Install a Planing Stop

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The single-point planing stop is one of my most useful bench workholding appliances (the other two are a holdfast and my leg vise). There are lots of commercial ones available, including those from Tools for Working Wood and Benchcrafted. I like blacksmith-made ones. Not because they function better (they don’t) but because I like the way they look.

Many woodworkers are terrified of cutting a huge mortise in their benchtop. Don’t be. It’s easy work and is worth the trouble. Here’s how I do it.

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The wooden section of my planing stop is 3” x 3” x 12”, a historical size. So I lay out the location of the mortise with knife lines and blue tape. Then I chop the perimeter with a wide chisel to keep my opening crisp during the whole process.

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I try to drill out as much waste as possible. Here I’m using a 3/4” WoodOwl bit. These chew through benchtops better than any bit I’ve used.

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Then I use a jigsaw to remove the big chunks.

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Then I nibble up to my chisel line all around the mortise. This is a key step. The saw kerfs break up the waste, allowing it to be easily pared away. And the kerfs serve as a guide to being 90°. When the kerfs disappear, the mortise wall is 90°.

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Then I pare away the corduroy-like bits of wooden waste on the walls.

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I don’t have any 3”-thick stock. So I glued up the planing stop from two pieces of 8/4 oak. Then I sawed and planed the blank until it was a tight fit in the mortise.

Fitting a blacksmith planing stop looks harder than it really is. The tapered shaft calls for a tapered hole (that is, if you cannot heat up the shaft in a forge and burn it into the block). Measure across the corners of the tapered shaft – that’s the largest dimension.

The biggest dimension is at the top of the planing stop. In my case it was 1”. So I first drilled a 1” hole that was about two-thirds the length of the shaft. Then I measured the shaft at the bottom, corner to corner. And I chose a bit that was about .01” smaller.

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If you don’t have a bit that suits the shaft, grind down the corners to match an existing bit.

The goal is that the tapered shaft should wedge in the bottom of the hole. Yet it won’t split the wood. Too loose is better than too tight. That’s because “too loose” can be fixed with epoxy.

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Hammer the planing stop into its hole. Then knock the whole thing into your benchtop.

If it gets loose over time, shim the mortise or planing stop with veneer. If it’s too tight, remove the stop (you might need a sledge) and plane it down. After a year or so, it will be tuned up and things won’t move too much.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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27 Responses to Install a Planing Stop

  1. fedster9 says:

    That stop looks lovely, but with far less bite than I though a stop would need. How does that work in use? are my assumption of toothy stops wrong?

  2. Mattias Hallin says:

    Chris,

    Thank you very much for this post — highly interesting, plus it makes the job seem easy enough to alleviate a fair amount of one’s trepidationary tendencies!

    A planing stop (’twill be the Benchcrafted one) is very much on my to-do list for the bench build I will get started on later this year (as soon, in fact, as I’m once more allowed to travel across the border into the Netherlands, and can go up to Arnhem to get the timber, plus some time for said timber to acclimatise to my workshop).

    However, and I hope you don’t mind, I would rather like to avail myself of this near-enough subject having been brought up on the blog to ask you a further question related to bench work holding.

    In your two books on workbenches, you talk a fair bit about square vs round dogs. I’m not asking you to make that choice for me. I have a mind, and can (and will) make it up, for and by myself.

    Rather, my concern is the specific row of dog holes lined up with the wagon vise (Benchcrafted, again). More specifically, I have recently bought a pair of 1″ Crucible holdfasts, which means that all holdfast holes on my bench will be of the 1″ variety, while in your books (which of course predate the Crucible holdfasts by a number of years), you only mention 3/4″ round dog holes.

    So, my question is: if you were building a new bench, with a tail vise, and round tail vise dog holes, and intended to use 1″ holdfasts, would you make the tail vise dog holes 1″, too, so that they could take a holdfast, should it be handy, or would you still stick with 3/4″ there? I should perhaps add that no matter if I go round or square, I intend to use wooden, shop-made dogs …

    Many thanks in advance and kind regards,

    Mattias

    • Hi Mattias,

      I would use 1″ round dogs in that instance. We’ve converted one of our Roubo benches to that configuration – no complaints.

      Chris

      • Mattias Hallin says:

        Hi Chris,

        Warmest thanks for your reply — that’s one question mark less, then!

        Cheers,

        Mattias

    • Mattias, do you mean that you would use a holdfast in the tail vise itself? I wouldn’t. But a 1″ round dog, absolutely.

      • Mattias Hallin says:

        Hi John,

        I’m happy to say that that’s not what I meant — I doubt any tail vise would take kindly to repeatedly having a holdfast cinched down into its dog hole.

        I was talking about the row, parallell to the near edge of the bench, of dog holes that line up with the tail vise (which in my case, and as already mentioned, will be a Benchcrafted wagon vise). Not that their primary purpose are likely to be holdfast holes, but I dare say a work holding situation may well arise from time to other where it’d be helpful.

        Cheers,

        Mattias

  3. Bob says:

    I installed my stop using these same specs.

    I have been using it for 6 months and I am still debating the addition of a recess for stowing the overhanging teeth.

    Currently, I remove the entire stop when I need lay a large piece flush over the entire bench top. Are there any negatives to adding a recess?

  4. James Watriss says:

    What happened to the toothy, vicious looking stop? Did it bite you too many times?

  5. Jeff Landau says:

    In January I built a workbench at Mark Hicks shop (Plate11.com). Used a planing stop there, and I had to have one on my bench. It is great. I also wanted to give a shout to Chris for his recommendation that you go take a class and build a workbench with someone’s power tools, jigs and mostly their expertise. Took a week but I have a workbench I would have never built on my own.

  6. Charles Brousseau says:

    It is the first time I notice the teeth line of a planing stop forming a curve. I am trying to come up with one and never thought about that shape.

  7. Daniel Williamson says:

    On my Roubo, I don’t have a planing stop like above. My solution was to just drill a second hole parallel to the last hole on my bench on the far side. So the. It was easy to make a batten with short dowels glued in the 3/4” holes on the batten spaces appropriately and I drop it in the holes on the bench. I made 2, actually. One with half inch ply and another of 1/4” for thinner stuff. Works nicely with the addition of a does foot and both store (not so neatly, but that’s not their fault) on the lower shelf.

    On the knockdown Nicholson I made, I decided to do a similar thing but with the planing stops being parallel. After using both, my personal preference is just for the dog holes. But hey! That’s just me. Your mileage may vary. But like you always say, Chris, just experiment and see what fancies your particular work. Both work well, but I just think it’s easier to just grab the batten and go.

    Additionally, on the front row of dog holes, I made a similar dowel glued into plywood birdsmouth. It runs parallel to the front of the bench, if that makes sense. As opposed to parallel to the edge for the battens. Cheers, folks!

  8. I just don’t understand toothed planing stops: “Hey, let’s damage the end grain of this project!” Why not just use a square block or round bench dog or two. If you set up your vise and dogs appropriately, wouldn’t that save the extra work of cleaning up or potentially splitting a piece of wood? What benefit is it to have a sharp piece of metal digging into the wood? Call me “Confused in Canada” 🙂

    • Hi Grant,

      With some modern modes of work, you are absolutely right. Denting the end grain can be unsightly.

      But with a lot of traditional work, the marks don’t matter a bit. When I dovetail a case, most marks are planed off after assembly. Other marks get covered by moulding (many traditional modes of work sought to hide end grain).

      With chairs, almost all the marks get sawn or planed away after assembly. End of a door frame’s tenon? Hidden in the mortise. End of a door stile? Hidden in a face frame or carcase. End of a face frame? Hidden by the top of the case.

      In the end, everything is a tool mark (sanders, smoothing planes etc.). What you choose to show or hide is up to you. If the end grain on a stile has a few small dents from the teeth of a planing stop, that’s just what traditional work looks like to me. It doesn’t bother me (or my customers).

      So what do you gain with a toothed stop? Grip. My work is much more stable when held by the teeth.

      Bottom line: It’s like any finishing process. For some, bartop is OK. Others like French polish. Others like rubbed-out shellac or varnish. Or oil and wax. Or paint. Each has a different message. All are valid (except bartop. That’s nasty. JK.)

  9. Andy says:

    This is out of left field, but have you encountered a planing stop like this:

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/143464618919

    Because I wonder if, assuming these teeth could be sharpened and a recess made for them, this would then serve two purposes? Teeth when you need them, and then another whack lowers the teeth flush and gives you a flat stop when you don’t want to mark your work?

    Just a thought/question, as I’m new to stops and encountered this recently.

    • I haven’t seen a stop like that, so I don’t have any opinion on how/if it would work, I’m afraid.

      I can say that a toothed stop can easily be “defanged.” Just put a scrap of wood between the teeth and work. I do that all the time.

      • Andy says:

        For some reason I read “defanged” in the accent of Tattoo from Fantasy Island.

        Thanks as always, Chris.

  10. Tom Buskey says:

    I love the planing stop. Most useful thing attached to the bench. More so than a vice IMO.

    I started using a benchdog (mine are 3/4 dowels) and finally morticed a square hole in my bench. I had a piece of a bandsaw on top for my teeth. It worked decently, but I took a chunk out of a plane blade when working on thin stock.

    I just took the blade off and have a small nail on the face for anything thicker than 1/4 inch.

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