The brand is not (always) important

One of the things I most admired about ‘The Anarchist’s Tool Chest’ on first reading was that it was not about name (brand) dropping. The important thing was the functionality of the tool, not the name cast into the iron. That kind of thinking was far more helpful to a budding hand tool user than a laundry list of particular tools and manufacturers, and it is the same sort of thinking that still presents itself in the appendices of ‘The Anarchist’s Design Book.’ A few brands are mentioned (unsolicited and uncompensated), but only when it makes a functional difference.

In the last post I took to studying what made a good shooting board so that I could build one for myself, but a shooting board is only useful if you’ve got the right plane to shoot with, and that is a discussion in itself.

First, let me say that you don’t need a shooting plane to use a shooting board. There are distinct advantages in my opinion, but if you’re only shooting the occasional drawer side you can do just fine with a no.6, no.7 or low angle jack turned on its side. You can also build a track to fit any of these planes.

That said, you don’t need a crosscut panel saw to cut a board down to length, (I could do it with my Swiss Army knife if I had to) but it sure makes it easier and produces a better result “off the saw.”

So, does a shooting plane work better than a bench plane for this purpose? Yes. Is it easier to use? Yes. Is it capable of producing better (and more repeatable) results? Yes. It was designed to do all of these things and it will do them well, but for me the real advantage in using a shooting plane is ergonomics. I shoot a fair amount of stock and the sonic death monkey grip that I need to use on my sideways Bailey no.6 gets old quick. Shooting enough stock for several drawers is enough to leave my hand cramped and my elbow aching. That’s the kind of thing that leads to permanent injury and the sort of thing I’d like to avoid. If you think investing in a shooting plane is expensive, wait until you see the bill from the orthopedic surgeon and therapist.

Ergonomics were also the reason I finally chose the particular shooting plane I purchased (at full price and unsolicited).

There are two very fine examples of this style plane on the market right now. The Shooting plane by Veritas offers some distinct advantages (bevel up blade, adjustable mouth, set screws for blade placement and nicely refined body shape) some specious capabilities (seriously, who changes the handle position and uses this like a jointer?) and a price tag that is a bit softer on the wallet. Even after using the Lie-Nielsen 51, I very seriously considered this plane. It was in my shopping cart for a month while I vacillated back and forth between the two.

I own several Veritas specialty planes and I love them. I prefer their router plane and shoulder plane design, but when it comes to bench planes, I have never been able to get along with the totes. They’re just a tad too small for my big hands and at an angle that cocks my wrist back when using them on a lower bench. Again, ergonomics won the day and I finally went with the one plane I knew would serve me for a lifetime and feel most natural in my hands.

Enter the 51…



Opening the plane was a joy.



I had waited to set up the oak fence based on the actual dimensions of the tool on the board and I advise anyone else to do the same. Put the plane on the shooting board, stick a piece of printer paper between the plane and fence, then mark, drill and screw the fence down. I waxed the track and fence with minwax furniture wax and it was ready to go.


A few points:

  • Hone the blade before you start. LN planes come with “sharp” blades but they really require a couple of strokes on your finest stone and strop to bring them up to speed, especially for shooting.
  • Check your board for square in practice, not just with a square. Shoot the end of a board with known parallel sides. Flip it over and register it against the sole of the plane to check for square. Adjust fence if necessary using tapered cuts.
  • The LN plane is 15″ long. This is the primary reason I made my shooting board 15″ front to back. I don’t understand why you would make it any shorter.
  • Keep it oiled. Keep it tuned. Keep it sharp
  • On that last point, keep your left thumb clear of the blade in use.
  • Enjoy





5 Comments Add yours

  1. Greg Flora says:

    Awesome series, Jim. I’m still using my No. 6 as a mostly dedicated shooting plane, but fell in love with the Lie-Nielsen No. 51 at the last few shows in Cincinnati. Even my dad, who is a die-hard power tool guy (but is slowly becoming more hand-tool oriented) had to admit how precise and expertly made the tool was. It sounds like it a worthy investment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a superb tool. Honestly, if they sold them for $450 they’d probably sell a ton more because $500 just feels prohibitive. I finally purchased this with what little inheritance I received from my dad’s passing as a way of remembering him while doing something I love.


  2. erikhinkston says:

    Our young apprentice Thomas has upped his game with this Packing box! What a great presentation, I was leaning towards the LN version. Thank you for the review, and all of the great information you provide in this blog. I’m never disappointed nor bored with your prose, always encouraged and motivated to carry on. Enjoy the shavings and memories this tool will bring you…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve struggled with my setup as well. I use a low angle jack from Veritas on a homemade shooting board similar to yours. I purchased one of those tracks from Lee Valley intended for use with their shooting plane but unfortunately it doesn’t accommodate the LA Jack. I’m sure I’ll eventually upgrade but for now this makes me want to slap down a piece of wood as a fence for the right side of the plane. If I do it, I’ll let you know how it goes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Please do! My gut tells me it will make a difference and I’m interested to hear how it goes.

      Liked by 1 person

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