Nov 23 2009

The Case for Long Grain Shooting Boards

Shooting boards are very handy for fine trims that clean the rough sawn edges left by saws, power tools and shop machines, so the wood is looking it’s very best, and even made as accurate fitting as can be. But even as we do this most commonly on end grain, end grain is not the only place on a board that can benefit from the use of a shooting board.


There are a number of things a woodworker can classify as delicate work. It can of course mean short in length or width, thin stock, veneer, inlays, book matched pieces, and even working with tone woods. Luthiers commonly join book matched boards for stringed instruments, and these boards are very fragile.

There are also the occasions where using a power tool or a shop machine may not be the safest way, or the most accurate way to accomplish a task and so we are left trying to come up with an alternative method for accomplishing the fine work we need done.

Often even the finest blades of a shop machine can leave some tear out, or small nicks on a cut edge, and due to the rotational force and unequal loadings on rotating blades, the attempt to trim just a little can often result in too little or too much. At best, it isn’t often predictable.

Jointers too, are not without issue. Handling small or thin stock on a Jointer can be dangerous due to the size of the piece and the lack of structural integrity the materials can have when they are thin. If we try to joint them we risk damage to both the stock and ourselves, and this is never good either way. There is never a good reason to have the fingers in harm’s way.

Another happening with cutting and jointing thin stock is that if you are not using high tooth count blades on your Table Saw or super thin settings on the jointer, what you get is a bunch of chatter and snipe. You can joint with the router table if your fence will allow this, but in my experience, there are times on small work that I would prefer to remove less that 1/32nd or even 1/64th, yes .008… It is really hard to get most fences to dial this, but a plane will do this easily, and still with power tools some boards will require you to have your fingers way too close to a dangerous area.


Sometimes it is safer, or more desirable to resort to hand tool methods. Yes, this is the Saw Stop method of jointing edges. Fixture the work and use a sharp plane. Planes have none of the characteristics of the rotating oscillator. They simply shear off a layer one thin bit at a time. This is particularly useful on boards that are too fragile or small to safely size with power tools.

Jointing edges of thin stock and short stock is just as important as the larger stuff. Fit and finish are often even more crucial because the small items may be picked up and closely examined. At the same time, gluing and clamping still requires the same tolerances of larger boards. A straight edge, matched in the joints is still important as always.

Often, many Luthiers feel jointing book matched instrument tops and backs with a plane is both preferable and desirable with tone woods, as this prevents any damage to the wood fibers that could interfere with instrument resonance. The rotary cutters involved in shop machines often make them wonder and give them some concern if making a beautiful sounding instrument is possible if wood fibers should suffer bruising. Certainly good, even great sounding instruments are made, but, the question is, can they be even better? Perhaps shooting these edges manually is part of what takes good to great.

So we have established that it is important to joint and shoot the edges of small boards, tone woods and veneers. We may find it less than easy to balance a #7 or #8 jointer on top of a thin board. Doable sure, but it is tricky work, and easier if it is something you are used to doing frequently. Shorter planes can work but there is still balancing the plane for side-to-side squareness. Of course there is a need for truing any stock, and when you build small boxes and drawers, maybe even cleaning up inlays and virtually any board less than 24 inches long or 3/8’s of an inch thick or less, the need is still obvious, but the size tends to change the dynamics of how.

Edge Jointing veneer while balancing a plane on the edge isn’t going to happen, because there is no way to balance a plane on veneer, and this won’t give you the accuracy needed should you want to create a sunburst pattern or well, even book matching of stock that thin.

Enter the long grain shooting board.

A long grain shooting board can be very effective for handling all the difficulties that shop machines, or trying to plane without one can have.

Several woodworkers have approached me about adding a long grain shooting board to my product line this year, and after discussing with them what features would be most desirable in a shooting board purpose designed for long grain shooting, I am now offering a long grain shooting board. It uses a lot of the same Features and Specifications that I offer in my end grain shooting boards.

The major differences are that it is nearly 30 inches long, and offers at least 24 inches of shooting run, a fence that is a 90-degree fence only, but is user calibratable to confirm it is accurately set to 90 degrees.

I have also included a couple anchor points for a caul that is used without the fence that helps fixture the materials you are shooting along the chute at any angle or shape you choose, as long as you are trying to shoot an edge that is parallel to the chute. This way you can fixture materials to be jointed squarely to 90 degrees, or any arbitrary angle you desire.

So whether you work with veneers, or small boxes, or even are interested in Luthery and need a way to joint edges in a damage free way, a long grain shooting board can be a help to you. It is also just handy for general purposes, allowing you to joint the edges of any board and any thickness straight and square, with the safety of knowing a board too short or two thin will not stop you from safely bringing that board to the dimensions needed for your project.

If you are interested in a long grain shooting board, I make them for the left or right-handed woodworker. Please have a look in the Woodworks Store, or at the Long Grain Shooter’s page. If you are interested in a fixturing caul for it, please be sure to mention one when you contact me.

I am always open to discussing shooting devices, accessories and other jig suggestions. Good things are coming, Stay Tuned!

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Happy Woodworking!

© Copyright 2009 by Rob Hanson for All Rights Reserved.

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