The following is excerpted from “The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years: 1939-1967” Volume 4, The Shop & Furniture.
Although the shooting board is a well-known appliance in the workshop, we are frequently asked by readers for more information about it, and we therefore give here the chief types and their use.
The purpose of a shooting board is that of planing the edges of thin wood, either to form butt joints, to make the edge straight, to trim an end square, or to form a mitre. Normally the edge is made square, though in special cases it can be at an odd angle, as we shall see. If you tried to plane the edge of a piece of thin wood in the vice it would be difficult to hold the plane square and it would be liable to wobble. When the shooting board is used, the wood is held flat on the upper step, and the plane is worked on its side on the lower step, all wobbling being thus eliminated.
Types of Shooting Boards. The simplest form of shooting board for square trimming is given in Fig. 1. It can be of any length from about 18 ins. upwards in accordance with the size of the work to be trimmed. The upper step might be from 4 ins. up to about 6 ins. wide, and the lower one should project far enough to take the largest plane in use—say, 4 ins. At the far end a stop is fixed, this fitting in a groove. The near end is at right angles with the working edge, but it is tapered in width, partly to simplify fitting, and partly to enable it to be driven in with a dead tight fit. After being knocked in, screws are driven in and any projection is trimmed off flush.
There are one or two points to note. Firstly the heart sides of the two pieces face each other, so that in the event of shrinkage the twisting tendencies are opposed. Then again, ledges or battens are screwed to the underside, also to help in keeping the parts flat. Along the under-corner of the top platform a chamfer is worked so that any dust which may accumulate will not interfere with the true running of the plane. So far as thickness is concerned, the upper step should bring the work to about the middle of the plane—7/8 in. wood is about right.
A rather more elaborate type of square board is given in Fig. 2. The two parts are fixed to two or more notched cross-battens, a slight gap, say, 1/8 in., being allowed between them to allow dust to escape. Such a board is more likely to keep flat but will not produce better work. If desired, a detachable mitre stop can be fitted with dowels, though generally it is more satisfactory to have a separate mitre shooting board, as in Fig. 3. The construction of this is similar to that of Fig. 1, except that the stop recess is cut in at 45 deg.
Yet a third kind of square board favoured by some workers is that in Fig. 4. In this one end is raised so that as the plane passes forward a different part of the cutter comes into operation, thus spreading the wear over a wider length of edge. It is satisfactory providing the cutter of the plane is sharpened with its edge perfectly straight. Otherwise the shaving will be thicker in one part of the cut than in another.
Mitre Shooting Boards. The board normally used for small mouldings and for wood mitred in its width has already been dealt with in Fig. 3. When wood is mitred in its thickness, however (as in the case of, say, a plinth) the donkey’s ear board in Fig. 5 is used. The construction is obvious from the illustration. The piece beneath, running along the length, is to enable the board to be held in the bench vice. External mitres are trimmed in this way, the wood being held so that the plane always cuts into the moulding, so avoiding splitting out. Internal mitres need the board in Fig. 6. The stop of this could with advantage be fixed in the middle instead of at the end so that the moulding could be placed at either side of the stop, enabling the plane to work into it. Note the dust groove.
Use of the Shooting Board. When the end of a piece of wood has to be trimmed square it is held against the stop, and the plane worked so that its sole bears against the edge of the upper, step. As the plane is worked, the wood is pressed steadily against the plane. To prevent the far corner from splitting, the corner can be chiselled off. Should, however, the wood not be wide enough to permit this, a waste piece with its corner chiselled can be held against the stop as in Fig. 7. Thus the far corner of the wood is supported and is so prevented from splitting. Note that the waste piece should be somewhat thicker than the wood being planed.
In the case of a joint being planed the method is somewhat different. The wood should overhang the edge of the upper step by about 1/4 in. or so. The joint is planed true by virtue of the trueness of the plane itself. The latter does not touch the upper step. Remove shavings from the centre of the wood until the plane ceases to cut, and then take a couple of shavings right through. If the plane is accurate (and is long enough) the joint will be straight. It may be necessary to take an extra shaving where needed, but it will not be much out. It is better to rely on the truth of the plane rather than to keep it running along the step—unless the wood is quite short.
Incidentally, always have one board face side uppermost and the other face side downwards. In this way the two will go together in alignment, because if the edge is not dead square (possibly owing to the plane side not being square with the sole) the two angles will cancel out, so to speak.
Odd Angles. Sometimes several ends have to be trimmed at an odd angle, and, when the angle runs across the width, a piece of wood planed to the required angle can be placed against the stop as in Fig. 8. Thus any number of pieces can be planed to the same angle.
When the angle is across the thickness, an angle piece can be used as in Fig. 9, the wood being placed above it. Fig. 10 shows how compound angles which occur in both width and thickness can be dealt with. The two angle pieces are prepared to the required angles first, and the wood placed as shown.