The Shoulder Plane Family
The shoulder plane is one of the more useful hand planes in a woodworker’s
tool kit. You will use it to trim a tenon shoulder - from which is where
it gets its name - or the shoulder of a breadboard, smooth a rabbet, or
clean the bottom of a dado. No other tool will do this with the accuracy
of a shoulder plane.
The shoulder plane must not be
mistaken for one of its “cousins”. An example here is the Bullnose plane
such as the Stanley #90, which is essentially the shoulder plane minus the
nose. Some woodworkers attempt to use the bullnose plane to trim shoulders, but they
do a poor job in this regard as they lack the registration area for a
stable, precise cut.
Another cousin is the Rabbet (or
Rebate) plane. Examples include the Stanley #78 and the Record #778.
A rabbet plane does
something basically similar to the shoulder plane, but its primary purpose
is to remove as much material as possible, and as quickly as possible to
create the rebate. The mouth is wide and there is no attempt made to cut
very finely. Further, rabbets are cut with the grain; dados are cut
across the grain, while shoulders are created from end
plane is a precision tool. It has sides that are perfectly square to the
sole, a small mouth that permits very fine shavings and, generally, a low
angle blade, since it is designed primarily to cut the end grain of a tenon
shoulder. The LV Medium and the Stanley are both bedded at 15°.
This, together with a 25° bevel in a
bevel-up configuration, creates a low cutting angle of 40°. The HNT
Gordon, on the other hand, is bedded at
60° (which is also
the cutting angle since the blade is bedded bevel down).
notable feature is the blade projection from the side of the plane. The
purpose of the side
projection of the side bevel is to make sure that the blade
gets right into the corner of the shoulder or rebate. If it did not do so,
the corner is in danger of not being cut at 90 degrees. This projection
needs only to be a hairs width.
Left to right: Stanley #90 Bullnose, Stanley #140
Skew Block, and Record #778 Rebate.
The LV Medium Shoulder Plane
I must say this
quickly and get it out of the way. About a year ago I was discussing
shoulder plane design on a forum and the topic turned to aesthetics. My
comment was that I thought the LV Medium to be really ugly. All too modern
and too busy. It was just not in the spirit of Norris and Spiers and all
the other traditional plane makers. I was given as a birthday present the
HNT Gordon ¾” shoulder plane, and I pointed to this plane as a thing of
can’t say that I have changed my opinion about the aesthetics much. The
HNT Gordon Shoulder planes are still quite stunning. But I can say that
the LV has grown on me. It is not simply a case of familiarity, but it is
an appreciation of the finer details that went into its design, the
quality of build, and its superb ease of use. I know I am getting ahead of
myself, but this is a very fine shoulder plane.
For years I
have predominantly used a Stanley #92 (3/4” wide) and #93 (the 1”
version). These have served me very well and I have not been tempted to
seek out replacements. Complacency is a poor excuse.
the LV Medium Shoulder Plane…
Notable features include:
- The blade is
1/8” thick, made of A2 steel, and hardened to Rc60-62.
- Low bed
angle of 15°.
adjustment of mouth and blade.
- Multiple grip-points to suit different holding styles.
Notes on review methodology
I have chosen to contrast the LV Medium with the Stanley #92 and the HNT
Gordon ¾” since this offers an opportunity to highlight the strengths and
weaknesses of the LV design. Here is a picture of the planes together,
along with a classic infill shoulder plane in the background.
right: HNT Gordon, Stanley #92, and LV Medium. Rear: An infill
Specification comparison of three shoulder planes
Converts to Chisel Plane
5 ½ “
Differences in design are immediately apparent as soon as
one attempts to remove the blade for honing. The LV Medium is the easiest
to remove the blade and later return it to the previous settings, the HNT
Gordon next, and the Stanley the most
– undo the main screw… undo the small screw… remove the lever cap… wiggle
out the blade. All settings are lost.
With the LV Medium you just loosen the lever cap wheel… then remove
the blade. All settings are maintained.
LV Medium Shoulder apart
Gordon is fairly straightforward as well. Tap the brass abutment with
a mallet, which loosens the wedge … remove the wedge and blade. The
setting for the side of the plane is lost, however this is not a big deal
HNT Gordon apart
the shoulder plane for depth of cut:
Tuning for depth of cut on the LV Medium is done with the Depth
Adjustment Knob. A word needs
to be first said about the Lever Cap Wheel. Tightening this
increases the clamping force exerted on the blade and results in a slight
deflection of the blade bed. According to LV, “this is normal”. Deflection
may range from a mild .0005” to a high .003” if you clamp it with high
tension. They recommend a 1/8 turn as sufficient.
is the term given to the amount of free play in the adjustment mechanisms.
The Stanley required a ¼ revolution of the blade projection knob to
produce movement. The LV required a ½ revolution for movement. While both
these figures are good, the LV was more than I expected and greater than I
have experienced in their other planes.
Positioning the blade:
Unique to the LV Medium (and present as well on other planes in their
range) are two setscrews on each side of the plane’s body. These are used
to fine-tune the blade’s side projection once it is in place. It is only
when one returns to the Stanley and HNT Gordon that the value of these
setscrews becomes so apparent.
It is a
relatively easy matter to position a blade in the mouth in a roughly
accurate position. The perfectly correct position is with a bevel
square to the front of the mouth (it goes without saying that the blades
of a shoulder plane are honed especially carefully for square), but it is
the side projection of a “hair” that is more difficult to achieve while
keeping the blade square. With the Stanley, one would fiddle
back and forth. With the LV, all that is needed is to slide (and hold) the
blade into position with the setscrews.
Adjusting the mouth:
The mouth adjustment is a similar process on both the LV and Stanley. Both
require that the mouth section is first released by a top screw (the
Toe Locking Screw on the LV). The Stanley is moved back and forth
manually, while the LV is more precise in this regard, with adjustment
made with the Toe Adjustment Screw.
The LV Medium Shoulder Plane in Action
I used the three shoulder planes on tenons
cut in Pine (for softwood) and Redgum (for hardwood).
More than anything, the testing really
emphasized that the important differences were about the ease with which
each of these planes could be used. All of them cut extremely well. That
is, all the planes were capable of very fine, semi-transparent shavings, but this was to
be expected since two of them were personal users. The LV Medium required
minimal tuning out-of-the-box and worked perfectly from the moment it
arrived. Together with all the others, its blade was honed to 8000 grit on
a King waterstone, set for a fine shaving, and away we went…
I can cut a tenon in a few different
ways: with a backsaw, with a table saw or, as I did here, with a band saw.
This left a slightly serrated surface for the shoulder planes to clean.
A Stanley #140 Skew Block plane
was called into action to clean up the tenon face. Generally I cut a tenon
fractionally large, then trim it to fit the mortise using the #140.
Now enter the shoulder planes. The
shoulders are smoothed from the outsides (working inwards only so as to
avoid breaking out the end side). As noted earlier, all the planes
performed perfectly in their ability to take fine shavings in both soft
and hard woods. One cannot fault any part of this area.
Differences between the planes are
immediately noted when they are held. The LV is very comfortable to hold.
Not only does it offer a wider, flat surface that registers with greater
stability on the tenon face, but it also provides additional grips to hold
the sole of the plane firmly against the tenon shoulder.
Registration area of the three shoulder planes
The LV has two grips. The first is a
cutout in the plane body. The second is a pivoting knob. This can be moved
into either position where it provides a point of rest in the web of your
hand. The angle may be altered to suit. The knob may be unscrewed should
you prefer not to use it.
The holding technique
is illustrated below.
Trimming soft Pine.
The Stanley #92 feels small by
comparison. It lacks the registration area both in the nose and body. In
particular, the right hand is significantly less secure than with the LV.
The HNT Gordon, while very comfortable to hold, also lacks the amount of
control at the right hand as experienced with the LV.
The Stanley #92
tuning a breadboard end.
The end result of planing with the LV Medium Shoulder
The Final Verdict
The LV Medium Shoulder Plane turned from an Ugly Duckling into a Beautiful
Swan. While it still lacks the classical form that I associate with
vintage infill planes, I was won over by the excellent build quality and
attention to detail. More than anything, this plane is a precision
instrument, one that is a pleasure to adjust, comfortable to hold, and
exceptionally stable in execution.