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Thread: The great shoulder plane debate

  1. #1
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    The great shoulder plane debate

    For what i am about to say i might just get burnt at the stake for heresy but hey freedom of speech is my get out of jail card so here goes.

    Ever since i first saw the shoulder planes on offer by Lee Valley or Lie Nielsen or any other maker for that matter I have wondered how one holds one of these things and manages to use it comfortably.

    Seems to me we are so caught up in woodworking traddition that toolmakers everywhere are opposed to employing modern concepts of ergonomics in the design of tools in case they lead to a departure from traddition and thereby experience the rath of the woodworking community for daring to step outside of the box of what toolmakers like Clifton did donkeys years ago.

    When will we get with it? Just because it was "good enough" for them in the past, dont mean we cannot make forward progress. ( BTW i dont call value engineering progress) .

    At the Lie Nielsen hand tool event yesterday i got to chatting with Konrad of Sauer and Steiner. Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	66247Its a little intimidating at first getting to chat to a guy like this of such obvious skill that one initially avoids it. But Kudos to him because the ice was broken and the flood gates opened. Kondrad i discovered is actually Canadian and he lives in Ontario a ways to the west of me.

    He had a shoulder plane of his on show Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	66246and after taking a long way round i finally plucked up the courage to ask him how the heck to use these tools. When i picked up the Lie Nielsen versionsClick image for larger version. 

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ID:	66251 the bronze/brass handles feel like kettle handles Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	66253and later when i asked Jeremy the Lie rep there to show me how he holds this tool thats what he did when using it in the upright position, he held it like i would a kettle and put his thumb on the front to keep it down.

    But given things were not all that busy at the event it was opportunistic to discuss this whole matter and have fun beyond belief with Konrad discussing the merits of how to hold and operate this tool.

    The his version of the N0.7 Norris type shoulder pClick image for larger version. 

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ID:	66249lane on hand to play with (at least thats what i think it is). It had lower rear wooden wedge Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	66252which allowed one to get ones hands over the rear and bury the corner in your hands palm. A bit more comfortable grip since you can at least reach the sides to hold it stable and drive it forward. But even that did not make it "comfortable" for long use.

    We discussed this issue and I asked him why he thought this had not been attended to in the toolmaking industry. He felt there was a degree of traddition and reluctance to change holding us back. I offered the comment that i guess most of us woodworkers today are at an age where enough around us is changing and so dammed is the toolmaker that dares to be too innovative and employ ergonimics and come up with a departure from the old ways.

    When i mentioned that word Kondrad was quick to defend the toolmakers of old pointing out that they did have a knowledge of ergonomics if we examine things like hand plane totes etc and look to the chairs etc that have been design in the past. But i hastened to add that the woodworkers of old were also known to be a bunch that would suck it up and endure hardship something i dont think we have the ability to do anymore especially with our computer key softy hands.

    Jeremy felt there was little wrong with the shoulder plane when its used on its side to clean up say the face of a tennon. But i asked what about when one wants to clean up a dado.

    The real great thing about this debate was no one got defensive as if concerned that this would affect tool sales. It was just great conversation and for me a total escape from the outside world as we talked about tools.

    I will admit to being totally ignorant of shoulder planes, but as a prospective customer i am not going to buy one just to have one or buy a fancy name to boast one in my collection. I want to do as i have done with my new hand saw acquisition and use my own experience and assesment of these tools to come to the conclusion of which one i acquire and do so on the basis of merit i come to learn rather than the marketing hype.

    Whats your view on the shoulder planes available today?

    BTW in the course of this encounter i noticed that the Lie Nielson version has about 1/8 of movementClick image for larger version. 

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ID:	66248Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	66250 left to right in the blade at the top where the handle is. The Norris version of Konrads did not. There is also nothing to keep the blade in an adjusted mode if tilted to a side other than the force applied by the lever cap. This of course is no different to the normal tradition of having the blade adjusting lever allow for movement side to side of the blade on a conventional bench plane. But that was the making of another debate i will save for a later post.

    This is one time i am glad i live far away from all of you so i guess i am safe from experiencing what happens to an effigy of Guy Fawkes each year in the UK or at least in the culture i was brought up in.
    cheers

  2. #2
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    Being a coffee drinker, I am not sure what you mean by holding it like a tea kettle. This is how I hold it with my right hand. The curve the handle fits perfectly in the palm of my hand. I use my other hand to steady the toe. It seems very comfortable to me.I don't like set screws in my planes to hold blade positions. I like the ability to nudge a blade to one side or the other, especially with a shoulder plane. We have a gap in our knowledge on how to use old handtools because of the jump to machinery several generations ago. Because of that lost knowledge, we assume that our ancestors were just masochists that did not know how to shape tools. I think it is more we don't know what we are doing.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I need to add that my other hand is kind of reversed, so that it is facing the other. Wish I had a third hand to take the picture while the other two were holding the plane.
    Last edited by Bill Satko; 03-31-2012 at 07:44 PM.
    “When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.” - John Ruskin
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  3. #3
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    Bill i see how you do it and thats how i held it. But i dont see how one gets enough drive behind it without that narrow metal handle pushing up against the inside of your palm bones.

    Sure if you just cleaning up you dont need much force. But what if you making "track" with it. Maybe what i dont have correct is when and where one should be using the tool. Let me be clear i aint claiming to be knowledgeable here, i am merely giving my opinion on what i have experienced and in this tools case i just dont get that whole back end on any toolmakers design i have seen to date.


    Sent from my MB860 using Tapatalk
    cheers

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Keeble View Post
    ...i dont see how one gets enough drive behind it without that narrow metal handle pushing up against the inside of your palm bones. ...if you just cleaning up you dont need much force. But what if you making "track" with it. Maybe what i dont have correct is when and where one should be using the tool. Let me be clear i aint claiming to be knowledgeable here, i am merely giving my opinion on what i have experienced and in this tools case i just dont get that whole back end on any toolmakers design i have seen to date.
    It's a shoulder plane, not a rabbet cutting plane, or a tenoning plane. You only use it for light 'clean-up' cuts. Rabbets (rebates) are cut using different tools - like a rabbeting plane or a 'moving filister' plane. Tenons are cut using those saws you were so enamored with yesterday.

    The shoulder plane is then used to fine tune the tenons or rabbets.

    For dados, you cut them with saws and chisels, and clean them up/fit them with a Stanley 79, 98, or 99 (sides) and a 71 or 271 (bottoms) Shoulder planes are not used here.
    Jim D.
    Adapt, Improvise, Overcome!

  5. #5
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    As usual, Jim D made some good points. I have the Veritas medium shoulder plane, which was designed to be held comfortably, and does feel good in the hand. I hadn't thought much about it, but for the most part, what Jim said rings true. The shoulder plane is invaluable for cleaning up and fine tuning. For hogging off a good deal of wood, as in cutting a rabbet, then I'd use a rabbet plane, or burn electrons.
    If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.

  6. #6
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    Thank you for setting me straight Jim i do appreciate it, I am here to learn, however i still stand by my feeling that regardless of intended use its not conducive to being held comfortably. I also felt perhaps i should do some research of my own and it seems the famous Chris Schwarz has expressed somewhat similar comments about the Lie Nielsen shoulder plane in specific mentioning that there is no obvious way to hold this tool and shows three grip versions in this article

    He also brought to my attention a shoulder plane i have never seen or heard of before, that being the Bridge City Tools version of a shoulder plane the one he refers to is the H7 but when i checked their site it appears its discontinued. That fact dont say anything about the tool given the limited run approach Bridge City Tools employs in its sales technique. But i guess if the world had beaten a path to their door for those that they did produce then i would have thought they would still be producing them. So i guess the tradditionalists struck that one down. So much for embracing any kind of change and modernisation in the woodworking world.

    Chris also mentions the famous Frank Klausz saying you should not need one if you cut the shoulders of your tenons right first time, thats enough to make a whole bunch of guys feel guilty for owning one, but then Chris finds he has one himself so who knows.

    Certainly want to get to try out the Lee Valley units i have not had my hands on them ......yet.
    cheers

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Keeble View Post
    ...Certainly want to get to try out the Lee Valley units i have not had my hands on them ......yet.
    Rob,
    As Ken has already said, the LV Medium Shoulder Plane is a great design. It's probably the most comfortable shoulder plane you'll ever use, and it's also very functional. I have the LN, the LV, and a wood bodied 19th century one, and the LV is my "go to" plane almost every time.

    Since nobody else mentioned it... did you notice that the blade is slightly wider than the plane's body? It's supposed to be that way. Many folks mistakenly think they need to grind/stone the blade to the exact body width, but doing that pretty much ruins the functionality of the plane. The blade needs to stand about 0.002" (about 0.5mm) proud of the body to function properly.
    Jim D.
    Adapt, Improvise, Overcome!

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim DeLaney View Post
    Rob,

    Since nobody else mentioned it... did you notice that the blade is slightly wider than the plane's body? It's supposed to be that way. Many folks mistakenly think they need to grind/stone the blade to the exact body width, but doing that pretty much ruins the functionality of the plane. The blade needs to stand about 0.002" (about 0.5mm) proud of the body to function properly.
    I did notice that, and I was going to slip the blade over a fraction depending on what side I was cutting on. But now I won't.

  9. #9
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    I prefer these they seem to fit my hand better.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Antiques bench show 1.jpg   Antiques bench show 2.jpg   Antiques bench show 3.jpg   moving fillister Rabbet Plane.jpg  
    Last edited by Bart Leetch; 04-02-2012 at 04:38 AM.
    "Forget the flat stuff slap something on the spinny thing and lets go, we're burning daylight" Bart Leetch
    "If it ain't round you may be a knuckle dragger""Turners drag their nuckles too, they just do it at a higher RPM"Bart

  10. #10
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    Intersting thread! My recent addiction to hand tools has had me doing alot of research on what newer tools I will buy later on. I have had the pleasure of playing with some LN & Veritas planes recently. LN seems to stick with the traditional Bedrock design, and they make a some beautiful & functional planes. I used a bronze no#4 smoother a couple weeks ago and was very impressed with the overall quality. Just looking at a LN is a treat. I can see why people would spend the extra money on LN. I played with the Veritas low angle smoother and the bevel up jointer. As impressed as I was with the LN, the Veritas planes really got my attention with the open totes and blade adjustments. I have large hands (XX Large golf glove) and my fingers get all cramped within a few minutes of using the traditional #4 & #5 Stanley. The open totes on the Veritas make it more comfortable to use. I also liked the longer toe area, as it seemed to get the plane into the cut a little easier. My new Stanley sweet heart block plane is my favorate plane right now because it fits into my clumsy hands better than other block planes I have tried. The Stanley SW 92 shoulder plane is another story because the low profile makes it hard to grip comfortably. I cant wait to try some of the Veritas shoulder planes.

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