Monday, January 10, 2011

The Peters Principle

A couple of times in recent weeks, the subject of shooting boards has cropped up across the various fora. It often does. In particular the discomfort of using a regular Bailey pattern bench plane for the task. Now I confess I don't actually use a regular Bailey pattern bench plane for the task; I'm bevel-up/low angle plane rich and use one of them. Mainly the L-N low angle smoother, funnily enough - the least recommended for the job. No, I don't know why either.

But despite that, the problem has long intrigued me. L-N now offer "hotdogs" for their #9 mitre plane and their low angle jack and Derek Cohen has a step-by-step on fashioning you're own here. Which I hadn't actually read 'til now... Why? Because I never liked the look of a sausage sitting on the side of the plane, and wasn't that keen on the set screw either. But then I watched "The Alan Peters Approach" DVD.

Now in many ways this is a difficult DVD to watch, because Alan Peters was pretty frail by the time it was filmed. But if you can get past that, his skill and woodworking nous is still all there and there's plenty to glean from it. One of which is his attachment for a #7 when used for shooting. Essentially it's a shaped piece of wood that slips over the cheek of the plane, but it doesn't need a set screw to keep it where you want it, so it can slip off again equally easily. There's no close-up of it, which is fairly frustrating, but I was able to grab enough screencaps to give me something to work from.

Yes, dear reader, curiosity had got the better of me again, and I wanted to try to make my own. So I dived into the scraps box, came up with some likely-looking prototype materials and set to work. The sandwich technique seemed the obvious route, so I first traced the side profile of the plane onto the thin sandwich filling and bandsawed it out. The inner layer of sandwich is in two pieces - one to allow room in front of the blade and lever cap to remove same without having to take off the shooting grip, and the other shaped to fit against the rear of the frog.

I elected to glue the outer and middle layers together first.

Then the idea was to screw the inner cheeks on so I could adjust the thickness of the middle layer with a plane as required after trying it. As it turned out it fit just right straight off the bat, but the screws seem like a good idea anyway, and the danger of splitting apart the sandwich is obvious. Watch where you put them though - one of mine got dangerously close to the edge and, indeed, the point is just visible after the shaping stage. When fitting the rear inner layer, take some care in making sure it bears on the rear of the frog. It helps to put a bit of double-sided tape on it, offering up the outer and middle part of the sandwich to the plane cheek and then stick the inner layer in place to make sure its right.

As you can see, I went back to the bandsaw to curve the profile, then used chisel, spokeshave, and abrasives to refine the shape a little. Again, trial and error to get the best fit for your hand and shooting grip is inevitable. I did little more than round the corners and make a small depression for my thumb and the improvement in comfort was remarkable. If I was going to use it more, I'd probably do a little more work to create a relief for the heel of my hand too.

A wipe of finish just to make it tidy, and she's done. Overall dimensions are 7" long, 1 5/8" deep and 1" thick. You could make it a little deeper with advantage I think, but it's rock solid as it stands.

Well it sort of looks like the inspiration, anyway.

From the inside you can get a slightly better of idea of bearing points. The side profile of a Bailey pattern plane is actually pretty slippery, so important work is done by the rear inner layer bearing on the back of the frog and stopping the whole thing sliding forward. If it was a little deeper you could add an additional bearing point over the rib in front of the mouth, but it doesn't seem to need it.

Anyway, there we are. Might be useful to someone and my curiosity is assuaged. Oh, one word of warning though - I've tried this on all my other Bailey pattern planes, and it doesn't fit a single one. A combination of profile shape and casting thickness makes these a custom job for each individual plane.

And the Tools Used:

#7 jointer plane
2" G-clamp
3" G-clamp
Sliding bevel
Double-sided tape
Drill press
4mm brad point bit
2.5mm brad point bit
Slot head screwdriver
1 1/2" chisel
#63 spokeshave
Assorted abrasive papers

Edited to add Lee Valley Newsletter article, for another take on thing.


  1. But Alf, If I make this non-hot dog, how do I rationalize buying that new #51 shooting board plane they are offering?

    Nice post.

  2. Nice post, it looks more comfortable to hold than those hotdogs. Is there anything else of interest on that DVD? Is it worth watching?

  3. Ha!!

    Great thinking Alf!! Very cool.....

    Odd about the fit though....I have yet to get one for my LA jack yet but rest assured it is on the ever growing list.

    Glad to see the flury of work you have turned out lately!!


  4. Christopher, fear not - after all this doesn't make your plane skewed and thus the #51 is still eminently justifiable ;)

    Craig, the DVD is interesting, but whether it's worth actively seeking out, I'm not sure. Maybe if you can borrow rather than buy...

    Michael, the fit issue doesn't surprise me that much - the thickness of the side walls is often noticeably different between planes. Particularly USA-made vs UK.

  5. Alf,

    Thought I better drop you a line and give a big thank you for your Peters Principle Blog Entry.

    Its less than a stellar week here in western Montana and the gray skies are a bit depressing. So after prowling the Internet and looking at my favorites list I spotted your recent entry on the Unplugged Workshop site.

    Now weather it be Amateur Radio, woodworking , backpacking, snail hunting, reading etc etc (you get the drift) once in a blue moon along comes a bit of information that simply adheres to you as if it were a first cousin to a Remora. It starts off slow but soon starts to borrow in like a Rocky Mountain Tick going for the gold. And before you know it its full steam ahead to try and duplicate the info.

    Such was the case with you Hand Plane Side “Grasperator” (just a suggestion when you go for a patent) First I “looked” over your entry then moved on but was soon back now “reading” your entry. Next I decided it was something that would certainly save a lot of cramping not to mention skin on my right hand while using the old No7 on the shooting board.
    It will be there later I said as I made my rounds yet before I left I circled back and printed your entry.
    It now sat on my reading table calling me as I tried to work my way through a description of the square roots of negative numbers.
    Finally I gave up, grabbed the article and headed for the dungeon that houses my shop, such as it is.
    Well four hours later including glue up time I now have a working model.

    So thanks again and keep up the good work.

  6. Steve, gosh, that's made my day. I know exactly what you mean about a particular article or whathaveyou grabbing your imagination, but never thought I'd be a provider of same. I'm thrilled that you were so inspired.

  7. Very nice.
    I will build one me too.

  8. Hm... fascinating idea.

    I, too, have been using my L-N LAJ for shooting. Hadn't thought about the 7.



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