P1190054Shoulder planes, rebate planes, filletster planes, bullnose planes, dado planes, carriage maker’s planes , badger planes and others too all create or refine step-downs in the wood to form or refine some type of rebate or housing. What’s the difference and which one should I buy? Some have square mouths and others skewed, while many are bevel up and others bevel down. Can they be used interchangeably or is there a single plane that does what the others do? What makes the rebate plane dedicated to specific rebating tasks and how can anyone understand which one or ones to purchase? The reality is that a shoulder plane trims up the faces of tenons better perhaps than it does shoulders and if you indeed use my knifewall method for cutting shoulders then, generally at least, the shoulder plane is rendered obsolete. That is especially true when the shoulders are shorter than say a couple of inches because so little of the sole of the plane actually has a decent amount of registration face. Anyway i want to take a look at the planes to give some explanation as to functionality to help you make some decisions as to which to buy or in what order.


Nomenclature can be difficult

Though all of the planes I listed are indeed designed to develop or refine angular step-downs with and across the grain at the intersecting faces that form the corners of our wood, they all perform differently and in their own right are indispensable. Of course then we must look at the type of work we do and the type of use we might put such tools to work on in our sphere or spheres of woodworking. These particular tools are not inexpensive, especially the highly engineered shoulder planes, but if our work demands a certain efficiency we might consider initial cost non-prohibitive even at £250 a pop. On the other hand, and though these planes can be nice to own, other planes will do or can be adapted to do the same task and more. Working on my new, Essential Woodworking Hand Tools book over the past year helped me to focus my experience using the core of the tools I considered most essential to developing the substantive skills needed for fine woodworking. P1190032Of course this meant that many tools were not included in the book and yet many a dozen hand tools cannot be simply dismissed as non-essentials when indeed we rely on them from time to time in any given year. In the list are the planes I want to cover here. Over the next week or two I will discuss the diverse range of rebate planes going from the high-end highly engineered versions to the simplest wooden ones that worked for two centuries and more. If you have questions along the way please let me know and we may be able to include them in this series.


  1. Brianj on 27 May 2016 at 3:17 pm

    Thats an impressive repair with the interlocking dovetail. How old do you figure that plane may be?

    • Paul Sellers on 27 May 2016 at 3:56 pm

      It’s not a repair but what is call a boxed slip. This is dovetailed boxwood running full length of the plane sole corner into the beech body. The maker did this to improve wear. 100 years and more for this plane. Tell me we know more today than back then!!! Tell me we are more skilled??? Imagine making a hand made plane like this and then using it for three or four generations. Nice thought.

      • Tom Angle on 27 May 2016 at 4:24 pm

        I cannot imagine making that plane. That would take some incredible skill.

      • Hugo on 27 May 2016 at 7:59 pm

        A pure beauty. So hard to explain to people why i spend hours planning and routing by hand… Much of all i know comes from you. Tx. Superbe book. I look forward to this blog. I bought. #90… I am not doing well…

      • Brianj on 28 May 2016 at 7:55 pm

        Thank you for the posting the picture and the information to go with it. It is indeed a wonderful thought and makes one wonder about the stories it could tell ( and so too your tools) about the work it has produced.

      • Kemal Erdogan on 30 May 2016 at 9:33 am

        This requires skills of a fine wood carving artist. I suppose, for the artists who made the wood carvings on the ceilings of old palaces, that would be a few hours worth of work. I imagine, today we also have artists around who can carve those dovetails and their housings out.

        So, I don’t believe we are that bad at the moment. It is just that people who can make it is probably not interested making hand tools

        • Alan on 7 May 2017 at 5:59 pm

          Someone (Stanley I think) produced a Sliding Dovetail Plane for this type of fitting. There’s a YouTube video on it.
          It looks a really-complicated plane to set-up and somewhat cumbersome use.

  2. carlo pieracci on 27 May 2016 at 5:07 pm

    I think soulder planes are a mere luxury: if i saw almost straight and pair with a chisel probably i never need one of them…well! i’m intrigued with veritas skew rabbet plane…that i understand to be the modern anzwer to moving fillister plane…but it is too pricey. Ifa Fillister plane is a skewed rebate plane witha nicker, i’m considering to build one, a poor man fillister plane, but i would add guides to cut parallel housings…i’m waiting for your articles..

  3. patchedupdemon on 27 May 2016 at 7:46 pm

    When I see something like that boxed slip,it makes both amazed and sickened.
    Amazed because a human actual did that process,without the aid of machinery.
    But also sickened that the skill required to do so has all but vanished,and is classed as non important,because everything has to be made the cheapest and easiest way possible.
    I’d love to have lived back then,the cultrial history is being lost by the day.

    • Hugo on 27 May 2016 at 8:00 pm

      I ageee so much with you!

  4. NZ Pete on 27 May 2016 at 11:24 pm

    I think it’s the corner dovetail that does it for me. The maker could have easily made it square and it would have worked just as well. As is said above it a skill to be admired and amazed at just how the “old boys” made things.

    • Alan on 28 May 2016 at 12:12 am

      It is a beautiful example of what can be achieved when the primary emphasis is not on doing something as easily or as quickly as possible.

  5. Dwight on 28 May 2016 at 4:41 pm

    Thank you for opening this consideration of these planes. I look forward to once more learning important features of, ideas about, and uses of this class of planes. Regards!

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