Whenever I get into some serious handwork, I always try to boil down the processes so that I can 1) remember it myself and 2) occasionally explain it to others (including a couple children who are slack-jawed with boredom).
Today as I was cleaning up the half-lap joints for the Stickley 603 tabouret on my workbench, I was reminded of one of the guiding principles: Don’t work the end grain unless you have to. End grain is unruly. It is usually confined to small surfaces that are hard to work accurately. And working it poorly will rip out chunks of precious face grain as well.
This is why I don’t own any side-rabbet planes. In all my years of working wood, I have honestly never encountered a situation where I had to have those tools and no other tool would do. (Boy they look cool, though.) If a dado is too skimpy, I’ll thin the mating shelf’s face grain instead. The face grain is so much easier to plane, my tools don’t have to be as sharp, my work is less at risk and it is another chance to remove tear-out in the shelf.
So when I was fitting the first half-lap shown in the photo above, I cut my shoulders just a hair tight. So I took two swipes of the edge of the mating piece. Perfect fit.
One side item: In the magazine world, we’re supposed to ignore our competitors. It’s a time-honored tradition. We’re supposed to pretend they don’t exist so that readers don’t flee our product in droves. So with that in mind, I’m actively ignoring an interesting new workbench plan in the newest issue of Woodsmith magazine (No. 173). I suggest you also ignore their quite excellent and robust plans for a wagon vise (what they call a tail vise in the book) in that issue.
, Christopher Schwarz