May 3, 2023

Rabbet Plane vs Shoulder Plane: Which One to Choose?

Do you love working with wood and want to improve your craft skills? Two important hand tools that every woodworker should know about are the rabbet and shoulder planes. These tools cut edge to edge but differ significantly in construction and purpose.

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A rabbet plane is a woodworking hand tool designed to cut rabbets and tenons, making it ideal for joinery work. It has a fence, depth stop, and scoring knickers that can be used to make precise cuts across the grain. On the other hand, a shoulder plane has a lower cutting angle and is great for smoothing wood surfaces and trimming the shoulders of joints.

In this article, we will examine these two planes’ features, uses, differences and similarities. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned pro, knowing how to use a rabbet and shoulder plane is essential to achieving great results in your woodworking projects. So let us dive in!

Rabbet Plane

Definition and features of rabbet plane

A rabbet plane is a woodworking plane designed to make rabbets. Rabbets are grooves cut into the edge of a piece of wood to create a joint or a needed space. Rabbets are one of the earliest cuts for woodworkers still learning to make cuts. They are straightforward in a variety of ways.

This plane features a small sharpened piece of metal fixed into a wooden or plastic handle. The metal is set at a slight angle, allowing crispy and sharp cuts for a clean, L-shaped groove. Adjust the depth of the cut by varying pressure on the plane (Kmtools.com). 

Some rabbet planes are converted into chisel planes. A rabbet plane contains one big handle, depth stop, fence, and cutting blade. Both sides of the rabbet plane are not the same. Only one side is for cutting rabbet, and it cannot have a reversed cutting.

Types of rabbet planes

  • Skew rabbet plane
  • Straight rabbet plane

Advantages of using a rabbet plane

  • Adjustability
  • Straightforward 
  • Versatile
  • Stronger
  • Increases the amount of surface area

Disadvantages of using a rabbet plane

  • It needs precise measurements 
  • Its strength is dependent on a 45-degree end-grain-to-end-grain glue joint.

Shoulder Plane

Definition and features of the shoulder plane

A shoulder plane is a plane tool with a blade flush with the edges of the plane, allowing trimming right up to the edge of a workpiece. As it extends, it cuts, to the full width of the tool. The shoulder plane is for trimming the shoulders and faces of tenons. It is for trimming right into the concave corner where two surfaces of the same piece of wood meet perpendicularly. It cleans up dadoes (housings) and tenons for joinery. 

A cutting edge on the iron of a shoulder plane extends across the width of the plane’s sole. When trimming a tenon shoulder, that allows you to cut right up to a square edge or into a corner. It also opens up many other possibilities. 

Both sides should be parallel and perpendicular to the sole when working with the shoulder plane. The shoulder plane has one low-angle blade wider than the sole of the cutting edge, making it ideal for smoothing and shaping edges on boards or trimming parts from material with wide grain patterns.

Types of shoulder planes

  • Lower angle
  • Higher angle

Advantages of using a shoulder plane

  • Quick and convenient 
  • All-purpose 
  • Low angle bedding 
  • Detail work
  • Excellent design

Disadvantages of using a shoulder plane

  • It must be precisely machined and tuned to work accurately.
  • The wood can dictate what you can and can’t do.

Comparison between Rabbet Plane and Shoulder Plane

Key differences between the two planes

  • A rabbet plane cuts rabbets – often having a fence, depth stop, and scoring nickers for making cuts across the grain, whereas a shoulder rabbet is for trimming the shoulders and faces of tenons (Mtcopland.com).
  • A shoulder plane has a lower cutting angle than a rabbet plane.
  • A rabbet plane cuts far quicker than a shoulder plane.
  • The size of a rabbet plane is much larger and wider than a shoulder plane.
  • The rabbet plane has a higher blade angle than the shoulder plane.
  • The rabbet plane cuts a large area of wood, whereas the shoulder plane is for trimming the shoulder of the joint, so it does not require that much force.

How to choose between the two planes

  • Consider if your work needs precision cuts or curves.
  • Know what you need the plane for since one allows you to cut perpendicular grooves while the other does not.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Rabbet Plane and Shoulder Plane

Woodworking project requirements

Both tools work on different projects. The shoulder plane is for trimming small areas, while rabbet planes are for large projects that require less effort than their smaller counterparts. Choose what suits the needs of your project. 

Budget

For an affordable Plane, you may go for the rabbet plane, depending on your intended use. 

Skill level

The rabbet plane is for amateurs since it is straightforward, unlike the shoulder plane, which requires experienced woodworkers. 

Personal preferences

Since you now know their features, pick what you prefer. 

How to Use Rabbet Plane

Setting up the rabbet plane

  1. Setting up a rabbet plane will vary from one type of plane to the next. The blade must protrude slightly past the body of the plane. That may be 1/64″, you need to prevent the vertical wall of the rabbet from sloping.  
  2. Set the blade up flush with the plane body.
  3. Give it a mallet tap to bump it out a hair.

Techniques for using a rabbet plane

  • Use a straight rabbet plane against a fence.
  • A rabbet plane with a fixed fence and fixed depth stop only needs to be pressed against the side of a board.
  • The blade edge should be sharp and square to the side and protrude just slightly from the working side of the plane.

Safety tips for using a rabbet plane

  • Hold the plane firmly and move the workpiece across the blade.
  • Secure the workpiece before planning.
  • Keep the blade sharp.

How to Use Shoulder Plane

Setting up the shoulder plane

  1. Grip the plane in one hand with your thumb and forefinger on either side of the mouth opening.
  2. Place the newly sharpened iron into the plane. The tang end of the iron should engage with the advancement mechanism. 
  3. Place the lever cap in position over the iron and loosely tighten it. 
  4. Advance the iron until it starts to protrude through the mouth. 
  5. Lay the plane on its side on a flat surface and push the iron flush with its side.
  6. Test the setting using a narrow piece of pine. 
  7. Put the pine in a vise and take two test shavings, one on either side of the iron. 
  8. Insert and adjust the blade.

Techniques for using a shoulder plane

  • Check for square
  • Hone the blade
  • Insert and adjust the blade

Safety tips for using a shoulder plane

  • Keep your fingers clear of the plane blade.
  • Use sandpaper to break the sharp machined edges.
  • Plane at the right height for you.

Applications of Rabbet Plane and Shoulder Plane

Rabbet plane applications

The rabbet plane is for door making, but you can include window frames and raised panels. 

Shoulder plane applications

The shoulder plane trims the shoulders and faces of tenons, the corner where two surfaces of the same piece of wood meet perpendicularly, cleaning up dadoes or housings and tenons for joinery.

Which plane to use for specific woodworking tasks

  • Rabbet planes are joinery planes that cut rabbets, one of the most used and fundamental joints for furniture making.
  • The shoulder plane is there to square up or trim the shoulders of tenons and other joints.

Maintenance and Care

Tips for maintaining and caring for rabbet plane

  • Keep them on their side 
  • Keep rust at bay 
  • Keep it clean 
  • Keep it sharp

Tips for maintaining and caring for the shoulder plane

  • Check for square
  • Hone the blade
  • Use a square to check that the shoulders lineup all around the joint
  • Clean up the shoulders

Accessories and Add-ons

Accessories and add-ons for rabbet plane

  • Case
  • Guide
  • Scraper
  • Blades

Accessories and add-ons for the shoulder plane

  • Blades
  • Rebates
  • Shoulders 
  • Grooves

Brands and Models

Popular brands of rabbet plane

  • KAKURI Rabbet Plane 
  • Grizzly
  • Woodstock
  • Makita

Popular brands of the shoulder plane

  • Woodstock
  • WoodRiver
  • Shop Fox
  • Grizzly Industrial

Comparison of different models

This DeWalt planer is a powerful, solid workhorse that boasts 10,000 rpm speeds to power cuts up to ⅛-inch in depth. In contrast, the Craftsman wood planer is a reliable, budget-friendly choice with a 15-amp motor that can power the double-edged reversible blades at speeds of 8,000 rpm.

Reviews of Rabbet Plane and Shoulder Plane

Reviews of different brands and models of rabbet plane

Stanley 12-978 Duplex Rebate Plane is a versatile tool, working as a regular rabbeting plane or perfect bullnose planer for your woodworking projects. It has two cutting positions for inserting the blade, one close to the head and one in line with its user’s body.

Grizzly Industrial H7567 – 8-1/2″ Duplex Rabbet Plane is cast and precision milled to cut perfect rabbets. There are two cutter positions, one for rabbeting work and a forward position for planning into corners.

Reviews of different brands and models of the shoulder plane

TAYTOOLS 469225 3-IN-1 SHOULDER PLANE features a smooth and square sole and sides. It has a good edge on iron and great serviceable depth.

GRIZZLY INDUSTRIAL T10266 – FLAT PROFILE SHOULDER PLANE is good quality wood, and the wedge fits well. The bottom is flat and true.

Price Range

The price range of rabbet plane

On promotions, you may get one for $61 to $100. 

The price range of shoulder plane

Affordable ones range from 45 to 200. 

Comparison of the price range of different models and brands

WoodRiver #92 Medium Shoulder Plane is $196.98. Shop Fox D3751 Precision Shoulder Plane starts from 78. The Kakuri rabbet plane from a minimum of $28, and the Shop Fox for $78. 

Where to Buy

Online marketplaces to buy rabbet plane and shoulder plane

  • Amazon
  • Allwoodtech
  • Mister worker
  • Record planes

Physical stores to buy rabbet plane and shoulder plane

  • Walmart
  • Woodcraft supply
  • Tooltique

Tips for buying rabbet plane and shoulder plane

  • Buy one with a skewed blade
  • Rebate planes should be bedded 45 to 55 degrees.
  • Compare shops
  • Watch out for discounts

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a rabbet plane used for?

A rabbet plane is a woodworking hand tool used to cut rabbets or rebates in wood. This tool is typically used in carpentry work to create a recess or groove on the edge of a piece of wood so that another piece of wood will fit snugly into the recess and form a tight joint. Rabbet planes come in a variety of sizes and shapes, including angled rabbet planes and pointed rabbet planes designed for specific applications. Using a rabbet plane is an essential skill for any woodworker who wants to make precise, durable joints in their projects.

What is a shoulder plane used for?

A shoulder plane is a woodworking hand tool used to trim the shoulders and faces of tenons. This tool is used to create a apartment, smooth surface at the end of a piece of wood and to ensure that it fits snugly into the mortise. In addition to working on tenons, a shoulder plane is also useful for smoothing and refining surfaces, especially in tight or hard-to-reach places. There are two types of shoulder planes: those with low angles and those with standard angles. Low angle shoulder planes have a smaller cutting angle, making them ideal for end grain and other delicate work, while standard angle shoulder planes are more versatile and suitable for a wider range of applications. If you’re a woodworker who wants precise, polished results on your projects, a shoulder plane is an essential tool in your arsenal.

Can a rabbet plane be used as a shoulder plane?

No, a rabbet plane cannot be used as a shoulder plane. While both tools have similarities, such as cutting wood perpendicular to the grain, a rabbet plane is not designed to perform the same tasks as a shoulder plane. The blade of a rabbet plane is set at a higher angle than a shoulder plane, which means it is designed for a deeper and rougher cut. This can cause the plane to clog quickly and make it difficult to achieve precise results, especially when trimming the shoulders of a tenon or smoothing a surface. In addition, the blade of a rabbet plane is narrower and the sole shorter than a shoulder plane’s, making it less stable and harder to control over larger surfaces. Therefore, it is best to use a shoulder plane for tasks that require precision and finesse and reserve the rabbet plane for cutting rabbets and tenons.

Which one is better: the rabbet plane or the shoulder plane?

A shoulder plane is generally considered better than a rabbet plane because it is more versatile and can be used for a wider range of tasks. The wider shoulder plane blade makes it easier to control and more stable when working on larger areas, while the lower cutting angle allows for more precise and finer work. In addition, a shoulder plane can be used to trim mortise and tenon shoulders, refine surfaces and adjust the fit of joints, making it an essential tool for any woodworker. While a rabbet plane is useful for cutting rabbets and tenons, it is less versatile than a shoulder plane and may not be suitable for other tasks. Therefore, if you are a woodworker looking for a tool that can be used for various tasks, a shoulder plane is a better choice.

Are rabbet planes expensive?

Yes, rabbet planes can be expensive. That’s because they’re often handmade or require special manufacturing techniques, which can drive up the cost. In addition, the quality of the materials used can also affect the price. High-end models are often made from premium materials like high-carbon steel or exotic woods. However, cheaper models are also available, especially if you’re willing to compromise on features like the quality of the blade or adjustability. Ultimately, the price of a rabbet plane depends on the brand, model and materials used, so it’s important to store around and compare prices before deciding to buy.

How do I know which one to choose for my woodworking project?

Choosing the right plane for your woodworking project depends on several factors. First, consider the size and shape of your workpiece. If you’re working on a large, apartment surface, a shoulder plane may be better suited to refine the surface and remove irregularities. On the other hand, if you’re making a joint with a rabbet or tenon, a rabbet plane may be needed to create a precise, snug fit.

Second, think about the type of connection you want to make. For example, if you’re making a dovetail joint, a shoulder plane may be useful to trim the shoulders and refine the joint’s fit. If you’re making a rabbet joint, a rabbet plane is essential to cut the rabbet to the proper depth and width.

Finally, consider the level of precision and execution you want. A shoulder plane with a low cutting angle may be the best choice if you must make delicate or intricate cuts. If you want a smooth, polished finish, a rabbet plane with a pre-cutter can help prevent tear-out and ensure a clean cut.

What is the difference between a shoulder plane and a bullnose plane?

The main difference between a shoulder plane and a pointed plane is their shape and purpose. A shoulder plane usually has a longer body and is designed for refining and smoothing the surface of a joint, especially the shoulders of tenons. The shoulder plane blade is set at a low angle, allowing for precise and controlled cuts. On the other hand, the pointed plane has a shorter body and a blade that extends to the front of the tool, allowing it to be used in tight spaces and for end grain work. Bullnose planes are often used to trim small pieces, make small rabbets, and remove small amounts of material from corners or edges.

Bullnose planes are less expensive than shoulder planes, but their use is more limited and may not be as versatile. Ultimately, the choice between a shoulder plane and a pointed plane depends on the specific requirements of the woodworking project.

Can I use a shoulder plane for joinery?

Yes, it works for tenons for joinery. A shoulder plane is commonly used in woodworking to refine and smooth joints, especially mortise and tenon shoulders, making it a suitable tool for joinery.

Do I need to sharpen my rabbet plane and shoulder plane blades?

Yes, sharpen the blades for optimum performance. The blades of your rabbet and shoulder planes must be kept sharp for peak performance when woodworking with these tools.

What is the difference between a rabbet plane and a rebate plane?

The terms “rabbet plane” and “rabbet plane” are often used interchangeably, but traditionally, their intended use is different. A rabbet plane is used to cut rabbets, which are recesses or shoulders cut across the grain of a piece of wood. This type of plane usually has a fence, a depth stop, and sometimes end cutters to prevent tear-out during cutting. A rabbet plane, on the other hand, is designed for cutting rabbets, which are long, narrow notches cut along the grain of a piece of wood. Rebates planes usually have a wider blade and a guide on the side of the plane that helps keep the cut straight.

So the main difference between a rabbet plane and a ledge plane is the direction of the cut they are intended to make. A rabbet plane cuts across the grain to make notches or shoulders, while a rabbet plane cuts along the grain to make long, narrow notches.

David D. Hughes

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