Shooting Board: A Review and Primer
Shooting boards are one of those hand-tool jigs that people talk about (a lot) but few people actually know much about. Whenever I teach, students always clamor for a demonstration of the device, even when I’m teaching something that doesn’t directly relate (sawing tenons, sharpening, steaming salmon).
Recently, Bill Kohr at Craftsman Studios in San Diego loaned me a ramped shooting board that he sells in his catalog and store to try. So here’s a short review of the shooting board and a brief tutorial on using it to trim end grain.
First things first: Why do you need one? Shooting boards are one of the most powerful trimming tools in my shop. They are the only tool, machine or jig that I have that reduces the length of a board in .001″ increments. They adjust the ends of boards so they are square, even if you have only 1/32″ or less to remove. Trimming cuts like this can be tricky on power equipment because the spinning saw blade can deflect in the cut, giving you an inconsistent cut through the thickness.
The shooting board (some call it a “chute board”) holds your work in position and 90Ã?Â° to a track that a handplane rides in. Push the plane in the track and it will trim the end of the board until it is square. (Note: There also are shooting boards designed for long grain, but I generally plane these freehand or use the tail vise and dogs to do the job , but that’s an entry for another day.)
The shooting board shown here is made by Micheal Connor in Australia from New Guinea Rosewood, a dense and stable material. This shooting board is unusual in that the area that holds the work is ramped about 4Ã?Â° along its length. This ramping does two things: It spreads out the wear on your plane’s iron a little. For example, a 3/4″ x 6″-wide piece of stock will wear an area of your iron that’s 1-3/32″ instead of a 3/4″-wide area of your iron. Plus, the ramp makes the plane a bit easier to push through the end grain because the ramp creates a shearing cut.
Having the ramp is nice, but I wouldn’t call it a do-or-die feature. My shop-made shooting board is flat and made from plywood. It’s fine. I just have to push a little harder and sharpen more often.
The downside to the ramp is that you have to do some extra rigging to support long workpieces that stick out off the shooting board. I have an adjustable planing stop on one of our benches that can be angled to support the work at 4Ã?Â°. Another option is to make a block of wood that has a 4Ã?Â° ramp , easy work on a band saw.
The Connor shooting board is well made and dead-nuts accurate. The fence, which is the most critical component of the jig, is secured in a dado in the ramp, so it’s not ever going to move. My only real quibble with the jig is that the finish on the fence and ramp allow your work to slide around more than I like. I’d put a layer of stick-on sandpaper on the fence, which is what I have on my shopmade shooting board.
Shooting Board Use
There are many ways to go about using a shooting board. David Charlesworth has an excellent DVD on the topic that explores his simple shooting board and the techniques to use it. I’ve used his shooting board and his techniques with excellent results. But perhaps because of my American-ness, I do it differently. Charlesworth takes a pass with the plane, then pushes the work up against the sole of the tool and makes another pass. He repeats this until he makes a full-width cut and is at his destination length. I usually use his technique when reducing boards in length, but do it a bit differently when correcting the angle on the end of a board.
So I start with my out with a board I’ve trimmed on our out-of-whack (surprise!) miter saw. It’s out by a couple degrees. I put plane in the track (I always use a heavy plane with an iron that is sharpened straight across). Then I put the jointed edge of the board against the shooting board’s fence and show the wonky end to the plane’s sole. That shows me which corner is high and which corner is low.
Now relieve the corner of the work that will go against the fence. Cut a tiny bevel with a chisel to reduce blow-out on the end. If I am working to a knife line I’ll chisel the corner to that line.
I take the plane off the track and position the board so the low corner is flush to the track and the high corner stick out over the track. Then I push the work against the fence (push hard!) and then place the plane in the track and begin planing. Focus on pushing the plane down and forward. Use just enough force against your workpiece to keep the tool in the cut. If you push too much to the side you’ll push the work out of position instead of cutting it.
When the plane stops cutting, the edge is square. Check your work to confirm.
The Connor shooting board is available in both left- and right-hand versions and is $95. For woodworkers who don’t want to build one or question their ability to do so, I think it’s an excellent way to get a jump-start on shooting.