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.
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.
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.
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.