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Dec 01 2012

Shooting Boards. Why Shoot?

It’s one of those questions I get asked quite often, and interestingly, the answer is pretty succinct. Precision, safety and accuracy. But the reasons behind why we may want to shoot come from a lot of different woodworking situations, and these situations can usually be improved by using an accurate shooting board.

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Having a shooting board can be a solution to many woodworking’s problems. What a shooting board does in it’s most basic form is create a chute for a hand plane to slide squarely (side to side, and front to back) to the work, and position a fence to hold the work at a specifically given angle, such as 90 or 45 degrees, so that the end grain of the work can be planed square and smooth. The finish result desired is the smooth finish and squareness front to back, top to bottom.

Getting boards square is the first part of any woodworking process. We can’t reliably lay out anything until we have created at least one accurate reference side, edge, and end on our work. Most commonly, we use a shooting board to true the ends of our boards, but a shooting board isn’t limited to end grain work, and I’ll come back to that in a bit.

The end of a board just off a hand saw will be pretty rough for use with layout and will likely not be true enough for layout work. In addition, rough sawn wood is difficult to lay out on. Pencil lines are inaccurate at best, and knife scribe lines are impossible to see. While end grain can be sawn very cleanly and accurately by machine, it too can be improved to even higher accuracy and better appearance by shooting, so shooting is applicable for both hand and power tool woodworking. Accurate layout can use all the help it can get. For the nicest looking work and best fitment, using a shooting board is everything.

Joinery relies heavily on all the accuracy you can give it, because the fitment of joinery should do more work than the glue holding it. This means tolerances need to be precise. Smooth, accurate surfaces and appearance of end grain or long grain from a shooting board makes boards easy to mark and see the layout marking.

Let’s consider how shooting the end and long grain can aid the following kinds of joinery.

Dovetail layout fits best when it is done squarely, or the box won’t close squarely and properly due to misalignments. Remember too, that any error introduced to the work can quickly add to itself and render precision fitment impossible. A hallmark of any fine woodworking is precision fitment, freshly shot edges and ends are the running guide for marking gauges, squares, bevels and dovetail markers. In boxes, often grooves and rabbets are plowed as well and the plow plane is only as accurate as your edges and ends. You will always be glad you made all this work easier on yourself by shooting it first. A shooting board is an excellent place to trim proud dovetail joinery flush to the case as well.

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Mortise and tenon joints are often greatly helped by shooting. While there are many ways to lay out these joints, there are also many applications of this joint and the shooting board can really help a lot. The accuracy of the end grain is again the guide, particularly if you lay out tenon shoulders with a marking gauge. This is the best way to lay out shoulders, rather than with a square from the edge because it assures consistency all the way around the work piece and across multiple work pieces. This way not only are they all the same, but the wood fibers are pre-cut by the gauge before sawing.

Mortices too can benefit, because again the marking gauge needs to ride accurate surfaces, and the cuts it leaves are the initial cuts that leave the wood fibers clean. Shooting is not actually making the mortise or tenon, but it can be the basis for an accurate mortise and tenon if we lay out from edges and ends we have first trued by shooting.

Shooting Boards can be more versatile than only shooting 90 and 45 degree angles. With Shooting Boards configured with multi position fences like we offer, Almost any angle can be applied to a workpiece by shooting. Our boards can be set accurately before you shoot any angle. We offer up to seven specific shootable angles with our Ultra Shooter: 15, 22.5, 30, 45, 60, 75, and 90 degrees, and we offer three other boards in this style with fewer angles, if you don’t think you need them all. With our ‘Any Angle Fence’ you can shoot any angle in between all those angles. This is a handy shooting board accessory for shooting work that is out of square in the first place, unusual configurations, angled tenons, lap joints, and so on.

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Mitered Joints are a particularly exclusive joint, and offer quite a few challenges to fitment. Frames and moldings offer different challenges. Frames are squares and rectangles but close like a circle. There are 360 degrees in a circle, and too, 360 in a square. We shoot the eight 45 degree angles that add up to 360 so that the angles match and have a precise fit. It only takes less than half of one degree to create an obvious mismatch. Add that mismatch to 8 angles and the final miter of a frame can be off by several degrees. An accurate shooting board can bring precision to this kind of work immediately. Not only does this precision look great, but it offers the best mating surface for glue and a strong joint.

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Moldings also fit tighter and appear almost seamless after shooting, but mitering moldings can offer some special challenges. Sometimes case work is out of square and needs compensated for, or is square. Either way, accuracy is important for precision’s sake. Moldings can only be trued in the orientation they will be presented, (inside corners, outside corners, vertical and horizontal orientations, etc) so the shooting board needs to have a chute on both the left and right side, and the ability to orient the moldings properly, against either the base or fence, so the right and left ends of moldings can be trued in the proper orientation. There are many ways moldings are oriented. These are the reasons we offer shooting boards that specifically address 45 degree miters, and molding work.

Shooting Boards offer a safer alternative when working with small or thin stock. Shop machines and power tools can inflict a lot of damage to the work and hands, particularly when cutting and truing small and delicate work. For example, A powered jointer will snatch a small work piece from you, leaving your hand exposed to the blades; it will also chip and tear out thin stock. Small work is no safer on a table saw or chop saw. What to do? Use the shooting board.

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Our Long Grain Shooter is particularly handy as a 24 inch jointer for small or thin stock, as well as veneers and Lutherie work. It is also particularly handy for shooting wide case work panels square for appearance and joinery. Let’s face it, balancing a large hand plane on small or thin stock isn’t easy. The Long Grain Shooter removes those obstacles by holding the work and guiding the plane. With this shooting board, you don’t need to use a jointer plane for this work, you could use a jack or smoother instead if you like. We also offer a planing stop accessory for our shooting boards so you can plane the faces of short or thin stock safely and without damage to the work piece from errant power tool mishaps. With a piece of 1/8th masonite or MDF placed beneath the workpiece, this planing stop will allow you to plane to 1/8th inch thick, and with no danger to your plane iron. If you like making small boxes, a shooting board can be a huge part of total stock preparation.

So why shoot? The woods we woodworkers use are often more expensive than our tools, and often each piece requires a lot of prep to arrive at it’s final form. You may not always need to shoot, but when it matters, a shooting board can help remove a lot of what is often left to chance, and turn efforts into precise outcomes that you can be assured of. It is a tool worthy of taking woodworking into the realm of fine woodworking, and that is what inspired many woodworkers in the first place.

You can build your own shooting board or buy one. We offer a large number of high precision shooting board styles and accessories that allow any woodworker to directly gain versatile and accurate control over many woodworking situations. I build them all with 0.001 standards on every important parameter in mind, using the most durable and stable plywood materials, and finish them to withstand real world use in woodworking shops. The finish is marine grade and helps limit wood movement in a material that is already minimally affected by humidity.

When I’m not building shooting boards, I am working on new shooting board and tool designs that will further enhance any woodworkers desire to bring more “fine” to their woodworking. Please come to the Evenfall Studios Woodworks Store and have a look at not only our Shooting Boards and Shooting Board Accessories, but the many other tools we offer that help make woodworking easier, and enhance woodworking quality as well!

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© Copyright 2012 by Rob Hanson for evenfallstudios.com All Rights Reserved.

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