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Thread: Shoulder plane? Plow (plough) or combination plane? Jointer plane?

  1. #1
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    Shoulder plane? Plow (plough) or combination plane? Jointer plane?

    Hello everyone,

    First of all, thanks for the vast quantities of advice I've encountered here the past two years; I have not yet posted before now (and only joined recently) because my woodworking skills are still in their infancy and there has been so much to learn without a need to post and ask questions; I’ve been able to find the answers to most of my questions through various searches here and elsewhere. Please excuse my rudeness if my question below is enough of a repeat that I should have been able to find the answer through a search.

    Second, thanks in advance for putting up with my long post and thanks in advance for any advice.

    I’ve decided to finally post to ask for some advice, specifically regarding which tool (if, really, any) I should campaign for purchasing next. Given previous success with a couple of more modest furniture-sized projects, I've received the go-ahead to build something more ambitious. I am therefore starting to design a “playhouse bed” for my three-year-old son (which I may need to duplicate for his little brother, due at the end of July). While I go through the process of designing it I am doing my best to think through the process of building it. As I do so, I realize that my available tools are adequate for what I have in mind, but there are a number of tools I don’t yet have which would make a number of the operations faster or provide better results with less effort. Both of these considerations are important to me, but time probably more so: as with so many other people my time available for woodworking is quite limited (I have a part-time job, I'm a full-time grad student, plus a father, a husband, a homeowner, and so on). Thus, I very much value my time in the shop and I would like to be efficient while still being able to take my time and enjoy the process, if that makes any sense at all.

    Please forgive my wordy description of the project; I don’t have pictures yet (still working on the design), so hopefully a verbal description of what I have in mind will be adequate to help assess what tool would provide the largest time savings and/or best results.

    The playhouse bed consists of two main parts: the first is a bed frame with its carcass built using mortise and tenon joinery, holding two large drawers. This will be a separate component from the “house” so that it can be used on its own once he outgrows the desire for a house component (which could then be passed on to his little brother, assuming I don't need to duplicate it before then). In addition to having a number of mortises and tenons, the sides and back are intended to be panels riding in grooves in the legs, rails, and stiles. Hopefully, I haven’t butchered the terminology too much.

    The second part is the “house” that will go over the bed frame. I intend this to be something I can disassemble so that I can move it out of the room later without having to destroy it first. It will essentially be four sides plus a roof. It will be on stilts of an appropriate height such that the mattress forms the “floor” of the house; as it will be in the corner of the room, there will be one window on each of the sides facing away from the walls of his bedroom. Each of the walls of the house will have its own panel in grooves on the rails and stiles, attaching to the “legs” at the corners of the house with pinned tenons (very slight drawbore, so that they will be removable). The rails and stiles on the walls, together with the legs, would form the carcass of the house. The front wall at the side of the house is going to be a pair of doors that open up fully to provide easy access for changing bed linens. It seems less important to go into details on the roof, but I certainly can do so if people have questions.

    So, finally, to my question: should I try to convince my wife that I should get a shoulder plane for precise fitting of 70 or so tenons and shoulders, a plow (plough) plane or combination plane for handling the tongue and groove joinery, a jointer plane for ease of making sure everything is flat and square to start, something else, or no new tools at all? All of these tools have been on my LV/LN wish lists for about two years now, and she's well aware that I want them "eventually." Particularly with a second child on the way, however, I don't see myself being able to convince her that all three at once would be a good idea, no matter how much I'd like to.

    To help evaluate my situation and how much any given tool may help, here’s how I would do all this with my existing tools.

    My plan for making tenons with my existing tool set is to use my saw to cut the cheeks, router plane to make sure the tenon is parallel to the reference face, a #4 plane and chisels to fit the tenons precisely, and chisels to take care of the shoulders. For the mortises, my chisels. For the grooves, a cutting gauge followed with a knife and perhaps chisel to define the groove at the surface, a saw to cut approximately to depth, and my router plane with ¼ inch blade and fence to clear the waste down the center. For the flattening/truing/squaring, my #5 plane with winding sticks and a combination square.

    Once again, thank you for putting up with my verbosity and thank you in advance for the advice.

    Best regards,
    Michael Bulatowicz

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2019
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    I don't know about anyone else, but I never used my shoulder plane. To me a chisel is easier. to clean up tenons. I sold my shoulder plane and haven't regretted it.
    I have a small plow plane and love it (I have used it for T&G and it works well, took a bit to figure the set up), but for that build a jointer would be nice as well. Can you buy a jointer used and clean it up? Save a bit of money?

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Bulatowicz View Post
    So, finally, to my question: should I try to convince my wife that I should get a shoulder plane for precise fitting of 70 or so tenons and shoulders, a plow (plough) plane or combination plane for handling the tongue and groove joinery, a jointer plane for ease of making sure everything is flat and square to start, something else, or no new tools at all? All of these tools have been on my LV/LN wish lists for about two years now, and she's well aware that I want them "eventually." Particularly with a second child on the way, however, I don't see myself being able to convince her that all three at once would be a good idea, no matter how much I'd like to.

    To help evaluate my situation and how much any given tool may help, here’s how I would do all this with my existing tools.

    My plan for making tenons with my existing tool set is to use my saw to cut the cheeks, router plane to make sure the tenon is parallel to the reference face, a #4 plane and chisels to fit the tenons precisely, and chisels to take care of the shoulders. For the mortises, my chisels. For the grooves, a cutting gauge followed with a knife and perhaps chisel to define the groove at the surface, a saw to cut approximately to depth, and my router plane with ¼ inch blade and fence to clear the waste down the center. For the flattening/truing/squaring, my #5 plane with winding sticks and a combination square.

    Once again, thank you for putting up with my verbosity and thank you in advance for the advice.

    Best regards,
    Michael Bulatowicz
    You didn't say, but I'll assume you either don't have any machines or you want to do them by hand. That's a LOT of tenons!!

    Given you have a router plane, all the tenon work can be do with it, but it will be more laborious. Having a shoulder plane will speed things up appreciably. That said, I recommend a large one as your first one. I like the LV shoulder planes much more than LN for a couple reasons: ergonomics are better for me and the side iron adjustment screws are a nice feature.

    There really isn't another realistically better way to grooves by hand without a plow plane. That said, again, the router plane can be used, but it won't be a fun task.

    So my answer is yes, a shoulder and plow plane will certainly make the job easier and better.

    Hope this helps.
    Hope this helps.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Kamery View Post
    I don't know about anyone else, but I never used my shoulder plane. To me a chisel is easier. to clean up tenons. I sold my shoulder plane and haven't regretted it.
    I have a small plow plane and love it (I have used it for T&G and it works well, took a bit to figure the set up), but for that build a jointer would be nice as well. Can you buy a jointer used and clean it up? Save a bit of money?
    Thanks for the feedback, Jason. Regarding new versus vintage jointer, an issue for me is that I'm more strapped for time than cash and I can to some extent exchange one for the other via my part time job (there's some flexibility in number of hours I work), so it becomes a question of how much time it would take versus how much money I could make in that same amount of time. I am willing to restore, flatten, and tune up heirloom tools. However, I am not so willing to spend that kind of time with something I'd buy. Based on how long it took to clean up, flatten, and tune up the #4 and #5 that originally belonged to my grandfather's grandfather I'd be better off working extra hours for my part time job and using the extra cash to make up the difference between the vintage and new jointer. Thank you for trying to find some way to accommodate an extra tool, though; I appreciate it. Now, if you can find sufficient justification . . .

  5. #5
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    Hi Michael and welcome to the Creek. Your location is not listed in your profile. You may live near another member who would be willing to let you test drive each of the tools you mention. If you are in the Portland, OR area, my shop is open to visitation most of the time.

    Everyone will have a different perspective on how your question should be answered.

    If you do plan on using tongue and groove joinery and slots to hold pieces in a frame, a plow plane may be the plane to help you the most.

    My shoulder plane is seldom used on tenons, a chisel is faster and more accurate for me.

    My long planes, #7 & #8 are used often, but in most cases with some care a more commonly found #5 could do the job. Of course if you can afford purchasing new, a jointer is a nice piece of equipment to have in the shop.

    My Articulating Gate Project used 24 mortise and tenon joints. My recollection is the shoulder plane didn't come out of its drawer during that project. The #9 post shows the first chisel trimming a tenon. Also the plane used for 'jointing' the long pieces was likely a #6. The #6 is a great plane for many jointing situations.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Engel View Post
    You didn't say, but I'll assume you either don't have any machines or you want to do them by hand. That's a LOT of tenons!!

    Given you have a router plane, all the tenon work can be do with it, but it will be more laborious. Having a shoulder plane will speed things up appreciably. That said, I recommend a large one as your first one. I like the LV shoulder planes much more than LN for a couple reasons: ergonomics are better for me and the side iron adjustment screws are a nice feature.

    There really isn't another realistically better way to grooves by hand without a plow plane. That said, again, the router plane can be used, but it won't be a fun task.

    So my answer is yes, a shoulder and plow plane will certainly make the job easier and better.
    Hi Robert,

    Thanks for the advice. While I do have some machines, I prefer to use hand tools when I can for a few reasons:
    1. Most of my woodworking time is after my son goes to sleep; he sleeps little enough that I don't want to risk waking him. With another on the way, I expect that this need will continue for at least the next 5 or so years.
    2. In the evenings, I myself prefer peace and quiet so that I can unwind.
    3. Hand tools require more skill and are simply more fun (no offense to power tool users) even if they are slower.

    You're absolutely right, however: that is a lot of tenons. Thankfully, I should be able to make things a bit more efficient by lining up "identically" sized tenons and cutting them simultaneously as much as I can, such as with initial trimming using the router. Honestly, I am also looking forward to the improvement I hope to gain in my sawing (and, with ~70 tenons, saw-sharpening) skills.

    Thanks also for the suggestion on shoulder planes, including the size; I've read the same thing in a number of different places. The LN one sure is pretty, though; I had a chance to see one when I stopped in at Highland Woodworking in Atlanta last month during a business trip. However, I'm leaning toward the LV for the reasons you've stated.

    Regarding the grooves, I am leaning toward the LV combination plane; I have read previously here that Derek Cohen recommends that if one doesn't already have a plough (and has narrowed the choice to the LV Small vs. Combination) he suggests that one should aim for the combination plane because of the greater capabilities (particularly for cross-grain work). He makes good points, cost difference aside.

    Thanks again for your help.

  7. #7
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    Hi Jim,

    Thanks for the welcome, the advice, and the perspective. I've updated my profile with my location (Madison, Wisconsin).

    I'll check out your articulating gate project link; I expect I'll find a good deal of helpful information there.

    Michael

  8. #8
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    a chisel is faster and more accurate for me
    Jim, curious, what's your go to chisel size for jobs like this? 1 1/4"? 1 1/2"? I feel so much more confident with a chisel in my hand versus my large shoulder plane, but my 1 1/2" is feeling a bit large.

    OP: Not to hijack. Great thread. I love my plough plane, however, I've watched some joyfully cut them with a joinery saw. Not much difference in speed, IMO. I've never sawed them, however, so I don't know much beyond watching others do it.

    Your mortise and tenons are where you have the most opportunity to gain time. Exactly how is really personal ability and how you are wired. IMHO, the most efficient are those skilled with the chisel. If you have patience, a good eyeball, and tactile feel, have a sense of geometry, have an inmate sense of planer surfaces, and simply love the feel of wood, either a shoulder plane or chisel will be helpful, but you might be a person who can go chisel. I'm of the school of thought of K.I.S.S. Fewer tools will enable greater skill building. With greater skill comes efficiency and speed.

    If you are good at truing a planer surface with a jack, you strike me as someone who'd have the above qualities.

  9. #9
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    LN and LV tools are beautiful and work well. But old tools are functional and so much cheaper you could likely get all of those you list for significantly less than buying one of the new tools. And you can sell them for the same when you decide to upgrade to the shiny ones.

    You live in a good place for buying old tools. Check out the MWTCA, which has meets May 18 in Hastings, MN, this year's national meet in Peoria, Ill June 12-15, but the next WI meet not until Oct 20.

  10. #10
    I was in your position around 1977, Michael, with these three planes all on my list. I bought a Stanley 45 combination plane and a jointer in the next few years. The shoulder plane eventually dropped off the list; no use for it. The traditional way to saw tenons is to cut to the line. The router plane is not a good choice for making tenons either.

    The tool you need the most for this work is a plough. It is much easier to use a jack plane (or even a smoothing plane) for jointing than to use some contrived method for making grooves. You can make a home made wooden plough fairly easily, or buy a plough or buy a combination plane. A combination plane with two skates works very well for ploughing and will also make dadoes etc.

  11. #11
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    I've updated my profile with my location (Madison, Wisconsin).
    Interesting, during my printing trade years a stint selling paper brought me to your area to tour a few paper and pulp mills.

    Jim, curious, what's your go to chisel size for jobs like this? 1 1/4"? 1 1/2"? I feel so much more confident with a chisel in my hand versus my large shoulder plane, but my 1 1/2" is feeling a bit large.
    My go to chisels are a Buck Brothers 1" with ~17º bevel and a Stanley 400 (?) style 1-1/4" chisel with no recollection of its bevel angle. The Stanley is a short chisel. It is kept with my 'butt' chisels. A chisel as wide as the tenon is long has advantages up to a point.

    It seems much easier to control material removal using a wide chisel via skewing and tilting than trying to control a shoulder plane for the task. A shoulder plane works well at removing an even amount of material across its path. This is also easy to do with a sharp chisel.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kurtis Johnson View Post
    OP: Not to hijack. Great thread. I love my plough plane, however, I've watched some joyfully cut them with a joinery saw. Not much difference in speed, IMO. I've never sawed them, however, so I don't know much beyond watching others do it.
    Hi Kurtis,

    Thanks for the feedback and advice.

    No worries about asking questions within the thread; it's useful for me to see the answers to your questions, too. I've done a few grooves and dados with the marking gauge, knife, saw, chisel, and router plane method and it has worked fine so far. However, these were all for fitting the ends of shelves or fitting the dividing panels in a silverware organizer; I didn't even rabbet (rebate?) the ends, just custom fit the grooves/dados appropriately. I haven't yet attempted to make a tongue, let alone fit a tongue and groove together; I'd imagine making a tongue wouldn't be terribly different from making a tenon, and fitting the two would be basically like a mortise and tenon. Based on what I've seen in videos, the process would certainly be faster with a more specialized tool. That said, . . .

    Quote Originally Posted by Kurtis Johnson View Post
    Your mortise and tenons are where you have the most opportunity to gain time. Exactly how is really personal ability and how you are wired. IMHO, the most efficient are those skilled with the chisel. If you have patience, a good eyeball, and tactile feel, have a sense of geometry, have an inmate sense of planer surfaces, and simply love the feel of wood, either a shoulder plane or chisel will be helpful, but you might be a person who can go chisel. I'm of the school of thought of K.I.S.S. Fewer tools will enable greater skill building. With greater skill comes efficiency and speed.

    If you are good at truing a planer surface with a jack, you strike me as someone who'd have the above qualities.
    I do have patience, and I am developing my eye for square, plumb, and level. You've got a good point regarding keeping one's tools simple; this point does seem to argue to some extent that I should go with the "no new tools at all" option--after all, I do have a plan in mind for how to build all the joinery with what I've got on hand. So, perhaps I should change my perspective to a question of whether I want to build speed now (buy a new tool that will help me go faster) or build speed for future projects by way of building my skills and learning better how to use the tools already present in my workshop. That's clearly a question only I can answer, though I would appreciate perspective from others who have perhaps taken this path before me.

    I do indeed love the feel of working wood at the end of a sharp edge, seeing the wood's beauty emerge from my skill and efforts. This is no small part of the fun (and, frankly, peace) I find in hand tools as opposed to machines. I do also have machines and like them, but for a project like this that will likely be handed down to my grandchildren I've chosen the hand tool route. It's more personal, more meaningful, to build something for my family without the use of machines.

    While I wouldn't say I'm truly good at truing a surface with my jack (I've seen videos of people much better at it than me), I get by. I've managed to (mostly) true my workbench top with it. I've also been practicing on (what used to be) a 2x12 board that I purchased for part of my workbench a year and a half ago, before I learned how badly I screwed up in choosing that particular piece of lumber and relegated it to scrap/practice. "Lots of knots and interlocking grain? No problem; the board looks straight in the store, it's kinda pretty, and it's for a workbench, right?" Good thing I let it sit in the shop for a month or two before trying to use it. That thing continues to twist, bow, and cup to this day, based on temperature, humidity, and, it seems sometimes, pure orneriness. Every once in a while I'll pull it out of my lumber stack and practice with my #5; it's always out of true when I start, no matter how it looked when I put it back the last time. At this rate, it'll be 12-inch wide knotty pine veneer in another year or two, and probably still out of true. I have managed to get it reasonably true more than once, and I've (temporarily) screwed it up on more than one occasion (but I keep learning and improving). One thing it's certainly taught me is how to recognize what the problem areas look like in a piece of lumber (well, okay, pine at least). So, all this to say, do I *need* a jointer plane? No. Would it make truing everything up a faster and more accurate process? I believe so, but I've never tried it myself, and so I appreciate the advice and perspective.

    Thank you again for yours.

  13. #13
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    Hi Alan,

    Thanks for the tip and the information. My only experience so far with rehabbing old tools was with my #4 and #5, both of which work quite well now but it took a number of hours to flatten the soles, remove the rust, flatten and true the frogs, re-grind the blades by roughly 1/8 inch each to get past some chipping (by hand on a coarse diamond stone, which I wouldn't recommend but I don't have a rotary grinder), flatten and polish the backs of the irons near the cutting edge, and so on. With how long it took, I could have spent those hours instead at my part-time job and purchased a new #4 and #5 from LN. That said, those things had been pretty well abused and so probably took more time than the average old plane; my grandfather didn't know how to make them work properly (he had no one to show him because his father had no interest in using them and his grandfather passed away before he was old enough to learn) and so he let my mother and her sisters play with them as children. My mom and her sisters "might have run them over some nails a time or two" I am told. Might . That said, both planes survived my mom's childhood and today they're once more working well. Judging by the roughness/out of flatness on the frogs (which appeared to be in approximately factory condition apart from the rust), these two planes may be working better than ever. So, I don't have any problem with old tools per se; they can certainly produce wonderful results as long as one is willing to put the appropriate amount of time into getting them tuned up properly. The tuning up process is also a great teacher on how to use and tune those exact tools; this, too, has value.

    What's your perspective on how much time one might have to spend rehabbing old tools that one might find at a MWTCA meet, and can you give me a ballpark estimate of what cost I could expect? As mentioned in one of my replies I have the ability to exchange time for money at my part time job and (no offense to the MWTCA) it's likely that I'll go new if the "time equals money" cost is similar including travel time to the meet(s).

  14. #14
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    Hi Michael, I would go with a combo plane. Years back I was in a similar situation as you are. I bought a well used 45. Missing blades and not perfect. It changed the way I worked. I later bought what I would call a NOS 45. It is used on almost every project. I have had a chance to experiment with the new LV combo. It's a beauty. I keep resisting buying it because I have a good 45 and age is catching up to me. It's fairly big money fully decked out. It is a lifetime tool. I have a shoulder plane and it is useful at times. I'm a saw and chisel person for mortise and tenon work. The shoulder plane comes out for shoulders on wide tenons, more than 2", on occasion. If you have the money available go for the LV combo. If not look for a complete and in good condition 45. You will find either very useful.
    Jim

  15. #15
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    Hi Warren,

    Thanks for your advice as well. I wouldn't say that I'm cutting tenons with the router so much as correcting for my still-developing sawing skills. My goal is to eventually get the tenons to fit off the saw (and I try to get closer to that goal with every tenon I cut), but for now I saw just shy of my gauge line and use the router to trim close to the line on both sides to make sure that both sides of the tenon are parallel to the faces of the board; I then adjust the tenon by chisel (coarse, or at least relatively so) and #4 smoothing plane for fine adjustment except right near the shoulder line where the lip interferes. Once I can consistently saw right up against my gauge line through the full thickness of the tenon I would like to "take the training wheels off" and cut out the router, but for now (at least with my methodology) it's essential to making sure my tenons fit square into the mortise holes.

    Yours is certainly another voice saying that the plough would be the way to go, being the tool I'd need most for this work. You're also another advocating for knocking the shoulder plane out of the running entirely; perhaps a shoulder plane would be superfluous given sufficient saw and chisel skills. That said, I don't have a good feel for how much if at all a shoulder plane would speed up the process of building the tenons, and as Robert pointed out I have quite a number of tenons on this project. When you say you had no use for a shoulder plane, did you mean that you tried one and it wasn't helpful, or did you simply get good enough with the saw and chisel by the time you might have purchased one that you no longer saw a reason for it?

    Thanks for your suggestion about making a home made wooden plough; I think I can see how one might do that using a chisel as the plough iron. Making a matching homemade wooden tongue plane (terminology?) seems more challenging, but perhaps I'm missing something. Use the plough and a fence to cut the tongue from both sides? Use the saw to cut the tongue and refine it with other tools? The attempt at making a homemade plough would certainly be a good skill builder, but perhaps I should first purchase a good plough/combination plane and by using it learn the quirks and things to watch out for before trying to build one myself to use on a near-term project.

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