Chris Schwarz's Blog

Essential Joinery Plane: The Moving Fillister

As woodworkers dive into handwork, they usually start with a block plane, then the bench planes, the saws and the joinery planes.

Joinery planes , such as plow planes, router planes, shoulder planes and rabbeting planes, are some of the easiest planes to set up and use. Their irons are straightforward to sharpen (no curves needed), and because the tool doesn’t produce a show surface, you don’t need to be a maniac about the keenness of your cutting edges.

One of the most essential joinery planes is the moving fillister. It cuts a rabbet either across the grain or with the grain. And it can make a rabbet of almost any size thanks to its adjustable fence.

Moving fillisters are different than other planes in the rabbeting family in that its fence is adjustable (planes with a fixed fence are called standing fillisters), plus it can work across the grain because it has retractable nickers (planes without the nickers are just plain old rabbet planes).

The iron Stanley No. 78 is the most common vintage version of this tool, however I’m not fond of the form. The fence wobbles because of the way it is attached to the body, so the plane does a poor job in hard woods (in my experience). Record, by the way, fixed this problem with its metal version of this plane, though it’s a tough tool to find in North America.

This really is a case where the wooden versions of a plane are superior. Wooden-stock moving fillisters are fairly common in the secondary market, though they usually require some rehabbing to be usable. So what do you do?

You could buy an ECE moving fillister from Traditional Woodworker. Or you could buy a new traditional one from Philip Edwards at Philly Planes in England.

Philip’s planes are excellent. I recently reviewed his miter plane plus a plane designed for raising panels for drawer bottoms. They both work like a charm. So it’s very exciting to me (and a good sign for hand work in general) that there is a new moving fillister on the market from Philip’s shop.

– Christopher Schwarz

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 1.20.39 PMP.S. Want to learn more about joinery planes? Then watch the DVD or download the video “Joinery Handplanes with Bill Anderson.”

9 thoughts on “Essential Joinery Plane: The Moving Fillister

  1. J.C. Collier

    You’re correct, David. I just didn’t make it clear that I use the ‘three fingered’ grip already. I do this when sawing or pushing a plane. Still, the grip on the Taber is too tight as the horn digs into the web of my hand.

    always,
    J.C.

  2. David

    J.C. – General Comment about totes on period tools. Despite what you might think, totes are almost never designed for a 4-finger & thumb grip. This includes almost all toted planes (wooden and metal) and saws. They’re designed for a 3-fingered grip, with the index finger resting on the side of the tote and pointing toward the work. I’ve even seen discussions on tool forums speculating that our forebearers were smaller (which is true), so the grips won’t fit our modern hands (which is not).

    David in NC

  3. J.C. Collier

    Thanks for the update, David in NC. I probably won’t use it as the tote is a little too tight on my hand, blisters are not one of my favorite things and it is a rather handsome trophy. Never fails to start a conversation with a new visitor. BUT, just like the ’57 T-Bird in my neighbor’s garage, she looks like she wants to roll!

    Thanks again,
    J.C.

    P.S. I won it in an FTJ auction ten years ago for a paltry $72. Schweeet!

  4. David

    I can confirm Chris’s opinion on wooden fillister versus metal versions – the wooden versions (assuming they’re suitably tuned) work superbly. One item those reading this and thinking of buying an antique moving fillister might want to be aware of is that on many of them, the wooden stock has shrunk in width. Often, this results in the nicker and main blade edge not lining up with the stock’s edge. Probably the best way to correct this is to carefully file the opposite edge of the main and nicker irons. However, do so cautiously. If you remove too much metal, the edge of the blades will be recessed beyond the wooden stock edge, and the result will be that the plane acts like a panel raiser, with each successive cut producing a more and more pronounced bevel.

    To J.C. – you may want to think twice about using your handled moving fillister. Used English un-handled fillisters can be had for $50 – $100. The American handled fillisters by Taber Plane Co. and Howland Plane Co. are fairly rare and typically bring $250 – $300 at big auctions, and more from a used tool dealer.

    To Chris – I don’t have one of Philip’s planes, but the pictures on his website look as though he does not taper the irons. Is this the case? The drawback on a wooden plane is that if the wedge becomes jammed (common with changes in humidity), you can’t release it by tapping the blade out of the bottom of the plane.

    David in NC

  5. Brian Ogilvie

    Great post, as always!

    One note: much as I love to patronize Tools for Working Wood, the ECE Moving Fillister is available at a lower price at Lee Valley, who are also good folks!

    I find that I use the moving fillister less since I learned to use a rabbet or skew rabbet plane with my fingers as the initial fence. It doesn’t take much to get the rabbet started and then it is self tracking.

    –Brian

  6. J.C. Collier

    I bought a handled version of one of these about ten years ago at auction. It was made by the Taber Plane Co. of New Bedford, MA. and bears only one owner’s stamp on the toe and heel. It can make a two inch wide cut via the skewed iron and it ejects the shavings out the left side via a lovely funnel shaped port. The nicker has a slight taper to it and is friction fit into the side. It’s also fully boxed. I never intended to use it, I bought it because it was just so "purty."

    Right now it holds down the stack of woodworking magazines in my office. And now you’ve gone and made me want to use that puppy. Thanks, that’s all I need, another plane to tune and put to work and enjoy. Thanks Chris, thanks a lot. [insert mumble here]

    always,
    J.C.

  7. CatX

    I’m constantly amazed by how your posts seem to mirror whatever it is I’ve just been wanting to learn about — it’s eerie… but very much appreciated!

    PS – rabbets with a router plane are, indeed, possible but annoying.

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