Veritas has just released its much-awaited Side Rabbet Plane (at a special introductory price) and Veritas was generous enough to permit me to test-drive it here in our workshop.
Though I still am getting comfortable with the tool, below are my initial impressions after trimming out about a dozen grooves and rabbets this week.
About Side Rabbet Planes
Side-rabbet planes are specialty tools that belong in the family of joinery planes. They are used to clean up and widen the difficult-to-trim walls of rabbets, grooves and dados. To be honest, some craftsmen don’t use these planes at all. Instead of trimming a dado wider, they will trim the mating panel instead. Both perspectives work.
There are two kinds of metal-bodied side-rabbet planes (and there are wooden ones as well). The Stanley Nos. 98 and 99 have a right-hand version and a left-hand version so you can work with the grain in grooves in rabbets. The other format is to combine both cutters into one tool. Stanley did that in its No. 79 (with mixed results in my book). And the English Preston version (and later Record version) got it right.
Lie-Nielsen makes versions similar to the Stanley, but in bronze. I’ve used them and they work quite well.
The Veritas Side Rabbet Plane is similar to the Preston plane: One cutter is on top. One is below. A handle is in the middle. Veritas, as always, has made improvements to the design that are beyond the “socks on a squirrel” variety.
The sleek handle , which reminds me of a beetle’s back , pivots up and down depending on which cutter you are using. The handle is spring-loaded and doesn’t slip during use , which is saying something because you have to apply significant hand pressure to these tools in use.
The handle is comfortable. It burrows into your palm without poking you.
The other major advancement for the user is the irons. Veritas has lapped the flat faces of these O1 (high-carbon) steel irons so sharpening them up takes only minutes. And when it comes to skew-cutting planes this is critical. A small sharpening error with a skew plane and the tool won’t function correctly.
The other thing to note about the tool is its depth stop, which locks quickly and squarely (thanks to some clever machining) in either direction. You also can remove the toe piece of the tool with a screwdriver so you can work into the corners of stopped rabbets, grooves and dados.
In putting the tool to use, I was impressed (as always) with the irons and how easy they took an edge. Sharpening them without a jig is fairly simple work because the bevels are quite large and register firmly on a sharpening stone.
The only modification I’d recommend to the irons is to relieve the acute corner of each iron as it will dig in a little deeply in use (and will get worn away anyway). Veritas recommends this in the manual, and it is a two-minute job with a file. Be careful not to go too far , the point needs to extend beyond the sole a tad.
The real skill to learn with this plane is starting the tool. All the varieties of this tool have a small nose that you have to register against the sidewall of the joint you are going to trim. So it takes a steady hand to start a clean cut. Once you begin, the tool is easy to manage in the cut. The Veritas works in cuts up to 1/2″ deep.
Trimming the long grain of grooves and rabbets is easier than trimming the end grain in dados, so start with the easy stuff first. This style of tool isn’t hard to use, but I wouldn’t practice on a live project piece.
The Veritas Side Rabbet plane costs $139, but it will be offered at a special introductory price of $119. You can order one through this link.