Making & Using a Shooting Board and Mitre Board

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About: Just a hobbyist. I make stuff from wood, play with my CNC Router/Laser and generally just turn big bits of wood into sawdust and smaller bits of wood. Made some furniture pieces, a couple wooden clocks and s...

Caveat Emptor...

This is intended as a very brief introduction into making and using a Shooting Board and Mitre Board. I've not bothered getting too far into how they're actually used - 2 minutes on Google and you'll see far better versions than I'll be able to make.

These are also my own simple home-made versions, constructed out of what I had available at the time. Every woodworker traditionally makes their own version of a Shooting Board - ask a dozen woodworkers for their opinion on what the best design is, and I'll bet you get a dozen different answers...

I would also very strongly suggest doing a Google search for Shooting Boards and their use before you start making your own. My version is by no means perfect and there are many many many variations out there.

If you've got the money, you can also buy some beautiful Shooting Boards, but given how simple the basic design is, making one of your own is a really good weekend project. It'll teach you things you'll use in the future and provide enormous satisfaction, once you made your own, and can quickly and easily, cut (or Shoot), the ends of a board perfectly flat & square.

What is a Shooting Board or a Mitre Board?

At it's most basic, a Shooting Board is nothing more than a frame that allows the Woodworker to hold a piece of wood, while using a wood plane to cut (or "shoot") the ends flat & square.

While this may not sound particularly useful, virtually everything you'll ever make, relies upon the wood you're using being flat & square. Many woodworkers will likely have a workshop full of tools and machines for making things flat & smooth, but often, the only tool they've got for working on the ends of a piece of wood, is the saw that they used to cut it to length.

A well made Shooting Board, allows you to quickly and easily, using nothing more than a wood plane, cut perfectly square ends on a piece of wood. It also allows you to take the tiniest shaving off the ends of a board, allowing you to cut pieces into perfectly matched lengths. All by hand, and leaving the ends smooth and clean, virtually ready for finishing.

A Mitre Board is essentially the same thing, but it holds the wood plane at 45 degrees, allowing a nice mitred edge to be cut.

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Step 1: Basic Shooting Board

This image shows my version of a very basic Shooting Board.

  • One side is where my wood plane can slide back & forth - mine has a piece of nylon on it to reduce friction (although this isn't really necessary)
  • There's a front piece that's set at 90 degrees to the plane face - the work is held against this by hand as the plane is moved back & forth
  • There's a nice flat surface for the workpiece to sit against

Two Critical Requirements

Whilst this is a relatively simple design, there are two critical things necessary for the device to be useful:

  • The front piece (against which the work sits) must be set at 90 degrees to the face of the plane.
  • The surface against which the plane sits, must be parallel with the surface that the work sits upon

Note - I use my Shooting Board with the wood plane in my left hand, and hold the work with my right hand. If this is different for you, you'll need to make yourself a right handed version...

What type of plane is needed?

The answer, is pretty-much whatever cast-iron bodied plane you have available. Cast iron planes will always have their sides machined at 90 degrees to their face. Wooden-bodied planes, not so much...

If you're lucky enough to have a couple to choose from, I'd strongly suggest the following:

  • Use a nice heavy plane - using a nice heavy plane allow you to use the weight of the plane to help push through the end of the wood. Whilst fine cuts are usually best, sometimes you just need a little more Ooomph to get through the wood. The heavier bodied planes assist with this.
  • Use a fairly long plane - I'm using my 5 1/2 which is long enough to let me get some momentum going and to a good long stroke when cutting.
  • Depending upon the material, a nice wide plane is also a benefit - again, my 5 1/2 has additional width allowing me to cut thicker material.

You can by specialised planes for use on a Shooting Board (Veritas for example makes a left and right-handed version), however virtually any wood plane will work.

Step 2: Getting It Square and Keeping It That Way

You'll see that the front piece on my version, is held in place by a couple of large stainless bolts. Whilst this isn't all that pretty, it does allow me to adjust it if it ever gets out of square (mind you that's yet to happen).

Basically, all I did was increasingly tighten these bolds, while checking that it was still square to the face of my wood plane). Once the bolts were fully tightened, I then put a couple of small woodscrews into it (from the back) to keep everything in place.

If I need to adjust it, I'll remove the woodscrews, tap it back into position with a small hammer, and then put the woodscrews back in (into new spots - not back into the original holes)

Step 3: Holding It in Place

The traditional Shooting Board is not mounted to the workbench, rather the shooting board simply has a strip of wood along the front, which hooks against the edge of the workbench. When in use, the material is pushed against the front of the Shooting Board, which also serves to hold the board in place on the bench itself.

On this image, you can see the basic design of mine simply has a slightly longer face, which hooks onto the front edge of the bench - in use, it's surprisingly stable.

Step 4: Using It to Cut the Perfect Edge

When using the Shooting Board:

  • On your workpiece, always choose (and clearly mark) one edge of the work that is going to be your Reference Edge. In use, you'll always keep this edge against the front of the Shooting board
  • Once you've cut the first end, swap the board by turning it end-for-end, keeping the same reference edge against the front of the shooting board
  • By keeping the same edge against the shooting board, you'll end up with ends that are parallel with each other, and 90 degrees to the reference edge.

Using the above technique, avoids introducing errors if your material isn't perfectly square and parallel (for instance, when boards where each side and face have been planed by hand).

Step 5: Now for the MItre Board

Some Woodworkers will have two separate Shooting Boards - one for cutting Mitres and the other for cutting square ends - mine ended up being something of a hybrid...

Put simply, all I did was made a small frame that sits on top of my Shooting Board, that holds my plane a 45 degrees to the work. As I'm usually only ever cutting mitres for box-making, the work pieces are always small and so for me, this works really well.

Again, it looks kinda clunky, but it seems to work well for me.

Note - one difference when cutting Mitres, is that it's not possible to keep the same Reference Face against the front of the Mitre Board as you would normally, so you'll need to take care that the material is as square as possible.

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    14 Discussions

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    Bradscopegems

    2 months ago on Step 3

    A lovely project! But I am puzzled by the photo next to Step 3. Why has the board suddenly become tipped up at an angle instead of lying parallel with the bench surface? And why is the nylon runner for the plane also at an angle to the board surface? I understand the previous photos but not this one.

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    DavidSkepticBradscopegems

    Reply 2 months ago

    My apologies - that my less-than-professional photography.

    The nylon surface that the plane slides on, is parallel to the bench surface. The face of the shooting board, which the work material sits on, is angled in comparison to the bench surface.

    Yes, you could make the whole thing to be parallel to the bench surface (and it’s possibly easier to do it this way), but I’ve done it like this, so that the wood being cut, is cut by a wider section of the plane blade.

    The height of the wood being cut is higher at the back than it is at the front, but the nylon that the plane slides on is flat in comparison. This means, as the plane is pushed forward, the part of the plane blade that’s actually doing the cutting, isn’t the same all the way. The wood being cut, is getting lower and lower in comparison to the blade, which stays at the same height.

    This is means I’m not wearing out the same small section of the plane blade (more correctly called the “iron”) and I’ve got something of a “slicing action” happening, with the cut moving slightly across the wood - although I’ve no idea if this makes a difference in any appreciable way.

    I suspect that if you looked at the shooting boards made by a dozen woodworkers (aka “Chippies” here in Oz), you’ll probably find a dozen different designs with a dozen different opinions regarding each one.

    if the above explanation isn’t clear, let me know and I’ll take a few pictures to demonstrate what I mean.

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    BradscopegemsDavidSkeptic

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thank you for this detailed reply. The slicing action seems li ke a good improvement on the basic designs.

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    JustNate1

    3 months ago

    Two questions from a novice, 1) what keeps the iron from inadvertently shaving down the shooting board and eventually ruining its squareness and calibration? 2) Any tips on calibrating the 45 (or any other degree) miter angle to get it close to perfect so project corners come together nicely every time?

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    DavidSkepticJustNate1

    Reply 3 months ago

    Two perfectly good questions.

    The first answer is actually pretty simple. If you look at the bottom of the standard bench plane or jointing plane (the cast iron bodied style in the picture), you’ll see that the blade doesn’t actually reach to the very edge. This means that on the very first time you use the shooting board, the plane will slightly shave away a tiny bit to the board itself. However because the blade doesn’t reach across the full width of the plane, the blade leaves behind a nice surface for the plane body to slide on (along the very bottom). If you were to extend the blade out further than “normal”, it would again reach the shooting board itself.
    the most important features of any shooting board are the angles (the whole point is to cut things nice & “square”) and the “backstop” (I’m not sure of the correct term). If the back edge of your material isn’t supported against the back of the shooting board, you risk having the plane break splinters away from the back edge of the board at the very end of each cut.

    The question regarding how do you get the angles correct, unfortunately the answer is something along the lines of “trial and error”. The good thing, is having gotten it right, you’ve then got a really useful tool. The less helpful thing, is that you may need to spend some time (and more than a few prototypes) before you get it right.

    Making a shooting board (or boards), is one of those “weekend” type of projects. Spend a bunch of time making, tweaking, swearing, remaking and retweaking until you get right. If you consider it as one of those enjoyable, frustrating, but ultimately worthwhile projects that add to your overall skills, the time is never wasted.

    Or, if that’s not your thing, just go and buy one. A shooting board is kinda like the Woodworker’s toolbox or tool cabinet. It shows a bit of skill, a bit of personality and can be something that ranges from an exquisite work of craftsmanship, to a couple of bits of wood that are nailed together and are “pretty close” to being square.

    Not sure if that fully answers your questions, if not send me another message and I’ll try and be a little more concise...

    Regards,
    David.

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    muadibeDavidSkeptic

    Reply 3 months ago

    You have answered the questions that have been on my mind as well, and explained them clearly. Thank you.

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    JustNate1muadibe

    Reply 3 months ago

    Thank you for the response and the explanation. Sorry it took me a couple days to get back to you. I don’t need one of these yet, but when I do I’ll follow your lead. Thanks again.

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    onetruegod

    3 months ago

    That's a nice shooting board. The photo under "Step 3: Holding It in Place" makes my skin crawl though; first, I can't stand to see a plane left standing on its base with the blade against the bench and second it's perched on the edge of the bench - actually the tail is hanging over the edge waiting for someone to knock it off.

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    DavidSkepticonetruegod

    Reply 3 months ago

    In my defence, I’ll point out the photo was staged purely for the purposes of making the Instruction. I too was always taught it to be good practice to always place a tool such as a bench plane on its side to protect the blade and the bottom surface from damage. Something that I “normally” follow...

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    Build_it_Bob

    3 months ago

    Very nice project...I can see where this would be very useful.

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    uses_tools

    3 months ago on Step 2

    This shooting board combo checks all the boxes:
    slanted plane with reference to the plane so that all of the blade edge is used,
    easy slide due to slick plastic surface for the plane.
    I also like the combination of shooting and mitre board working together -
    this saves at least a bit of storage space compared to two separate setups.
    I like it.