more confident with it. My end goal in that area is to make stick chairs. I’ve been fascinated with them for a while, how they manage to hold together despite using joints that really ought to be dodgy.

What I eventually want to do with stick chairs is explore the aesthetics a bit more. I came late to this. When I first saw Windsor chairs, I didn’t like them much. The construction is kind of neat, but there’s just something about the lines (and excess ornamentation) that I have never cared for. I never saw a Welsh stick chair until popularized by a C.S., though, and I have to admit that seeing those really changed my mind about stick chairs. I’m not sure if I’m a huge fan of the way that most of those look, but there’s a flexibility there that makes me think that it’s worth a shot.

And that about sums it up, until I change my mind again.

New Video: Mini-Workbench (“Bench-on-Bench”)

After a while working on the bench-on-bench, I decided to make a fairly brief video describing my experience with it. I did this because although there are a lot of videos that show building one of these things, there aren’t many that say what they’re good for. I also wanted to highlight a few things about my design that I’ve found helpful.

Accompanying Side Table: Finished

I finally found the time and motivation to perform the final steps on the side table:

  • Smooth and sand the legs
  • Plane and sand the top
  • Make the wedges
  • Kerf the tenons, glue tenons into mortises, bang wedges home
  • Trim tenons
  • Trim/level legs
  • Apply the finish

There’s nothing too complicated about any of this. The only noteworthy thing is that for the legs, I used my Taiwanese spokeshave to smooth out the legs instead of really coarse sandpaper:

I’m not a big spokeshave user, and I finally realized why I hadn’t really used this one yet: I hadn’t sharpened it. I’d been putting this off because I suspected that it would be difficult, but with the new sharpening station, I figured I’d give it a shot. It turned out to be a little tricky until I got the hang of it. The cutting edge of this shave is similar to what you’d find on a Japanese chisel–a very hard piece of steel (likely Japanese) forge-welded to a softer backing/body. The face has a hollow, making it easy to smooth, but the bevel is rough because there’s such a difference in hardness between the cutting edge and the rest.

Because you don’t have much leverage when sharpening, it’s too easy just to end up mostly rubbing the soft part on the stone, instead of honing the cutting edge. I finally figured out that if you push on the tangs when sharpening, it’s a lot more effective.

In any case, with everything assembled, the table looks like, well, a table:

Last time, I mentioned that I’d cut the first leg incorrectly, 90 degrees to what I wanted. But it turns out that the first one was actually “correct,” and I messed up the other four. The growth rings of the oak are oriented 90 degrees to the yellow pine, and they’re supposed to be parallel. For this application (not being a chair), I don’t think it’s going to matter, though that’s still a little bit annoying. I got the wedges in the correct orientation, which is a lot more important.

So here’s the table next to the daybed:

This might not be the final arrangement, but the two pieces are meant to go together. The legs and tops are meant to complement each other. The table’s top is in the profile of the daybed legs, and the table’s legs have a more oval profile, like the platform and rear support of the daybed. Both sets of legs have a sort of single-step taper.

The table might need another application of finish (tung oil/varnish blend), but I’ll make that call later.

Accompanying Side Table: Legs

Of course, this project is long past due. Part of the delay has been uneasiness regarding reaming the mortises into the top, which I had to practice again in order to get a proper result, part of it was cutting out the top in the first place, part of it was not knowing how I would approach the legs, but most of it was just not having the time or motivation to go down to the shop and get something done.

Eventually, I figured out what I wanted to do with the legs, which are sort of a “one-stepped taper thingie” in order to complement the daybed legs. I started with octagon-profile legs, and then cut it down to this:

I’ve improved my efficiency on these. After getting two adjacent sides flat (not necessarily square), I can do almost all of the rest of the initial work on the bandsaw. Getting down to the octagon is easy; first you get a rough square profile, then use the V-track thing to help knock off the corners.

Then, for the tapered tenon, adjust the bandsaw so that you can cut near the sides of cylinder that encloses the tenon. The bandsaw is great because you can cut partway, pull out, rotate to the next facet, then cut the next one. After sawing off the sides, I use a rasp to make the profile round and to final size, and then it’s ready for the tenon cutter. This might sound a little complicated, but it’s easy in practice. Perhaps I could make a video of it.

In any case, once I have the initial piece above, I put it in the vise and go to down with the rasp:

Of course, I don’t use just any rasp for this rough work–I use the Shinto saw rasp for most of it.

I use a big English chisel to cut the step between the thicker and thinner parts:

I guess I could make a shaving horse and do this work with the drawknife and spokeshave, but I wonder if it would save me any time. It takes me 10-15 minutes to shape a leg like this, which seems pretty acceptable for a hobbyist like myself.

Of course, I managed to screw up the first leg that I shaped (by cutting the shape 90 degrees to what it was supposed to be relative to the growth rings). I hemmed and hawed a bit over what to do there, but in the end, I decided to remake the leg. It didn’t me much time.

So the legs are shaped and fitted, and the top is also to rough shape:

In theory, this project is almost done. I need to shape the edge of the top, smooth off the legs, glue and wedge in the legs, apply finish, and cut the legs to length. That’s pretty standard stuff, with no problem-solving (figuring out methods and shapes and such).

I’m looking forward to being done with this. I have another video lined up and ready to shoot, but I don’t think I should do that until this is at least in the finishing stage.

Accompanying Side Table: Design

“It’s been a slow couple of weeks in the shop,” as many blog posts would say. My current project is theoretically a quick one: A simple staked side table to accompany the daybed. In true half-slacker fashion, I already have the top glued up and the board for the legs milled:

(Yes, I used the multiwedge to flatten both halves of the top, and have not yet touched the top again with a plane since glue-up.)

I have a design, and even made a half-scale model/mockup to see if it was reasonable:

I also have a full-size template for the top that I just need to tape up and trace to cut out the top.

So, in theory, there’s just a little bit of measuring, gauging, cutting shapes, leg-making, reaming, and tapering to do before this can be called done. I really don’t know why I’ve been dragging this one out. It’s mostly been a matter of not finding the impetus to go down to the shop.

Ah, such a common refrain.