I plane 99% of my end grain freehand, accurately working to my knifewalls on four sides I can’t remember the last time I used a full shooting board. I use that more for mitring. Wide boards of six inches and more end-grain planing is of course the easiest to do. You have a long runway to land and run your plane on. Create your knifewalls, sharpen your bench plane and plane down to the knifewalls on the four faces with a few corrective strokes as you go. It’s the narrow and thin strips that are the hardest to get dead on because the surface is too small, short and narrow to land a plane on with any degree of registration for squareness and such. My guide here solves the problem straight off as would a shooting board and probably a bench hook. But I wanted something more rock solid for some of my work. I’m offering this as an alternative because it is quick and easy to use once you have it and perhaps, even more, a must-have for guaranteed effortless end-grain squareness without pulling out its larger shooting board cousin. Shooting boards often take up too much of your available and valuable benchtop space and hog the vise more. Making this vise guide might just better meet your needs. It’s the fastest and most secure I know of for both one-off trims and batch repeats of quality cuts using ordinary planes. Once you’ve used it you will doubtless pull it to task for every stick that’s a hair too long or indeed for a multiple series of boxes and box parts, drawer dividers and many component parts associated with the furniture maker.
So why this and not just stay with the shooting board? Using the shooting board usually relies on both the vise and the benchtop beyond and around the benchtop. You have to clear the decks to use it. That’s one good reason and especially if you just have one end to trim. The other is that whereas a shooting board takes over almost all control once set up my vise held version requires your input for aligning and keeping the plane relatively aligned and square and this is key to muscle memory and training your whole upper body to plane square and level according to felt direction. This is training!
I have two design types that solve all my issues for me but you will likely have a product you make that you can adapt the design to suit your needs: one is dedicated to specific sizes and the other is one that planes just about any size you anchor into it. For making something like my Shaker-style dovetailed candle box, I’d make a customised and dedicated guide to accommodate the half-inch material three and a half inches wide. The guide carriage, stop and wood are all clamped together in the vise for total security and safe holding until the last trimming stroke is done. It gives you the same precision cut and trimming you might get from using a chop saw but probably better in that instead of a thousand saw teeth kissing the surface successively, a single plane pass swipes through in a smoothing last pass. There is of course no mess, no noise, no dust and no danger or safety issues to speak of. John used his last week to plane up all the pieces for his five-person hands-on class.
It’s worth noting here that though this is custom-sized, you can simply change the tightening wedge size and add another for other widths in the same carriage.
I used mine recently on my last project to plane up the ends of the slatted shelves, which totalled 44 end-grain trims on 1/2″ by 1 3/4″ beech wood. The idea is to get the wood as close as possible to the line leaving a small fraction of a mil’ on and then stroking the end with two or three plane strokes to perfect the end. Of course, there is a moderate risk that you will end up planing the carriage part a shaving’s thickness out of square as you take plane strokes but this is somewhat sacrificial and correcting out-of-squareness is a quick and simple stroke to do too.
My general-use version takes any thickness of stock up to an inch thick but you can go thicker with the stop for even thicker material. Thick material is easy to freehand though so I wouldn’t feel this to be of much value. Mostly, we will rarely go to this thickness so making a stop that protrudes 1″ past the carriage face is enough. With this you can end-grain plane anything from as thin as 1/8″ on up to 1″. Using this version, we clamp only the material to be planed along with the carriage in the vise, not the stop as well although if all components are level then you can do but usually that depends on the size and type of your vise.
It is important to work accurately to get everything aligning well and gap-free. To do this, sharpen up your edge tools and saw before you begin. This will give you the crispness you need. First, cut your stop to the measurements given. Remember that the edges of the stop must all be as square as possible which is dead square.
The carriage can be made any size you want but this can be made to match the plane you plan to use if you favour using just one. Use either bevel-up or bevel-down versions. Wider #4 1/2s and #5 1/2s work well for a little extra width and weight if you have them but #4s and #5s work great too.
Now to make the main carriage.
True up the first large face. I used winding sticks to guarantee no twist and sighted for straightness as standard.
Square up the edges to the main face and check by sighting for straightness — very important to be square on the top edge of the carriage as this is the registration face for the plane sole. Depending on how heavy your plane cuts are and how heavy-handed you are, this surface will need correction for squareness from time to time.
It’s best to use the actual stop to get the exact angle for the recess rather than rely on measurements so we make the stop now. (`See stop details above)
True up your stop blank first squaring one edge.
Layout out for the taper . . .
. . . .and saw down the line and plane square and straight.
Square a knifewall 5″ from one end of the carriage piece and without removing the square align your stop with the square as shown and with the stop 1/2″ past the top edge of your carriage piece. Now mark the second, angled knifewall with the knife.
Set a sliding bevel to the angled knifewall.
Use the knife to establish the second knifewall.
Square pencil lines across the edges top and bottom.
Use a marking gauge set to 1/2″ between the lines on the edges.
Chisel into the knifewalls to further define the knifewalls.
Cut down the knifewall to the gauge lines with a fine-toothed saw.
Chisel out the waste wood working at an angle first on one side . . .
. . . and then the other.
Now remove the mid-section with a wide chisel.
A router plane will further refine the bottom of the recess if you have one. if not use the flat face of the chisel to establish the bottom of the recess.
Clean up the recess walls by pare-cutting the end grain and working to the knifewalls
Check your stop in the recess. If it fits well it will need no refining. If both then refine the knifewalls but remember the square wall must ideally be square and not undercut as this is the wall that will guarantee the guide to give square and retentive results.
Drive the stop into the recess firmly with sound hammer blows to consolidate the ends of the recesses in the carriage piece and then check the perpendicular face for square.
Saw off the excess but leave a 1/32″ (1mm) or so of wood to plane flush with the carriage.
Back bevel the out-cut of the stop as shown to stop breakout when using the guide.
The extra length of the angled wedged stop is for accuracy in aligning longer pieces so leave it full length below.
Okay, now that we have a basic guide made, you can make different stops for specific or standard sizes subsequent to this so that all of the components can be clamped in the vise when you have many pieces all the same size to be made. I mean, having stops at the ready for 1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″, 5/8″ and 3/4″ and any size in between these. But for one-offs, my general guide works just fine with the stop not being clamped in the vise. By vise, I speak of course, of my favourite vise the quick-release vise. It’s the one type I really use and have relied on for almost six decades. These are the most powerful vises and apply amazing pressure to the work consistently across the jaws from left to right and then vertically too. You will see also that I use leather on the free jaw wrapped over the top and glued to the inside face; it’s also good to wrap it over the top and bring it down in between the metal jaw and the liner. This too is my addition to the vise to add both cushion and a non-slip hold which in turn means I can rely on a lot less pressure from the free jaw when I clamp or I can indeed apply a mass of pressure as needed.
Just a note: Correcting out of squareness to the guide means checking the carriage the plane rides on and then checking the carriage to the stop. As I said, checking periodically and especially if you see shavings coming from the carriage as well as your wood is a necessity to keep things accurate. That said, you should be able to trim a couple of hundred end-grain pieces using this one guide. Remember, this guide is an aid for taking off final trimmings to a saw cut and not really for hogging off lots with a heavy set although you can indeed do that too.
Mitres on moulded stock are best done on a regular shooting board but square-edged material works well on my vise guide. Superglue two dots of superglue with a 45º spacer up against the stop and you’re good to go for a one-off. I have no need to make a special guide but I would if I had a lot of mitres to cut.