Introduction: Rabbet Plane From Bench Chisel
Beginning my woodworking journey while barely in high school, I was always short on tools and space, therefore I consistently found methods to use the few that I did have in unexpected ways. Today my workshop is coming together nicely, but I still remember the days when I couldn't afford much, especially when it came to tools with very specific, narrow uses.
The rabbet plane is a good example of this category. It's very handy to have one around for cleaning out rabbets and dados, but I don't do enough of these operations to invest in multiple additional planes. I say multiple because more often than not, a plane is not sized right for the space I need; if a dado is only 5/8" wide, a 3/4" rabbet plane will just keep collecting dust while you're left cleaning it out by hand. Likewise, a 3/4" rabbet plane can skew a longer rabbet or tenon, which is also less than ideal.
Also, most rabbet planes have fixed inclines, which can be good for general work, but for different materials, a higher or lower blade incline can be preferable (higher for hard/figured woods, low for soft).
Fortunately, there's a better way. Chisels can be picked up fairly easily in varying degrees of quality, and it doesn't take much to get a few that can take a serious beating. With a small collection of basic chisels, you can create matching planes that can tackle dadoes and rabbets at will, going from 1/8" detail chisels for veining all the way up to 2" slicks.
A basic set from a big-box store will work well enough for this project. Alternatively, chisels are often hiding in old toolboxes around the house, garage sales, etc., so your upfront investment can be minimal.
The tools required for this project can be minimal, although you'll really need a miter saw to cut the primary angle and a way to get a flat sole.
Let's get started!
Step 1: Setup and Material Selection
For this project, I'll be demonstrating with a 3/4" bench chisel pulled from the stash. As this was a proof-of-concept, I didn't want to do too much work with either building up or trimming down a blank to make the blade fit.
The wood I chose was red oak, mainly for its stability and weight, although we'll be adding more later. I'd stay away from anything softer since you'd like for the plane to outlast the projects.
Using a Lee Valley shoulder plane as a guide, I started by marking off a 40-degree bed angle, which will give me better performance in harder materials, then marked out a notch in the back to account for the handle, and a gentle radius as a handhold.
Cut the angle on a miter saw, and flip the front around, cutting a second angle at about 60 degrees to form the front of the plane. As before, you'll need a handhold in the front so I began with a smaller radius and smoothed it out. Cut these profiles on a band saw or scroll saw (whatever you have on hand). Although I did a little shaping with a rasp to reduce the tooth marks from the large blade, no additional work is needed until assembly.
Step 2: Sides
Before going any further, make sure your chisel is the same size as the sole. If It is too big, it won't cut cleanly and if it's too small, the blade won't fit between the sides. Mine were oversized by about 1/32", so I made one pass over the jointer to bring them to the right size.
Most wooden planes use a three-layer setup to hold the front and rear together. We'll do the same thing, but we need to raise the shoulders in order to have the blade span 100% of the sole width.
For this, I ripped a pair of 5/8" wide strips from a block of 6/4 oak which will provide a high level of stability once assembled, and will give us the strength needed to hold the chisel in place. While I initially didn't like the idea of them stopping short of the top of the plane, the front has grown on me since it's a little easier to judge the left-to-right pitch of the plane without a large round knob taking up the full field of view.
Gluing this up takes a few steps.
1. Mark line 1" up from the bottom of the sole on both sides of both body halves. Glue the first side to the rear, being careful to follow your line.
2. Match the front half to the rear and glue it up so that there is a minimal gap between the two at the point where the blade sticks through. Check the sole for straightness across the two parts, adjust as needed, and apply the full clamp pressure.
3. After 1-2 hours, so that the glue has somewhat set, remove the clamps and attach the second side, now clamping across both joints at once. Be careful to apply pressure evenly so as not to cause the body to twist.
Once the assembly is dry, head back to the band saw to cut the profiles of the sides to match the center.
Step 3: Shaping the Body
The body should now resemble a plane, although it is far from ergonomic. Using a chisel/file/rasp, round over the sharp edges until you have a shape that is comfortable to hold.
Step 4: Seating the Blade
To mount the cutting edge of the chisel, I'll be using a simple friction-fit wedge held between the blade and a brass rod.
For the rod, drill a mounting hole about 3/4 of the way down the sides and with 3/8" between the hole and the blade. Use a drill press to bore a hole through both sides (mine was a 1/4" rod, so I used a matching bit), then seat the rod with a hammer.
Use a piece of wood about the same thickness as the plane blade for the wedge and sand/plane it to have a slight taper. The size can be achieved thru experimentation, as they tend to be very touchy and you can easily over-cut them. I also added a small riser to clear the chisel handle as well as provide extra leverage for removal.
Step 5: Finishing!
This part is really up to you, since it's your workshop and we aren't making a work of art.
For the finish, I began with a thick coat of danish oil, followed by a few coats of shellac, buffed with #0000 steel wool between coats. This gave the project an even sheen and will provide a little protection. I also added some turning/paste wax to the bottom to make it glide over the work surfaces easier.
The danish oil also helps strengthen the wood and add weight. This works better if you can let the end sit in the bath more than the side as it will soak up far more of the oil, but we can't have everything. After a few hours of sitting in the finish, I brushed a few coats over the entire assembly and let it dry overnight before buffing off the excess.
To test out the plane, I took an off-cut of cherry and made a couple rabbets and dadoes across the board as if it was a cabinet component. Since I can't cut dadoes all at once, I took a couple passes on the table saw, broke the insides away and used the plane to clean up the bottom. I'm fairly pleased with the result, even though the grain was not entirely cooperating.
I hope you plane came out equally well and finds many uses around your workshop when buying more single-purpose tools is out of the question!