Workbenches that are powered by wedges, friction and stops have been fascinating to me since I first started looking into Roman workbenches. My interest and research into these benches eventually became “Ingenious Mechanicks.”
And now an old Norwegian Sloid (Sloyd/Slojd) manual has shed some new light (for me, at least) on these wedge-based benches – thanks to some drawings and text.
Eivind Reed of Breim, Norway, sent along these drawings plus a translation he made from the first Norwegian textbooks on school Sloid, “Sløidlære for skole og hjem” (Craftsmanship for School and Home), which were written by H.K. Kjennerud and Karl Løvdal. Here is the translation:
No. 244. Wedgebench. Pine in the benchtop, birch in the front vise, the board at the front end, planing stop and wedges. The bench can be made larger or smaller according to the intended use. By the drawings you see that the planing stop will sit slightly within the edge of the front board. The fit in the mortise must be so tight that it stays without slipping down. To avoid having to remove the planing stop when using the birdsmouth, we make two recesses for the teeth, so that it can be flush with the benchtop.
The bench can be put on a box, kitchen counter or similar. It will of course not measure up to a regular workbench, but when you get used to it, it does good service. To plane the face of a board, put it on the benchtop, thrust it into the planing stop so that the teeth sink in and it rests toward the front board. The teeth stop the board from moving backward when withdrawing the plane. To plane the edge of a board, we put it in the front vise [a crochet]. If it will not stand securely, we use the wedge. If the board is narrower than the thickness of the benchtop, we drive down the planing stop and put the piece in the birdsmouth. To shoot the ends of the board, we wedge it in the front vise, back vise or we use the front board as a shooting board. To rip boards, we use the front or rear vise as we see fit. To crosscut, we lay the piece on the bench as usual. To avoid losing the wedges, and to keep them always at hand, we hang them by string on eye hooks on a fitting place on the bench.
No. 245. Wedgebench to attach to the wall. See No. 139. The bench is attached with hinges and can be put up when not in use.
There are some clever aspects to both of these benches that are not covered by the text.
Both benches are on the small size, like the Milkman’s Workbench. The sizes are in metric. (My mind defaulted to American customary units when I first looked at the drawings. I saw a benchtop that was 6” x 20” x 80”. Dumb American.) The second wedgebench (No. 245) is longer, but that’s mostly to make room so your handplanes don’t poke you a new window in your wall.
One of the bits of cleverness are the rotating toggles below the benchtop that allow you to hold work on edge. I’ve seen sliding bars, but not toggles. These are much simpler to make and install.
The best stuff is the wedges. The opening in the benchtop has one straight side and one angled side. The angled side is 6° off vertical. The wedges shown below the notch both have faces that are angled at 6°. One wedge for small work; one for larger. The angles on the vise and the wedges keep the clamping pressure square to the workpiece.
In investigating early benches, all the notches that I recall encountering had square-sided notches (the dovetailed notches in the Saalburg bench are one exception). Clamping work in those proved less-than-spectacular until I tried using softwood wedges with almost no slope on them. The softwood compressed when struck and then held the work like crazy. These angled notches are another excellent solution to the problem.
The crochet is called out in the text, and it’s nice that this one also comes with a complementary wedge. Both the crochet opening and the wedge are at about 11.3°.
Also interesting is the “front board” – basically a full-time wide planing stop. It’s only about 3/8” thick (9mm). Combining that with the toothed planing stop is pretty clever.
When I first looked at figure No. 244, I assumed the holes in the benchtop were for holdfasts. That is, of course, silly for many reasons. It’s likely because of the way they are drawn that they are the way you fasten the benchtop to a table or box.
If I make another Roman bench, I will definitely incorporate the angled notches and wedges into the design. Thanks so much to Eivind for the image and the translation.
About a year after I built The $175 Workbench, I built The Power Tool Workbench for the August 2002 issue of Popular Woodworking magazine. The issue featuring The $175 Workbench had done particularly well on the newsstands (the bench had been on the cover), and so my fellow editors were willing to let me stick my neck out again.
This bench’s structure is similar to The $175 Workbench, but it has a bank of drawers below (not a fan of that) and it is sized to fit behind a table saw. Also, it features a Veritas Twin-screw Vise on one end.
All of my benches have had a hard life, but this one especially. I gave it to my father. He had it in his garage in Charleston, S.C., where it weathered a couple hurricanes and storm surges. After the last storm surge, my dad found it floating in about 6’ of water.
It survived quite well. The only repair I had to make was to lubricate the drawer slides to get them unstuck from rust.
The benchtop is a little small for handwork, but I’m not going to ever let it go. After my father died in 2018, it was one of the few things I took with me from his house.
That doesn’t mean it’s a perfect bench – far from it. The video explains it.
This is a problem that faces every man who does woodwork. Provision has to be made for keeping tools so that they are out of harm’s way, for nothing is worse than a bench littered with tools piled one on top of the other. At the same time they must be easily to hand when needed. At the outset it should be realised that a distinction has to be made between tools in everyday use and those used only occasionally. It is of no use to keep, say, a hammer in a drawer or cupboard which has to be opened every time the tool is needed. The usual way is to keep it in the well or trough of the bench where it is always to hand yet does not interfere with items placed on the bench top. Much the same thing applies to pincers, chisels, screwdrivers, etc., though these are not normally kept in the trough but rather in a simple rack.
It is interesting to see what used to happen in professional workshops. A nail in the wall was invariably all that was used for such items as saws, and chisels, pincers, and so on were held in the simplest of racks fixed to the wall with a screw at each end; cramps were hung over a batten projecting from the wall or fixed to a convenient beam. Altogether a primitive yet effective method. On the other hand his more delicate tools such as the shoulder plane, compass plane, plough, etc. he usually kept in his tool chest in a special drawer or compartment. The everyday, more robust items he put in a drawer beneath the bench.
The reason for this rather crude arrangement for tools was twofold. First, there was frequently nothing permanent about a man’s job. He might be taken on and put off again in quite a short time. Secondly, he would certainly not be allowed to spend time in making any special tool rack arrangement. Hence nothing more pretentious than the homely nail was used, and even these might already be in the wall, an inheritance from the previous incumbent.
For the man working at home a somewhat more elegant system can be devised because he is more or less permanent in his workshop and can spend as much time as he likes in making fitments. Another point is that his workshop may be just a garden shed, and nothing rusts tools quicker than hanging them on a damp wall. The nail itself will bear witness to this in a short time.
The simplest form of rack is shown at (A), Fig. 2, and is the sort widely used in a workshop. It is simply a plain batten fixed to the wall with distance pieces at the ends. If there is a convenient wood window frame to screw to this simplifies matters, but in the case of a brick wall there is an advantage in fitting a plywood or hardboard backing held on uprights as at (B). It avoids damage to chisel edges against the brickwork and it lifts the tools away from the wall. A quite good idea is to make one distance piece thicker than the other so that tools of varying size can be gripped. A 1-1/2 in. chisel has a larger handle than one of 1/4 in. size and in an equidistant rack either the big one will not go in or a small one will drop through. The tapering gap will hold both.
A fitting that has become popular is the tool clip. It is made in various forms, the simplest being fixed with a centre screw. This however needs either a wood wall or a batten screwed to the wall as at (C). It is far better to fix a batten to the wall with plugs and screw the clips to this than to attempt to plug the clips individually. The value of peg board as a means of display has also caused a new form of clip to be devised which can be entered from the front. This has a cranked centre rod which is passed through the hole and held by tightening a nut as at (D). Clips can therefore be fixed through any convenient holes to suit the shape of the tool to be gripped.
To hold a saw to the wall the simple nail is effective enough, but the handle is liable to become damaged with continued use. The better fixing is that at (E) in which the front thin piece (ply or hardboard) will pass easily through the hole in the handle. At the back the distance piece (slightly thicker than the handle) is narrower so that the handle drops down after being passed over. In some cases it is an advantage to have a front piece pivoted on a screw (F). This has only to be turned when the saw is slipped over.
Planes can be stored in various ways. When there is space for the plane to be in a horizontal position it can rest on a pad of cotton wool kept lightly oiled, or a thin crosspiece can be fitted to one end of the shelf to raise the cutter from the floor as at (G). It is generally recommended that the plane does not lie flat, though the writer has never found any harm in it providing the wood on which it rests is not damp.
Sometimes there is room at the end of the bench for a plane rack to be made as at (H). Alternatively the rack could be fixed to a wall or cupboard side. Another system is that at (I) in which the plane is pushed up at the top, passed inwards, and lowered. There must be clearance at the top for this, but the front lip must be wide enough to prevent the plane from falling outwards.
Those who do wood turning will find the rack at (J) useful. The tools face opposite ways alternately as in this way they occupy less space. The notched uprights are shaped accordingly. At the bottom can be a trough in which other items can be kept, spanners, tommy bar, chucks, centres, odd scraping tools, etc.
Various racks can be made as at (K) to hold small tools; bradawls, punches, marking awl, files, and so on. The rack can either stand on a shelf as shown, or be made with end brackets (L) if to be fixed to a wall. The same idea is useful to hold boring bits as at (M), or for router cutters.
Cramps can be conveniently kept on a narrow shelf with brackets as at (N), being lightly tightened to hold them in position.
All of these suggestions can be separate items fixed to the wall and left open—at any rate in a dry workshop. For those who have the space, however, there is an advantage in having fitments with enclosing doors providing that there is space for these to remain open when work is in progress. In fact an excellent idea is to have a cabinet in which the upper part at least has built-out doors which can be fitted with shelves, racks, etc. The entire thing is then exposed and no time is lost in seeking tools and (equally important) putting them away when finished with.
Since the most exotic woods are very expensive, and for the most part difficult to work, one rough cuts them with a saw, in both their thickness and width, in order to conserve the materials by making the least waste possible, and at the same time to diminish [dress] them most easily, given that much cannot be done except by the toothed plane, at least for making them the correct size, which one cannot do with the [jointing] plane, given that these woods are often very hard, or which is even worse, of a curly grain, the iron of the standard/jointing plane cuts very little into it, causing tear-out [splinters] such than one could not remove without doing wrong to the different pieces which would be found to be too thin or too narrow. What’s more, this type of joinery being made to be polished, it is necessary that no voids be found in the entire surface, either along the length or width, which, consequently, requires the use of toothing planes, at least for the wood of an extremely hard quality, or of a grain mixed with burls, as I just said before. The wood which is less hard and more straight-grained than those of which I just spoke, one removes the material [dresses them] with jointer planes and in the ordinary manner. However, one will do very well to finish them with toothing planes, in order to avoid all types of tear-outs on their surface.
When the pieces are too small, or of a wood too hard to be planed ordinarily, that is to say, with bench [jointing] planes and other planes, after having sawn them, one squares them with rasps and Files of different types, as I will explain later. But whichever method the woods are dressed, the cabinetmakers use, for squaring them, the square made of ordinary wood. However, it would be good for the squares to be of iron or of brass/copper, named squares a chaperons [a square that has an applied fence/guide on its edge; a try square], of which one section is turned completely flat, and the other is perpendicular, like that of Fig. 2, where one would cut off part a–b–c–d, so that when orienting the square in whatever manner, the upper section is always perpendicular to the piece that one is working, as one can see in Fig. 4, where the upper section of the square, supposed to be c–f, is perpendicular to the other section, g–h, viewed from on end, in this Figure. These same squares could also serve to change direction one above the other, that is to say, the upper section above point i, and the other g–h, positioned flat on the work (see Fig. 4).
This square can also serve as an angle for drawing [laying out] the work, however it is constructed as I have supposed, or as it is represented in Fig. 2.
Figure 1 represents another type of square appropriate for marking right angles on different parts, where ordinary squares are not convenient to use.
The squares of which I just spoke cannot be used except for projecting angles [outside corners] and flat surfaces. As it sometimes happens, when one has cavities of a right angle to cut into the wood, like mortises or other works of this type, one uses for squaring them (or at least for verifying that they are pierced squarely) a square named squared cross, which is composed of two iron bars A–B and C–D [Fig. 3] ,of which the latter is set perpendicular to the first, with which it is stopped [locked] by the means of a screw E, such that this square serves at the same time to verify that the sides of the chopped [cut] holes are perpendicular to the surface of the work, and assures the evenness of depth. One lowers section C–D of the square, from F to D, of a length equal to the depth of the part which one wishes to excavate, as one can see in this figure, which I have represented by punctuated lines, the same square as the other side of the mortise.
Although I have not represented here anything but squares and right-angle triangles, it is however good to have miter squares, and bevel squares also of iron, for the reasons that I said above. If I have not illustrated them here, it is only in a desire to avoid repetitions, and to not multiply uselessly the figures, and by consequent, the Plates.
Figure 5 represents a type of square, or better said, the caliper for verifying at the same time that a piece is perfectly square and an equal thickness in all its parts, which is necessary, especially for the pieces which one squares with a File. Marking gauges of iron are of a form a bit similar to that of Fig. 5, except that instead of the returning arm as in square G, their shank is terminated by a built-in point or by one added to the shank with a threaded screw, which is the same, as long as this point is made of hard steel and tempered, especially when one uses it for metals.
As I said above, page 810, Cabinetmakers use the same saws as other Joiners. However, for the works under question here, it is good that these saws, if they are the same, be made with a bit more care, and that their blades be tempered, so that they better withstand working hard woods. Since tempered saws require extreme stiffness, one would do well, instead of a cord/rope [to tighten the bow saw], to put there a rod of iron threaded at one end, to receive a winged nut by means of which on can tighten [tension] the saw blade to the degree that one judges appropriate. See Figs. 7, 11, 13 & 14.
It is necessary to take care that the bottom of this rod (whether of iron or of copper) be of a squared form, as well as the top section found immediately after the threading, so that it does not turn when tightening the winged nut. It is even good to fit the end of the arm of the saw, Fig. 11, with an iron plate which is pierced with a square hole through which passes the rod, as one can see in this figure.
Figure 6 represents a saw named the English Saw, of which the bow or frame is all iron. This saw is banded by means of a handle, which holds the end of the locking anvil H, which is held there by means of a screw I, a bit like the same manner as the marquetry saw of which is made the description on page 843. These sorts of saws work not only for all the little works, but also for cutting soft metals, like copper, tin, etc., as for the other materials that one uses in cabinetmaking. That is why it is always necessary that their blades be tempered.
Figure 8 represents a tool named a sawing Knife [keyhole saw], which differs from the hand saw (of which I spoke in the first part of my work, page 190) only by the size of the blade and the shape of its handle. This saw is very convenient for the small parts [and places] where one cannot use ordinary saws, and it is good that they are constructed like that represented in Fig. 8, so that one can change the blades when one judges appropriate.
Figures 9 & 15 represent another type of saw with a handle and a fence/shoulder, which cuts to only the depth that one judges appropriate [established by adjusting the fence/shoulder], and forms consequently, in many works, cuts of an equal depth. This saw is made of an ordinary blade, with a chassis or frame of iron, divided in two in its thickness, and where one of the parts enters in notches by its two ends in the part that is fixed and which, consequently, enters in the handle in a manner that they appear to be one part, the two parts are held together by means of three screws threaded in the fixed part of the frame, in the middle of which the saw is placed, being pierced itself by three corresponding slots and of a width equal to the diameter of the screw, in a way that one can lower or raise the blade as much as can be permitted by the length of the slots. Afterwards, one tightens the screw in order to hold the saw in place. See Fig. 9, where I removed the middle part of the frame, so that one can see the mortise of the blade, and consequently the results that can be had.
Figure 10 represents another type of saw with a guide/fence, where the frame is configured in a manner that one can adapt to it one or two saw blades, that is to say, one on each side. The frame of this saw enters into the first cut of the saw made previously in the work piece, and it can, as with the preceding one, serve not only to cut different pieces of the work, but also to make grooves of different depths or widths according to the thickness of the saws, in place of which one can use Floats, if one desires, especially for working hard woods, ivory, shell or other materials with which one wishes to make embellishments, by reason of which one will construct the tools you will need. Being content with the two examples that I just gave, which are, it seems to me, sufficient to help in composing the others, whether of a similar form, or laid out like tools with stock/body.
Figure 12 represents a Piercing tool. It is nothing but a point with a flattened shape, of which the exterior ridges are sharp and cutting [very similar to a die-maker’s scraper or a bird-cage awl]. This point serves to pierce little holes in pieces of thin wood, observing to position the widest part of the piercing tool perpendicular the grain line, so that these being cut present hardly any resistance to the point which is forced into the wood, which therefore diminishes the risk of splitting. The other small holes are pierced with an ordinary bit. When one fears that the pieces be too frail to tolerate the force of the latter, one pierces them with a Drill Bit, as I will explain here in speaking of the appropriate tools for piercing metals.
The tools that I just described (an abstraction made of those of Turning and Locksmithing of which I am going to speak later, and in general of all the tools of the Joiner of which I spoke in the course of this Work, which can work equally for the construction of cabinetry, which is the question here), are nearly always those which are the most useful. There are still many others that each worker makes for his own use, according to his talent and the different occasions which he has for using them with more or less success. Since most of these tools are little different from those of which I spoke in the description of the different types of Joiners, I believed to be able to dispense with entering into each detail on this subject, this information being otherwise inexhaustible.
As to the construction of solid cabinetry, it is the same thing as for the other types of joinery. The different parts which compose it are always tied one to the other by means of grooves and tongues, tenons, mortises and other assemblages [joinery]. The only difference is that of these different assemblages as well as all the rest of the construction of this joinery be made with all the perfection possible, that the fashioning of the wood, the joints and especially the assemblages, be made with the [best] precision, without being diminished in any manner so that when working on the joints they do not open/appear. I will not speak here of the quality of the wood, which should be perfect and dry as is possible; without which, whatever care one takes, one cannot do excellent work.
The following is excerpted from “The Joiner & Cabinetmaker,” by Anonymous, Christopher Schwarz and Joel Moskowitz (this section is by Schwarz). J&C is a short book written in 1839 by an anonymous tradesman; it tells the fictional tale of Thomas, a lad of 13 or 14 who is apprenticed to a rural shop that builds everything from built-ins to more elaborate veneered casework. It was written to guide young people who might be considering a life in the joinery or cabinetmaking trades, focusing on how apprentices could obtain the basic skills needed to work in a hand-tool shop. However, this is not a book for children. It is a book for anyone exploring hand-tool woodworking. In it, Thomas builds three projects during the course of his journey in the book, and there is enough detail in the text and illustrations to re-create these three projects just as they were built in 1839.
In addition to the complete original text, you’ll find an historical snapshot of early 19th-century England by Moskowitz, chapters on the hand-tool construction of the three projects (a Packing Box, a dovetailed Schoolbox and a Chest of Drawers) by Schwarz and complete construction drawings.
Plus, there’s an audiobook available of the original 1839 text, read by none other than Roy Underhill!
Flattening Panels With Planes With the glue dry, it’s time to flatten one face of all of your panels. Thomas begins with the jack plane then moves to the trying plane, yet the details of the operation are sketchy in “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.”
Early workshop practice was to use the jack plane (sometimes called the fore plane) across the grain of a panel. This operation, which Joesph Moxon called “traversing” in his “Mechanick Exercises” of 1678, allows you to remove a good deal of deal without tearing the grain too deeply. Working the grain diagonally in both directions allows you to get the board fairly flat – Thomas checks the board with a straightedge as he works, which is always a good idea.
Note: When you work at 45° to the grain of a panel, you will typically see more tearing in one direction than in the other. This is normal. Just make sure you finish your diagonal strokes in the direction that produces less tearing. Determining when a board is flat can be a challenge. After some practice, you learn to tell by the way your planes respond when dressing the panel. The shavings become consistent in thickness, width and length all along the board. A straightedge can help. So can winding sticks, which aren’t mentioned in “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.”
Winding sticks are two identical sticks that are longer than the board is wide. They are placed at several points across the width of the board and compared by eye. When the panel is twisted, the sticks aren’t parallel. And because they are longer than the board is wide, they exaggerate any wind.
The author of “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” has a novel solution: Compare your panel to a known flat panel. If your panel rocks on the flat one, it’s in wind. Of course, the trick is getting that first panel flat. It’s possible to create two panels that are in wind but don’t rock on one another – the high spots of one panel nest into the low spots of the other and result in a false reading.
However, once you get one panel flat, the method explained in the book works well.
Dressing Panels to Identical Thickness With all six panels flat on one face, it’s time to dress the mates to the same thickness. The exact dimension isn’t important (3/4″, 13/16″ etc.). What you seek is to get all the parts you are going to dovetail together (the sides and ends) to the same thickness. Then you want to get the bottom in the neighborhood of 1/2″ thick. And with the top you want to get it flat and clean. Then stop.
Any other work past this point isn’t necessary and will wear you out. Remember: Few people experience furniture through their dial calipers. If it looks good, it is good.
Gather up your sides and ends and look for the thinnest area on these four boards. Set your marking gauge to that thickness and scribe that thickness on all four edges of all four boards. Then use your jack plane (first plane across the grain then work diagonally) to work that second face almost to that scribed line. Then use your trying plane to finish the job.
To thickness the top and bottom pieces, simply find the thinnest area on each and scribe that thickness all around. This should be quick work because you don’t have to get four boards to agree.
Squaring Panels by Hand There are a number of ways to get your sides and ends to the correct length. They all involve sawing them close to the finished length then shooting them to their final length with a plane.
When Thomas built the Packing Box, he used a handsaw to cut the boards to length and a smoothing plane to dress the ends square enough for a rough box. However, here Thomas uses a large backsaw to make the crosscut and guides his plane with a shooting board, one of the essential jigs in a hand-tool shop.
Let’s talk about these tools and jigs. Thomas employs a sash saw to cut the sides and ends to length. Despite the name, sash saws weren’t used only by woodworkers who made windows. The sash saw, as described by Charles Holtzapffel, has a sawplate that is 14″ to 16″ long and has 11 points per inch.
Of course, a modern woodworker with some knowledge of saws would ask: So is it a rip saw or a crosscut saw? The answer isn’t simple. Woodworking books of the early 19th century don’t make distinctions between saws with ripping teeth (zero rake and zero fleam) and those with crosscutting teeth (15° rake and 20° fleam is typical).
In one corner are woodworking historians who say that if fleam isn’t mentioned, it didn’t exist. So they sharpen all their saws for ripping and have to jump through a few hoops to make clean crosscuts.
In the other corner are woodworkers who say that fleam likely existed. In my mind, the evidence of this is found in the shop. If you work only with rip saws, you end up preparing the line you intend to cut by adding a trough made with a chisel. This trench prevents tearing. However, preparing the work with a chisel isn’t mentioned routinely in the early texts. So either they had some other unmentioned way of dealing with spelching created by a rip tooth, or they were smart enough to add a little fleam to their saws to make them cut more smoothly. Or perhaps they just planed away the torn-out areas, which is what Thomas does in “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.”
Or perhaps the hand-filing created a little fleam that made the saws cut a little cleaner. No matter how hard I try, I can’t file a saw with zero fleam – it always gets a little fleam as a result of hand sharpening.
For this book, I worked with both sorts of saws. I have a sash saw that is filed rip and one that is filed crosscut. Both are hand-filed. So the rip-tooth sash saw actually has a little fleam and the crosscut tooth has a little more fleam.
In truth, if I had to have only one sash saw I would be hard-pressed to choose its configuration. When it came to crosscutting parts to size, the crosscut sash saw really shined. The cuts were clean and required almost no clean-up. The rip sash, however, was much easier to use when cutting tenons (a joint that comes up in the final project). The rip sash tracked better in a rip cut, and it was faster.
If I had to make a recommendation on what sort of saw to buy, I’d buy a rip sash saw with about 10 or 11 points. And I’d buy a 6″ double extra-slim-taper saw file and a Stanley 42X saw set. Then use the saw for both crosscutting and ripping and get to know it. Then try sharpening it with a little more fleam and relax the rake until it does a fair job for the work you do. This saw might not be optimized for ripping or crosscutting, but it will allow you to use only one saw.
By the way, this is a common compromise in the realm of the power saw – the carbide teeth of combination blades are ground to handle both crosscuts and rips and do a passable job. There’s no reason you cannot find this same middle ground with a hand-powered saw.
On the Shooting Board Shooting boards mystify beginning woodworkers. These workshop appliances are much like a bench hook for sawing. They have a fence that you brace the work against. They have a bed for supporting the work. They usually have a hook on the front edge of the appliance that hooks over the front edge of your workbench. And they usually have a track that your handplane runs in.
The fence of a basic shooting board needs to be at a right angle to the track that the plane rides in. Also, I think it’s best to have the fence about 1″ thick; that way you’ll be able to dress 1″ stock without tearing out the far edge. Finally, the fence should not be slick. At the least, don’t apply any finish to the fence. At best, cover the fence with some sticky-back sandpaper (the specific grit is irrelevant). You will be surprised by how this makes the shooting board easier to use.
The bed of a shooting board should be wide enough to handle the stock you typically deal with (and then some). My bed has about 14″ of working surface. This allows me to deal with 12″-wide stock and have some room to start my handplane on the track without it tipping. I don’t apply finish to my shooting boards (except to the track), but it won’t hurt to apply a coat of boiled linseed oil to the bed if you please.
The shooting board’s hook is fastened below the bed. It doesn’t have any special characteristics. Usually I just use some of the same size stock I used for the fence.
The track, however, needs special attention. It needs to be wide enough for the sidewall of the handplane you plan to use for shooting – my track is about 4″ wide. The track trips up a lot of first-time users because they don’t understand how the plane won’t eat up the edge of the adjacent bed.
A typical bench plane for a shooting board (which is a jack or a try) has some metal by the side of the mouth aperture that’s usually about 1/8″ to 3/16″ wide. It’s this little land of metal that prevents the plane from chewing up your shooting board into oblivion. The first time you use the shooting board, your plane will rabbet away a little bit of the bed, then you’ll never cut the bed again (unless you increase the cut of the plane).
I think it goes without saying that you should never use a rabbeting plane or shoulder plane on a shooting board. Those will indeed eat your bed for breakfast.
I apply a little paste wax to the track to keep the planes running smoothly. It’s the only maintenance required – except for occasionally confirming that the fence is true.
Using a Shooting Board Before you trim up your panels for the Schoolbox, I recommend a little practice on some scrap pine first. Shooting boards require a little skill to use. Here is how I do it to get good results. First realize that the far end of your cut is going to get a little spelched. That just happens. You have three ways of getting around this: You can chisel a little 45° bevel on the far corner to prevent the spelching. You can plane that far corner first with a few short strokes on the shooting board to relieve that area. Or you can plan for the spelching – leave a little extra width so you can remove the spelching with a couple long-grain passes on that far edge when you are done.
Position your board so that the knife or pencil line is right on the edge of the bed and allow the waste to hang over the track. Press the work against your fence with your off-hand. Then grasp the plane’s sidewall with your dominant hand. This hand has three jobs: Hold the plane against the track, push the plane forward and keep the plane in the cut.
This is where the skill comes in. You need to find the right combination of down, forward and inward forces to create a straight edge. The hardest part is figuring out how much pressure you need to apply to hold the plane in the cut. Too much force and your work will slide away on the fence. Too little and the plane will skitter across the end grain without cutting.
That’s why I like a plane with a sharp iron and lots of mass for shooting. Those two characteristics make it easier to keep the handplane in the cut.
Keep moving the plane forward and back until it stops cutting. Check your work. If you hit your line, you’re done. Otherwise, move the board a bit and shoot some more.
What is interesting about the description of shooting in “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker” is that Thomas starts shooting with a jack plane to remove the roughness of the saw. Then he follows up by shooting with his trying plane.
I have two theories here: Either Thomas has a rip sash saw that has torn out the grain, or Thomas isn’t all that good a sawyer yet. If the latter is true, Thomas had better start making some more practice joints because the next section has a good deal of sawing in it.