In their own words, here are some of the most frequently asked questions at HNT Gordon & Co.
Smoothing Plane or A55 Smoothing Plane?
The difference between the two smoothers largely comes down to the handle style you like and whether you want the screw adjuster. For big surfaces, I personally like the old style smoother as I can push or pull the plane easily and don't have to walk with the plane when doing a long table. The A55 is awkward to pull so you have to walk with the plane by pushing it on big surfaces. The old style smoother has a slightly higher (60 deg) blade angle as opposed to 55 degrees on the A55 smoother. This will help on some cranky woods, but you can use both as a scraper if you are getting tear out - so that is not a big issue.
What is Gidgee? How different is it from Ironwood?
All timbers used for the plane body are very suitable for this purpose and will provide good serviceability and long life. It really comes down to your budget and personal preference based on the look of the wood. However, here are some points to consider: Cooktown Ironwood has more of a natural oily feel to it than gidgee. Its texture is not quite as fine as the gidgee and is generally is not as beautiful. Red-brown colouring.
Gidgee is an Acacias and has a very fine texture and is generally very nice. Rich brown colourings. It is slightly more dense than the ironwood and is my favourite wood for making planes.
Why don't HNT Gordon planes have a chip breaker?
A chip breaker's purpose is to break off the wood shaving before it has the potential to tear the grain prior to the blade cutting it cleanly to leave a smooth surface. To achieve this the chip breaker is designed to increase the angle at which the shaving is bent up against the front of the blade. On a Stanley plane, this is about 60 - 70 degrees. Therefore, a plane with a 60-degree blade angle achieves the desired effect of a chip breaker. Another point here is also the fact that a 60-degree cutting angle has an element of scraping which decreases the strength of the shaving lessening the requirement to break the shaving off before it tears the grain. Also, the more I get to know about planes the more I think a chip breaker does little to prevent tear out. I have personally seen a low angle (LA) smoother with the same effective cutting edge as a standard Bailey pattern plane with a chip breaker and the LA smoother with no chip breaker caused less tear out on some cranky red cedar.
Aren't wooden planes without a mechanical adjustment difficult to set to the right depth?
A correctly fitted wedge will allow for easy adjustment of the blade depth by taping with a small hammer. This is only made difficult if you have an ill-fitting wedge. The use of a blade setting block will also simplify this process which is fully explained in the instructions with each plane and on this website at bladesetting.
Will the wood body crack or warp?
All timber used in HNT Gordon planes is kiln dried down to 6 - 8 % moisture content which is a good average for most workshop conditions. The timbers used are also selected based on their excellent stability qualities. Of course, if these planes are exposed to extremes of dryness for an extended period you may get some surface checks or minor cracks, but they are very unlikely to warp or cause problems with the fitment of the wedge. If you intend to store a plane for extended periods, and you are not sure of the conditions, place the plane in a sealed plastic bag to protect it from the elements. If you have any of these problems you will need to reconsider where you are doing your woodwork as these problems will also be present in the timber being used for your woodworking project.
What is the difference in the wood sole of the rebate plane and the brass sole of the shoulder planes?
The shoulder plane is designed for cleaning up end grain shoulders of wood which can be quite harsh on the sole, hence a brass sole was used to protect the base of the plane, but it tends to have more friction making it slightly harder to push. The rebate plane is primarily used for cleaning up a rebate along the grain where damage to the sole is less of an issue and allows for a smoother easier action to reduce the workload. Either plane can be successfully used for both purposes but care should be exercised when using the rebate plane to clean up a hardwood shoulder.
Why don't HNT Gordon planes have a strike button to adjust or remove the blade?
A strike button limits the place you can tap the plane to adjust the blade. A person with expertise in adjusting these types of plane will strike the plane in different places to move the blade precisely where they want it. E.g. striking the plane at the left side of the heel will only reduce the depth of cut on the left side of the plane. This could not be achieved if the plane had a strike button in the centre of the heel. Also, the timber used is very tough and very little damage is done to the plane when striking it lightly with a small hammer. A small wooden mallet is the best option if you are concerned about damaging the plane body with a steel hammer.
What do you think the optimum mouth spacing should be to reduce tear out?
There is no exact answer to this question due to the untold combinations of the wood we plane and the various, blade angles, blade thicknesses and quality of the planes. This is what I know to date:
Mouth spacing gets less critical as you increase the blade pitch, to the point where mouth spacing has no bearing on the performance of a 90-degree scraper plane. A fine mouth spacing (less than 0.2mm) will help reduce tear out on some woods but there are no guarantees that it will stop tear out. This tight mouth spacing may cause other problems such as the shaving catching in the mouth and obviously restricts the plane to taking very fine shavings. In a wooden plane, a mouth spacing greater than 1mm may cause the shaving to concertina in the mouth area causing the throat to clog up with shavings. An adjustable mouth plane has some merit in that you can set the mouth fine if required but, there are several things to consider: a) the adjusting mouth must be precisely made to ensure it functions properly, b) the experience required, to know what the optimum mouth spacing is for a certain wood or planing task, would need to be extensive and c) even if you get the mouth at the optimum spacing there is a fair chance in some woods that tear out will still occur.
I believe the optimum mouth spacing for an HNT GORDON smoother is 0.3 mm, and my tolerance for a smoother is 0.3 - 0.5 mm. I use this spacing because it gives good practical results when planing most woods including good shaving removal. If I come across a wood that shows signs of tear out with the smoother setup to plane at 60 degrees blade pitch, I will immediately convert the plane to a 90-degree scraper by reversing the blade. Doing this will ensure I can smooth the wood surface without worrying about tear out.
In conclusion, I believe the mouth spacing debate will remain a matter of various opinions and tear out will occur if you rely on mouth spacing to solve your problem. If you use cranky woods the only sure way I know to avoid tear out is to stick to the saying " If you can't plane it, scrape it!"