Nov 25 2014

Shooting Boards for Your Shop

Through the years, I have fielded quite a few questions about shooting boards, and so I thought it might be nice to share some of the considerations with you, for your own thinking process.

Make or Buy?

That is a biggie, and it’s multifaceted. If you can make a shooting board accurately enough to suit what you need it to do, you may not be considering buying, but there are hurdles to leap.

LA Jack Wide Board Shooter

Ask a few questions:

What is your time worth? You have a busy life, a full time job, a family that deserves quality time. When you get shop time, do you want to spend it making tools, or projects like furniture, jewelry boxes or cabinets? Time for most of us is in short supply. If you want your time spent making beautiful things for your family, then tools that can do what you need done, and directly are really nice to have.

Skills and tools- It seems simple enough, but that depends on a lot of things, and when you dig into it, the shooting board is not as simple as it looks. We all have saws and planes, but do we want a quick jig that will be accurate enough for the duration of a project, or do we want a tool with major capabilities and high accuracy, built to last for years with proper care? There are different ways of looking at it. Most of us don’t make our own planes, saws or shop machines, so if you’d rather buy than make, there is no harm or foul in buying, after all, it’s your shop and your choice.

It’s just wood, after all… Or is it just wood? We select Baltic Birch for it’s uniformity and stability, and then we accurize it a lot from there. Our observations over years have shown it to remain very accurate seasonally. Why not use metal? Lots of really good reasons. Metal isn’t automatically better than wood for these tools. They are unnecessarily heavy, much more difficult to mill, drill and accurize to the required degree, adding costs. Metal to metal can be destructively hard on handplanes as well as leave unwanted marks on wood. Even UHMW doesn’t slide like waxed wood. Like planing in the usual way, a waxed plane sole on a waxed shooting board chute is a smooth easy and accurate ride.

LN9 Shooter.jpg

A shooting board that is made to last years and work in a number of different angles is a bigger project than it appears. There are aspects of such a tool that are important in the making, and there are other aspects that seem cool on their face, but actually breed inaccuracy. Multi-position fences that can be set accurately to less than a degree of accuracy take some care in making. Straightness over the the length of chutes and fences, in the 0.001-2 inch range from 12- 30 inches long takes great care to achieve.

Straightness, coplanarity and calibratable angular accuracy are very important qualities to the shooting board as a tool. They can give a simple block plane the accuracy of a surface grinder. They may not look as beautiful as a tool unto themselves, but the beauty is built into what they help make. Stable materials and accurate surfaces become the beauty in your work. In a rectilinear tool, it seems deceivingly simple at a glance, but using the wrong material can make all this accuracy difficult to achieve and maintain.

Making a shooting board is careful work. It takes mindfulness and layout skill, finely tuned tools, accurate machines and a developed discerning eye to make. It can be harder to make if you don’t use power tools at all. One of my clients once said, If I had a good shooting board, I would then have a tool that could help me make a good shooting board. That has a lot of truth to it.

Accurate Settings

This is about your present and future creativity. How capable would you like the shooting board to be? One or two angles, many angles? It’s not about having a built in protractor, it is about being able to be accurately set the shooting board with a tool as nice as a Starrett Protractor or a high quality square so the quality of the setting can be assured. Then it’s about retaining that accuracy while the business is done. Calibratable settings? Yes! How can you compensate for wood movement so accuracy issues don’t keep you from making whatever, whenever in the future? We have to be able to calibrate accuracy before use.

Calibrating To Shoot

What are shooting boards commonly used for? There are plenty of good instances. Squaring boards that will have dovetails laid out and cut on them. It helps accurize and show the layout, and that is what squares the box when you assemble it. Un-squareness in the layout will amount to an un-square, possibly unusable box. Care before the cut is what makes for fine work. Want layout lines you can see in endgrain, so you can saw perfectly? Shoot the endgrain first.

Small, short and thin stocks are safer to do on a shooting board, and that goes for both long and end grain. Machines love to eat workpieces this small, while exposing your fingers to dangerous cutters. Our shooting boards offer a planing stop accessory, so you can thickness material too. It is a great tool for small box work, or anything with smallish parts. Much safer than a machine and it makes small box making a dream.

51 Shooter

We offer accessory fences that make it possible to shoot material that extend all the way to the width of a 2 inch plane iron on the board, about 1-3/4 width, so the shooting board’s domain into thick work is easily expanded if desired.

Mitering moldings is a big reason for accurate shooting. Hollows and rounds molding planes are very popular; considering a half set of hollows and rounds can set you back more than the $3,500+ range, why not shoot your molding work with an accurate tool? Moldings make for twice the work in a shooting board. You’ll need twin chutes, multiple fences and sometimes multiple fence angles because molding shooting requires the molding to be accurized to fit in it’s installed position, and the shooting board has to be able to emulate that.

MasterMiter Shooter 2

Store bought and machine made moldings are also widely made and used in shop, and all types of moldings benefit from shooting board accuracy and finish quality. If this is work you’ll have in your future, then you’ll want to have a shooting board that is up to the task, whether you make or buy. We offer a couple of different shooting board models specifically made for addressing custom molding work and miters in different directions.

Master Miter Shooter

Joining veneer is an important job for the shooting board. This is important in furniture making, box making, lutherie… From long book matching, planing specific angles for sunbursts or compass points, inlay work, even making parquetry is important work for the shooting board. Many different angles apply and can be accurized with boards that are set up to address this work.

Long Grain Shooter

Layout for joinery can be helped by shooting the surfaces that will bear the layout tools, as well as the layout marks prior to cutting. I have also used the shooting board to true leather.

Sanding shooting tools are available for shooting boards, and I have used them to true plywoods, plastics and other materials that aren’t easily planed.

Other nice things a shooting board can do here is accurize length and squareness as well as remove saw marks and tear out from the cutting process, dressing things up with a hand plane to a surface smoothness that is similar to 5-600 grit sandpaper right off the plane. The shooting board can be a very well rounded makers tool.

Any Angle Fence

If odd angles are desired or if you have work that has to match angles that are not standard, we also offer an accessory fence for shooting almost any angle between 0-90 degrees. Shoot any angle you want or need as accurately (or inaccurately) as you require.

To be certain, the shooting board can be used very flexibly, to accurize most anything you want. It is perfectly fine to think outside the box with it.

It’s Your Shop. It’s also your time. What you do with it should be what you want to do with it. I can tell you, that after making hundreds and hundreds of shooting boards full time for years now, it still isn’t anything less than careful work. I work to 0.001 inch tolerances daily, but I know that isn’t for everyone. I personally use a lot of specialized tools in my shop to help me be accurate and productive, but they are often tools a lot of woodworkers may not wish to have, unless they are also machinists.

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In my shop, I approach the making of a shooting board like I would an infill plane. It takes time and care to make, fitments must be precise, and are made to last years with proper care. It’s all precision from the get go, and that’s what you’ll get when you buy one of ours. My eye is to your future craftsmanship, so I want the accuracy and capabilities to be there so you can go wherever you like with your creativity. Caring about your craftsmanship is what our tools are about, so I take steps beyond what you might for yourself to assure our tools will give you all of your craftsmanship at it’s best.

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So make or buy? I can’t really tell you what you should do. It’s up to you, because it’s your shop. For our part should you choose to buy, our tools offer a lot of variety, capability and accuracy for use with your craftsmanship. A shooting board can help you fight above your weight when performing quality work, and enable you to do more when you have less than a full kit of tools. There is no disgrace in owning a custom made precision tool that can enable you to make creatively and accurately in many, many ways. If you prefer to make furniture rather than tools, we have a selection of helpful Shooting Boards and Woodworking Tools to help you do exactly that.

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