French Oak Workbench: The Planing Stop

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Without a planing stop, a traditional workbench is fairly dining table-esque. So I was eager to get my stop installed so I could use it to finish up the rest of the parts for the bench.

I cut the 3” x 3” x 6” through-mortise in the benchtop using an auger, a jigsaws and a chisel. The mortise is 3” from the edge of the benchtop and 2” away from the front left leg.

(Side note: I meant to film a little video of the WoodOwl bits at work when installing the planing stop. No joy. I’ll film it when I make the holes for holdfasts.)

Here are Roubo’s instructions for the stop:

At three thumbs from the front, you cut through the table a mortise “c,” of 3 thumbs square, which should be perpendicular and well finished on the interior, so that the block “d” [planing stop], which you put there by force, and which you raise and lower with a mallet, does not split the corners, which can happen if it is poorly made. The planing stop should be one foot in length at least, and be of very hard and dry oak, so that it can resist the mallet which one is obliged to hit it with to make it move.  

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At the upper end of this block is placed a hook of iron, which is furnished with teeth similar to those of a saw, which serve to hold the wood while you work it. One should note that it is level with the top of the block, and the edge with the teeth inclined a bit, so that in the case of very thin works, one is not exposed to the risk of striking the metal hook with the sharpened blade of the plane, which would happen in the backside of the hook is higher than the front. The pin of the hook which enters into the block, should be of a square pointed shape at the end. For it to be good, it is necessary that the pin and the top of the hook not be welded, but rather of one piece which you bend with fire [forged by a blacksmith]. The teeth of the hook should protrude from the front of the block by 6-8 lines. A larger projection would be useless and even harmful, because the tip would be exposed to breaking.

My “hook of iron” was made by blacksmith Peter Ross. Like all his work, the stop is fantastically made. The “pin” or shaft of the hook is nicely tapered. I drove the hook into a stopped and undersized hole on the stop, wedging it in place.

I’ve made many planing stops, so here are some tips:

1. The walls have to dead perpendicular or slightly undercut. Any lumps in the walls will wedge the stop instantly. Check all the walls with a try square before even attempting to drive the stop in.

2. Use really dry oak for the stop – or oak that is definitely drier than the benchtop. The stop can fall out of the mortise during the winter if it’s too wet when you install it.

3. When you install the stop, drive it in with a wooden mallet. When it stops moving down, drive it out and inspect the shaft for marks on the stop. That is where the interference is. Either pare away the junk in the mortise )my preference) or plane away a little of the stop.

Next up: 100 other things I need to do. Then trimming up the front edge of the benchtop.

— Christopher Schwarz

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10 Responses to French Oak Workbench: The Planing Stop

  1. I’ve been devouring everything I can lately about bench building. Your two books, as well as the one by Scott Landis. Your posts are very well timed for me. I just watched Peter Ross and Roy Underhill last night on an old episode of The Woodwright’s Shop making holdfasts and a planing stop. Leaning a bit toward a continental bench with a shoulder vise right now, but if I see the right log to make a Roubo top I just might throw it on the Wood-Mizer and stash it for later.

    I really enjoy watching your progress. Thank you.

  2. mctoons555 says:

    I’m curious why the hook protrudes out over the edge of the mortice. Doesn’t that require you to knock the block out of its mortice when you need it out of the way? If it were fully contained within the dimensions of the block then you could knock it down a smidgen so that the hook is below the surface of the bench when you need the entire bench surface for a large board. Or are you assuming you will never need to work a board that big? The reason I ask is because an upcoming project I have is to build a dining room table and the top will be a good bit bigger than my bench top. Thanks.

    Jim

    • lostartpress says:

      This is as per Roubo.

      I think there are many ways to do this. Because the teeth are swept upward you can use the planing stop for very thin work.

    • jwatriss says:

      Without having ever used one…

      I’m pretty sure that if you were planing thin stock into a stop like this over the open mortise, that without the bench surface there to support the work, the sharp teeth would cut in and split chunks out of the back face of the work that hangs unsupported over the hole. Probably not a great idea. With the teeth over the bench top, the teeth would bite in and wedge the work against the bench top, and leave nothing more than a few marks in the end grain. Much cleaner.

      As for being in the way… My guess is that there’s just nothing for it. You could probably just relieve the surface of the bench to let the teeth drop *just* ‘out of the way,’ but you might run similar risks of tear out on really thin stock. I think I’d just mallet the thing down a few times to dent the surface around the teeth, and get used to doing different kinds of work on different parts of the bench. As long as the bench isn’t used as a crap catcher, all should be well.

      …And as long as Chris doesn’t slash the back edge of his left hand open, sweeping debris off of the bench in a backhanded motion. I won’t make the obvious joke about needing flesh sensing technology on such an anachronistic bench.

      I also won’t make jokes about not making jokes, in order to make the joke anyway, so that I don’t sound like a hypocritical jerk.

      Chris, I hope you use a bench brush for cleanup.

      • woodwrk says:

        Jim,

        I would think part of the answer is when the work piece is thick and the hook has to be moved up, the wood for the stop will rise above the surface of the bench and interfere with the operation of the hook. With the hook protruding a bit the block will act as a stop preventing the hook from acting as a wedge and possibly splitting the work piece.

        Chris,
        Can the hook easily be removed if necessary or is it “permanently” wedged in the block? If it could be removed from the block, that would solve the flat bench issue.

        -Aaron

  3. Dave says:

    I started smithing because I could not find these stops sold anywhere. It is one of the best bench tools I have. Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Brad D. says:

    “One should note that it is level with the top of the block”… could this mean that the head of the stop is actually mortised into the block? Since the teeth protrude and angle up, this would not seem to interfere with how the stop functions – and coupled with a shallow mortise for the teeth, the block could be level with the bench top when not in use.

    Looking at Figure 5 on Plate 11, it almost appears as though the head could be buried in the block. But then again, the try square hanging on the wall is large enough to set the cornerstone of the Great Pyramid, so perhaps my perspective is a bit off!

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