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By Derek Cohen
The side rabbet plane is designed to trim – widen or straighten - the sidewall of a groove or dado. The typical scenario is when one wishes to fit a drawer bottom into a groove and the groove is too tight. Or fitting a too-thick shelf into a stopped dado.
One alternative is to re-plane the edge of the board to fit the groove. However this may be an inappropriate fix if one section of the groove is binding and the length of the board must be slid past this point. It is more appropriate to just do a little tweaking in this area.
As far as I am aware, the side rabbet plane is the only plane of its type that can plane a sidewall within such limited room. Other joinery planes, such as shoulder-, plough- and router planes all work in the horizontal.
Side rabbet planes are built in pairs to follow the grain on opposing sides of a groove.
Several years ago …
… I bought a Stanley #79 side rabbet plane. This is a double-ended plane, with one active cutting blade and one blade that is retracted into the body to allow it to run flush along the side of the groove. I liked this plane. It was comfortable to hold, dependable in use, and cheap. My information is that Stanley built these between 1926 and 1973, however until quite recently it was possible to purchase UK-made versions.
The main criticism leveled at the #79 was that blades had to be reset each time one planed in the opposing direction (i.e. the retracted blade would be set to depth and the recently-used blade would now be retracted into the body). For those who grew tired of doing so, Stanley also produced a pair of side rabbet planes, the #98 and #99. These had the advantage of being capable of being set independently and, thereby, retaining the blade depth in each. Like the #79, these were produced for a limited period, in their case 1896 – 1942.
I blame Rob Cosman and his DVD on drawer making for enticing me into buying the Lie-Nielsen reproduction of the Stanley #98/99. Rob demonstrated using the planes to trim rabbets in a carcass, and of course I said to myself, “gotta have one of those bronze jewels” (or in this case “two of those”). Luckily it was my birthday.
As with the Stanley #79, the LN #98/99 has had relatively little use over the years. These are not planes that one purchases because you have a frequent need for them. They are specialist joinery planes that serve to do just one thing, and do it well. The side rabbet plane is indeed one of those tools that you rarely use but cannot do without when you do need it.
So enter the Veritas Side Rabbet Plane – much awaited since Veritas are known for creating a quality, innovative product. What did they come up with?
Stanley #79 (rear), Veritas (left), and Lie-Nielsen #98/99 (right)
The Veritas is a design along the lines of the #79, but its lineage may be traced to the Preston/Record side rabbet plane.
Preston Side Rabbet Plane (courtesy OldTools.co.uk)
Veritas Side Rabbet Plane
Similar to the Preston is the use of twin blades. Where these two planes differ is that the Veritas blades are shorter – presumably to keep the cutting angles the same.
The other difference is the pivoting cap (tote or handle) that replaces the knob of the Preston. We shall return to this to determine whether it is a move for the better since the knob is also used by the Stanley/LN #98/99.
A similarity among all three planes is a removable toe to convert the plane to bullnose format.
The original Preston lacked a depth stop. This was added with the Record version. The Veritas depth stop is a beauty – smooth to adjust, stable in action, and extremely easy to use on the opposite tack. Simply loosen the Depth Stop Knob and rotate the Depth Stop body. It is not necessary to remove the screw/knob.
Swivel Depth Stop
A lever cap secures the blades. The lever cap screw is tensioned by one of the now-infamous wavy washers. This maintains enough tension while making an adjustment to retain settings.
Lever cap, lever cap screw and washer.
Unscrewing the toe for bullnose mode
Length of Body
Depth of Cut
No doubt someone is going to want to know why Veritas chose to use O1 steel rather than A2 steel for their blades. The answer is that O1 steel is considered to hold an edge better than A2 steel for bevels less than 30°. O1 is also easier to hone than A2.
All the blades of these planes are relatively easy to freehand hone. Of the three, the LN is the longest and, as a result, the easiest to support.
Veritas (top), Stanley (middle), Lie-Nielsen (bottom)
Of the three blades, my perception is that the Veritas was the flattest and required the least preparation. I cannot say what condition the Stanley was in when out of the box (it was a vintage model), but (from memory) the LN did require time to flatten the back.
For those who are uncomfortable about their skills to hone freehand, the option is to use a honing guide. The obvious honing guide to turn to is the Veritas Honing Guide Mk II, not just because we are reviewing a Veritas plane, but also because the Mk II is the only guide with a skew angle setting accessory.
The problem with using the Mk II is that the Veritas (and Stanley) blades are too short to fit the prescribed setting! Only the LN has the length to work as designed.
This is what it should look like …
Nevertheless it is still possible to use the Veritas and Stanley blades quite easily – as long as the setting are made as follows:
This will produce a 25° bevel on a 30° skew.
The other honing adjustment that is recommended is to relieve the lower edge of the bevel. Veritas state:
“If the tip of the blade extends too far below the bottom of the plane (see below), you may dock or grind the tip back”.
If left in place, the sharp tip will continue to score the wood, and this will create damage as the plane exits a dado or groove. My advice is to grind this back after you have played around with blade projection/shaving thickness.
I began by trying out all three planes on a groove cut by a plough in Radiata Pine. This is a resiny wood with reversing grain and, although soft, is not as easy to plane as expected.
All three planes had no difficulty in cutting nice, long and fine ribbons.
I was reminded that the Stanley was a very comfortable plane to hold. It also has the longest sole and the greatest registration, and this does lend itself to a strong impression of stability. However, two features let the Stanley down. The first is, as mentioned earlier, the fact that the trailing blade must be retracted. The second is the design of the depth stop. This is attached at two points, one at each end of the body. Care has to be taken to make sure that this is set parallel to the skate.
Stanley depth stop
The Veritas has less registration than the Stanley but still feels stable. Of the three planes, it scores top marks for comfort. The handle is the broadest and molds right into the palm of the hand.
Generally I grasp the LN in the same way as the Veritas – hand over the top and enveloping the body. When writing this review I started to wonder if I was doing it correctly. The “Veritas” (overhand) grip has always been comfortable, but then why was their no accomodation made for this in the design? Why the small wooden knob? The knob of the LN appears to want to be grasped “delicately” between a finger, thumb and palm.
This is the least comfortable of the options, while still quite manageable, but now lacks the sense of solidness of the other two planes. I think that I will stick to the overhand hold.
For the purpose of demonstration I cut a full dado and a stopped dado in a Radiata Pine board.
Parallel lines were knifed, a fence was undercut with a chisel, and the sidelines sawn to a depth of ¼”. Below is a picture of the waste being removed with a chisel …..
…. Prior to the dado floors being leveled with a router plane.
We now have two dados that … oops! … are a fraction too narrow for our mythical shelves. So out comes the side rabbet plane.
First set the depth stop with the plane inside the dado. This will aid in keeping the plane vertical.
Now plane the side of the dado, pushing the plane firmly against the dado wall. The plane cuts easily and cleanly.
Here are a sample of the end grain shavings made by the Veritas.
End grain shavings
To tune the stopped dado, first the toe must be removed to convert the planed into dado mode. This requires a screwdriver to loosen the toe screw.
Below is a view of the end of the cut …
The side rabbet plane is an important member of the joinery plane family. While it gets relatively little use compared with other planes, I really would not want to be without one when the need arises.
The new Veritas side rabbet plane is designed in the tradition of the Stanley #79 and Preston/Record #2506 in that it combines two planes in one. In this regard it is capable of swiftly changing from left- to right hand mode, and vice versa. The Veritas scores highly in ease of use. It is the most comfortable and balanced of the three planes here.
While blade adjustment is aided by the wavy washer under the lever cap screw (which provides enough tension to prevent unwanted movement), blade change is easier on the Stanley and LN. With the Veritas the lever cap must first be removed; with the Stanley and LN, blades may be slid out once the lever caps are loosened.
Sharpening the blades is fairly easy is one is reasonably confident about doing so freehand. The irony here is that the Veritas is the least suited to the specified settings on their own honing guide. Nevertheless, it works just fine with the adjusted setting I have supplied.
All these planes are capable of taking satisfactory shavings. Once set up, any of these three will do the job quite happily. There is no need to change if you are happy with the performance of your Stanley #79 or Stanley/LN #98/99. On the other hand, if you were either looking for a new side rabbet plane, or seeking to own and use the best design of the three here, then the Veritas stands out. It has a most economical twin blade design, highest comfort of use, and innovative adjustments that work rather well.