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Like that promiscuous animal, a multiplying joint in my table project appears to be the rabbet joint.  The prevailing mantra that is permeating this project is that it’s never as easy as it seems.  A while back ago, I wrote about why I like hand tool work over power tool work: you have time to correct mistakes.  The flip side of this?  It can be slow… like really slow, going sometimes.

Unless it just hasn’t hit my Neanderthal brain yet, I’ve been tackling rabbets with my Veritas plow plane.  If you’re planing the entire length of the board, rabbets should be brainless right?  Wrong… not when they need to be ¾” deep. After about 30 minutes worth of marking depths and coming up with a plan, I started the cuts with the plow plane.

The rail-rabbet plan

An aside, I don’t think I’m a giant fan of the Veritas plow plane because I get mixed results with it (that could very possibly be attributed to being a beginner).  It can only plane in one direction: the left handed direction.  I don’t feel like spending the money to buy a left and right handed one either.  To be honest, I’d prefer a simple shoulder plane of the Lie-Neilsen variety with a fence on it that you can move from one side to the other.  I guess the pro’s can use their thumb or something as a fence for a pretty accurate rabbet cut; I’m not there just yet.

So once the rabbet is distinguished with the plow plane, I switch over to Old Faithful: my shoulder plane.  I planed the 5-foot long rail shaving by shaving.  And after about 30 more minutes and 10% into my ¾” deep rabbet, I threw in the towel. There has got to be a better way to remove waste.

So I fallback to my caveman’s club: the chisel.  After about 10 minutes of chipping away at an inches-length of the rabbet (and being extremely careful to avoid splitting… which is damn near impossible for something like this), I realized that this wasn’t such a good way to go either.  It would take me forever with an extremely high risk of splitting the entire rail.

With a sigh, I started setting the pieces aside to bring to the power tool shop nearby my house.  With a table saw or router, these cuts would be over in a matter of minutes.  So much for aspiration of building my first project entirely by hand tools.

Enter my ultra-stubborn brother-in-law (and trust me, I do mean this in the most flattering of ways – he ultimately saved the virginity of this project).  He’s recently gotten into wood working too, using this chest as one of his launching boards into the hobby.  He is currently cut from the power tool cloth, but was interested to see what hand tool work was all about.  Brother In Law doing my workSo, in a vain effort to prevent the wood from “winning”, he took up the plow plane.  (This is almost like Tom Sawyer getting all his buddies to white-wash the fence he was tasked to do!).  Using the example I’d shown him in my impatient, defeated attempt at one of the rails, he grabbed the other rail and started planing.  He didn’t like the plow plane too much either, so he switched to the shoulder plane like I did.  He planed, and he planed, and he planed…

And about 1½ hours later, he surfaced with sore hands, a built-up sweat, and a ¾” deep rabbet across the entire 5 feet of the rail!  All done by a single ½-millimeter shaving at a time.  Unbelievable.

A deep rabbetPerhaps I was ready to switch tracks too soon.  Because of him, I now had my motivation back; I will still be able to brag that this table was done completely by hand.  I grabbed the other rail and continued where I left off… taking one ½-millimeter of waste at a time.  After another 1½ hours, I had two 5-foot long rails with a ¾” rabbet cut into their length.  With the cuts now at the proper depth, I flipped both the rails on their sides and used the shoulder plane to clean and square up the walls of the rabbets.  Total time spent today doing this (including planning the joints, marking them, and cutting them)? We were probably near the 5 hour mark.  So perhaps this could’ve been done by a table saw in 30 minutes total, but burning a day to cut these rabbets gained me greater experience with that joint and saved the “hand tool only” virginity of the project.

The lesson learned so far?  Don’t set such a high goal to accomplish a lot in little time.  I assumed that I’d have the entire base glued up by the end of the day.  Far from it.  But this “lesson” will be a separate post for a different day.

I lightly chamfered the edges of both the shell and the base board and clamped them together just to see the work that was accomplished:

2 rails complete

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  • mike winslow

    One of the things I learned in my years of program management: Take your original schedule and double it… then be prepared for delays due to ‘unforseen circumstances’.

    • Yep – a post about that soon…

  • Brian Eve

    I think if it took you that long, you might be doing something wrong. You should be able to do this joint in less time than it takes to set up a table saw and make the cut there.

    But, perhaps the wood you are using is not ideal for cutting rabbets in this manner.

    I love my LV plow plane, but I have never used it to cut rabbets. After reading Matt Bickford’s book, I fixed up my old rabbet plane and gave it a try. I’m sure you could get similar results with your shoulder plane, but I would take a much heavier cut, and perhaps a temporary microbevel to bring the cutting angle to 45 degrees or so. But you probably could do it without that.

    The beauty of using this is that the only set up is marking the rabbet with your marking gauge.

    Shannon Rogers has a neat video on his site somewhere of him cutting a rabbet with a rabbet plane. I think Matt Bickford probably does, too.

    • Brian, perhaps you’re right with me doing it wrong, but I’ll tell you: my palms are sore as hell from pushing that damn shoulder plane! I started on the other rails today, and I had to wear ski gloves to help cushion the pushin’