I have been meaning to introduce two old friends for some time now. Both have been an integral part of my workshop for several years. These are the HNT Gordon Smoother and the HNT Gordon Trying Plane.

Designed and built by Terry Gordon in Alstonville, northern New South Wales, the background to these planes is interesting for their historical and cultural links.

A little history

The style of the HNT Gordon planes is distinctly Chinese. Terry’s introduction to these planes came when he was stationed with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in Malaysia. The woodworking methods of the local cabinetmakers – working without a traditional bench or vise, and instead using one’s body to clamp pieces – required that their planes be balanced and ergonomic.

Vietnamese woodworker raising a panel (courtesy of Tools for Working Wood)

Planes may be pushed or pulled. The bench planes all have a low center of gravity. All use the traditional Chinese cross-piece handle.

Early Chinese plane

HNT Gordon design

In addition to a focus on the ergonomic features noted above, the HNT Gordon planes have other standout features.

The most notable feature is that these planes were designed especially to meet the demands of Australian timbers, which are infamous for being difficult to work without tearout. Beautifully figured but dense with interlinked grain, Australian timbers respond best to planes with high cutting angles. In the HNT Gordon range we find that the cutting angle chosen is a 60° half pitch (compared to the 45° standard pitch of a Stanley plane).

Secondly, these planes are beautifully crafted. The slim, low-slung line of these planes is complimented by outstanding workmanship, both in the area of construction and in the choice of timber for stability of material and candy for the eye.

Terry offers some of the most stunning Australian hardwoods, such as Tiger Myrtle, Kingwood, Pink Ivory, Ringed Mulga, Ebony, Snakewood, and Ironwood.

Brazilian Rosewood

Ringed Mulga


Snake Wood

My own planes are the basic production Cooktown Ironwood. As it sounds, this is an extremely hard wood, so hard that the soles barely show any wear after several years of use.

All the planes are single-iron, that is, they do not use a cap iron. There is no need to reinforce the iron since these are thick. Both the smoother and the trying plane share the same ¼” thick x 2” wide iron. Terry recommends and supplies the blades with a hollow grind and a bevel angle of 30°. A choice of Tool Steel and high speed steel (HSS) is offered. Again, I have used the cheaper Tool Steel blades all these years and have not felt the need for anything more durable.

Honing these thick blades is an invitation to develop one’s freehand skills. The width of the bevel, along with the two-point registration of the hollow grind, makes freehand honing a doddle. Thus re-honing is a quick process – remove the blade, run it over a 1200 and 6000 or 8000 waterstone, and you are ready to go again.

A little tip: I hollow grind the blades on a 6” high speed grinder (60 grit Norton white wheel). After the 1200 and 8000 waterstones, which essentially creates a microbevel, I hone the blade on 6” hard felt wheel with Veritas green rouge (.5 micron). This is made especially easy with the hollow grind (as both the grinder and the hard felt wheel are the same diameter). It is back to the hard felt wheel as soon as the blade appears to dull. The result is a wickedly sharp blade every time.

All planes share a brass mouth wear strip:










900gm (32 oz)

Trying Plane




1.8kg (64 oz)

Holding the plane

I tend to fluctuate between using the planes with an Eastern grip and with a Western grip. The handles are removable (tap them in or tap them out) and I often will use them either way.

With the handles and the Eastern grip, the center of effort is located directly behind the plane’s body and one then pushes forward.

Without the handles, using a more traditional Western grip (one hand on the toe and the other at the heel), the focus is in pressing the body downward.

Here is the smoother used with the Eastern grip:

This grip is easier to use than one at first expects. My neighbour came to visit (and check up on the Jarrah mantle I was making for him) and without any prior experience with handplaning, after a little instruction was quickly pushing the trying plane like a pro.

What exactly is the Eastern grip?

The following sequence is taken from Terry Gordon’s demonstration on the HNT Gordon website.

Step 1

Hold the plane with what I call the
pistol grip ensuring your thumb and
hand rest on the back of the plane.

Step 2

Using your other hand copy the
position of the first hand as shown.
In this position your index fingers can control the weight on the front of the plane and your crossed thumbs control the weight on the back of the plane. his grip ensures you can balance the weight around the plane blade from starting to finishing the cut on a piece of wood.

This photo shows what the grip looks like from another perspective.

This is an alternate grip so that you can use the plane with a pulling action. Very useful when planing large wood surfaces such as table tops. Also my preferred grip when using the plane as a scraper.

Using the planes with a Western grip is similar to gripping an unhandled handplane. The lower profile of the HNT Gordon plane, verses a high sided coffin smoother, is however slightly less comfortable than on the higher sided plane. Without the handles I often use the open holes as a finger grip. With the handles, I will twist a finger around each side. There are times when the Eastern grip is preferred – such as when smoothing – but the Western grip is preferred when using the Trying plane on edges.

Here is the Trying plane used with a Western grip:

Setting and adjusting the planes

The initial set up of the plane blade is relatively easy – easier with a little practice.

The planes are adjusted with careful raps of a wooden mallet.

It is amazing how quickly one forgets the absence of an adjuster and becomes adept at making fine adjustments with a mallet.


The Smoother and Trying Plane both have very small mouths and are capable of taking fine shavings.

Here are full width Jarrah shavings. The boards are left smooth and tearout-free.

Here are see-through shavings in Rock Maple – hardly a challenge.

Using a wooden-soled plane is an exhilarating experience for those who have up until that time only used steel-soled planes. The woodies glide over the timber, their burnished soles slippery and light.

There is no special preparation needed for a new HNT Gordon plane. Use it out of the box, and within a half dozen strokes it will have burnished its sole.

Using the Smoother as a Scraper Plane

All the HNT Gordon planes have the facility of being used as a scraper plane. As the bevel is honed at 30° and the bed is 60°, reversing the blade will provide a cutting edge of 90°.

The following pictures of the HNT Gordon Shoulder Plane will illustrate this process:

The smoother makes an excellent scraper plane. I also own and use a Stanley #112 with Lie Nielsen blade as well as a Stanley #80, two scraping planes of high repute. The HNT Gordon “scraper plane” is significantly better without a doubt.

There is a downside, however. The process of scraping generates a great deal of friction and heat, and this dulls a blade very quickly. If you also rely on your Smoother for use in planing mode, then you would be advised to purchase an extra blade for dedicated scraping use. And this is also advisably a HSS blade, which has greater resistance to heat.

The picture is of scraped shavings in the Smoother on Jarrah. The curls produced resemble those produced as when in plane mode. I certainly cannot obtain long shavings such as these with the Stanley #112.

Here is the sole/mouth of the plane showing the reversed blade in scraper mode.

Trying Plane on the Shooting Board

I met Terry Gordon several years ago when he was demonstrating his planes at a wood show. One of his demonstrations included the use of the Trying Plane on a shooting board. The ramped shooting board he was using was built by Michael Connor, and I was not sure which I admired more – the beauty of that shooting board, or the ease with which Terry was shooting hardwood end grain. In any event, I went home and built a copy of the shooting board and began using my Trying Plane on it. The two just seemed to be a synergistic combination.

My preference for the Trying Plane on the shooting board only dropped off when I began to use bevel up planes, such as the LV LA Jack. I still use the Trying Plane when shooting face grain. It slides smoothly and securely along the runway, aided by its blocky sides and the central handle – well positioned for this task.

The Recommended Handgrip - Terry Gordon

This is the recommended handgrip when you lay the plane on its side for use on a shooting board.

There are other photos showing this in  'Using Planes - Planing End Grain' on the website

A view from the other side. With this grip ensure your hand doesn't foul the shaving coming out of the throat.

So how well does the Try Plane perform on the shooting board?

Here are the results on Mahogany endgrain (medium-soft wood) that was being squared up for a box:

and a close-up:

and whispy shavings from very hard Jarrah end grain…

and a close-up:

Last words

I own or have used a fairly large number of smoothing and trying planes. Some of these are better technical performers than the HNT Gordon planes. The HNT Gordon planes lack refinements such as mechanical adjusters or adjustable mouths. They challenge one at the start to learn new skills, skills such as setting a blade with a mallet, a different grip, and a different posture.

I have also assessed a wide range of similar planes over the past few years, and some of these perform better. For example they may take a finer shaving or leave even less tearout on particularly treacherous grain.

But for the HNT Gordon planes the sum is greater than the parts …

For me there is something quite evocative about these planes. They are fine performers - up there with the best. They are relatively inexpensive – certainly less than others in their performance bracket. Those are good qualities but not the ones that draw me back to these planes time and again. I like the warmth of the wood from which they are made. I like the way the planes glide over timber surfaces. I like the ease of honing their blades. I like the way they look. I even like the way they are held and the history to which they are linked. I just like these planes.

Derek Cohen

Perth, Australia

January 2007