Metal Planing Stops Not Obsolete
Because my workbench doesn’t have an end vise, I’ve become creative when it comes to planing my stock with only a simple planing stop, a holdfast and dogs.
Mine is a primitive arrangement compared to a beautiful European tail vise with its array of dog holes, but it works. And I rarely ever think: “If only I had a tail vise.” Of course, there are some tricks to using a metal planing stop successfully. Some of these are so basic that they are rarely discussed in old texts.
1. Sharpen those teeth. I keep the teeth of my planing stop filed sharp, like the teeth of a saw. This allows the stop to really bite into the work, holding it down to the bench and preventing it from rotating when you aren’t planing directly in line with the stop.
If you don’t believe that traditional craftsmen filed their teeth, check out this photo from Mark Firley of the blog The Furniture Record. This French stop has clearly been filed back over the years, as you can see by the recess that is cut into the bench to accommodate it. I also think it’s interesting how this stop is constructed. It looks like an L-shaped piece of iron or steel. One leg is attached to the wooden planing stop; the other leg is filed with teeth.
If you don’t have access to a blacksmith, this construction suggests how you could easily make a metal planing stop with an L-bracket and a triangular file.
Other shop-made planing stops I’ve seen have nails driven through the wooden stop with the points of the nails filed sharp.
Many people have said the sharp teeth are a hazard. I haven’t cut myself on one yet, but I give the toothy critter a wide berth and treat it like I have a sharp chisel sitting on the bench.
2. Mallet it from behind. When I plane stock that is wider than 6” or so, I find it helps to drive the work onto the planing stop with a mallet whack from the far end of the board.
Yes, this leaves marks in the end grain of your board, so you either have to plan for how you will remove the marks in a later operation or accept the marks as tool marks. I am in the acceptance phase.
3. Use geometry. When I plane a wide piece of stock, I sometimes have to shift the work toward me or away from me to prevent the piece from spiraling off the bench stop. I can minimize the number of times I have to adjust the work by skewing the plane slightly. This takes some practice, but it works.
If I have a lot of panels to plane, I will set up a wide planing stop that uses a holdfast, a thin wooden batten and a holdfast.
Another option, which I haven’t tested, is a planing stop with “wings.” See the above photo. This photo was passed to me from reader Trevor Anderson. My guess is that the “wings” will help prevent a wide piece from rotating. But there is only one way to find out for sure….
I know that most readers who practice handwork have an end vise, but the next time you need to do some planing somewhere you don’t have your bench (thick picnic table), a toothed metal planing stop might be an option to consider.
— Christopher Schwarz
If you’ve had trouble fixing up your old planes to do high-tolerance woodwork, you might want to check out my DVD “Super-tune a Handplane,” which walks you through a practical restoration and tuning process.