When I hand plane dulcimer fretboards the challenge is to end up with a long, relatively narrow piece of wood of correct dimensions with all surfaces square and parallel. Occasionally a fretboard ends up out of square, or too narrow, or asymmetrical, or I take off one too many shavings and open a portal releasing the hounds of hell. When this happens I console myself with the knowledge that I have hand-made a very expensive piece of firewood.
In the past I tried various methods to make the process of accurately planing fretboards easier. I put fences on some planes so that, in theory, the plane would leave a surface 90° to the edge referenced by the fence. In practice I found this less accurate than planing freehand. I made a very long shooting board thinking this would make my life easier but alas, it did not.
There is a plane made for fine tuning the edge of a board to get it square that was originally made by Stanley, the #95 block plane; a low angle block plane with a built-in fence. A while back I asked the hive-mind of a Facebook hand tools group if they were happy with their results when using a #95 block plane. As often happens, the reports of happiness and disappointment were equal.
Gary Roberts commented that I should “develop ninja planing skills.” This was excellent advice and was what I was developing all along. Like any skill, it does get easier over time.
Gary is a great guy who is generous with his knowledge of tools, trades, and crafts. Gary reissues rare, out of print books and I recommend you check out his website, Toolemera Press.
In the above photograph are the tools I most often use to dimension fretboards. The long jointer plane (a Stanley #7) does most of the heavy lifting. The small machinist’s square is used to check small, square machinists. Only kidding. I use it to check for squareness as I go.
The caliper lets me know how close I am getting to final dimensions and checks that surfaces are parallel. I make the last passes with the low angle block plane to fine tune angles and dimensions. The card scraper takes care of any small irregularities left by the planes.
There are machines that would make this go very quickly but they take up space I don’t have, cost money I don’t want to spend, and make a lot of noise and mess. I am not opposed to machines and I do have a bandsaw, small table saw, and a few other electric helpers but I love the process and results I get by hand planing. I also get to “touch” every surface of every piece of wood that goes into my dulcimers and that makes me happy.