The Shoulder Plane

There are obvious tools I am grateful for that, for the main part, need no mention. A  hammer to drive nails, a chisel hammer and mallet, tools for which there is no substitute, but then there are those well worth honourable mention because I did not include them in my last book Essential Woodworking Hand Tools—perhaps a second book is due!

In my revolutionising the way people perceive the hand router plane there has been such an awakening that what a decade ago sold for pennies, today cost five, ten and twenty times more than they were sold for new in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. There are multiple thousands of new woodworkers using the router plane to refine their tenoned joints as a direct result of my blogging and filming them in my work. I doubt that ever in the history of the tool has it seen such a resurgence. Whereas most users once saw the hand router as used only for routing out dadoes, today they are enjoying perfect tenon cheeks made without any machines and totally paraplanar to the outside faces of their rails because they are now adapting the original intent of the plane to different tasks. Watch me here to see what we have taught.

And, with not just talking about dado joints, our revolution redefining hand tools for woodworkers means the end results result in exemplary levels of craftsmanship. Tenons fit mortises far better as a result of what we pulled together video wise. Modern tool makers like Lie Nielsen and Veritas benefitted too in that they seem quite unable tot keep their hand routers in stock with their distributors. You are likely to pay as much or even more for a secondhand eBay find than either of these prestigious makers. Of course the hand router was given pride of place in my book. How could it not? It is after all an amazing tool for tenon refinement and so many other elements of woodworking such as recessing, inlaying, hardware setting to say nothing of woodworking joinery.

So, honourable mention of the week

Lee Valley Veritas gave us the missing link in plane category of tools when they gave us back the shoulder plane. Stanley and Record abandoned making them decades ago but I left them out mostly because my knifewall methods for shoulder cuts meant that the shoulders came straight from the knife dead straight and square.

In the early decades of the 20th century and of course the previous centuries before, shoulder planes held their own and primarily because extruded aluminium and plastics were yet to be developed or even invented. That means that the massive entryway doors of old used in commercial buildings were totally made of wood. Many rails ranged from 5″ wide on up to 18″ as common sizes. Hand cut, the tenon shoulders needed added refinement and the shoulder plane held its own. Come the tenoner and the machine age, shoulders came directly from the rotary cut and needed no more refining. Decade by decade the tools sales for this plane dropped off and soon they were completely redundant. Redundant that is until the amateur came on the scene. The early models were made from bronze and brass castings with cast iron soles and the none ferrous metals pinioned to the sole with peened over dowels of like metals. Some were made with there sides dovetailed to the soles and then filled between with exotic hardwoods. These infillings were ebony or rosewood, and the whole tool became one of those works of art the Victorian era is known for.

I like to use my Veritas shoulder plane for a single pass through on the shoulder occasionally. It works exceptionally for that added crispness. But what I really love about the plane is it’s use on the cheeks of tenons. You can take off a thou’ to fit a tenon in a single stroke the full width of the plane and then a half width if the tenon is longer than an inch. It’s weight gives it the extra tightrope-walker balance and then its front sole length enables you to liner everything up as you enter into and pass through the cut. It’s not a low cost plane and that makes it more a luxury than other planes. For someone like me often cutting many M&T joints in a day it is more the essential than the non.

Features to this plane are well thought through. It is the ideal for shoulder lines that meet breadboard ends. If your shoulders are slightly sloped out or indeed you planned that so you could trim to a perfect 90 rather than undercutting, the plane was perfected to this end. If a shoulder is slightly out of square you can indeed manipulate the plane to get exactly what you want. As I said, for paring down tenon cheeks it is perfected poetry in motion.

Would I recommend this plane. I would. You can obviously get by without it, but it will make many tasks easier and more exact. It would make a good Christmas gift for someone too.

Remember too, when I do talk about tools like this one, I do not receive sponsorship money/revenue and neither do I take free tools from companies. Not even for reviewing.


  1. Tom Angle on 11 November 2018 at 7:55 pm

    Yes it would make a wonderful Christmas gift.

    • Tad J Englund on 12 November 2018 at 1:33 am

      Tom, message me and I’ll send you my address so you can give me one of these for Christmas.

      • Rodrigo Fuenzalida on 12 November 2018 at 11:25 am

        Christmas magic. So beautiful.

  2. nemo on 11 November 2018 at 8:24 pm

    Two weeks ago I stumbled upon a Stanley #71 1/2 router on a local Craigslist-like site. A mere 195 euro asking price…

    Fortunately I’ve got a perfectly serviceable wooden router which cost only 5 euro and that works just as well, plus another homemade small wooden router with Allen-wrench as cutter that works even better (or at least so I imagine myself).

  3. Ian Jefferson on 11 November 2018 at 11:17 pm

    Thanks Paul,

    Your techniques are transferable!

    I wanted a shoulder plane but the investment in a veritas tool from my home town seems a trifle extreme. I wandered about and found a combination chisel, bull nose, and shoulder plane that seemed to get reasonable reviews. I was happy when it arrived but found that it cut a few thousands deeper on one side than another and there was no, or not enough adjustment to take this out.

    I recalled your lessons on how to sharpen the router plane so that the cutting edge was parallel to the sole and I tried the same trick with this plane. In not too much time I had the blade parallel (enough) to cut square shoulders.

    There are many shoulder planes of this ilk and they are so economical that I could buy three one for each orientation and still be ahead. There are times when very high end tools are worth the bargain but like the Aldi Chisels I’m not sure where the line falls exactly.

    Meanwhile I enjoy cleaning up my shoulders and tenons with a cheap “kit of parts” shoulder plane.

    • Robert Sullivan on 12 November 2018 at 10:44 am

      My thoughts too Ian. My shoulder plane is not a veritas but by golly it sure does a great job

  4. Johan Basson on 12 November 2018 at 7:27 am

    Hi Paul, thanks for this informative post. I remember seeing a wooden-bodied shoulder plane in an antiques store a couple of years ago. Given the cost of buying one of these admittedly beautiful meta-bodied shoulder planes, do you think it’s worth a try to make a wooden-bodied version myself? If so, do you have any advice about what to keep in mind whilst making one?

    • Evan on 13 November 2018 at 4:43 am

      While I have small Stanley bullnose/shoulder, I have also made a wood body shoulder to see if I could. I personally think it is worth the time to make. And if you can make one of these, then how many other expensive metal planes are now open your wooden reproduction?

  5. S Richardson on 12 November 2018 at 11:08 am

    The most recent use I have found for a shoulder plane is fitting French Oak t&g flooring,I don’t know if anybody is familiar with the French forestry stuff,but it is not brilliantly cut and needs fitting. The old Stanley Shoulder plane works well for this.

    • Gav on 12 November 2018 at 12:39 pm

      Or repairing old floors because of the variety in the dimensions of the tongue and grooves with similar sized replacement boards. Depending on which mill they come from and how they set their cutters up at the time more then a bit of fine tuning can be required.

  6. Robert W Mielke on 12 November 2018 at 1:21 pm

    I save diligently for my hand tools, preferring quality over the urge to have it right away. I own both the small and full size router planes made by Lie-Nielsen. I have not purchased a shoulder plane yet. I use my low angle rabbet plane from Lie-Nielsen instead. My only addition outside of Lie-Nielsen’s catalog in the small plow plane made by Veritas. It’s a wonderful specialty plane that makes short work of grooves. Thanks for all your educational videos. – Bob

  7. Steve on 12 November 2018 at 3:45 pm

    Still possible to find bargains though. Recently got a Record 71 router for less than £10 in a junk shop – complete except for the fence. It needed cleaning up , handles refurbished in line with Paul’s plane video but it works fine.

  8. Bob Hutchins on 12 November 2018 at 8:28 pm

    On the subject of router planes, I have a Stanley #70 (I think, be the 70-1/2) but it has only the pointed cutter, not the one that is straight across. I got it some time ago for less than $30 and it is in near perfect condition. Is there a source for a straight cutter for this plane? I’ve been following them on eBay and find that the blades seem to go for much more than I paid for the whole plane.

    • Paul Sellers on 12 November 2018 at 8:40 pm

      You can buy a Veritas blade and a little filing fits it fine.

      • Bob Hutchins on 13 November 2018 at 12:11 am

        Thank you, Paul!

  9. OROWoodworks on 12 November 2018 at 9:27 pm

    I recently got my first shoulder plane — the Veritas 1/2″.

    It is a godsend. Makes precision-fitting tongues a breeze compared to trying to chisel in a perfectly straight line!

  10. Nathan on 13 November 2018 at 1:01 am

    The shoulder plane looks like a great tool to have. Can I afford one, no, will I buy one, probably.
    I did buy a Carter(Australian made) hand router and I love it, use it every day, cost me $120!! It lacks the collar that I’ve seen on other brands.
    Paul where can I find the rectangular plane?. It seems they have all but disappeared and as it goes, the better option is not always the easiest to find.

  11. Ted on 13 November 2018 at 1:37 am

    Thank you for this brief discussion on shoulder planes. Would love to read more in a next book, and to see them used/discussed in your videos.

  12. Ron Tocknell on 13 November 2018 at 1:03 pm

    I am fortunate enough to have one of those “Victorian works of art” in the form of arosewood infill shoulder plane with brass sides and a steel sole. Perhaps a modern plane would be better but I can’t imagine how. It does the job perfectly so the only improvement I could think of would be to play my choice of music whilst giving me a back massage and I don’t think Stanley or Veritas have filled that gap in the market yet.
    The beauty of old edge tools is the quality of steel. Unless you go for the very expensive end of the market (and I doubt if even then they truly compete), you won’t find a cutting tool that takes and retains an edge like those produced at the turn of the century among their modern counterparts.

    • Paul Sellers on 13 November 2018 at 6:13 pm

      I used to think that way but I don’t think that that is really the case. I think modern makers like Veritas and Lie Nielsen work very hard to bring top quality steel in their cutting edge tools to market and that they do hit the mark. Nostalgia is fine. I have no problem with it, but I have used as many vintage planes and other tools as you care to name and then Lie Nielsen and Veritas. If anything, I would say some of the new steels do have the edge on most, perhaps not quite all, but certainly most.

  13. Brent Millare on 17 November 2018 at 12:05 am

    What size of the Veritas do you recommend for most work?

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