Workshop Wednesdays – Veritas Shooting Plane

Monday 9 July 2018

I've had this plane on and off the bench for a few months now and I've reached the point where I can't imagine not having a dedicated plane for use on my shooting board. If you're a reluctant tool buyer, you could, of course, get by without a shooter, but having one will change the way you work and it's not just a question of convenience.

I guess the first hurdle to negotiate if I'm ever going to convince you that a dedicated plane for shooting is the way to go, is to consider the alternatives. Let's say, for instance, that you dimension and cut to length with a chopsaw or tablesaw – many do and develop a keen sense of hand-eye coordination in the process. Yes, the cut is quick, clean and can be made without breakout, but you may struggle to remove anything less than 0.5mm at a time. In short, you need to get the cut right the first time or leave yourself enough material left over to hit the mark on the next attempt. It's hard to make any hard and fast comparisons that are clearly like for like in this debate, but an element of safety should be a consideration, especially when handling small components. In theory, and with practice, we should be capable of dimensioning small-scale casework and mating faces for joints with a handsaw but come on, we all experience the occasional off-day now and then, so a rock steady shooting board definitely makes sense. So what about the shooter?

Using what you have

First of all, let's look at the ergonomics of the most likely alternative to a dedicated shooting plane, such as a low angle jack or the rather more prosaic No.5 bench plane. Both of these tools have a primary function, which is not trimming end grain and is as good a reason as any to expand their use and get a bit more bang for your buck. The pros and cons of using either of these planes lies not with their respective bevel up, bevel down presentation but with the true value and convenience of duality. The shortcomings of these planes when used on a shooting board can be limited but not overcome completely. An inclined bed or runway for the plane will, to some extent, mimic the skewed blade of a shooting plane and help reduce the jarring from a head-on impact into end grain. One of the effects of the skewed blade is the ability to convert forward motion into diagonal force directly through the workpiece and into the back fence. An inclined bed would have to run uphill, away from the user to get this effect. It's not an ideal solution, though, because to get anywhere near the effect of a skewed blade, the incline would need to be around 20°, making the device nearly as tall as it is long.

As far as handling the planes, the addition of an extra knob mounted on the side of your No.5 in the style of a technical jack will afford you greater control of the tool and aid forward motion. Lee Valley also offer a side-grip accessory for their jack plane.

Consider the alternatives

Although the low angle, bevel up configuration of the low-angle jack is conducive to shooting end grain – think low-angle block plane – I've usually got it set, in my head at least, to tackle some awkward grain or joint wide edges. When I reach for it, I want to know that the edge is as keen as it can be across the entire width and not have a dull patch to one side having been used on the shooting board.

My No.5 frequently doubles up as a jointer as well and as I've come to appreciate the benefits of a curved blade for this purpose, it's use for truly squaring the ends of a board must be questioned. It might be nit picking and, to be fair, I don't apply that much attention to the degree of curve so it's more of a deliberate mistake than an attempt at perfect edge geometry. If I were to labour over this and create a perfect arc from tip to tip, I could, in theory, use this to my advantage and build a shooting board that aligned the centre of the blade with the centre of the board being trimmed. It's almost tempting to have a go and it may even prove a point, but I think it's a lot of work for very little gain.

If you don't anticipate a lot of end grain shooting or need to keep to a budget, there's a very good argument right now for considering a second blade for either of these two planes, and of the two I'd say that the low-angle jack is the better option, as it allows you to have two blades ground with a straight edge than a No.5 with one of each.

While we're discussing the merits of owning a dedicated shooter, I should point out that there aren't that many choices. Since Stanley dropped the No.51/52 from their catalogue in 1943, you would have to source an original set from a second-hand dealer but they're not exactly common. A complete and original one sold in March 2013 on a popular auction site for £846. Lie-Nielsen's introduction of their shooting plane, based on the Stanley, a couple of years ago for £435 doesn't appear to have affected prices, but as they will be launching a shooting board to go with it early in 2014, this could change.

On a strict price comparison the Veritas shooting plane is reasonably priced at around £200 and although the Lie-Nielsen is almost twice the price, it's not necessarily twice as good. Rather than get into that debate I think we must accept that when we enter the premium tool emporium, we're buying into the brand and the 'added value' this attracts. As far as any direct comparison with the Stanley 51/52 is concerned, it seems rather inappropriate as the Veritas shooting plane is designed for use on a 'user made shooting board'. As it happens this is also about to change and, when it does, I think it will make the search for an original tool pointless for anyone other than a serious collector. Anyway, the device is pretty much a complete system in its own right and a very effective one at that.

Veritas shooter

There are a lot of features on this plane that are common to the rest of the Veritas range. The bubinga (Guibourtia demeusei) handle for a start, not to mention the matt black ductile steel body and blade setting screws in the walls of the casting.

The PM V-11 blade is standard across all planes in the Veritas range and is widely accepted as a step up from A0 or A2, which for those who remain unconvinced, are still available. I still find it baffling why some folk spend so much time in pursuit of the 'best' steel. At the top end – A0, A2 and PM-V11 – the differences are negligible at best if you and your tools are a bit of an all-rounder.

There are two things that make the Veritas shooting plane more effective on a flat shooting board than any of the bench planes. The first is the skewed blade. As the edge passes through the timber it moves in a slicing action, requiring less force to make the cut. Less force equals more control and it's also a lot easier on the cutting edge. The second advantage is weight and at just over 3.5kg, the Veritas shooting plane is noticeably heavier than the low-angle jack or a standard No.5 though lighter than the Lie-Nielsen. Most of this can be attributed to the mass of the casting, around 20mm thick in places and not its physical size, although the shape and proportions do have an effect.

Unlike a typical bench plane the Veritas shooting plane is shaped so it is naturally inclined to lean into the work, which can lead to trimming the back fence of the board if you're not careful. With the full weight of the plane supported, any sensation of balance is lost and with the handle set towards the back of the body it's possible to over-compensate and attempt to drive the tool into the workpiece. In truth, this is something that is just as easily done with any plane used in this way but with the Veritas shooting plane, the technique is to let the tool do more of the work. You've got all that extra weight and a better edge geometry, so why not use it? You can eliminate this tendency to lean by simply creating a channel for the plane to run in. This course of action will mean the shooting board is no longer suitable for any plane other than a shooting plane based around the Stanley footprint – Lie-Nielsen included. I found that a gap set to the thickness of a piece of paper was sufficient to allow free movement and using the far side of the channel to limit the depth of cut. With the workpiece pushing against the sole of the plane, it forces it into the channel – nice and square – and counters any tendency towards leaning over. In the event of you asking too much of the tool, it self regulates and won't pass through the channel.

Shooter turns jointer

It's very much a Veritas feature to incorporate an adjustable mouth on all their bevel up planes, which might not be strictly useful on a plane intended just for trimming end grain. Presumably the finest setting is all that's required and a small fixed mouth would be more than adequate if that were its only function, but, the Veritas shooting plane is capable of more.

The rear handle is adjustable through two pre-set anchor points. The first is cranked over at around 75° for use on a shooting board with the blade orientated vertically and the other is around 7° off being perpendicular to the sole, with the idea that it can be used face down like a jointer. “A jointer?” you ask! It's not as daft as it sounds and this is where the argument for a dual-purpose plane gets a little more interesting. Using holes in the side of the sole, you can attach the fence from a Veritas Jack Rabbet plane to gain more stability. Now, at this point, I think you need to decide whether you like the extra heft that a now nearly 4kg plane can offer your edge jointing, or decide that regular jack or jointer is sufficient for the purpose. In this configuration, it does feel a little unwieldy until it's on the job, where you soon find that there are plenty of options for getting a firm and balanced grip. It's possible to adjust the fence to have the plane centred nicely over the workpiece and avoid using the dull area of the blade that most of us use on the shooting board.

The skewed blade and low angle have advantages over and above a typical jointer but I don't think it's a serious contender for your longer jointing requirements.

To conclude, I'd say that if the only thing standing between you and a dedicated plane for your shooting board is the thought of having another one trick pony on the shelf, then think again. With the modification to my shooting board, the only tool fit for single use is now the shooting board and not the plane.