Chris Schwarz's Blog

I Need Something Like a Ruler

Several years back I was fitting some 1/4″-thick mullions and muntins into a door and needed to plane the little suckers to remove their sawmarks.

Planing thin stock can be a real pain. I’ve seen how other craftsmen do it. Lonnie Bird drives escutcheon pins into his benchtop (or a planing board) and works against those. It’s a neat trick. David Charlesworth attaches the stock to a planing board temporarily with cyanoacrylate. This is fantastic for long stock especially.

Here’s how I came up with my method. I like to use planing stops because they are fast. And as I was considering how to plane these little nubbins of wood I was staring off into space outside my shop window and the tool rack hanging before it.

I remember thinking to myself: “For this planing stop, I need a really thin and rigid piece of material. Something with really square edges so they’ll grab the work. I need something like a steel ruler.”

So I searched over the junk pile in the window well behind my bench. (Note: This is my secret shame area. Though I don’t have a tool well in my bench I have a junky window well instead.)

None of the little bits of wood in the window well fit the bill. They were too thick or their edges weren’t crisp. Then it occurred to me: Hey moron, why not use a steel ruler?

And so I did, and I continue to use my slender 12″ Shinwa to this day. It works great. I clamp it to the bench and go to town. And now to go get some ginseng.

– Christopher Schwarz

9 thoughts on “I Need Something Like a Ruler

  1. Hardy

    Hi Chris,

    I have seen many methods for planing thin stock, some bizarre and some far too complicated. The following method allows me to plane wood to effectively translucent thickness with little trouble. It seems almost too simple.
    I use double-sticky tape (carpet tape) at the leading end of the workpiece or even full length for heavier pieces. Using a sharp, finely set smoother, I can plane the wood as much as I need. Very thin strips are often needed in ship models etc.and this does the job. The wood is pulled by the plane rather than pushed against a stop so bowing is not a problem and I can use a cambered iron to maintain squareness without moving the wood sideways or tipping it laterally relative to a stop. After planing, the wood can be carefully peeled up with a palette knife or the fixed end can just be sacrificed.
    This works on more substantial workpieces as well.
    I don’t like planing against a stop anyway as I have less ability to finesse the plane and prefer the wood to be held by the sides at the end. I use a vise that allows this.
    Try it, it works a treat and is no fuss at all.
    Hardy

  2. Wilfred

    I like the ruler idea for really thin work and will use it. For work between 3/4" and just less than 1/4", I have two 3/16" holes drilled into my bench top about 3" apart. When I need to plane thin stock, I drop a plastic shelf support in each one. If they are too high for your work use a Dremel tool to lower them.

  3. Tony Francis

    The brass screw or escutcheon pins are fine, as long as you dont mind mangled work… the pin or screw head can drive themselves deeply into the work on soft woods especially.

  4. Derek Cohen

    Hi Christopher

    Thanks for that. Nice tip.

    Harry Strasil posted one (on Traditional Tools)that compliments it. He suggested driving a brass screw into the bench top, creating a stop with an adjustable height.

    Regards from Perth

    Derek Cohen

  5. Michael Dinsmore

    Good idea! I have an old framing ruler that I need to throw away because it got severely banged up. Now I’m thinking of recycling by cutting a good section from it to use!

  6. Tony Francis

    Oh come on Chris! – 1/4" is thick! Using this great trick you can easy go right down to 3/32" or less, further proof that your French bench is the PERFECT lutherie bench.

    Forever grateful for your book and blogs.

    Tony Francis

  7. J.C.

    It’s what I love best about woodworking, you can just about "cowboy" any situation and wrangle an innovative result from it. We are a jig-erific bunch and sometimes come up with solutions that would bring tears of joy to the eyes of Rube Goldberg. Then there are times like this, Voila!

    always,
    J.C.

  8. Karl

    Marvelous solution.

    One of the things I like best about woodworking is all the little chances to come up with a clever solution. And I love learning about the clever solutions others come up with.

    Thanks for sharing.

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