H.N.T. Gordon Flat Soled Spokeshave - Impressions after first use
A couple of years back I began to pick up one special tool at the
bi-annual woodworking shows. Started with a LN beading tool, followed
by the LN rabbet/block plane and the last acquisition was an H.N.T.
Gordon, macassar ebony, flat sole spoke shave.
Today I finally had a need for it. I'm doing a Greene & Greene type
sconce, the inspiration for the set of bonsai tables / stands I just
finished for my oldest. The sconce is basically like a small table -
four legs connected by an apron at the top and stretchers at the
bottom. But the "cloud" on the bottom of the front and back apron parts
is mirrored on the top of the apron - as a negative of the bottom
shape. So the top of the apron has a 3/4" inside radius step in it.
That required that the top be made in two pieces - also stepped - to
match, as a positive, the negative radiused step at the top of the
(Sorry about the ASCII art but it’ll give you a better idea of what I’m
trying to describe with just words)
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A template and pattern bit took care of the 3/4" inside corner of the
step on the top of the apron. A 3/4" roundover bit did the matching
piece on the bottom edge of one part of the top and the top edge of the
other part of the top. The resulting top is pretty thick in the middle
and, because I’m now thinking it’d make a nice porch lite, too flat.
Our storms, such as they are in Northern California are “sowesters” and
my porch faces south. Since water will sit on a flat surface - and soak
into it eventually if it’s wood, the top couldn’t be flat.
So I needed to do a little bit of shaping - making a shallow dome out of
the top - shallow curves tapering to 1/4" at the edges.
Started with my block plane but the space to work in was too limited.
Grabbed a Record spoke shave and set it for a thin shaving. Handles too
high and the angle of attack too difficult to control. The wide throat
didn't help either. Kept getting dig ins when experimenting on scraps.
Then I remembered the HNT Gordon spokeshave.
Took a while to find where I'd stashed it - on the shelf under
the workbench top - still in its cardboard box.
Now if you’re familiar with the look of the Stanely, Record et.al. Metal
spoke shaves, or the metal with wood handles versions by LN and Veritas,
or even the old design of the all wood spokeshaves, this thing will look
a bit odd and clunky. 11” long, a tad over 1” thick and1 7/8” wide at
its widest, with a nice thick 2” wide iron and a wooden wedge to hold it
in place. The working surface of the sole is two pieces of brass. The
throat opening in the sole is very tight, which tells me this is NOT a
“hog off wood fast” tool, but rather a a refined finish shaping tool.
Unlike its cousins, the handles are low, their bottoms maybe 1/16th
above the plane of the sole, but more than enough space to keep them
from contacting the surface you’re working on. And unlike its cousins
which encourage a wrap you fingers around the handles, handle bars type
grip, these handles require a finger tips grip.
An aside about getting your hands to work together - with a lot of fine
If you’ve ever tried to thread a needle by holding the needle between
the thumb and index finger of your left hand and the thread between the
thumb and index finger of your right hand (if you’re right handed),
you’ll have that thread chasing the hole in the needle for hours. BUT -
if you have your hands touching each other and only your right thumb and
index finger are what’s moving you’ll thread that needle in a try or two
- maybe three - tops.
You don’t have to have much contact between your any part of your hands
to trigger that something in your brain that engages the “these are
supposed to work together - shift to fine motor skills mode” response.
And if any part of your hand is touching the thing or things you’re
working on the motor skills can be shifted into even finer mode.
Yet another aside - on the strength and stability of triangles:
The simplest, strongest, most stabile closed set of lines is a
triangle. That’s why you see them in truss structures and that’s why
you’ll find them in diagonal braces in the walls of wood structures made
before plywood became readily available.
Back to the Gordon spokeshave:
Instead of grabbing the handles of this thing like handle bars, you will
naturally put just your fingertips on the back of the handles and your
thumbs will naturally come together in the front - right in the middle
of the front - and down low - close to the wood. And your index finger
and thumb will form a - TRIANGLE. Actually you’ll have TWO triangles -
one left and one right - like a “W” - and your control points will be
down low - almost on the wood. In fact, on wider work, the heels of
your hands will probably be ON the wood.
The shape of this tool almost forces its user to have very fine control
of it. By its design it DISCOURAGES trying to muscle it into the wood,
and the splintering and tear at that goes with that approach.
If you’ve used a Steve Knight wedged iron woody, setting the iron and
wedge and adjusting the depth of cut will probably be second nature to
you. If you’ve never used a wedged iron plane there’ll be a learning
curve - but a pretty flat curve. You’ll quickly figure out where to tap
what and how hard to get the cutting edge to move the way you want it
to. Once you’ve learned how, adjusting things will be quick and almost
automatic. Tap here and get a thicker shaving, tap there and make see
through shavings. No thread back lash, no slop in the adjusting
mechanism, no “is it clockwise that pulls the iron up - or is it the
other way around?”.
The next tip off that this is a finesse tool is the angle of the iron -
high - maybe 55 to 60 degrees, though I’ve not actually measured it.
That means it’s made to handle gnarly grain without ripping it out by
the roots. And THAT means you can shave in almost any direction
relative to the grain direction - and it works nicely on end grain as
well as that tricky part when you transition from side to end grain.
Like japanese planes - and saws - this thing works best when pulling to
you rather than pushing away from you. It’ll work pushing rather than
pulling but it works best and easiest, with more control, when pulling.
By keeping your hands close to the work this thing, like japanese pull
planes relies on fine motor skills and a sharp, high angle edge to make
a shaving rather than a high hands pushing down with more force than
required and some semi-brute force pushing to get it to work.
As for the surface the Gordon produces - it’s smooth and maybe because
of the brass foot, leaves a burnished finish behind the shaving.
One of the woodworking magazines had a comparison of a bunch of
spokeshaves. The Gordon was unique within the tools being compared.
Not surprisingly, they found the handles of the Gordon a little awkward
to hold which is understandable since all the other spokeshaves had
handle bar grip handles. It’s sort of like comparing the Festool plunge
circular saw with a carpenter’s worm drive circular saw. Similar tools,
different functions and methods of use.
The Gordon is a nice tool for what it’s designed to do. Even in
macassar ebony and with its brass, it’s not Lie Nielsen pretty - but it
works - very well.
Any other views out there?
ps - sorry about the drive by macassar ebony gloat - it was the only
one he had left at the show.