Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Well, Shoot

Just when you think you know everything there is to know about shooting boards, along comes Ron Herman to show you just how tricky these jigs can be.

Ron owns Antiquity Builders of Ohio, a company that specializes in authentic restorations.

How authentic?

In his shop, tools are grouped according to the periods in which they were manufactured.

So, if your 1820 home needs some repair, Ron and company grab all their tools that were made prior to 1820 and then get to work.

According to Ron, because wood is not an exact material—it moves, shrinks, and expands (unlike metal, for instance)—the machines that cut the wood cannot produce a completely accurate piece. Wood needs to be tweaked in order for it to fit a joint, a corner, a mortise.

This is where shooting boards come in. If you need to make an adjustment in 1/4 degrees, you can do it with a shooting board.

Ron and his team mark their boards with the word "SAVE" because they are made from whatever scrap material they have on hand, which means they can easily be mistaken for trash. And when one wears out, it is trashed, and they make another.

To match an angle, Ron uses a bevel gauge to transfer the mark onto a shooting board, and then slides a nickel between the fence and workpiece to act as a shim. Most of his shooting boards have a nickel-sized hole drilled into the top fence which holds the "shim" for future use.

Ron prefers to use a miter box and shooting board to cut angles rather than a miter saw. "Cells are crushed with a power saw" he says, and crushed fibers don't hold glue well. Conversely, wood fibers are sheered with a handplane—pores are open, which allows for better glue absorption.

"You can shoot with any plane" he claims, as long as the side and sole are 90º to one another. Ron uses a straight-mouth (not skewed) handplane for shooting and builds an upward-sloping ramp on some of his shooting boards to enhance the sheering action of the blade.

Many of his boards have dedicated angles (see first group photo). Others are adjustable.

One board (bottom three photos) is used to tweak tapered legs. Both the top and bottom of the guide are movable to accommodate a variety of shapes.

Shooting boards are made on-site for particular jobs—fitting a door, for example. Notes are written directly on the board for speedy reference. And scraps are tacked to shooting boards at various angles for quick "joint checks."

Do you need to undercut a piece of moulding by one degree? Take a look at the shooting board in last photo group. One chute (the bed on which the plane rides) is canted away from the workpiece and the other is canted toward the piece.

This is the overarching message I gathered from Ron's class: if you're interested in taking woodworking to a whole new level of precision, here's what you need—a sheet of plywood with a couple of nailed-on scraps, a well-tuned handplane, and your imagination.

I also heard the message "Sandpaper sucks." But that's another blog post.


Jonathan said...

Ron Herman was great. I would love to spend a year working under his tutelage.

Wilbur Pan said...

Nice recap, Kari! That was one session that I couldn't squeeze in at WIA, so I appreciate the play-by-play.

One comment: ""You can shoot with any plane" he claims, as long as the side and sole are 90º to one another". I remember reading somewhere that it's not so much the side and sole needing to be 90º, but the side and the cutting edge. Of course, if the cutting edge is square to the side and the sole is not, then the plane may not cut very well in this application, but it can be done.

Jake said...

Thanks, after reading this, I realize how luck thoses of us who live in Columbus are. If any reader lives in Columbus and isn't a member of WOCO they should be. Ron hangs out with those guys a lot.


Ian Mackay said...

Excellent write up, I really enjoyed Ron's class as well. I must humbly admit that I haven't used a shooting board but now have plans to build a few (from scraps of course).

That first picture of Ron is great. You could easily sepia tone it and photoshop it into a forest, with him leaning on a great big axe or saw circa 1800. I believe that was the standard issue pose for all lumberjacks.

Of all the presenters at WIA, Ron impressed me the most from a knowledge perspective as well as his presentation skills.

Kari Hultman said...

Jonathan, I'm with you. I sat in on one class with him and pretty much just parked it there for the next three.

Wilbur, I'm trying to think of an example of a cutting edge that does not match the sole of a plane. Are you talking about a skewed blade?

Jake, I'll say you're lucky. Ron is a wealth of knowledge.

Ian, shooting boards take woodworking to whole new level of precision. I've been using them for a few years and don't know how I got things to fit before then. Ron struck that pose when he saw that I was snapping pictures like a tourist. What a good sport!

Woodbloke said...

Hi Kari - a shooting board, however it's built, is just about the most useful thing to have under the bench. I use mine all the time (with a LN No9) but strictly speaking, any plane with sole and side at 90deg will do the job. Angles can be minutely varied either horizontally or vertically be shimming the workpiece in the appropriate place with small pieces of cardboard - Rob

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dean said...

I’m guessing that Wilbur is referring to the cutting edge of the plane iron not being parallel to the sole of the plane. Possibly the lateral adjustment lever is not set correctly or maybe the cutting edge of the iron itself was sharpened slightly less or more than 90 deg. relative to the side of the iron. Of course that is assuming I’m reading Wilbur’s comment correctly.

Gye Greene said...

This Ron fella is far more experienced that I -- but that said, I'm dubious about one of his practices, and one of his claims.

1) Only using tools that pre-date the era of the house: Laudable -- but unnecessary. While I agree that (for example) a router would leave different "tooling marks" than a router plane, I doubt that anyone could tell with the naked eye that a pilot hole for a screw was drilled with a cordless drill with a lithium-ion battery rather than with a "eggbeater" hand drill -- or even that the rabbet plane was a Lee Valley tool rather than some 150 year old unit. Can one **really** tell -- in the completed product -- whether a hole for a wooden peg was bored with a spoon bit versus an auger-style bit?

2) Power saws crush, handplanes shear: would a power saw with a crosscut blade, rather than a "general purpose" blade still "crush" -- given the shape of the crosscut teeth? And given that he uses a mitre box prior to the handplane -- does the wood truly care whether the stage preceding the handplane-and-shooting-board tidy-up was a power saw versus a backsaw in a mitre box?

Context: I'm 95% a handtool user (don't even **own** a power saw). But I'm also an empiricist that dislikes claims which are unsubtantiated and/or not based on logical support. ;)


Gye Greene said...

Oh: But, I dug the shooting boards!


Kari Hultman said...

Rob, I agree--I use my shooting boards just about every time I'm in the shop. Not sure how I got along without them.

Dean, adding to your line of thought--we could include irons that are cambered. They won't work with shooting boards.

Gye, all valid thoughts. I tried to find an email address for Ron so I could ask him your questions, but was unable to find one. I imagine there are folks out there who would insist on using period-accurate tools to build or fix furniture or their house. Sure, no one would know how a piece was put together once the joints are closed, but there are people (like Roy Underhill, Stephen Shepherd, and Peter Follansbee) who would be able to tell the difference between a drilled hole and a hole that was cleared with a spoon bit.

For your second question, I think he was referring to people who go straight from the miter saw to glue-up, without the shooting board step. Again, I wish he would be able to answer your questions himself. They're good ones.

Tom Buhl said...

Kari, I too was captivated by Ron's presentation. Only made one, of them but would love to hear more from him. I loved how they examine existing wood to determine species, origin (region grown) and more, so that they can be as true to original as possible.

This year's WIA was to meet and fill my head with possibilities. Next year might be the year of the hand saw for me. At this point just use 'em for dovetails and trimming small pieces and love using my Grammercy bowsaw for hogging out material. Have played with shooting boards a bit, but haven't integrated it into my process.

The past four years have been exploring tools and skill development broadly. At the moment, design and execution have center stage, but I can see a future of developing a work style to complement the visual and structural style.

Really appreciate your recaps of speakers and field trips. For having some writing skills and working with real writers in the graphics and publishing world, I am a crappy journalist and interviewer. I love impressions, feelings and hovering nearby. Not lots of patience for listening and not inquisitive enough to realize what I wish to ask/learn. So you and your fellow bloggers are much admired and appreciated.

Rock on, my friend.

Matt Gradwohl said...

Ron was great! I learned a lot about chisels from him like which side is really the back.

I was amazed at how many tools he brought to the conference.

-Matt Gradwohl