Shoulder Plane FAQ

What is a shoulder plane used for?

Shoulder planes get their name from their most common use: fitting the shoulders of mortise-and-tenon joints. They are also used for cleaning out grooves and dadoes, getting into the corners of rabbets, cleaning up complicated moldings, or any other work where the cutting edge has to extend all the way into a corner.

Why is the plane iron wider than the plane?

Shoulder planes have traditionally been made with the iron slightly wider than the body to facilitate getting all the way into corners. If you prefer to have the plane iron exactly the size of your plane, you can grind down the sides of the iron with a sander. Make sure you don’t overheat the steel or it will lose its temper.

How do I adjust my plane?

To take a bigger shaving, use a small hammer to tap lightly on the end of the iron. To take a smaller shaving, tap on the back of the plane body, and then on the end of the wedge. To adjust the iron side to side, tap the side of the iron near the bottom of the plane.

What if the iron keeps popping out of my plane?

If the iron won’t stay in place, you may need to refine the fit of the wedge. Check the burnish pattern on the wedge to make sure there is full contact with the front ramp and adjust as necessary. If the iron continues to come loose, it may be time to sharpen.

What if plane shavings keep jamming up in the throat?

You may need to adjust the angle of the throat opening. The front part of the opening should be angled away from the iron and toward the front of the plane. The best way to accomplish this is by removing the iron and cutting up through the throat opening with a file. Stop frequently to re-insert the iron and check your progress.

My plane used to work great, but now it doesn’t. What’s wrong?

First, check that the blade is still sharp. Second, you may have to re-flatten the sole. Like all wooden planes, your shoulder plane is subject to seasonal wood movement. For best results, you will have to true up the sole a few times a year, especially when the weather has changed dramatically. Set the iron so that it is almost, but not quite, protruding from the plane and tap in the wedge. Use your jointer bed or another flat surface to sand the bottom of the plane.

I still can’t get it to work. Help!!!

Take heart. Even the most experienced woodworkers often struggle the first time they encounter a wooden plane. Learning how to adjust and use wooden handplanes can be frustrating at first, but with patience, practice, and a sharp plane iron it will soon be second nature to you.


Good luck, and be happy in your work.

Shoulder plane design, production and 
instructions and FAQ by

Isaac Fisher
Pachyderm Furniture Works 
Fort Bragg, California 95437
Isaac@pachydermfurniture.com

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