A dedicated shooting plane is a luxury item, much like a European table saw with a beautiful sliding table or a full keg of beer by your bedside.
For many years, I’ve used my jointer plane to shoot edges and ends, and I’ve never wanted a fancy tool for the task. But after some arm-twisting by readers, I broke down and purchased a Lie-Nielsen No. 51 shoot board plane to give it a try.
It’s a massive beast: 9 lbs. 4 oz. of iron, steel and bronze. It has some clever engineering: The plane offers a skewed cut, but it does this with a straight iron, so it’s easier to grind and hone. And it is well made: The base of the plane is exactly 2-1/8” wide so it runs smoothly in a track in your shooting board.
All these factors add up to the nicest shooting experience I’ve ever had.
In essence, the No. 51 removes some of the skill required to shoot a board, particularly the difficult end grain. Learning to shoot is all about learning when and where to put pressure on the work and on the tool. You are pressing down, in and forward with both the tool and the work.
I wouldn’t say that shooting is the hardest thing to learn (see also: finishing). But some people do struggle with it.
The weight of the No. 51 keeps it planted down. The track on the shooting board keeps it in the cut. And the skew cutter makes it easier to push. All in all, it’s more like using a well-tuned miter box.
I prepared the following short video that shows the No. 51 in use and shows how I true my shooting boards using a shoulder plane.
— Christopher Schwarz
Other Shooting Resources
• Evenfall Woodworks makes a very nice adjustable shooting board, if you don’t want to build your own.
• I also got a chance to try the new Super Chute from Tico Vogt during a woodworking show. Very nice!
• If you want to learn more about specialty handplanes such as the No. 51, check out the book “Handplane Essentials,” available in our store with free domestic shipping.