Shooting boards

Shooting boards from times past came in all shapes and sizes. In 2006 I wrote an article for Popular Woodworking (USA). They only wanted three pages but it kept growing as I remembered the shooting boards on the shelves in shops of my youth. It ended up as a 36-page pdf and covered a wide range of shooting boards once considered essential to any joinery or furniture-making workshop. Something shifted with the advent of mass-making machines for every workshop. The development of compound mitre saws, chop saws, table saws and so on rendered these once-common and fundamental pieces of equipment redundant.

My shooting board with a Veritas bevel-up, low-angle plane

Whereas it’s true that more accurate machines with spring mechanisms and tight bearing and bushings are now the standard of most machines, the variables in material and vibration can often compromise that perfect cut, causing minute ‘chatter’ on the surface. So too even with a sharp cutting edge, the surface finish can never quite match that of a finished plane stroke. Looking back at tome of the fine workmanship of the 1800’s I still believe that even with our high levels of machine engineering we have failed to equal those high and consistent standards set by pre-machine-age woodworkers of Europe and it’s primarily because we have relied in increasing measure on machine methods, believing that in some evolutionary process we have bettered what existed by substituting skill for no-risk machine methods that supposedly replaced those skills. In reality what we did was displace care and concern of a man connecting with his work to adopt much faster methods for the speed we operate at and so this became the economic requirement rather than the standard of workmanship.

Here are the dimensions for the one I made at the show

Regardless of speed and economy in work, craftsmen could cut and shave a mitre in seconds using a mitre box and shooting board. At the woodworking shows I ask the attendees whether mitre boxes from Home Depot work well. Everyone shakes their head in hopelessness that anyone would use one expecting perfect mitres. In my article I point out that the problem is these experts at Home Depot only sell half of what existed. The mitre box was the rough-cut. It brought the material within close approximation to the finished size, but then the shooting board perfected the cut within thousandths of an inch and the mitre itself was as polished as the plane’s cutting edge. The same shooting board would give a dead 90-degrees to the same standard and square in both directions too.

How they work

Shooting boards suspend the wood so that the wood can be chocked against a definitive stop. At the same time the shooting board provides the platform along which the plane travels so that wood and plane unite with an exact seldom seen by any other method of working wood. Shooting boards are developed for planing any face of a section of wood regardless of grain direction. Whereas most craftsmen could capably resolve any such finishing detail in an individual cut, repeated cuts on cabinets and joinery could be more expediently executed using the shooting board to perfect the cuts. The most basic shooting boards work best Even in their most basic form, shooting boards are fundamental equipment for any hand tool workshop. They are simple to make and easy to use. I suppose square and mitre cuts are the two commonest needs and the commonest cuts. Imagine perfect mitres every time you make picture frames or square end cuts prior to joinery. That’s what the most basic shooting board will give you. Any hand plane works with it so you don’t have to go out and buy anything special, but if you plan on making hundreds of mitres or continuously using mitres or cuts over years to come you might want to consider a low angle, bevel-up plane.

The shooting board shown is an impromptu one I made at the Baltimore Woodworking Show last week and it’s one I make and use regularly. The recesses for the stops need only be 1/4”- 3/8” deep. I used a hand router to get the depth even as I would a housing dado.

19 Comments

  1. Patrick Anderson on 20 January 2012 at 2:25 am

    Thanks Paul. You must have made it after I left 🙁

    I’m assuming you made it like that for demonstration use as it doesn’t look like you could put too wide a piece of stock on the 90 fence?



    • Anonymous on 20 January 2012 at 7:52 am

      Hi Patrick,

      Remember, the fences are removable because of their wedge shape. You could use the 90-degree fence to plane over 12″ once the 45-degree fence is removed. 

      Joseph 



      • Patrick Anderson on 20 January 2012 at 4:55 pm

        Thanks mate. I realised it after I read the article.



  2. Patrick Anderson on 20 January 2012 at 2:53 am

    Should anyone want to read Paul’s entire article you can download it here
    http://www.popularwoodworking.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/ShootingBoard2.pdf



    • Steve Branam on 20 January 2012 at 11:03 am

      Excellent! Thanks for posting the link, Patrick.



      • Steve Branam on 20 January 2012 at 12:36 pm

        And in fact I recognized the pictures. I had stumbled onto this last year, but lost track of it. Double extra thanks for the link!! I also dug out my copy of the Dec 2006 PW and found the printed article. I ordered a Veritas small bevel up smoothing plane from Lee Valley at the Woodworking Show, partly with the intent of being a shooting plane, so that should be perfect here.



        • Paul Sellers on 20 January 2012 at 12:56 pm

          I have that small bevel-up Veritas plane and like its compactness and lighter weight very much. I used the new and fancy block plane consistently on the mitres of the White House pieces and that worked really well with the shooting board, but I think the smaller smoother would have been exceptional.



        • Erik Curtis on 21 January 2012 at 10:59 pm

          Thanks for the post Paul. And likewise to Patrick for the link. But I was wondering, would a low-angle block plane work just as well? Other than the simple disadvantage of blade width. Thanks Gentlemen.



          • Paul Sellers on 22 January 2012 at 2:18 am

            You can use any length or width of plane with a shooting board. As long as the plane is sharp and well set, the difference will only be marginal. Shallow angles on the bed do work best though. ANd so too bevel up planes. Whether I would buy such planes for so specialised an area without having a higher volume of applications for it is the question. A block plane will work just fine for most work depending on the thickness of stock being worked.



  3. Paul Sellers on 20 January 2012 at 4:08 am

    Patrick posted it previously so you should have it on the clamp blog now.



    • Paul Sellers on 20 January 2012 at 4:18 am

      Thanks for this Patrick. It will help many people to read this I think.



  4. Sheldon on 27 July 2015 at 12:41 pm

    Good job illustrating a shooting board. Keep up the good work!



  5. Hugo on 19 April 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Dear Paul and company,
    Thanks a million for all the superbe videos. I have a question. I see Paul using a Stanley 4… The one i have is not perfectly square with the sole… Far from it. What is the solution, except from buying a Veritas small bevel up smoothing plane? Playing with the angle of the blade?

    Thx to all for helping.



    • Paul Sellers on 20 April 2016 at 7:14 am

      Without holding the plane I cannot envisage the issue. It will cost you less to buy another #4 than any bevel up plane and of course a BD will accomplish a hundred times more so your choice would be the wrong one as no BU ever replaces a BD one. Now that said, I do like all of the BU planes but mostly for some special end grain and mitre work, some edge jointing and so on, but I can do all of this with a good sharp bevel down #4, which doe not work in reverse with a BU.



  6. Hugo on 14 July 2016 at 7:21 pm

    I have a question… I made my shooting board. My plane Stanley 4 is adjusted. BUT : squarring a hard wood is extremely hard…. Is it normal or am i doing something wrong? How do you mate do it? And what do you use if you want to square a 5×5″ ?

    Tx



    • Paul Sellers on 14 July 2016 at 11:27 pm

      If your plane is set up correctly it should be easy no matter the wood. Without seeing it it is hard to give you the answer so do some investigating and don’t give up. For a s big as a 5×5 just freehand the rough sown cut using knifewalls to get the edges exactly to 45.



      • Hugo Baillargeon on 15 July 2016 at 4:48 pm

        Thank you so much for taking the time to reply! Ok for the 5×5. Maybe it is the angle of my blade on my plane… I am dedicating one Stanley #4 for the shooting board since i have to compensate for the non-squareness (do not know if i can say that!) of my plane.

        cheers! Hope to see you one day in Canada or USA !!! Better in Quebec !



  7. Peter French on 3 July 2017 at 4:44 pm

    Paul
    I have a project coming up, where the design requires a 2m long cabinet top and base be mitred to the sides. The mitre length will be about 540mm, the material is 15mm thick edge jointed walnut staves. I’ve tried some test cuts on my table saw, and on my festool track saw, neither are good enough. Could you advise please on how best to make this joint and the best design of shooting board for me to make. I have a veritas low angle smoothing plane which I imagine could do a nice job but it’s the design of the shooting board I’m not sure about.
    Regards
    Peter



  8. Jack Chidley on 23 April 2019 at 2:40 am

    It’s a revelation. I used the flat shooting board at school but I always wondered how the skirting boards had been cut. Donkey’s Ear!

    From now on I will be able to trim any board, on any edge at any angle.

    Jack



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