A basic bench appliance that yields precision performance
Designed by Craig Bentzley, built by Chad McClung
Several of my recent projects called for a shooting board—a jig that facilitates sneaking up on perfect-fitting joinery by shaving the end grain of a workpiece with a hand plane. I had used a few over the years in other shops but never got around to making one of my own. I’d always find a workaround, even setting up makeshift shooters at my bench. Finally fed up with shortcuts, I decided to build a board that was stout and able to accommodate the kind of work I do. But where to start? I did what any good woodworker does and asked other woodworkers. My research led to a chat with master craftsman Craig Bentzley, on whose invaluable expertise I’ve come to rely. His go-to jig is easy to make, versatile, accurate, and will last a long time – just what I was looking for. With Bentzley’s blessing, I got building.
Simple yet versatile
I used MCP (melamine-coated particleboard) for the base, but phenolic plywood also works. Even birch plywood will do the job, but wax the runways for a slick, wear-resistant surface. Make the fence from tight-grained hardwood such as maple or cherry. These dimensions aren’t critical so build to suit. Nevertheless, all 90° and 45° angles must be dead-accurate.
A plane runway on both sides makes your jig ambidextrous, which is useful when trimming miters on frame pieces that don’t have two flat faces. The frame miter attachment secures with two screws for quick on-and-off. The ramp, which clamps to the fence when needed, provides a means to shoot case miters for boxes and other small projects with mitered walls.
Order of Work
- Assemble base and riser, cut to size
- Make and attach cleat and fence
- Make miter attachment
- Build case miter ramp to suit
Make the jig
Cut some 3/4" MCP to 16 × 24" for the base, and some 1/2" MDF to 12 × 24" for the riser. Nail the parts together. Then saw the jig to 20" using your crosscut sled, saving the offcut to function as an outboard for supporting longer workpieces (p. 26). Cut the cleat and fence to size and attach them where shown in the drawing on p. 27.
Make the attachments
Lay out a triangle on a 12 × 12" piece of 3/4" MDF, and cut it to size as shown. The blunt ends of the miter attachment help to keep your workpiece miters crisp and clean. Push the miter attachment against the fence, clamp in place, and secure with woodscrews where shown in the drawing (p. 27).
Use whatever available scraps you have to make the case miter ramp, but keep it lightweight. Size it to accommodate the work you do.
Frame miter attachment. Tack temporary fences to your crosscut sled at 90° to each other and 45° to the cut line. Make the cut, then trim the acute corners at the chop saw, leaving the length at just over 12". Screw the centered piece to the riser, and trim the ends flush with your hand plane.
Case miter ramp. Use the jig’s fence to hold the case miter ramp pieces square as you pin them in place using 3⁄4"-long pins.
Shooting Board in Use
Using a shooting board isn’t difficult, but it does require some dexterity. Here are a few tips that will ensure accurate joinery.
- With one hand, press the workpiece against the fence, pushing the jig away from you so the cleat catches squarely on the bench. Simultaneously, sneak the piece toward the runway.
- With your other hand, slide the plane on the runway against the riser. Keep the plane’s toe against the workpiece.
- Don’t push the plane away from the riser with the workpiece.
- Push the plane through the cut, so the blade passes the fence.
- Use a plane with some heft (I recommend a #5 1⁄2).
- Wax the runway and the sole and sides of your plane before you shoot.
- A tuned plane with a sharp blade makes all the difference. Visit our website for free articles on plane maintenance and use.