Friday, March 6, 2015

Fingers in the Till - Rabbet Plane

Today my hand drops in my tool chest, and what comes out but my trusty Kenyon 1 1/8" straight rabbet plane!

My trusty old rabbet plane right after rehab.  That is, the plane was rehabbed!

This great old plane almost never made it as one of my regular arsenal of beloved tools.  It was one of the first planes I ever bought.  I can't rightly remember, but I would be surprised if I paid more than ten bucks for it on eBay.

The first thing I did was sharpen the blade.  The steel on this particular blade must be magic, because this is one of the only planes I have that I enjoy sharpening.  It cleaned up and became razor sharp in no time.

I next decided to flatten the sole, as it looked pretty  beat up.  One swipe from a plane, and WHAM!

I found a nail in the sole.

This plane languished for a couple years in this state.  I almost got rid of it when I read Matthew Bickford's book, "Mouldings In Practice."  This book inspired me to get that old rabbet plane running.

Long story short, I extracted the nail and glued a strip of some mystery tropical wood for a new sole, and I was in business.

Plane in use.
With the new sole, this plane transformed from a paperweight into one of the most awesome things known to man.

I resisted the temptation to round over the edge of the new sole.  This crisp, sharp edge allows this plane to ride in the mark from a marking gauge.
The first step in making a freehand rabbet - ride the edge of the plane in a mark from your gauge.
If your rabbet plane doesn't ride in a gauge line, you have to deepen the line with a chisel or something until your plane will register there.  The sharper the edge, the smaller the line can be.  This equals a step you can skip if the edge is crisp.

Another view of the plane riding in a gauge line.
Matt's book showed me how to do a rabbet in this way.  The idea is that you use your plane to deepen the mark.  The next stroke you bring your plane a little more upright.  After three or four strokes like this, you can then use that edge as a fence, and hog down to your depth (which hopefully you have marked out), and you are done.

Even if I had machines in my shop, I think I would do rabbets this way if I only had one or two to make at a time.
After establishing the edge of the rabbet wall, you can use it as a fence.
Rabbets this way are surprisingly fast and easy to do.  Before I understood this, I had no idea how a rabbet plane could be used to make an accurate rabbet.  I thought that it took some kind of magic skill from a true artist.  In reality, anyone can do it, it really is easy.

My recommendation would be to take a look at your rabbet plane, and if the edge is rounded over, dress the sole with a finely set jack plane until it is sharp again.

You can buy wooden rabbet planes brand new.  Just because it is expensive, it doesn't mean that it is a useful or more superior tool.  I saw one with a $250 price tag that had the edges rounded over for comfort.  To make them sharp would have meant taking the sole down nearly 1/8 of an inch!
A rabbet plane also excels at chamfers.
One also could be forgiven if they thought all a rabbet plane could do is make rabbets.  In truth, this plane can do so much more.

I find that when this plane is on my bench, I won't pull out my block plane.  This plane will make chamfers like a pro.  With the tall body, it is easy to see the angle that you are planing.

I think this is the reason there are so many examples of this tool in existence today.  This tool is extremely versatile.  Have you ever wondered why there aren't examples of wooden bodied block planes everywhere?  It is because this tool is better at it and more versatile.  It is smaller, and nothing could be more simple, as it is just a block of wood.  I suspect far cheaper, too.

The only thing I think you probably could say a block plane could do that this can't is use on a shooting board. 

Like a block plane, the rabbet plane can be set for a very fine cut.  In contrast, the rabbet can also be set for a cut as course as any roughing plane.

One thing I recently discovered, was that using this plane cross-grain (at least in soft spruce), leaves not only an expectedly rough surface, but a ragged edge on the rabbet, too.  If it is critical, this is where a filletster plane should be used.  One might be able to get away with a rabbet plane with an angled blade, but care would have to be taken to ensure to continually strike a line on the wall to sever those fibers.  A filletster plane has a knicker that does this automatically, and the angled blade leaves a much smoother cut.

In conlusion, I think that while this tool isn't essential for woodworking like the tools in my beginner's tool kit (jack plane, two chisels, a Japanese saw, marking tools and a sharpening stone), I would recommend this to be one of the very next tools a beginner should buy when they are ready. 


  1. Nice post Brian! I rehabbed a 1" skew rabbet plane that was all twisted, it is now 3/4" and makes shavings like a champ! If you don't have a knicker for cross grain, one might use a marking gauge before using a skew rabbet plane...

    1. Thanks for the comment, Aymeric! A 3/4" skew rabbet that works is way better than a 1" one that doesn't!

      My plane is not a skew, it is straight. I got through my cross grain rabbets using the exact technique you mention, but I think it would have been better with a skew.

  2. I'm enjoying this feature of your blog, and appreciate your enthusiastic review. I rehabbed a wooden rabbet for my dad a while back and thought it a nice plane, but aways figured I'd use my LV Med shoulder plane to do the same things which I thought was working. Do I need to keep an eye out for one of these, what do you think?

    1. Hi Jeremy, thanks for the comment.The first plane of this type that I started using was the LN medium shoulder plane. I upgraded that to the large shoulder, which I think is more versatile than the medium. But, since I have really been getting the most from this plane, my shoulder plane gets used a lot less than I thought it would.

      If these planes were bench planes, I would compare the shoulder plane to a smoother, and the rabbet to a jack plane. The ATC book lists the jack as a 'must have' and the smoother as a 'nice to have.' I feel the same about these.

      I don't normally like to give advice (who am I kidding?), but since you asked... I would try to get by with your shoulder plane, and when you stumble across something with a nice blade that is a price you can't refuse, don't. OTOH, if your LV shoulder is working for you, then you have your answer.