A shoulder (not) to cry on

A recent project has been good for justification of a few new tools. The latest of which is a specialty plane for trimming the shoulders of tenons. This table & bench combo I’m working on has several mortise and tenon joints. Even though I form the basic joints with power tools, there is enough built-in inaccuracy to my machines than cutting large and trimming to fit is a given. Hence the need for this new tool.

I did a bit of research into these specialty tools, called shoulder planes, oddly enough. Secifically designed for the job of fine-tuning tenon shoulders for a perfect fit, there are nevertheless several brands on the market, each having a slightly different feature set.

The purpose of the shoulder plane requires a few basic features that are common to all. The body is relatively narrow, typically made in 1/2, 3/4, and 1-inch widths. The sides a ground perpendicular to the sole, and the sides are open, so the blade can extend a few thousandths of an inch past the side (this allows cleanly-cut inside corners). The blades are typically ground bevel up, and set at a low angle, as their job is to trim end grain.

Here is where the various designs begin to diverge. The 4 models I considered, and their “special features”, are as follows:

  • Stanley
  • WoodRiver
  • Lie-Nielsen
  • Veritas

The Stanley #92 shoulder plane comes in at the lowest cost. Its design is simple, and has the fewest adjustments of any plane I considered. Although attractive, with the lowest price and touting a 1/8″ thick A2 steel blade, I discovered a number of complaints regarding the variations in quality of manufacture.

The WoodRiver medium shoulder plane (also designated #92) is a lovely tool. Patterened after the Preston design, the body casting looks like a work of art. This tool has several useful features, such as an adjustable mouth. All indicators point to a well-made item, with consistant quality control. Like the Stanley, it is machined to exactly 3/4″ with. I struggled over this one, as its price, just slightly more than the Stanley, made it seem the best value. But I discovered that the unnamed steel used in the WoodRiver blades is rather soft, and requires frequent sharpening.

The Lie-Nielsen medium shoulder plane  appears beautifully crafted. The iron and bronze simply scream quality. It too is based on the 3/4″ wide Preston & Record designs, with some modifications. This plane also boasts an A2 steel blade, slightly heftier than the others at 0.150″. It also boasts a hefty price tag, nearly 50% more than the Stanley and WoodRiver planes. Certainly not a bad value, considering the quality of materials and manufacture, but I was not drawn to the traditional design.

The Veritas, although slightly more expensive than even the Lie-Nielsen, finally captured my interest. A modern and unique design, this plane is slightly narrower than the others, at just 11/16″ wide. This is an important feature, as it allows the 1/8″ thick A2 steel blade to extend past the sides of the body by about .003″ on each side, allowing clean cuts right into the corner. It also fits inside a 3/4″ dado or groove without binding, adding to its versatility. The Veritas has an adjustable mouth, like the Lie-Nielsen and WoodRiver planes, but it also features side adjustment screws at the front and rear of the blade. These screws allow very fine poistion and skew adjustments, but more importantly, they allow the setup to be retained when the blade is removed for honing. There is also an adjustable brass knob on the back of the lever cap to allow left or right handed use with equal comfort.

Over all, I found the Veritas plane to be the best fit for my needs. Although at the top of the pricing scale, I feel the versatlity and quality construction of this tool are worth the extra cost. The plane is very comfortable to hold and use. The blade was sharp and flat out of tge box, and the A2 steel sharpens well with my Norton oil stone. The side adjustments and adjustable mouth make it a breeze to set a very fine, very clean cut for tenon shoulders. It works equally well for cleaning tenon cheeks, dados and grooves. The sole is machined perfectly flat and square to the sides. I can find nothing to complain about with this tool.

Should you find yourself needing to trim some tenon shoulders, I can highly recommend the Veritas shoulder planes.

Until next time,

Savor the sawdust!

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