To plane down a piece of wood by hand, you have to immobilize the wood. If the workpiece is small enough, it can be held in a bench vise. But if the workpiece is too wide or too long, it won’t fit in the vise. What do you do then?
There are a lot of gadgets and gizmos that will hold a big piece of wood steady while you plane it down, but the simplest is the planing stop. Because as it turns out, when you run a hand plane over a piece of wood, it really needs to be immobilized only in one direction–the direction you are planing the wood.
Some time after I built my workbench, I installed a very simple planing stop that has worked fairly well for years. The design is not mine–I modeled it on something I saw on the internet years ago. The original was built partly of plywood, which delaminated over years of use. I recently built a new one from solid wood, so I’m taking this opportunity to blog about this simple but essential part of my workbench.
The design is very simple. It’s a wide board reinforced with battens. It has slots that allow it to slide up and down on threaded rods that I have epoxied into the end of my workbench. The stop is secured with wing nuts.
The planing stop can be raised just a little bit so as to handle regular planing jobs. One of its advantages is that it can be raised as little as 1/8″, which allows me to plane down very thin pieces of wood.
Or it can be raised up to about 2″ high for planing thicker stock, or wider stock on edge. If I had wanted, I could have made it bigger so I could raise it even higher, but I don’t think I’ve ever needed a planing stop any higher than this.
If you want to add something like this to an existing bench, the exact dimensions are not critical, but it helps to have some general dimensions to start with. My planing stop is about 19″ long (along the grain) and about 7″ deep. The main stop is made from 3/4″-thick red oak. (I had a scrap of a trim board that I cut in two and edge-glued.) The cross-grain battens are made from yellow pine scraps and screwed on. The oak is dry enough and the screws are set close enough together that cross-grain movement shouldn’t be a problem. The battens add stiffness to the stop, which is important in use.
I cut the slots by boring a 1/2″ hole at either end of each slot and cutting out the rest with a coping saw. Measure carefully so that, when you drop the stop all the way down, it sits level with the benchtop. Or, better yet, cut the slots so the stop sits just a little bit proud of your benchtop and plane it down exactly level. But don’t worry; the top of the planing stop will soon get chewed up by your handplane, and you’ll find that it eventually sits just a little bit below your benchtop.
The stop slides up and down on 3/8″ threaded rods, and the extra-wide slots allow the stop to slide up and down easily. They also allow me to set the stop a bit higher on one end than on the other, which is helpful when working stock of slightly different thicknesses.
The threaded rods were cut from a piece of 3/8″ all-thread I had lying around. (You could also use carriage bolts with the heads sawn off.) I secured them in the bench top by drilling holes a couple inches deep into the end-grain and gluing the rod in with original JB Weld epoxy. Leave plenty of rod protruding so the wing nuts can be loosened without the nuts falling off. Leave them longer than you think you’ll need them–you can always saw them shorter with a hacksaw if you want. Use washers behind the wing nuts so you don’t chew up the wood behind them. Be sure you let the epoxy cure completely before using the planing stop!
Right now the slots in the stop only go about halfway down. That’s partly for leverage–if you think of the planing stop as a lever, with the rods as the fulcrum, the force created by planing a piece of wood against one end needs to be countered by the bottom of the stop pressing into the end of the workbench on the other end of the lever.
Should I need more height on the planing stop, it’s easy to grab my drill and coping saw and cut the slots just a bit longer.
This planing stop is easy to build and extremely versatile, and it can be retrofitted to practically any workbench.