Snipes bill plane

Snipes bill plane DEFAULT

Jeff Murray, a reader of the blog from Greenwood, Indiana got in touch about John Moseley moulding planes. Moseley planes are also a favourite of mine. They are very well-made 19thc planes with sharp boxing and a nice wedges. Jeff talked about using the Moseley design when he made his own half-set. The pic below shows Jeff’s plane (top) with one of his vintage Moseley’s below.
moulding plane comparison
I’ve read quite a bit about the techniques involved in making your own hollows and rounds, but Jeff makes it sound very easy. I’m sure it’s not quite easy as this, but here are some notes he sent to me. Jeff reckons on around $8 apiece for making a moulding plane and about 5 hours to make them himself, instead of $200+ to buy them new.

moulding planes
I started out to make maybe 3 sets of hollows and rounds, but ended up making a half set minus the #4 hollow of John Moseley and 2 snipes bill boxed with osage orange. I don’t recommend anyone use osage for boxing because it is really gnarly, but it did succumb to sandpaper. I am planning on making a few side beads and a set of side rounds. I have a number of irons that I got off of eBay, but I’m not reluctant to make my own irons, which I did during the construction of the half set of moulding planes.
It isn’t as difficult as one might imagine to make a moulding plane. I bought a DVD by Tod Herrli on making moulding planes, however he does a few things that require extra work. For instance, he marks all of his layout lines on the beech blank and cuts half of them off only to redraw them. There are a few other things that he does that are a bit unusual also. I got a few pointers from his DVDS, but ended up with using my own methods when they made more sense.

The moulding planes were really neat to make especially since I made 11 of the irons from scratch using an angle grinder. Believe me, my angle grinding skills greatly improvided by doing this. I cut out the blanks and tapered them with the angle grinder and then used files to finish them. The total cost of materials was $144 to make 17 moulding planes and 2 snipes bills. The hardest thing to make on the moulding plane is the tapered mortise and that isn’t all that difficult. In fact that is probably 75% of the work. The “blacksmithing” isn’t that difficult either because you are working with relatively small parts. My blacksmithing consists of a propane torch, a metal container of motor oil to harden the irons and finally a toaster oven or regular oven to temper.

(The pics below show the progress of a pair of side snipes.)
rebate plane for boxing
inserting boxing
trimming boxing
shaping snipe bills
You might notice that the boxing is protruding out both ends of the plane. This feature allows me to do a final trimming to make the plane a “perfect length”. The boxing that I used was Osage Orange, native to North America, a very hard, bright orange wood and capable of receiving a fine polish and with a speciic gravity of 773,6 kg/m3. I used this because I just happened some and thought that it would make a good boxing material. However, I don’t recommend it because the grain twisted and turns and is hard to machine. It does however behave when sanded.  The final edge was 0.015 inches (0.38 mm) and using 1000 grit sandpaper, wrapped around a dowel, I was able to produce a mirror like surface.

In the video by Todd Herrli, he advocates using laminated stock for the body of the planes and if you do some research, you will find that this isn’t recommended. The theory is that the wood won’t properly breathe because the glue layer impedes the moisture and this can cause cracking or splitting.  So I stayed with the quarter sawn solid beech that has been the tried and true method for a couple of centuries or so.  As I said before, he also marks his layout lines on his stock and then planes half of them off just to then redo them, which seems like a waste of time in my opinion. Todd’s video does have some good information about making the irons, from shaping to the hardening and tempering process.

grinding blade
I thought that might like to see the picture is my high precision jig for tapering the iron. You can see that this scrap piece of lumber was previously used as a backer board for drilling through holes and probably a couple of other things. This is one of the irons that I cut out of a piece of tool steel with a cut off wheel on my angle grinder and then changed to a grinding wheel to taper the tang. I used water to occasionally cool the steel when it started to discolor.  “Bluing” of the iron is of no consequence at this point in the process, that can all be taken out when it is hand filed to the final shape.

(Note from Admin.Caleb james is also giving away some very nice wooden plane plans for free. Click here.)

Snipes bill planes are very specific planes. If you want to do everything, like side rounds they are a necessary weapon.

Hollows and rounds cut 60 degrees of a circle. Snipes bill planes cut nearly 90 degrees, and a different portion.

Much of the time I only use the tip of the plane (red) to inset a quirk, but a full width shaving can certainly be taken (red and green).

Let's look at a few examples of quirks being inset.

 Why are these planes needed in these profiles vs. just setting the profile in with a hollow?

A hollow just won't reach in some cases. Additionally, a hollow is designed to cut the circumference of a circle where as a snipes bill is designed to cut both the circumference and the adjoining fillet.

Do you need various sized snipes bills like you need various sized hollows? The answer is probably not, unless your work is very specific. You certainly will not need as many. I have never desired one larger or smaller than the standard size that I offer, which cuts a 5/8" radius circle. 

The single size is not at all limiting. The side bead above is 3/4" diameter, below is 1/2" and 1/8".

After insetting the quirk you will shape as much as you can with various hollows. You will be able to reach nearly 150 degrees of the total, making a very acceptable bead. Are the results perfect? no, but the non-concentric circles they create (which are evident in the first side bead) will not be apparent in any view other than the cross section of the profile.
Why do snipes bill planes come in pairs? These planes do not travel well against the grain. (In fact, many times woodworkers have issues with these planes it is because they're going the wrong way or have chosen wavy grained wood that has no right way.) There are times, as can be seen above, that you'll want the profile the snipes bill creates facing a different direction.
If you were to use the snipes bills to create this linen fold, for example, (which is not necessarily recommended) you do not have the luxury of just turning your piece around and going back on the other side. You have to attack your work from the same direction.

Sometimes the snipes bill plane has nothing to do with the profile. Look again at these two

The profile of the plane has nothing to do with the finished profile. They're used simply to create a void for the hollow to enter. The profile you see is from the hollow, not the snipes bill. A hollow can't reach and cannot cut a fillet.

I know what you're thinking now. "If the profile isn't necessary, just the ability to inset a vertical quirk, What else can it do?" Due to the significant research at Clark & Williams we have been reintroduced to a wonderfully easy way of starting rabbets in square and non-square stock. One of the added extra advantages of snipes bill planes is that they introduce an easy method for starting rabbets in square stock. The plane stays in the gauge line with almost no effort while starting to define the fillet for the rabbet to follow.

I believe Don McConnell of Old Street Tool, Inc. demonstrates starting a rabbet in non-square stock in Traditional Molding Techniques: Cornice Molding. Snipes bill planes excel here.
In square stock this method is nearly fool proof, I could almost guarantee you'd be successful on your first try in non square stock, it's simple.

Using only a rabbet plane in this situation is very difficult because the rabbets are often inset far enough that you can't use your fingers as a fence. Moving fillisters, plow planes and fastening a batten down here will not work.

Is a pair of snipes bill planes necessary? After all the new ones are expensive and the old ones can't be found. They're only necessary if you like what you see above: profiles being next to profiles, quirks, shadows and working with non square stock.


And here's the handle of my nephew's new Harry Potter wand. The story says that he has the feather of a phoenix in his I'm told.

 It's the first time I carved anything in the round. I was pretty excited that I didn't stab myself with a gouge while I was setting it in; the futures in Vegas were trading pretty high.

My middle son, Thaddeus, thinks it looks like his electric toothbrush.

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“Snipes-Bill, a plane used in striking Moldings.”
– Richard Neve, Builder’s Dictionary, 3rd edition, 1736


  • Bedded at 55 degrees
  • Tapered iron
  • Boxed with persimmon
  • Creates a nearly 90 degree profile
  • Sold in pairs.

Ideally, a snipes bill will be the first molding plane to touch most of your work. This plane, with its acute edge, is used initially for following and defining the gauge line for a rabbet plane to follow. Only a few passes are necessary before moving on.

Subsequently, a snipes bill plane will be used for striking the many sharp depressions that can be found in linenfolds, side beads and other various quirks. Two are necessary so it’s possible to keep the plane properly oriented while planing with the grain (i.e. linenfold)


$495 / Pair

Standard Pair Insets a 5/8″ Radius

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