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 90ยบ 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.