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The Veritas Shooting Plane

When you aspire to building furniture with handtools, one of the common jigs you are likely to use is a shooting board, sometimes referred to as a “chuting board”.

You will use one to square the ends of boards, such as prior to marking off tenons or dovetails, and when fitting drawer fronts and rears. You will use your shooting board to fine tune the mitres for case mouldings or picture frames. I’ve also built mitre-sided boxes with the addition of a donkey’s ear, a jig that holds the work piece on its side. The shooting board will enable one to do all these with remarkable precision.

Why a shooting board – why not just plane the edge with the board held in a face vise? Shooting boards are aimed at planing boards that are too narrow for a jointer or other hand plane. Drawer sides range between ¼” through 5/8”, drawer fronts range from ½” through ¾”, and drawer bottoms tend to be between ¼” through ½”. These can be too narrow on which to balance a 2 ½” wide plane.

Over the years I have used a wide variety of shooting boards that range from the most basic affair – nailed together pieces of plywood – to the most elaborate pieces that could sit alongside fine furniture in the livingroom. Is the fancy version necessary? Nah, of course not, but these are some of the most pleasurable, satisfying tools to use around. Just ask most woodworkers what type of speciality handplane they aspire to, and one of the top 2 or 3 will be a custom shooting plane.

Perhaps the most well-known, and desired, of all chute board-plane combinations is the Stanley #51/52 …

The one above is a restoration I completed several years ago. It found a place in my workshop and in my heart. I love using this shooting board. A few years ago my wife “gave” me a birthday present of the then new Lie-Nielsen #51 shooting plane shortly after it was released. It lifted this combination to a new level. Wonderful plane, built in the classic Stanley style for which Lie-Nielsen are famed. It sets the bar for shooting planes. Then this past January I visited the Lee Valley factory in Canada and was privileged to witness the birth of their version… and I knew that this one was going to be very special. I have been field testing a pre-release production shooting plane in my workshop to provide Lee Valley with feedback before it hits the store shelves. It promised to be special all those months ago. And so it is.

The Veritas Shooting Plane

What is immediately evident it that the Veritas is a low angle (12-degree) bevel up design in contrast to the Stanley/LN #51, which is a common angle (45-degree), bevel down design. It has a racy look with its curves and rear cut away and, when you take in all the parts, you recognise that a great deal of thought went into its styling.

Does anyone else think it reminds them of a Bald Eagle swooping down? 

And then there is the detailing – not simply the use of durable Ductile iron for the body that will give it a lifetime of use, which we now take for granted from both Lee Valley and Lie-Nielsen. In the area of detailing Lie-Nelsen retains the form set by Stanley. This is where the Veritas takes off in a different direction.

There is an adjustable mouth, which is a really valuable aid when switching from end grain to side grain as this necessitates a change in blade projection, and thus mouth size. It is just so much more convenient to do it this way than moving the frog on a Bed Rock design, where moving the frog also alters the depth of the blade. With a moving toe on the Veritas there is no need to alter the depth of the blade.

The blade is also bedded with a 20-degree skew, as with the Stanley/LN, for a true skew cut. This is a great feature of all three of these planes. Not only does this allow for a slicing cut which lowers the effective pitch of the blade (in other words, lowers the cutting angle) to produce a smoother finish, but also the progressive entry of the blade into the wood reduces jarring on impact (which is noticeable when compared to planes with a square blade).

All are approximately 15” long with a 2 1/8” base width to fit the Stanley #52 shooting board track.

Stanley #51, LN #51, and Veritas Shooting Plane

The bed of the Veritas is a low 12 degrees. With a 25-degree beveled blade, this will create a cutting angle of 37 degrees. It has long been held that planing end grain is best done with a low cutting angle. Some will argue that a low cutting angle is unnecessary for a shooting plane. Well this is true, but not the complete picture. One of the planes I dedicated for use on a shooting board was a half-pitch (60-degree) bevel down HNT Gordon Trying Plane. It worked, but it did require extra effort to push, created a coarser finish, and was eventually replaced by a plane with a lower cutting angle (a Stanley #62).

Mass and Momentum

There is no doubt in my mind – more mass is better when it comes to shooting planes. Momentum through the cut is definitely aided by mass. In a recent comparison of three shooting planes, it was possible for a heavy low angle general purpose plane (the LV LA Jack, 6lbs) to eclipse a lighter but dedicated shooting plane (the LN #9, 4.5 lbs). The third plane, the LN #51, was the stand out performer for a few reasons, but one of them was its high mass (9 lbs).

The Veritas Shooting Plane weighs in at 7.7 lbs. Not as much as the LN, but significantly more than the others mentioned here. It is clearly not a lightweight. But is it heavy enough?

The Sum is Equal to its Parts …

One of the features of all Veritas planes is the setscrew that positions the blade. These make it a doddle when re-installing the blade after sharpening. There is also a depth stop for the mouth, which has also been a feature of bevel up Veritas planes for several years. The blade is adjustable both fore-and-aft and laterally with a Norris-type adjuster.

As with the Stanley/LN #51, the Bubinga Veritas handle is tilted to the ideal angle for combined forward and inward pushing. The Veritas handle may be adjusted into two positions. One is for when the plane is positioned in the shooting board. The other is for when the plane is used in a blade down position (see below).

Turning the plane over we find four “holes”. Two are for the setscrews, and the other two are threaded for accessories. The latter are marked below with machine screws.

Alternatively, the threaded holes could be used to connect the rods and fence (not supplied) from the Veritas Skew Rabbet or Jack Rabbet planes …

With the handle now orientated in the vertical, the plane may be used to joint long side edges …

To be blunt, I would not consider this provision too seriously. While the fence does provide a way of ensuring a square edge, I find the plane is too wide, too heavy, and just poorly balanced for this task. In any event, most who own a plane such as this will already have a traditional jointer plane, which is better suited for such a task.

It does, however, introduce the question of what one might consider the ideal shooting plane to be? Do you want a plane that may also be used for other tasks? The LA Jack comes to mind. Some use their jointer on its side. Or, do you prefer a dedicated plane, treating it like a chop saw, a tool that is always set up and ready to use when required? For those that seek a minimal kit of tools, it is unlikely that there will be space made for a dedicated shooting plane. Personally, since each requires a different blade and set up, I prefer to have dedicated planes for jointing, smoothing, traversing … and shooting. I am clearly not in the minimalist camp!

Time to examine the Veritas Shooting Plane as set up in a Stanley #52 shooting board …

Planing ½” thick Jarrah ...

Planing ¾” thick Curly Marri …

Shooting boards excel on end grain

The manual states that the Veritas Shooting Plane “is designed specifically to be used with a user-made shooting board ..”.

Shooting boards may be simple, such as this one built from MDF ...

... or they may be more complex, such as this ramped board in Jarrah with adjustable fence …

In addition to squaring ends, some shooting boards also have a fence for planing mitres …

One feature that must be built into a shooting board when using a #51-type shooting plane is a side fence. This creates a track along the runway to hold the plane against the side of the platform. The idea for this fence comes from the #52 shooting board.

I would go so far as to say that the #51-type shooting plane will be difficult to use without this side fence. Why?

The #51-type plane has its handle at the rear. Contrasted with the type of shooting plane that is held at the centre of its body, there side pressure is exerted in this area to control the tilt of the plane against the side of the shooting board. Examples of such planes are the Stanley/LN #9 and the LA Jack. The rear handle of the #51-type directs force in line with the body and blade. This maximizes power. However, the handle at the rear of a plane does little to stabilize and direct the plane against the side of the shooting board. This is the task of the side fence. It ensures the plane does not get pushed away from the work piece as it moves forward. Indeed, this is even more relevant when shooting mitres, where the plane is more vulnerable to being guided at an angle away from the side of the shooting board.

Cutting Angles and Steel Type

Observations with shooting planes lead to the following conclusions:

There are parallel factors with plane blades:

A Real World Experiment

While seeking a medium to demonstrate the strengths or weaknesses of the Veritas Shooting Plane, it occurred to me that I was in a position to complete a unique set of tests that could evaluate the observations above.

The Veritas and LN #51 shooting planes are both designed to work with the Stanley #52 shooting board. Using the #52 (as a level playing field) would make it easier to compare the effects of BU and BD designs on the dynamics of shooting end grain, and also compare a number of different steels and bevel angles for edge holding.

Selected for the Veritas Shooting Plane …

The choice of 25 degrees was made because this would produce the lowest bevel angle typically used. (Note: these blades are common to the BU range of planes).

For the LN #51 there were …

The procedure involved starting with freshly sharpened blades, each of which proved this by cleanly slicing Radiata Pine end grain.

All blades were hollow ground on a Tormek wet grinder, and then honed on Sigma Power ceramic stones (1000/6000/13000 grit). Each blade was freehand honed directly on the hollow, which was self-jigging. This is my usual procedure.

The only variations were (1) that the bevel down blades were finished on a plain hard leather-on-wood strop to ensure the wire edge was completely removed, and (2) the bevel up blades received a “ruler trick” (a back bevel of approximately 2/3 of a degree), which minimizes the incursion of a wear bevel and also removes any wire.

Here are the two planes and the #52 shooting board.

The board used was a section of Curly Marri, a West Australian timber, which was left over from my recent Kist build. This board was 21mm thick (approximately 13/16”) and 150mm wide (6”). This is about as thick as one is likely to go with case or drawer parts. The Curly Marri is a hard wood with a Janka of around 2200. It is highly interlocked and, importantly here, an abrasive wood. In short, I expected it to provide the blades with a stern test in a brief space of time.

The aim was to take 60 full shavings (if possible), and then compare the blades at this point. In part, there was a subjective element in which I would rate the effort involved in pushing the planes/blades. In part, the condition of the blades would be examined for wear.

To ensure that a full shaving was made, the end of the board was marked (see below), and then planed (started with a squiggle and then used a single line across the end grain). It was expected that the shaving would remove the markings in a single stroke however, should this not occur, the end would be planed until the marks were removed. That would still count as a single shaving.

The thickness of shavings was consistent for each set up. Below is an example of this ...

Photos were also taken of the finished board at the end of 60 shavings. Below are examples …

Above: LN A2 steel with a 30-degree bevel after 60 shavings.

Above: LN A2 steel with a 25-degree bevel after 60 shavings.

Above: LV PM-V11 steel with a 25-degree bevel after 60 shavings.

Results and Observations

The most obvious feature was that the Veritas was significantly and increasingly smoother and less effort to push through the end grain than the LN as the number of shavings increased. At the start, when all blades were freshly sharp, the extra heft of the LN was evident in it maintaining momentum. However, as the blades on the LN dulled, the lighter Veritas continued to slice the end grain without faltering. The continued ease of the Veritas was clearly due to the better edge retention of its blades.

The Clifton O1 blade proved to be the worst performer of all, even with the added insurance of a higher bevel angle. Planing was stopped after 22 shavings as it was struggling at that stage. This steel simply does not have much credibility for use in a dedicated shooting plane.

The LN blades began dulling after about 30 shavings, at which point they increasingly were required to take more passes to complete a full shaving – instead of cleanly slicing the end grain, they skipped and left untouched sections.

By contrast, the Veritas blades were still sharp at the end of 60 shavings, and could have gone on planing for much longer. Of the two blades, the A2 began to feel a little more difficult to push at about the 55 shaving mark, but continued to the end of its 60 without skipping a beat.

The PM-V11 did feel sharper and the end grain looked a little more polished at the end of 60 shavings, but at this stage it was difficult to judge which was more durable since a limit was set that proved well within the range of both blades.

Below are photographs of the edges of the blades at the end of the shooting session.

All three of the blades used in the LN show chipping, the O1 having the most (and for less than half the shavings completed by the other blades), followed by the 25-degree A2, and then the 30-degree A2.

Both Veritas/LV blades reveal little wear, with very fine chipping beginning in the A2, and less in the PM-V11.

At the conclusion of planing, each blade pared the same Radiata Pine end grain section.

The photographs below are slices from the same section of this board, following the same sections of grain. The Lie-Nielsen blades are at the rear, and the Veritas blades are at the front. This was repeated a second time.

Returning to the Fray

While these results were consistent, indicating that the LN A2 blades simply did not hold an edge as long as the Veritas blades, it did not inform whether the LN’s bevel down orientation was responsible for increasing wear, or whether the quicker wearing blades were responsible for the increasing extra effort on pushing the LN #51 plane. What I really wanted at this point was a Lee Valley replacement blade for the LN plane, either A2 or PM-V11. I had neither.

My thoughts returned to the results of the recent chisel steel tests I conducted (link again), where the PM-V11 was just beaten by the Koyamaichi laminated white steel. What I did have is a Japanese Smoothcut blade (in fact, it is used in the Stanley #51). This is laminated white steel.

The Smoothcut is an excellent blade. I have had this one for about a decade, and now do not know where they may be purchased. It was prepared with a 30-degree bevel, also on a Tormek hollow grind.

Below is the LN at 30 degrees alongside the Smoothcut at 30 degrees. You can see how much thinner the latter is, about half that of the LN. The edge was prepared in exactly the same way as the others, and, similarly, the edge was tested on end grain Pine.

The thinner blade required that the mouth be closed up.

Then the LN was set to work, and work it did!

If you look carefully you can make out the pencil lines in the shavings …

At the end of the 40th shaving it was noticeable that more effort was required to push the plane through the board. At least half of shavings involved some skipping along the side. The blade was deepened slightly to bite, which it did, and the 60 shavings were completed with the end grain looking extremely good.

A close up picture of the edge of the blade looked good as well …

as did the repeat end grain test on Radiata Pine …

The Smoothcut shows some wear – the surface of the wood is dull, but has not broken out. The wear is not enough to prevent it paring the end grain as was the case with the LN blades. The Smoothcut was not able to emulate the results of the Koyamaichi white steel, but it did clearly outperform the LN A2 steel.

What may now be concluded about the bevel down orientation of the LN and the bevel up orientation of the Veritas? I would say that the improved performance of the LN using the Smoothcut blade indicates that the blade edge holding plays a significant role, rather than the blade orientation. Overall I did observe a greater degree of polish with the lower angles of the Veritas plane however, owing to the rapid wear on the LN blades, we are not comparing apples with apples.

Subjectively, my impression was that the extra mass of the LN made a positive difference, but then so did the low centre of effort of the Veritas. Given equally sharp and enduring edges, these factors might well cancel out each other: the LN has a little more momentum, while the Veritas feels better balanced. At no time did I consider that the Veritas lacked in momentum. It consistently pushed through this hard end grain under its own impetus.

Summing up the Veritas Shooting Plane

There is little doubt that the Veritas is a superb shooting plane. Not only does it perform well on the wood, it is an ergonomic design that handles comfortably and reduces effort to a minimum.

One of the characteristics I have always enjoyed with Veritas bevel up planes is their ease of set up and ease of adjustment. The shooting plane is no exception and in this area it is easily the preferred choice.

Another notable area of excellence is the blades, either the A2 or, better still, the PM-V11. Both take an edge well and hold it a longer time than any other blade used in this test. It was demonstrated here that sharpness is essential for end grain, and that holding it maintains the level of performance. No matter how good a plane is, if the blade drops in sharpness, the effect will cause the plane to drop in performance.

Style? Interestingly, the Veritas is nicer looking in life than in photo. It must have something to do with the curves in this plane, of which there are many. A different vantage point creates a different perspective. In any event, it is a very striking plane. Will it, however, appeal to the traditionalists? It will be interesting to hear the comments once more hold it in their hands and use it.

Since there was a comparison with the LN #51 a comment or two about that plane is important. My respect for the LN is not diminished at all. It was and remains a superb plane for shooting. It is balanced and powerful – more powerful than the Veritas – and works exceptionally well. The main factors highlighted here are that the set up (blade insertion and positioning) is not as sophisticated and as easy to do as the Veritas, and that the blade does not hold an edge as long as either the two Veritas steels in this review. However the blade does get sharp and it does perform well – just that the steel is not in the same class as the Veritas'. It will dull sooner and then begin to underperform. Maintain a sharp blade – with more frequent honing – and you will be rewarded with a top notch performance. (Please read this article for an understanding that the LN bevel down blade orientation had a significant part to play with their underperforming, and not simply the steel itself – added September 2013).

Bottom line: Veritas/Lee Valley has created a top-of-the-line shooting plane with ergonomics and performance to satisfy all.

Regards from Perth


August 2013