Shoulder planes and Rabbet planes

  • Advertise with us

« back to Power Tools, Hardware and Accessories forum

Forum topic by richgreer posted 11-19-2010 07:05 PM 21165 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3309 days

11-19-2010 07:05 PM

In the world of hand planes there are shoulder planes and rabbet planes. They look very similar in pictures (I own neither). It is obvious that shoulder planes are for fine tuning shoulders and rabbet planes are for rabbets.

However, when it comes to the tool itself, what is the difference between a shoulder plane and a rabbet plane (if any)?

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

13 replies so far

View RalphBarker's profile


80 posts in 3004 days

#1 posted 11-19-2010 07:15 PM

There are shoulder planes and then there are Shoulder planes. The traditional shoulder planes from Lie Nielsen or Veritas, for example, look nothing like conventional rabbet planes.

LN shoulder plane:

LN Bench Rabbet plane:

Often, I like the rabbet block plane for trimming tenons, etc:

View Steven Davis's profile

Steven Davis

118 posts in 3149 days

#2 posted 11-19-2010 07:46 PM

A rabbet plane is used to “cut” rabbets. Often they have a depth guide and a rail to set the width of the rabbet and a nicker to cut through the grain (the Stanley 78 being the archetype) while shoulder planes are used to clean up existing joinery. The rabbet plane is smooth on one side where it will rest against the wood and open on the other to allow the shavings to clear quickly (the LN shown above is based on the Stanley 10, I think, and needs jigs to be used). As the shoulder plane is used for finishing, it is smooth and square on all sides to help cleaning and squaring the edges of the joint.

You can, of course, use the tools as you wish. The rabbet plane will cut a rabbet faster and the shoulder plane will clean the joint more effectively.

A dado plane, similarly, has a fixed width for the dado and a depth stop and perhaps a rail.

Check out ‘The Handplane Book” – it is a great read and may encourage you to dig into these tools that seem to have fallen out of fashion in our world of power tools.

-- Steven Davis - see me at

View tdv's profile


1196 posts in 3305 days

#3 posted 11-19-2010 08:59 PM

Rich the rabbet ( or as we know it in the UK rebate ) plane I own is an old Stanley it has a small cutting disc on the side of the plane (a little like those wheels you have on the new type marking gauges) It’s slightly in front of the blade, this incises the line down the length of the workpiece followed by the blade which starts to plane away the rebate (or rabbet) there are also facilities to attach a fence for setting the width of the rebate & some have a depthstop the modern planes like the rebating block plane (I own one ) in my shop gets used mainly for fine tuning large tenons I use a shoulder plane for smaller tenons. I rarely use my rebate(rabbet plane) nowadays it’s easier quicker & just as effective to use the router table

-- God created wood that we may create. Trevor East Yorkshire UK

View TheDane's profile


5574 posts in 3898 days

#4 posted 11-19-2010 09:40 PM

Rich—In my shop, the shoulder plane (an older Stanley 92 … not one of the new breed of ‘Sweethearts’) is used exclusively for cleaning up shoulders on tenons. It has a 3/4” blade, and a relatively small frame (only 5 1/2” long), so it would be a lot of work to push it through 3’ of oak.

To cut a rebate, I have a vintage Sargent Fillister plane ( similar to,id,538387.html# ). This plane is larger & heavier (blade is 1 1/2” wide, the plane is about 10” long, and is made of cast iron). The fillister plane has a ‘knicker’ that establishes a clean cut line, an adjustable fence to control the width of the cut, and an adjustable stop to control the depth. The other night, I cut a 1/4” rebate 3/8” deep in a 3’ piece of red oak in about 5 minutes.

I just bought (on eBay) another vintage plane … a Stanley No 45 plow plane to cut grooves with. The one I bought dates to about 1910, is in ‘minty condition’ (whatever that is) and comes with two boxes of blades (20 total).

Since my ability to use my machinery during the winter months (cramped garage/workshop) is very limited, the hand tools come in really handy … and there is hardly any noise!


-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View TominTexas's profile


42 posts in 3071 days

#5 posted 11-19-2010 09:43 PM

Rich – I own both a shoulder plane and a rabbett block plane (without the nicker). They share the similarity of having the cutting blade stop essentially flush with the side of the tool. This allows both tools to plane a surface flush to a vertical wall as in a rabbetted channel or a tenon face to shoulder. The difference is in the shape of the plane’s body. Like Trevor, I use both tools to trim tenon faces – large tenons get the rabbett block and smaller tenons get the shoulder plane. The shoulder plane is a bit more versatile in that it works very well on its wide flat side to trim tenon shoulders (hence the tool’s name) and seems to accomodate more trimming/fitting situations than the block plane. Both are useful and have their place.


-- East Side of Big D

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 3294 days

#6 posted 11-19-2010 11:57 PM

I have noticed, but I don’t think that this a hard rule, but most shoulder planes are of a low angle design with bevel up cutter. This is helpful because when trimming the shoulder of a mortise, one would be cutting end grain. A Rabbet plane, also referred to as Rebate plane is generally bevel down and standard 45 degree angle. They would be used to cut a rabbet in line with the grain in most cases. However, some are equipped with a nicker blade to score the wood to make it more effective for cutting rabbets across the grain also. These are the ones that can also be effective for trimming a tenon to fit. One other use for the larger Rabbet planes would be for cutting the profile on the panel in a frame and panel door. In this case, you plane the cross grain part first and then any tearout is cleaned up when cutting along the grain.


-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View swirt's profile


3546 posts in 3207 days

#7 posted 11-20-2010 06:15 AM

I think if you look at their origin, you come to the realization that they have the same roots.
The wooden rabbet planes very closely resemble the more modern style of shoulder planes

Some had adjustable mouths (this is actually a modern one)

I believe I read somewhere (can’t remember where) that the term “shoulder planes” is a relatively modern name.

That being said, if you really want to cut rabbets, you really want a “moving fillister”which is just a rabbet plane with an adjustable fence.

Keep in mind that much of the variation in plane terms came from Stanley’s desire to have specialized plane for every task. “You need a thneed” was pretty much their motto. So in determining which you need, the question really becomes which is the most specialized to suit your need …. or which one is so general that it can do it all?

-- Galootish log blog,

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18423 posts in 3911 days

#8 posted 11-20-2010 07:31 AM

Gerry I thought the Stanley No 45 was a molding plane. It s a plough plane?

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Lochlainn1066's profile


138 posts in 3012 days

#9 posted 11-20-2010 09:02 AM

The 45 does everything but supposedly does none of it well. I don’t have one so I don’t know the truth of this, but most “pro” plane users use dedicated plows, rabbets, and shoulders. It may be that the setup time for each operation is too high for a 45 when you can keep 3 separate planes set up for 3 operations. I see how this makes sense.

As for rabbets vs. shoulders, most rabbets tend to be wider than shoulder planes, at least for modern makers. I see the rabbet as for cutting the joint and the shoulder for tuning it.

Check out and look at the rabbets vs shoulders. Some things we call shoulders are there marked by the mfr as rabbets. The map is not the terrain; if a plane works for what you want it to, who cares what it is called?

My next “need” for planes is a #10 or equivalent. I have a home-built shoulder that works ok and a really nice wooden moving fillister, but a bench style rabbet would be really nice.

-- Nate,

View canadianchips's profile


2616 posts in 3232 days

#10 posted 11-20-2010 03:12 PM

I am just saying ” If I need to know the proper name and use the proper tool for each job, I am in BIG trouble” A lot of hand tools can be used for multiple purposes. Some do a better job than others, knowing which one works the best is the learning curve we want to find out (for ourselves)

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View TheDane's profile


5574 posts in 3898 days

#11 posted 11-20-2010 03:45 PM

Topa—It started out (in the late 19th century) as just a plow plane, but Stanley added more cutter sets with later models that would do beading, etc.

Stanley called the No 45 a ‘Combination Plane’. The manual claimed it took the place of seven planes:

1) Beading and Center Beading Plane
2) Plow Plane
3) Dado Plane
4) Rabbet and Filletster Plane
5) Match Plane
6) Sash Plane
7) Slitting Plane

I think Nate is right … the setup time for the various operations would be time consuming. I only wanted it to cut grooves.

The one I bought is complete and in near mint condition … I was contemplating a new Veritas plow plane, but there’s just something about those old vintage tools that I can’t resist!


-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18423 posts in 3911 days

#12 posted 11-21-2010 04:53 AM

That would fit me just right. I don’t do wood working well yet, at least not fine WW. :-)) What is slitting plane? I know sash is making some part of a window frame, not quite sure which part. I may not learn this plane business, too many things to do and so little time.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View TheDane's profile


5574 posts in 3898 days

#13 posted 11-21-2010 04:19 PM

Topamax—Slitting planes were used to cut thin strips of wood. The sltting cutter and depth stop were often used to slice off the beading (created with a beading bit). In the days before table saws, this was a pretty easy (and safe) way to cut beading and trimwork off the stock.



-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics