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.

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.

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.

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.

The Multiwedge Planer Sled: Inspired by Hand Tool Methods

There seem to be several little camps when it comes to stock preparation methods. There are those who rive arrow-straight oak with a froe and plane it down, the hand plane exclusivity evangelists, the hand plane to flatten/thickness planer on rest, the “hmm, maybe hand planes and a big bandsaw” types, the machine heads who won’t use anything but jointers and planers, the various router sled types, and then, of course, the people who mostly do hand work, but keep a huge jointer in a separate area as a dirty secret. You know who you are.

Doing it completely by hand taught me a lot of things, and switching to a hybrid approach with a thickness planer saved me some time. I’ve never really been religious about stock preparation, so this discussion might start to seem a little out of place on this blog, which is mostly about hand work.

But something inside of me wasn’t satisfied with a few things. First, I wasn’t thrilled about flattening stuff by hand anymore. Second, I didn’t want a jointer. Finally, I wasn’t enthusiastic about my thickness planer being such a one-trick pony. I’d read about planer sleds that could flatten boards, but when I looked into them, I wasn’t too impressed. There was one overriding problem: Holding the work conveniently, yet securely.

Still, the sled idea sat in the back of my mind. I kept thinking to myself that there must be a reasonable way to get a board to stay in place, and that some sort of traditional approach to workholding might work. Maybe double wedges? But how? Finally, about a year and a half ago, something went off in my head and I had a basic design. I built a prototype. Surprisingly, it worked. I was then able to refine it some more.

So without further ado, here is my video describing the multiwedge planer sled.

A video might seem a little unusual for me, but I really felt that it was the best way to illustrate the sled.

I really hope it will be useful to someone else as well. It’s been great for me.

Sharpening Station

Sharpening has been a sore point ever since I moved into the current shop. I had a good spot next to a sink in the shop, but didn’t have any kind of stand or surface to put the stones. So I ended up putting them on a counter on the near-opposite side of the house. This was an unfortunate situation, not just because I’d have to ramble all the way over there every time I wanted to sharpen something. The lighting was bad, the mess I made over there was atrocious, and its temporary nature made me unwilling to organize further.

I had originally intended to make a freestanding sharpening station to put next to the shop sink, but every stand that I made ended up unscrupulously co-opted. Finally, I realized that instead of a stand, I could just put some strong shelf-like brackets into the wall there, making it more of a built-in. It would theoretically be less work than another stand. Then I gave myself some additional “motivation,” saying that I would not sharpen another tool until the sharpening station was in its rightful spot, though I am unsure if this was a good idea or not.

I started by installing a sheet of drywall into the wall framing (it was bare before), and painting it white so that it would reflect light. Then I got to making the brackets themselves:

These are sort of mini-timberframe-like things in southern yellow pine. I decided to use drawbores for the shelf support joints, but didn’t bother on the brace joints. (I do not want to talk about how long I spent making those pegs.) There are two stiles, each with upper and lower shelf supports.

I made a stretcher to go between the upper supports so that the upper shelf would be very strong and resistant to movement and racking (this is, after all, where the work would be done). When I glued and drawbored everything into place, it looked like this:

I was somewhat unsure of how easily it would install on the wall, but it turned out to be easy enough when I used double wedges off of a support on the floor to get the stiles plumb and the brackets level:

Each stile is screwed directly into a stud behind the drywall in three spots. After a bit of stress-testing, I was satisfied that the top brackets were up to the task, so I added some crappy plywood shelves, put my stone holder and other stuff on the top, infrequently-used supplies (or otherwise questionable purchases) below, and called it done:

The stone holder is attached to the upper shelf, which is in turn screwed onto the brackets. This should eliminate any kind of slippage without the need for anti-skid pads. Bottles with water and camellia oil are on the overhang to the right, and my two honing guides are behind the stones. There’s even a faux-backsplash that’s nothing more than a leftover piece from a home renovation project.

Then I sharpened a chisel quickly to make sure that I had a functional setup. Anticlimactic, as intended.

Beware the Southern Yellow Pine Demons

I’ve been making a stand for the shop that will hopefully get most of the boring tools in one spot. The idea is that there will be shelves or drawers or something below that I can use for stuff like auger bits, forstner bits, countersinks, and that sort of thing. On top, I can put my small old drill press. Think of it as a boring hand-and-machine combo.

I’ve been making it out of southern yellow pine because it’s cheap and I have enough on hand. The downside is that some of my stock is really tough. I chipped my mortise chisel so badly that I had to regrind. Twice. And it’s not like I was doing “frowned-upon” levering or anything.

All of the mortise-and-tenon joints for the frame are done as of today, yielding this:

The victimized (yet ultimately victorious) mortise chisel is in view here.

Confession: After slugging it out through six tenons with my tenon saw, I did the remainder of the tenon cheeks with the bandsaw. Eh, nah, I’m not sorry about that. Some of the latewood in that stock was just ossified granite, and I needed to get this thing done.

In any case, test-fitting everything seems to yield a thumbs-up:

It’s in clamps now, in the glue-up stage. I still need to make the top. Time to scrounge to see what I might have lying around.

This is actually the second in a line of stands like this that I’ve made, with the first done not too long after I first moved to this shop. That one is not quite as “refined” because I didn’t really bother to prepare the stock uniformly, and the legs are just 2x4s instead of the square posts that I made by laminating 2x stock for this new one.

Perhaps if I didn’t have a bunch of yellow pine lying around, I would have gotten some lighter-duty construction wood to make this from–it probably wouldn’t matter, except for weight.

Tools Corralled

This may not be the most exciting conclusion in a two-part tool organizational feature, but here’s what I cobbled together:

Referred to by a friend as a “bench hanger-on-er,” I’m going to call this the “tool corral” on my auxiliary bench. It’s really just a platform with two areas for tools. The first and most obvious is the box, which was hastily assembled and glued to the platform on the near side only (take that, seasonal wood movement). I have no idea if this is going to be even halfway durable, but at least it looks somewhat better than a plastic bin screwed down to the platform, which was my other idea. As you can see here, the box does not protrude above the benchtop, so in its unloaded form, it doesn’t get in the way of anything big that might overhang the bench.

The space to the left is a little less obvious when empty, and consists of a bunch of expanded kerfs that I (hastily, of course) made with the bandsaw. Then I “closed up” the edge by just gluing a strip of wood (in the same grain orientation) to the underside. This is for bladed measuring tools. I modified the near one by stuffing most of it with a strip of wood. Otherwise, one particular square would always tip and drop through.

I could have gotten more adventurous by adding a few spaces for chisels to hang in the front, I guess. Maybe I’ll still do that; I certainly don’t have any qualms about bolting on something else to this already-questionable affront to workbench aesthetics.

So here’s what it looks like in use:

I was originally going to build something to hold the pencils upright, but laziness got the best of me.

Except for the wax (for which I found another home), It sucked up every last tool that I’d previously complained about. Built using only scrap wood, I think this should suffice until I build a chest. If there’s anything I do like about it, it’s the way that the squares fit neatly and mostly out of the way. When I use the traditional-style tool rack on the back of my main bench, it always seems like the squares are either getting in the way of something, hogging space, or in danger of dropping through because the opening on the rack is too wide.

Tools on the Loose

I’ve got a dumb problem that’s been lurking for years (with the exception of when everything was in storage). It’s this:

I use these tools regularly, yet I have no regular places to store them. So they inevitably end up lying on the bench. I only managed to isolate them because I just finished most of the small chest build, and cleaned up everything else.

I’ve decided that I should fix this. The long-term plan is to make a “Dutch tool chest” that should end these kinds of shenanigans once and for all, but I’m waiting on the Fitz Treatise because I haven’t thought about how to approach it. Besides, waiting to see what she writes seems like a lame enough excuse to put off building it for a while. In the meantime, I’ve started building a stopgap thing that will hopefully take care of it in the interim. It will not be a “drawer off on one side” that you see in some old illustrations–I promise that it will be far more idiotic.

What I wonder is, how does this even happen in the first place? It’s not like these are uncommon tools. I’ve just had a really hard time finding the way I’d like to store them.

New Shooting Board Notes

Earlier, I’d spewed some psychobabble about making a new shooting board, and I finally followed through on it. After reading through all of the relevant articles in “The Woodworker Volume IV” book and thinking through the inadequacies of the board I made a long time ago, I got to work and came up with this:

[Edit: Here’s one of those articles.]

The articles all generally said to build it out of a “hard wood.” This makes sense for the stop, and the attachment to the top, because you can easily flex it out of true. However, most of the hard woods that I have on hand are flatsawn and I am worried about seasonal movement. So I made a base out of quarter(ish)sawn yellow pine, and laminated a thinner piece of maple to the top. I don’t know if the base will be durable enough for all the metal that will be sliding on top of it, but we’ll see.

The bottom has a stop for butting up against the bench, and I made that bench stop just a bit smaller than the gap that my tail vise can open, so that I can lock it in place with the vise. I attached this with threaded inserts, with the thought that I could easily change the location if it didn’t work out:

Here’s the shooting board in the vise position on the bench:

So far, so good. Here it is in use:

Yeah, I’m still using a low-angle block plane for shooting. Maybe I’d like to get a specialized chute board plane or miter plane sometime. For now, this works.

The “eagle-eyed” may have noticed the small chamfer that I’d planed to the bench stop’s interior face:

This allows for hanging the shooting board on a french cleat:

I retrofitted that modification to my bench hook on the right.

I made another shooting board, this as described in “The Woodworker” for (basically) jointing smaller work. Having no experience with that kind of board, I decided to make a quickie prototype in “hem-fir” to see what I could learn from it. I have nothing to share about this at the moment; I’m planning out improvements for the next version.