Shop-Made Shoulder Plane

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This article is from Issue 24 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Sneak up on tighter-fitting joints with this handy shop sidekick

Designer/Builder/Writer: Jason Davis

Careful machining will get you close, but sometimes a joint needs a little help to get that perfect piston fit. For fine-tuning rabbets and truing tenons, you can’t beat a shoulder plane. Don’t have one? Don’t worry. A store-bought shoulder plane will set you back over $100, but we have a beauty you can make in a day using a 6×12" piece of leftover hardwood, a plane blade from our Convenience-Plus Buying Guide, and these simple instructions. When you’re done, we’ll show you how to set up your new shoulder plane so you can put it to work ASAP.

(To see how to put your plane to work, check out

Size and shape the plane body

Note: Because the plane is built around the blade, it helps to have the blade in hand before dimensioning your body.

You can make the body from any dense hardwood, but a few tips can keep you planing for years to come. Choosing quartersawn stock will help the body stay flat through seasonal moisture changes. Adding a 1/4"- to 1/2" -thick ebony strip to the bottom edge of the blank, as shown in the top photo, will make for a longer-lasting sole. If you attach the strip before planing the body to final thickness, the construction sequence will remain the same.

1 Plane and cut a piece of hardwood to 7/8×6×12".

2 Measure the width of your plane blade. Thickness your stock so that it’s 1/32" thicker than the blade’s width.

3 Joint one edge of the stock and rip the opposite edge parallel. Using your table saw, rip the stock to 3" wide. You’ll use this piece to make the front core (A) and back core (B) as shown in Figure 1. Don’t toss the cutoff. You’ll use it to make the two glue-on sides (C) and wedge (D).

4 Mark the rabbet depth for the sides. To do this, find the centerline along the core’s thickness and strike a line 7/32" out from this line. The dimension between these parallel lines should equal the width of the plane blade’s tang plus 1/16".

5 Use your table saw to rabbet both sides of the core. To do this safely, build a sliding fence like the one shown in Photo A. Raise the sawblade to 13/4", adjust the fence, and cut along the waste side of the line. Without changing the fence setting, reverse the core, and cut the opposite rabbet.

Clamp the core to a shop-made sliding fence and resaw a rabbet on each face.

Adjust the height of the blade so that the saw slices off the waste without scoring the core.

Using your mitersaw, cut the inside-facing ends of both core pieces to establish square flat beds for the blade and wedge.

6 To finish the rabbets, turn the core face down with the uncut edge towards the fence. Lower the blade height, align the blade with a rabbet’s shoulder, and safely part the waste using a pushstick. Cut the waste from the remaining rabbet as shown in Photo B.

7 Rip A 1"-Wide Strip using the remaining cutoff from Step 3. Later, you'll use this strip to make the wedge (D).

8 Resaw the two sides (C) Using the cutoff from step 3. Set the fence so that the sides are a little thicker than the rabbet. (You'll sand them flush later.) Now test-fit the sides (C). If there’s a gap, you can clean up the rabbet’s inside corner quickly with a chisel or square sanding block.

9 adjust your mitersaw to cut the 30° angle 5" in from the back end of your core as shown in Photo C to create the back core (B). Next, adjust the saw to 15° and cut the inside end of the front core (A).

Use a combination of bar clamps and hand screws to glue the sides to the front and back core pieces.

Assemble the plane body

1 Test-FIT THE PLANE BODY Parts together prior to applying glue. Then apply glue to the rabbets on the back core (B), and sandwich it between the sides (C). Secure the side pieces in place with bar clamps, applying as much pressure as it takes to create a seamless fit against the shoulders. Then use a small wooden handscrew to press the sides flush with the faces of the back core piece.

2 Apply glue to the rabbets on the front core (A) and insert it between the sides (C). Clamp, as shown in Photo D. Leave a 1/16" gap between the front and back where the angled edges meet. (We used a metal rule to establish this spacing.) Snug and clamp the front core (A) in place.

3 Remove any excess glue (after it congeals but before it hardens) from the sides and blade/wedge recess with a chisel later. Use a straightedge to check that the bottom edge of the assembly is flat. If the sole is uneven, true it up with sandpaper before doing further work to the body.

Flatten your plane body by moving it back and forth over a sheet of 120-grit sandpaper adhered to your table saw.
Slide the fence over the sandpaper, and use it as a guide to sand the plane’s sole 90° to the sanded face.

Cut to final dimensions and flatten the body

1 Rip the assembled plane body to 3" wide, orienting the bottom edge, or sole, against the fence.

2 Trim the plane to length on the mitersaw. Crosscut the back end of the plane 43/8" from the bed angle opening on the bottom edge. Crosscut the front end from the bottom edge opening (Figure 1).

3 True-up the sole and sides with sandpaper. Spray-adhere 120-grit sandpaper to the flat surface of your table saw. First flatten one face using even pressure, sanding with the grain as shown in Photo E. Now rotate the plane and sand the sole. Use your table saw fence, as shown in Photo F, to make sure the sole is perfectly square to the previously sanded side. Finally, reference the sole against the fence and flatten the remaining face so that it’s square to the sole. Continue reducing the thickness of the plane body from each side equally until the sides are flush and the body is a hair less than the width of your blade.

Drill a hole through the plane body 1/8" up from the sole to clear the shavings.

Drill the shaving recess and fit the blade

1 Using a 1" Forstner bit and a backing board, drill a hole through the plane body, 1/8" up from the sole and intersecting the blade/wedge recess (Photo G). Be careful not to cut into the bed angle. Once the shaving recess is drilled, you are ready to fit the blade.

2 Open the mouth of the plane’s sole with a 71/4" thin-kerf saw blade. Set the blade at 30°. Using a miter gauge and stop, cut into the front portion of your plane. Continue nibbling away at the opening until the blade can slip through the mouth and into the body as shown in Photo H.

Cut and fit the wedge

1 Plane or resaw the wedge cutoff from Step 7 under “Size and Shape the Plane Body Parts” until it fits in the blade/wedge recess. Next, spray-adhere a copy of the wedge pattern on page 79. Bandsaw the wedge (D) to shape, sand any saw marks, and remove the wedge point with a chisel.

2 Insert the wedge (D) and tap it into position with the plane blade inserted bevel down. It should terminate about 1/2" above the blade’s edge. You may have to continue reducing the wedge until it drops into the correct position. Try to wiggle the wedge to make sure that it is providing consistent pressure along the length of the blade. If it feels loose even after it’s been tapped in place, you may need to flatten an edge or cut a new wedge.

With a thin-kerf blade angled at 30° in your table saw, widen the throat opening just until you can insert the blade.

Profile and finish 

1 SAND OR ROUT a rOUNDOVER OR CHAMFER ON THE FRONT AND BACK ENDS and the top edge for comfort or profile the body using the pattern on page 79. For cleanest cuts, use a table saw for the straight cuts and switch to a bandsaw for the curves.

2 Clean and refine the shape using files and sandpaper.

3 Finally, FINISH-SAND the body through 220-grit sandpaper on the same flat surface where you trued it originally. Then finish the body and wedge with a light coat of oil to bring out the beauty of your creation.

Setting Up A Shoulder Plane

Your first attempts at tuning your shoulder plane require patience. Once you’ve learned how to read the plane’s behavior and make the delicate adjustments, setting it up will come naturally.


Sharpen your blade to about 30°. Make sure that the edge is perpendicular to the sides.


Place the beveled face of the blade against the bed, then rest the plane on a board or bench and tap the wedge in place. Raise the plane and lightly tap the wedge to advance the blade. Stop when you can see the thinnest gleam of metal protruding below the sole.


Make adjustments using a small wooden mallet or plane-adjusting hammer. Here are the three common adjustments:

1 Advance the plane blade by tapping the wedge and tang (Photo I).

2 Retract the blade by holding the plane upside down (with your palm cradling the body and wedge) and tapping the rear of the plane body (Photo J).

3 Make lateral adjustments by resting the side of the plane body on a flat surface, and tapping the core and tang to pivot the blade from side to side (Photo K).


Make a test cut and then inspect the shaving. Advance and retract the blade to correct the thickness of the shaving and adjust it laterally to broaden and balance the cut. If the shavings are not flowing through the throat, you may have to return to the table saw to open it further, but only as a last resort.

About Our Builder/Designer

Jason Davis, of Gallipolis, Ohio, worked for seven years as a technical writer for the aircraft industry before enrolling in the Fine Woodworking Program at the University of Rio Grande in Rio Grande, Ohio. Following graduation, he plans to use his skills as a professional woodworker.


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