Thursday, 6 August 2015
Monday, 11 May 2015
The new plane for Handworks
This new plane did not come about exactly like the K13... but very close. It started with a conversation and then a question, “have you ever thought about approaching a shoulder plane the way you did the K-series of planes?”
It was a great question and one I had not considered. The last 8 months have been filled with drawings, further conversations, and a whole lot of fun and tomfoolery. And it has been as much fun as developing the K13.
It started with lots of sketches until something looked right, and then progressed to a full sized mock-up.
The first mock-up was made from 1-1/4" wide Walnut and was a pretty quick exercise. There were curves and radius’s everywhere, so the real reason for this mock-up was to see if what I had envisioned would translate into a 3D form. There comes a point where it is easier to make a scale model than to try and draw something... so I ‘drew’ in 3D. Working like this is always fun, and things come together very quickly (I wish planemaking was this easy!).
This was the first mock-up, and was pretty close to what I had envisioned. The scoop at the front was not right though, nor was the radius at the top of the nose.
It is very similar in size to a Norris No.7 shoulder plane.
I spent quite a bit more time on the second mock-up, going so far as to make Mahogany sidewalls and a sole - with Walnut infill. The curves are fairly complicated, and I wanted to simulate what would happen to them with 1/8" steel sidewalls. I did not want any surprised when I made the prototype.
I am glad I put in the extra effort - it gave me a much better picture of what it would look like and gave me the last little bits of information I needed before starting the prototype.
The most significant change was to the nose of the plane. The scoop at the front is curved on the inside and is very comfortable for ones thumb. You can also rest the thick padded area below your thumb on the chamfered edge - just like on the K13. The top radius changed too, and provided the visual curve across the front that I was looking for (and is on all the K-series of planes).
The second mock-up is also wider - 1-1/2". I figured it would be the most challenging width to keep the curves looking and feeling right. A narrower plane should be easier to maintain because the curves are not as stretched out side to side.
I had several opportunities to show the second mock-up to a few people. I was very pleased to see everyone go through most of the different hand positions I had imagined. It was time to make the real plane.
The prototyping process was wonderful - it reminded me of the K13 all over again. I found myself in the shop late at night ‘in my spare time’, and stealing a few minutes here and there between other planes. I am very pleased with how it has turned out, both in the way it feels and the way it looks.
... and in the way it works.
I am really looking forward to bringing it to HandWorks this coming weekend, and for lots of people to try it out and provide feedback. I am particularly interested in how people find its ergonomics, so if you are attending, please stop by and let me know what you think.
In keeping with the naming/numbering system started with the K13 (13 because it is 13" long), this new plane will be a KS-1.5. The ‘S’ for shoulder, and the 1.5 because of the width. I am somewhat embarrassed about how much time I have spent stressing about what to call this thing... but then I remember that I spent even more time stressing about what infill to use... so I feel a little better about it then. The sides and sole are 01 tool steel and the infill is African Blackwood.
Safe travels everyone!
Monday, 4 May 2015
May the Fourth be with you!
I am of a ‘particular age’. The first movie I saw in a theatre was Star Wars. I went with my best friend Jeff Dyck and our respective fathers. We lined up and waited through at least one showing - a true block-buster. It may have been two showings - I cannot remember. I do remember our Dads took turns walking home to get food to tide us over as we baked in the sun. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and this one was a real doozie. For a first movie experience, you cannot get any better than Star Wars. I am not sure how many times I saw it that year - but I know it was over five. I still watch it from time to time, and while some of the effects are not what they are today, it still transports me to back to being a seven year old.
I had Star Wars action figures, bed sheets, and my parents even sprang for a few rolls of Star Wars wallpaper - enough to do one wall. I still have all my Star Wars trading cards - multiple complete sets I might add. For Christmas one year, Jill and the boys gave me a Lego Millennium Falcon and I am not sure who was more excited about it - me or the kids. I am still a sucker for Star Wars themed t-shirts and buy them whenever I see them.
When Episode One came out, our kids were the age I was in 1977 - it was perfect. I called my Dad and invited him to come with us. We sat there, all lined up in the theatre, and that first musical note gave me goose bumps - with my Dad on one side and the kids on the other - it was pretty awesome.
I woke up the other morning to a link from Riley - the time signature would suggest a stern talking to is in order - and confirms that we officially have a teenager - I am no longer the last one to go to bed anymore. It was a link to a trailer for the upcoming Star Wars movie. It looked pretty awesome - what you would expect from a Star Wars trailer, but I was not expecting the four seconds between 1:33 and 1:37. The voice was unmistakable, and the hair on my arms stood up - I think I may have started tearing up a little. I know that four seconds was aimed directly at me, but frankly - I don’t even care, and if I am totally honest, I love them for it. It was unexpected and set the stage for a great day (Jill would say I have a secret crush on Harrison Ford).
I thanked Riley and told him that I got goosebumps - he said he did as well. I then emailed the link to my Dad.
It seemed like an appropriate post for May the fourth (be with you). Yes - that is me on the left in my Star Wars shirt - Chewie with his crossbow and Han with his blaster - just like trading card No.111 (go on, betcha can’t stop yourself from googling it).
Tuesday, 14 April 2015
...shaping wood and metal in a way that machines cannot.
It is also designing and making in a way that is not hampered by the limited capabilities of machines or mechanical processes - or ones understanding of them.
Design first, then figure out how to do it.
This was a fundamental idea when I was in school. We were taught how to design first and then educated on the various tools we had at our disposal to see that design come to life. At the time, there were no computers used in design - we did everything ‘by hand‘ (with the exception of the darkroom and other photo-mechanical tools). We made scale drawings, scale mock-ups to test if our ideas on paper would fit with the real world. We would go back to the drawing board and tear pieces off our mock-ups to make changes. It was an incredibly tactile experience - and I think a tremendous amount of exploration and learning happened during that process. There is something about feeling the materials with your hands, the texture, the weight (visual or physical), and the interplay of the various pieces as you tried to coax them to work together. It was pure heaven.
And all that is missing from the computer.
I spent an hour this morning shaping some African Blackwood. I drew some layout lines, grabbed my favourite files and rasps and started shaping. Watching the scratches and shadows told me when my curves were right. Flip the piece around and do the same thing to the other side - then compare the two sides to make sure they are symmetrical. Not mathematically symmetrical - visually symmetrical. Reach for a finer file once the coarse shaping is done and refine it down further - checking the highlights, shadows and negative spaces often.
It was an hour of pure happiness.
Of course it doesn’t hurt that spring is finally here, the sun is out, the shop door is open for some fresh air, and Schism is turned up to eleven on the stereo.
Life is good.
Thursday, 9 April 2015
new plane for handworks
(the attic before moving in)
(mock-up with Mahogany sole and sidwalls and Walnut infill)The new plane is another customer driven request/‘throwing down of the gauntlet’ project and I am really excited about it. I am hoping to have it completed for HandWorks next month. It will be a bit of a run for the roses... but everything has been coming along very nicely, so I think it will be done in time. I will post photos of it once it is done... I don’t want to get too ahead of myself in case I screw something up!
Saturday, 17 January 2015
less is more
It is easy to be seduced by highly figured woods - I have certainly fallen prey to them many, many times. Curly Rosewood, Birds eye Boxwood, Desert Ironwood burl - all incredible materials. They are visually complex and draw me in every time. The color, the pattern of grain, the chatoyance - it can be overwhelming sometimes. There are times when a particular piece of wood is too outrageous for a type of plane - a burled handle for example, or the front bun on a traditional panel plane or jointer - those shapes are too complex for a highly figured wood - they compete with one another.
Part of the reason the K-series of planes evolved was to simplify the front infill for ergonomic reasons but also as a better showcase for a perfect piece of wood.
The last plane of 2014 reminded me that sometimes, ‘showcase’ also means subtle. My friend Raney wrote about this a while back, and I was reminded of it when working on this plane.
This is a K13 infilled with another ‘mystery Rosewood’. I cannot identify it through my usual methods. Everyone who sees it thinks it is Brazilian - but it is not - it does not smell right. Anyone who has had the pleasure of working with Brazilian knows the smell I am talking about. This is very different - not sweet at all. If I were to guess, it is more likely an odd variant of Kingwood or Cocobolo... but that is just a guess. And, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter anyway - it looks sensational regardless of what it is.
It is a fairly standard cut of wood - no curl, no burl, no figure at all - just long, straight grain, almost pedestrian when compared with some of the woods I use. But the color and texture of it is incredible, and, in my opinion, more than make up for it. There are a few of those tell-tale black ink lines that show up in Rosewoods from time to time - three of them running through the front pad and two through the handle.
In time, the wood will oxidize further and darken down a bit more. It is hard to imagine this material looking even richer than it already does, but I know it will. I used some of this material for my K6 prototype and it looks amazing. The orange coloration darkens to a deep red tone - like the red in the photo below.
The customer who commissioned the plane described it best when he said it was a ‘very masculine wood’. It is - and if it were at all possible to wear a smoking jacket while planing - this would be the plane to use.
This plane also confirms something I firmly believe - that old wood (30+ years) really is different from the material we have available today. I know there are a lot of people who think I am nuts and that I have bought into all the hype about old wood (bring this up on a luthier discussion forum and just sit back and watch the show!). But I truly do believe there is something different about it. Just go to your local big box store and buy a piece of white pine. Then find a piece of old growth white pine and compare them. They may as well be different species. Or go to an exotic wood store and find a piece of plantation grown Indian Rosewood and then go into the instrument department and find a set of non-plantation grown Indian Rosewood backs and sides and compare them (and if you are remotely inclined to ever build an acoustic guitar, buy a few old East Indian Rosewood guitar sets now, because in ten years, you won’t be able to find them). Night and day difference - and I am not just talking about tonal qualities. The color is different, the texture, the density, workability - everything.
We are seeing the end the truly remarkable woods in the world - good wood does not grow on trees anymore.
The question of inspiration has come up several times lately (vintage Porsche’s anyone?), and having the privilege (and responsibility) to work with these fine materials is inspirational. Knowing how rare and unique they are inspires me to use them to the best of my ability. To not waste them on something stupid, and to use them for something that will have meaning and a life beyond my own lifetime. Maybe I am just trying to justify it to myself, but I think that using them in planes is a worthy use.
Another worthy use is musical instruments. I have started setting aside pieces for instruments - whether it is something I make, or I save it for someone else to use down the road - I am not entirely sure, but I have recognized that there are pieces that are best suited for instruments.
The next blog post will likely be another example of inspiration - in a different form. The cryptic clue - ‘Nathan Green’.
Saturday, 3 January 2015
The last year under the tree was marked by ‘Santa’ running over my arm with my new bicycle.
This Christmas, Lucas expressed interest in sleeping under the tree. I don’t recall this request in previous years, but was secretly pleased at the suggestion - and glad there were no bicycles on the ‘list’. We were worried he would not fall asleep - concerned about Santa’s tight schedule. But we agreed, and said that if he was not asleep by 11 - we were going to pull the plug. Neither of us expected him to fall asleep, but I ran out to the shop to get my tripod just in case. If he did manage to fall asleep... I wanted to be prepared.
Through some small miracle, he was fast asleep when we checked on him. I am not sure if he will ask again next Christmas - but secretly - I hope he does. There was nothing earth shattering about this event - but witnessing this little moment reminded me of the importance of family, and the whole point of it all.
I hope everyone was able to take some time away from their busy schedules and enjoy the company of family and friends.
Happy New Year everyone.