Simple, Easy Shooting Board

Those of us who work wood primarily with hand tools don’t rely on very many jigs.  But there’s one jig that every hand-tool woodworker should have close at hand: a shooting board.

A shooting board, if you aren’t familiar with the device, is a simple jig for a hand plane.  There’s nothing very special about mine; it took me about an hour to make.

Shooting Board in Use 2015

The plane is set on its side, and the workpiece is set up against a fence that is precisely 90 degrees to the path of the plane.  The result is a perfect right angle on the workpiece.

Shooting Board in Use 2015

Here I’m planing a square end on a piece of spalted pecan.

Shooting boards come in many sizes and configurations.  Some have fancy features that allow one to plane 45 degree miters, for example.  Mine is of the plain variety.  It does one thing and does it very well.

Briar Magnets 1-2015 - - 1

It can handle even very small workpieces, like this little scrap of briar wood that became a refrigerator magnet.

Building it was simple.  It is built on a piece of 3/4″ thick fiberboard with two pieces of 1/4″ plywood stacked on top.  There is a cleat screwed to the bottom that hooks onto the edge of the bench, keeping the shooting board steady in use.  The fence is a piece of hardwood screwed to the base.  To get it precisely square, I attached it as precisely as I could and then used a rabbet plane to trim the fence until it was exactly square.  It took a few test cuts, checking and rechecking with my square, to ensure everything was just right.

The exact dimensions of a shooting board aren’t critical.  I just has to be long enough to support a plane and a reasonable-sized workpiece.  Mine about 11″ wide and 18″ long, all told.

The most difficult part of getting a shooting board to work well is finding the right hand plane to use with it.  I prefer a longer plane, and I find that my Stanley #6 is just right.  More importantly, however, is that the side of the plane’s body is exactly square to the plane’s sole.  If it’s not, the cut won’t be square.  Good modern planes (like those made by Lee Valley or Lie Nielsen) have sides that are square to their soles.  Vintage planes, however, are hit-and-miss.  So if you have an old plane that you’d like to use on a shooting board, check it with a reliable square first.

This is the second shooting board I’ve made.  I’ve had it about a year, and so far it’s working just fine.

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6 Responses to Simple, Easy Shooting Board

  1. theindigowoodworker says:

    What you really need is for the iron cutting edge to be square to the face of the wood being squared. A side square to the sole does not guarantee that. I’m not sure why everyone thinks that it does. I can have a plane with perfectly square sides to sole but if the iron is askew it does me no good.

    • It’s pretty simple, really. It’s easy to set the iron’s edge parallel to the sole of a plane repeatedly. It’s not so easy to set the iron out of parallel in order to compensate for an out-of-square cheek, though it can be done. So yes, it’s theoretically possible to use an out-of-square plane on a shooting board and get good results, but you have to ensure that the iron is skewed just so. Every. Single. Time. I’ve tried, and it takes too many test cuts to get a perfectly square end on the workpiece. It’s much simpler to use a plane whose body is square to begin with.

      • theindigowoodworker says:

        I set the iron to a square block. It’s the same thing. A square plane makes that no easier. I actually find this to be an easier method. It’s really that simple.

  2. Matt McGrane says:

    I’m on my second shooting board. The first one was very simple and unfortunately, not accurate enough. My current board is just right. Like you, I use a Stanley #6 and almost never use it for anything else. I’ve seen some people use smaller planes, but I like the extra weight to get good momentum pushing across the end grain. I still have to be very careful that I don’t tilt the plane as I push it. Just noticed this morning that my fence was angled at the business end due to the plane tilting. Was able to adjust that quickly and she’s back to working perfectly.

    Good post. Thanks.

  3. B. E. Jones says:

    Hi Steve. Thanks for the post. Question for you. Why do you stack two pieces of 1/4″ plywood on top the fibreboard? Wouldn’t 1/2″ do the trick?
    Brad

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