I’ve been putting this off for years, and forgetting that I put it off, until I’m in the midst of a project where a shooting board is called for. Rather than take time out of the project at hand to build a bona fide shooting board, I rig up a few scraps of wood to plane against, holding it all down with holdfasts and benchdogs. Today, with no ongoing projects, I built a shooting board so I have it the next time I need it, and took some images to document the process.
What’s a shooting board? For those who are unfamiliar, a shooting board is a platform with a fence that holds boards at a precise angle so the ends can be precisely trimmed using a sharp plane. Here is a video from my friend Chris at High Rock Woodworking demonstrating the use of his shooting board:
Mine started with some scrap plywood, the largest, a 3/4″ thick, ~15″w, and ~24″ long piece that had been oiled and polyurethaned as an extra shelf for a built-in closet, but was not needed. I chose it as the base, first due the dimensions, but also because the finished surface, with a little wax added, would provide a slick bearing surface for the plane to slide on. I also collected some scrap 1/2″ plywood, 2 pieces of 1″ square poplar about 11″ long for the cleat and the body of the fence, and a scrap of hard maple for the adjustable fence face.
Start by trimming the 1/2″ thick ply to 4″ narrower than the base piece (the 3/4″thick ply). Also you may trim both pieces to the same length at this point. Be sure that the long sides of the base are parallel, it will become clear why later. Glue and screw (with countersinks) at about 6″ intervals along the length and width, centering the 1/2″ ply to leave 2″ on each side along the length:
An alternative to sizing the 1/2″ to precisely 4″ narrower is to leave it slightly oversized, not putting glue all the way to the edge when you’re gluing and screwing, but take it to the tablesaw after fastening it, setting the fence to 2″, and the blade to about 5/8″ high. Flipping the assembly so the 1/2″ is face-down will allow you to rip a sliver of the 1/2″ ply off parallel to the base, and at the same time ploughing a dust groove which will help prevent dust and shaving from collecting and causing problems while shooting. The groove will look something like this:
Next make sure that the fence and cleat are square around all faces. Place the shooting board on your bench overhanging slightly on the front, and position it such that it is comfortably on the bench in planing position. If there is too much overhang, it will be unstable and will get in your way. A couple of inches is sufficient. Using a combination square, clamp the cleat underneath the base square to the edge of the base. Pre-drill, glue and screw it. If this piece is not perfectly square to the base, it’s not a big deal, it will still work, but the same technique will be used on the fence, where it will be critical, so it’s good to practice placing it, clamping it, and gluing and screwing the cleat while maintaining square so you’ll be able to repeat it on the fence.
Before you place the fence, it is a good idea, if you plan on making a replaceable face, to drill the slots (I used a countersink router bit mounted in the drill press), pre-drill the holes in the fence body which align precisely to the slots in the face, and screw the two together. If the bottoms of the two are not co-planar, you have an opportunity at this point to plane them flush, making sure it remains square to the front of the face piece.
Get out the plane you intend on using for shooting (in my case, it’s a #607 Jointer, until I get a low-angle alternative) and position yourself and the plane in comfortable positions, so that the plane is mostly supported for the length of the imaginary cut. Based on this mock-up, mark the best location to place the fence. Again, use your combination square to position the fence perfectly square to the edge of the 1/2″ ply (which you just ripped). glue, clamp, re-check that it’s square, pre-drill, and screw it down. I placed the end of the poplar fence body 1/64″ or so back from the edge of the plywood (note: setback is on both ends of the fence body. You may need to trim the fence body to 1/32″ shorter than the 1/2″ ply is wide).
The hard maple adjustable fence face is initially positioned a hair beyond the edge. It will be trimmed flush with the first few passes of the plane. The adjustable face is intended to be moved as the business end gets worn or trimmed away over time, and replaced when it’s served its useful life. This shooting board has two sides, so in cases where the left end of a molding must be planed it can be done without tear out to the face that can occur when planing from back to front. Apply some paraffin wax to the plane bearing surfaces of the board, and you’re done!
It may take a few years, but I plan on adding auxiliary fences for 45 degree angles, a donkey ear, and others for this shooting board. Hopefully I won’t wait until I need it to build them.