Many of my customers have come to me, wanting advice on which of our many block planes they should buy. Often this is prefaced by the fact that they would like the plane they buy to provide a great deal of functionality, as this may be the only plane they purchase. With this in mind, I frequently find myself suggesting our Low Angle Rabbet Block Plane ( 60-1/2RN with nicker). When you first see this plane, you’ll notice it looks a little bit different from the majority of block planes. Just in front of the bronze cap, there is a half circle of metal on both sides of the blade. Since the blade on a rabbet plane reaches the full width of the plane (plus about .005″), this unique structure is the most efficient way to attach the front section of the plane.
This block plane will obviously perform admirably in most of the “normal” uses, such as taking wispy thin shavings from long grain or applying a quick chamfer. With the low bedding angle (12 degrees), it can also handle end grain quite well, too. Now since the blade reaches all the way to both edges of the plane body, you can also use it to clean up rabbets and the face side of tenons up to the shoulder. A rabbet is a groove cut at the edge of a board, often so another piece of wood will fit into the removed section at 90 degrees, like the back of a cabinet. When working on rabbets or tenons, the blade should be set exactly flush with whichever side of the plane will be working against the edge. This is so the plane will remove material all the way up to the mating edge, without scoring the connecting face. A quick and easy setup method is to lay the plane on its side, on a known flat surface, making sure the side that will be used against the edge is the side that is down. Loosen the spin wheel just enough so you can push the blade laterally. Then gently press the opposite edge of the blade (the flat, non-sharp section), while keeping the side of the plane flat, so the side of the plane and the blade line up together. Don’t forget to re-tighten the spin wheel before using the plane. Just add about a 1/4 turn after reaching the point where the blade doesn’t move around.
The nicker on the 60-1/2RN is a small cutter that is almost completely round, attached to both sides of the plane body in front of the mouth. A portion of the nicker’s edge is flat, allowing it to line up flush with the sole of the plane, ultimately disengaging it from cutting. You would set the nicker in this position when using the plane to work flat areas, not up against a raised edge/shoulder. To set the nicker when working against an edge/shoulder, like the rabbet and tenons scenarios I spoke about earlier, first loosen the nicker’s Phillips screw. With the screw loosened, but not removed, rotate the nicker enough so the non-flat portion is down below the sole, on the side of the plane you’ve already set the blade flush to the body. Now re-tighten the screw. With the nicker(s) in this position (normally only one is set to cut at a time), it only protrudes by about .010″. The nicker, when engaged like this, will score the wood fibers just in front of the edge of the iron, and just slightly deeper than the iron is normally set to cut. This creates a very clean rabbet or shoulder/tenon face intersection, depending if you are working on a rabbet or a tenon, without the need to follow after the plane with a knife or a chisel. If you do not have nickers, the wood doesn’t get scored in the corner/shoulder area, leaving a ragged surface. After using the nicker for a while, they may stop cutting as cleanly as they did originally. To resolve this, just loosen the screw slightly and rotate the nicker about 90 degrees, which will present another fresh sharp surface. After rotating all the way through the arc, you can quickly resharpen the nicker. Remove the screws and nickers. Get out an 8000 grit stone (or equivalent) and lay the nicker on the stone, with the nicker’s flat outside facing surface down. With light pressure and circular movements, it only takes about 15 – 30 seconds to hone. Reattach each nicker, with its Phillips screw, and you’re back to work. It usually takes me longer to put the nicker back on than to do the actual honing.
Now that everyone understands what the nickers are, and the basics of what they do, I’ll share a technique I use on occasion, but don’t ever recall reading anywhere. There are times that I’ve had multiple rungs on the back of a piece, that ultimately were nothing more than long dowels. Each of these required a hole of a precise size to allow the end of the rung to fit snuggly when glue was applied. Who hasn’t drilled a series of holes, (in a test piece of course!) only to find none of their bits provide that exacting fit? Well, here is a work-around that can get you your desired results, but you can probably find some other uses for it as well. To start out, I find whichever drill bit is closest to the correct size, while still being smaller than the ideal. I drill my holes both in a test block, and in my final project. Then I’ll set up my 60-1/2RN so it is removing shavings of about a thousandth of an inch. I take this plane, flip it on its back, and clamp the sides of the sole in my face vise. Now, from my plans, I determine how long the portion of the rung is that needs to fit into each hole. I mark each end of the rung with this measurement, and take it to the plane (instead of the other way around). You’ll need to be extra careful on this next part, so the rung is the only thing the plane removes. Lay the rung down on the plane, so the depth line you marked is in line with the nicker, while the end needing adjustment is against the cutting iron. Now, while applying just a small amount of pressure on the back-side of the rung (on the portion that will contact the plane iron), slowly rotate the rung in the direction that allows the iron to engage. Check your progress regularly, since you don’t want to overshoot your target. I like to use the test block for checking. And since I’ve planned to glue each rung and am not looking for a friction fit, it is easy to test simply by presenting the end to the hole. If it doesn’t go in with easy hand pressure, just continue removing small amounts until it fits. Since this plane cuts all the way up to the marked depth, what is now ultimately a shoulder, you can remove material exclusively at the ends that fit into the holes. The remainder of the rung continues to stay at the pre-existing diameter, so others may never know you used this technique.
Always remember to sharpen the blade on any newly purchased tool. We grind the blades to 400 grit at our factory, which will cut wood, but a quick honing to 8000 grit will provide results that will make you smile, and utter uncontrollable little things like “Wow” or “Amazing”. Feel free to take a look at our sharpening demonstration video on Youtube, or stop by any of our events, and we’ll be glad to show you in person.
*One caveat I like to bring up, especially for those of you who may not have any other planes besides the No. 60-1/2R(N) Rabbet Block Plane. Do not use a rabbet plane on a shooting board. The small band of metal on both sides of the mouth on regular planes is what prevents those planes from continually cutting into the edge of the shooting board. Since the rabbet plane’s blade cuts full width, it would continue to remove material, ultimately destroying your shooting board.
I hope to see some of you at our upcoming events, listed on the Lie-Nielsen website.
To take a closer look at the low angle rabbet block plane with nicker, click here.
To see Highland Woodworking’s entire selection of Lie-Nielsen hand tools, click here.
Lee Laird has enjoyed woodworking for over 20 years. He is retired from the U.S.P.S. and works for Lie-Nielsen Toolworks as a show staff member, demonstrating tools and training customers.