Every now and then you stumble upon a tool that makes you wonder how you ever got by without it. For me, that was the shoulder plane. My present workbench base project was going to require 28 large mortise and tenon joints, and practice joints showed me that fitting was going to be difficult. I had tried a combination of block plane and chisel to clean up the tenon cheeks and shoulders, but the intersection of the shoulder and cheek kept causing me problems. The shoulder plane seemed like the best solution. After considerable deliberation, I settled on the Veritas large shoulder plane from Lee Valley. I wasn’t disappointed.
Except for final honing, mine was really ready to go right out of the box. The sole was flat, the sides were square, and they even lap the back of the blade! I chose the O1 blade instead of the A2 since I use oilstones to sharpen and didn’t want to work myself to death. I DO have to sharpen more often, but that’s no big deal with this plane—more on that in a minute.
It’s a strange looking contraption compared to a Preston-style like the Lie-Nielson or Clifton, but there’s method in their madness. The boxy blade lever nestles right into your palm in the perfect position, and my middle finger drops automatically into the round hole when holding the plane vertically for cheek cuts:
By the way, be sure to remove your finger from the hole when making shoulder cuts with the hand-side up, or you’ll get a nasty pinch when your digit collides with the cheek!
The front knob can be repositioned into a threaded hole on either side of the body, where it projects at an angle. This has its uses, but I found repositioning to be more trouble than it was worth when switching back and forth between cheek and shoulder. Besides, the front of the plane is easy to hold as is when laying on its side. The rear knob pivots from side to side, and is locked in place by screwing it down. This feature really shows Veritas’ quality machining. When the knob is loosened, it doesn’t flop. Instead, some sort of internal friction bushing partially resists the motion, giving repositioning a solid “wiping” feel. My favorite way to use this is to not tighten the knob down completely, but leave a little play. This way, the knob can “self-adjust” slightly as my hand position changes during use.
The plane weighs almost four pounds, but I prefer the mass of a heavier plane. To me, this improves authority with end-grain cuts, and reduces effort on cross-grain. The 1 1/4” wide cutter is almost a match for most low-angle block planes. The iron is bedded at 15 degrees which, with the 25 degree blade bevel, gives an effective cutting angle of 40 degrees. The mouth adjustment consists of an adjustment screw and a separate locking screw. This allows the nose to be removed and replaced without losing the mouth setting, giving you a quick chisel plane option if needed.
The depth adjustment mechanism is smooth, but with some backlash. Veritas points out in their well-written manual that you should take up the slack after blade retraction by making you final turn forward (just like almost every other metal plane). They also give you a neat tip for fine depth adjustment: Changing tension on the cap lever will cause a minor deflection of the plane body, giving you a small degree depth adjustment. This is particularly handy when you run into those minor variations in the wood, or want to lighten up for one last pass—a slight tweak of the locking knob generally does the trick.
These are all neat features, but I saved the best for last. The real deal-cincher for me was the set screws on either side of the body. These can be seen in the first picture above on either side of the finger hole. The screws allow you to accurately set the position of the blade relative to the side of the plane. It took a bit of fiddling to get this right, as the rear screw will change the angle of the blade, knocking it out of square with the body. The two must be adjusted in concert to correctly set the angle and reveal of the blade. Once you’ve got it right, the two screws on the other side are brought into contact and then backed off just a hair (“Yoost a har,” as an old Swedish carpenter I knew used to say). This allows enough slack for depth adjustment, but maintains blade alignment.
Yes, I know you can align any plane, but how many keep alignment when you take the blade out? With this one, you can remove the blade, sharpen, and drop it back into place while keeping that perfect setup you had to start with. I can’t count the number of times in the past where I kept on planing with a dulling blade rather than lose my settings. As for durability of the O1 blade, I trimmed all 56 of the short tenon cheeks for my workbench base without needing to sharpen. I then popped the blade out, touched up the micro-bevel, and was ready to go on the side cheeks with exactly the same set-up. Sweet!
All in all, I’ve been very pleased with this plane. In fact, if I ever decide I need a smaller one, I’ll definitely buy its little brother, the medium shoulder plane. Veritas is really on to something with these tools.
-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog: http://littlegoodpieces.wordpress.com