A Shooting Board for a Simpleton

For many years I tried to design a shooting board (and bench hook) that would be worthy of publishing in Popular Woodworking Magazine. I tinkered with adjustable fences to dial in a perfect 90° cut, grippy working surfaces and fences with replaceable bits for zero-clearance cutting.

All of my designs were failures.

In the end, the crappiest shooting board that I ever built turned out to be the best shooting board I ever built because I did the following things:

1. Forget the adjustable fence. Just nail and glue the sucker down and adjust it to 90° with a shoulder plane after assembly. Adjustable fences (well, mine at least), go out of adjustment all the time. The non-adjustable fence on the shooting board I made five years still makes airtight 90° corners every time.

2. Forget sanding or finishes. I make my shooting boards out of 1/2” Baltic Birch. Unsanded. Unfinished. And I chop dovetails on them all the time. The result is a very grippy surface. My work doesn’t slide around like it does on shooting boards I have finished.

3. Forget fancy. Every add-on I have added to my shooting boards has been more trouble than it is worth. I could make a long list of mitering accessories, zero-clearance bits and UHMW tape.

The above is not a rant on commercial shooting boards from Tico Vogt and Rob Hanson. They have mastered many of the above problems and produce some sweet shooting boards.

Instead, I’m telling you that if you are like me and make your own shooting boards, keep it dirt simple. The more complexity you add, the less likely the shooting board will work.

The shooting board I use is made from 1/2” Baltic Birch plywood that is glued together. After the glue dries, I true up the fence for the shooting board with a shoulder plane until the appliance gives me 90° cuts every time. Then I use the shooting board until it is completely chewed up.

How does it get chewed up? I use the other side of the shooting board as a bench hook. And I chop dovetails on both sides. It’s a big shop coaster during parties in my shop. And etc.

You can download a SketchUp drawing of the appliance here.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Chris Schwarz

Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
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22 Responses to A Shooting Board for a Simpleton

  1. abtuser says:

    “How does it get chewed up? I use the other side of the shooting board as a bench hook. And I chop dovetails on both sides. It’s a big shop coaster during parties in my shop. And etc”

    So, it falls under the ‘It’s a desert topping and a floor wax’ genre:

  2. tsstahl says:

    Exact Sketch Up plans for something designed to be abused. Too funny.

  3. Robert says:

    I couldn’t help but notice there was no price listed for the shooting board on their page.

  4. Noel Haywrard says:

    Good suggestion, I have been using something similar for 3 years and they are great. Here in Sweden we do not have the luxury of cheap Baltic Birch, instead I used some salvaged 12mm pine shelving for the job, in addition I had a saw stop that was 2” thick, this together with lugs on the bottom means that it clamps just fine to a cheap and nasty B&D workmate “look-a-like” for all my working. Panels can be clamped vertically to this 2” stop allowing you to to cut both the pins and tails of dovetails. (Raubo 2 screw vice style) The overall dimensions are much the same as Christoper’s. Also as with Christopher’s the top surface is well chewed up from the many dovetails that have been chopped on it.

  5. MattPelto says:

    Chris, I’m planning on making a shooting board pretty soon. I was thinking of using solid wood instead of plywood. Is this a good idea? If so, what do you recommend? Thank you, Matt

    • tsstahl says:

      I am pretty far from an expert, but I have spent some time with shooting boards and bench hooks.

      I’m in the upper mid-West My outside shop is an unconditioned free standing garage. My first combination bench hook / shooting board was made of pine and oak. The darn thing moved out of square so much I’d swear someone was messing with me. The current outside shop board is made out of 3/4″ plywood and has been stable for almost three years.

      My inside shop is in the conditioned basement. The original pine and oak board is slightly smaller than what I had outside and built at the exact same time from the same material. It has served me quite well without incident. Only now is it ready to be replaced because I have chewed it up with saws.

      Of course, things like wood species and how it was sawn off the log influence stability. My feeling is this thing is to be treated worse than a rented mule and should be made as cheaply as possible while still achieving the desired function. If someone complimented my bench hook, I’d look at them like longshoremen would greet a conversation on bedroom curtains.

      That said, I ‘get’ how people like to be surrounded by nice things. Go for whatever you have the time and inclination to do.

      I’ve decided my new inside board is actually going to be two boards. One will mirror the old one in size and will be made out of whatever my hand hits first. The second one is going to be dedicated to finer work and thus smaller; it will be made of leftover walnut and poplar from a couple clocks I built.

      • MattPelto says:

        Thanks or the input!
        I guess I’ve always been a fan of solid hardwood.
        I’m wondering if quarter sawn white oak can stand up to but unair conditioned garage/shop in Texas. There is a local dealer where QS oak isnt TOO expensive. They might sell birch plywood, but I don’t know how much it is.
        Thanks again.
        -Matt

  6. Auguste Gusteau says:

    Christopher, I really do not understand why you prefer to glue and nail a fence out of square and correct it later, instead of glueing it directly in square. Where is the difficulty?
    Or maybe you needed an excuse to do a bit of hidden advertising to some particular toolmakers?
    Best regards,
    Auguste

    • blowery says:

      Having built many a shooting board, I’ll just say that glueing it perfectly square isn’t as easy as it seems. Glue is slippery and when you clamp down the fence, it likes to shift a bit. The adjustments Chris is making with the shoulder plane are tiny tiny things. If you glue is square from the get go, more power to you, but in my experience it always needs a little tweaking.

    • lostartpress says:

      Auguste,

      You have to understand that Americans like myself aren’t capable of doing precision work like Italians.

      So I have to adjust my shooting board fence.

    • Niels says:

      Where’s the beef?
      Or perhaps you needed an excuse to post yet another uncontructive snarky comment.
      Hey by the way, I have been meaning to read YOUR blog on woodworking. I googled “everythingschwarzsaysisbullsh*t.com” and “lostarttroll.com” but nothing came up. Maybe the address I have is wrong. Anyway maybe you could post a link so that we could all be enlightened more regularly. Waiting for Chris to post something and you comment is just killing me with anticipation.

      hugs and kisses,
      Niels

    • Christopher Hawkins says:

      Auguste: Don’t be a d***. You know (or should know) he works hard to maintain high ethical standards. If he likes a tool, he says he likes the tool. He could devote his next 10 blog posts to the tool. He doesn’t have to resort to underhanded crap like you’ve accused him of.

  7. Perfect timing! I was just getting ready to make one.

  8. dieborn says:

    What’s the best way to trim the fence square if you do not have a shoulderplane?

    Luckily I have a low angle rebating block plane for kind of that work until I get one but not everyone has.

  9. Brett says:

    Chris, are you trimming plywood with a shoulder plane?

  10. andrae says:

    The fence on my most recent shooting board turned out to be *too* adjustable. Every time I bumped it with a plane, it would shift out of alignment. I finally figured out a way to fix it, but after the experience I agree: simple is better.

  11. Steve Hamlin says:

    Bravo!
    Only thought: if you screw it and skip the glue, it’s ready for work 20 minutes after you decide you need a new shooting board. Initially the fence as good as D with a couple of screws, then cramp, tune with a gentle persuader (10oz should be gentle enough) and set with dovetailed screws. No glue also means the platten can be tuned with paper shims.

  12. Rob Porcaro says:

    Yes, Chris. I find, anyway, that no matter what setting is “dead on,” it isn’t right for all situations. Sometimes I want to plane a bit out of square (e.g. a drawer case construction), or there is a trace of desired concavity in the long edge of the board, for which I want to correct. No problem. The noble shim solves all. A piece of blue tape or even a plane shaving placed in the right spot on the shooting board fence gives me the result I want. This is poor man’s micro-adjusting. I do this a lot and it works.

    The simplest jig is usually the best jig. Unless someone else makes it, but then I call it a tool. And in that regard, let me second your point about the excellent shooting board made by Tico. (In which I have no proprietary interest, Mr. G.)

    Rob

  13. Brian Dormer says:

    Would you same the same stance (make it quick and dirty) applies to a shooting board designed to go with a Stanley (or Lie-Nielsen) #51?

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