Tool Focus – Shoulder Plane

It has been a crazy busy month for me.  For those of you who don’t know,  I am in the middle of a job transition.  Friday will be my last day with my current employer.  All these changes haven’t left me with much time for woodworking or writing.

This past week, I finally had a chance to get a little work done on the seventh leg for the pair of end tables I’m building.  I hope to finish the legs in the next week or so.

Well, with all that said, it’s time to move on to the tool focus for this post.  The focus for this post is the Shoulder Plane.

Shoulder Plane

Shoulder Plane

Mine is a Veritas Medium Shoulder Plane from Lee Valley.  These planes are extremely handy tools to have in the shop.  The original purpose of the shoulder plane was to trim the shoulders of the tenon portion of mortise and tenon joints so that they fit together perfectly.

Parts of a tenon

Parts of a tenon

Shoulder planes are a cousin of the rabbet plane.  Like the rabbet plane, the iron of a shoulder plane is a hair wider than the width of the plane’s sole.  This makes it possible for the plan to cut cleanly into the corner between the shoulder and cheek of a tenon (or any other square corner for that matter).

Iron slightly wider than the sole of the plane.

Iron slightly wider than the sole of the plane.

Not only does the iron sit slightly proud of the sides of the plane, the sides and sole of the plane are carefully machined to 90°, which helps to keep the shoulder and cheeks of a tenon completely square.

Because the shoulder of a tenon is an end grain surface, the plane iron is bedded at a low angle, which makes it slice more easily through the wood fibers.

Iron bedded at low angle.

Iron bedded at low angle.

Because of the type of escapement (the opening above the iron where shavings are removed) in a shoulder plane, the shavings tend to get jammed.  Because of this, shoulder planes are made for removing very fine shavings to fine tune a joint.  This is one of the major differences between a shoulder plane and a rabbet plane.  The rabbet plane’s escapement is designed to eject shavings, which allows it to remove much more material with each pass.

To use a shoulder plane, to fine tune a tenon, start by testing the tenon in the joint and find out where material needs to be removed.  Then, holding the side of the shoulder plane against the tenon cheek, cut about half-way into the should.  One should avoid letting the plane cut from the inside of the shoulder to the outside edge because this will usually result in the wood tearing away at the edge.  Finally, continue removing material until the joint fits as desired.

Next time, I will focus on the bench planes I use to surface and dimension lumber.  Please stay tuned…

3 thoughts on “Tool Focus – Shoulder Plane

  1. woodworker2

    I got the same shoulder plane as an X-mas gift and has made tuning tenons easier.
    How do you like the bench hold-downs in your pic, and did you get them from L.V. as well?

    1. Phil Day Post author

      It’s amazing how much of a difference a good shoulder plane can make. As for the holdfasts, they are from Gramercy Tools. You can fine them on the Tools For Working Wood website. Here is a direct link:

      I like them a lot. I don’t have a vise on my bench, just holdfast holes and a hook that acts as a planing stop. One thing to think about if you decide to use them is that the lumber for your bench needs to be good and dry before you bore the holdfast holes. I got impatient when I built my bench and the lumber wasn’t completely dry. The holdfast holes have distorted a little and sometimes the holdfasts don’t grip as well as they should.


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