Buying Rabbet Planes
Rabbet planes are probably the most simple joinery planes. Rabbet planes simply cut a rabbet joint (or “rebate” joint as they’re called in the Britain) on the edge or end of a board. Rabbet planes come with wooden bodies or with metal bodies. They also come with straight irons and with skewed irons. A straight iron is best for cutting with the grain, and a skewed iron is best for cutting across the grain.
The skewed rabbet planes are a bit more expensive, specifically when buying a metal rabbet plane with a skewed iron.
When cutting across the grain, it’s important to first sever the grain so it won’t tear out…either with a marking gauge, with a marking knife, or with a knicker (pictured below) that comes attached to some rabbet planes.
Below is an assortment of normal rabbet planes, both wooden and metal. Because of the open shape of their bodies, you should check a wooden rabbet plane before you buy it to make sure the wooden body isn’t twisted.
A twisted wooden rabbet plane would need to be flattened with a jointer plane or on a power jointer. This isn’t much of an issue with metal rabbet planes, though they sometimes need to be flattened and squared on sandpaper.
Just as a side note, if you like the idea of rehabbing antique joinery planes, like these antique rabbet planes, you can check out the nearly five hour video that I made with Bill Anderson called “Choosing, Refurbishing & Using Joinery Hand Planes with Bill Anderson”.
It was filmed in Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School, and it’s packed with a ton of useful information. Here’s a short preview of the video:
It’s available for streaming and download in my store (buy it here). But if refurbishing doesn’t appeal to you, don’t fret. I’ll also talk about buying new joinery planes in this article.
MOVING FILLISTER PLANES
Unless you have skilled hands, it can be tough to cut a straight rabbet with a normal rabbet plane, because the plane wants to tilt and wander. So you can either attach a fence to your wood to prevent the plane from wandering, or you can get a rabbet plane with a fence of it’s own. That would be called a fillister plane. And my favorite fillister planes are called moving fillister planes, because the fence is adjustable. Moving fillister planes excel at cutting any rabbet, and especially work great for cutting raised panels (pictured above). Moving fillister planes also come with both wooden bodies and metal bodies. Below you can see a bunch of wooden moving fillister planes that I use in my school:
Below is a popular vintage Stanley No. 78 metal moving fillister plane. You can find them here for usually under $30. It has an adjustable fence and a straight across iron.
A much nicer version of this plane is the Stanley 289 plane (find vintage Stanley 289 planes here). It was made with a skewed iron, so it’s less common and more expensive.
The new metal moving fillister plane, shown below, is a good option. It’s the Veritas skew rabbet plane, and it runs about $255 (plus tax and shipping from Canada).
It has a fence that lets you achieve a wide rabbet cut. However, it’s a bit difficult to initially setup, even with the instructions. Here’s a PDF article by Chris Schwarz with instructions on how to tweak this moving fillister plane to get it working great.
It comes in right or left hand versions, and you can order it with O1, A2, or PM-V11 steel for the blade. I have it in PM-V11, but I think if I had to order it over again I would get it with a O1 steel blade. While A2 and PM-V11 steel hold an edge longer, they can take a really long time to hone. This Veritas Skew Rabbet Plane is one of my favorite option for a rabbet plane. However, it may not be practical for someone on a tight budget.
My other favorite style of rabbet plane, which is more budget-friendly, has to be these wooden moving fillister planes.
Wooden moving fillister planes have skewed irons & knickers, which give a clean cut across the grain. They have adjustable depth stop to help you cut to a defined depth. And they have wooden fences that lock down tight and don’t slip. I’ve purchased a good number of these moving fillister planes over the past few years for my school at around $15 to $50. You can find vintage moving fillister planes for sale here. Most of them needed a bit of rehab work and all of them needed sharpening, but I followed Bill Anderson’s joinery planes video (mentioned above), and was able to get them in working order without too much trouble.
The last type of rabbet plane that I’ll talk about is a shoulder plane. Shoulder planes are highly refined metal rabbet planes, with a low angle blade, and an adjustable mouth. They specialize in trimming and improving wood joints, like the shoulders of tenons, rabbets, or hand cut moldings. Because the shoulder plane iron runs the entire width of the plane body, it can also be used as a normal rabbet plane.
Shoulder planes usually come in small, medium, and large sizes. I prefer a large size and a small size, but I have friends who really love the medium size. I used to own a medium shoulder plane (pictured below), and did like it, but not as much as the large size.
The reason I like the large large shoulder plane is because it can cut large, medium, and small rabbets and shoulders. But it is heavy and a bit awkward to hold in some situations. I personally use the Lie-Nielsen No. 073 Large Shoulder Plane. It runs about $250 (plus tax & shipping). Lie-Nielsen based their design off of the vintage Record shoulder planes. You can see all three Lie-Nielsen models here:
I really like small shoulder planes like this one because it works really great for all sorts of trim work, especially on moldings. However, it isn’t large enough to cut full sized rabbets. My small shoulder plane was made by WoodRiver, and I absolutely love it. You can find the WoodRiver shoulder planes here:
The WoodRiver shoulder planes are about $10-$30 cheaper than the Lie-Nielsen shoulder planes. I haven’t used the large or medium WoodRiver shoulder plane, so I can’t comment on them, but I’m sure they meet the same quality level as the small shoulder plane.
What about vintage shoulder planes? Buying vintage shoulder planes can be a bit risky because of the skill required to restore an “out of true” shoulder plane that has been dropped or banged up, though there are some really nice vintage infill shoulder planes out there (see some really nice ones for sale here). Just check them for squareness and flatness before buying.
I don’t use my shoulder planes all that often, so I wouldn’t say that you should rush out and buy one right off the bat. Just wait until a project comes up where you feel like you really need one. Then drop the cash.
In one of the next section I’ll share a different type of handplane that isn’t dedicated to cutting rabbets, but it can cut them (a combination plane). Here are quick links to rabbet planes mentioned above: