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’.


Blogger David Barron said...

That is a very beautiful plane, the wood just enhances it.

17 January 2015 at 14:42  
Blogger John said...

Please tell me where this plane is. I need to drive over there right now and steal it.

17 January 2015 at 16:21  
Blogger Konrad said...

Depending on your last name John - you might not have to drive too far!


17 January 2015 at 16:27  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks David.


17 January 2015 at 16:28  
Anonymous Narayan said...

Outstanding piece of wood in that plane, Konrad.

"Nathan Green". Uh oh. Look out!

18 January 2015 at 18:03  
Blogger Chris Bame said...

You are so right Konrad. Great wood is getting harder to find. Even domestic Walnut and Cherry is hard to find in any thickness over 8/4. Looking for 16 /4,Good Luck. Just glad I started saving big Mahogany boards a decade ago.I've got some nice ones

18 January 2015 at 22:48  
Blogger Tom Fidgen said...

Great article Konrad- this is a very real and little horrifying topic. I was speaking to an arborist a few years ago and we were discussing "Frankenfruit" and the things being used in the food and agriculture industry through the use of hormones etc..simply put, to make fruits and veggies grow faster/better/stronger/ ( less 'food' like... ;o ) he said that if I thought that was bad, I couldn't even imagine what they're doing to tree species in that industry. Supply and demand. They're 'making' trees that grow 5 times faster than they did 50 years ago- full of chemicals and hormones to resist disease etc... but as makers, I think our supplies are also being affected in ways we don't often appreciate.
You're in a place to see/feel/and smell the differences, but the average Joe would never know what some old growth wood feels like when working it compared to the 'wood like products' you find in a big-box store.
Strange days we live in....another beautiful plane and another great blog post. Thanks for sharing !

19 January 2015 at 07:34  
Blogger Christian Braithwaite said...

Great work, as always, Konrad. I have an acoustic guitar, Brazilian Rosewood Back and Sides, from the 1970's. It was involved in a car accident (car backed over it) and snapped the neck clean off. The back, sides, and soundboard are in pristine condition though. My great uncle was a luthier, and kept it around but never got to refinish before he passed. I can't wait to, one day, re-finish the guitar, and let that "old wood" do it's thing!

Thanks for sharing your wonderful work!

6 February 2015 at 17:11  
Blogger Christian Braithwaite said...

Btw Konrad - are you going to be attending the AWFS Woodworking Show in Las Vegas this Summer?

9 February 2015 at 13:48  

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Saturday, 3 January 2015

Holiday inspiration

When I was a kid growing up, my two younger sisters and I would sleep under the Christmas tree. I am not exactly sure when this tradition started - or what on earth possessed my parents to allow it, but we did this every year until I was too old to be doing it anymore. Kind of like teenagers going out for Halloween.

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. 


Blogger Narayan said...

That's a great shot, Konrad, and a great story.

4 January 2015 at 20:46  
Blogger John said...

That's some great looking wood moulding in the background.

6 January 2015 at 00:26  
Blogger Chris Bame said...

That's what it's all about. Nice story Konrad
Happy New Year!

7 January 2015 at 10:28  
Blogger pmelchman said...

those were the days!!! Happy New Year

patrick melchior

7 January 2015 at 21:59  
Blogger Nathan Harold said...

"...reminded me of the importance of family, and the whole point of it all. "


8 January 2015 at 16:45  

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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

2 spare XSNo.4’s - Ziricote & Desert Ironwood

I have a bit of a confession to make.

I enjoy making spare planes more than I thought I would. Don’t get me wrong - I love making custom planes, but there is something rewarding about walking to the shelves of roughed out parts, pulling a few down, and seeing what the possibilities are. I was surprised at how much I liked the naval brass with Ziricote and decided to continue exploring. This time, another Ziricote set with some sapwood on the corner, and a Desert Ironwood set that has been sitting for a very long time. This was an orphan set in that it was all that remained from a larger piece of Desert Ironwood.

Both planes are identical in spec - 5-1/2" long, with a 1-9/16" wide, high carbon steel blade and a 52.5 degree bed angle. Naval brass sides, lever cap and screw with an 01 tool steel sole.

The flash of sapwood on the rear infill reminds me of the painted flames you would see on a hotrod - the three little white tails are my favourite part. It was tricky during shaping not to loose them in the process.

The Ziricote XSNo.4 is $1,750.00 Cdn + actual shipping costs.

For an orphan set, this one turned out wonderfully. There is an incredibly bright golden spot inside the front bun - you can see it below. That same spot also appears in the rear infill, but was hard to capture in a photograph (trust me - I tried!).

The Desert Ironwood XSNo.4 is $1,800.00 Cdn + actual shipping costs.

Feel free to send me an email if you are interested in either of these planes.


Blogger Richard Wile said...


Sapwood by design, hmmmm. Seems you have completely gone to the dark side!!



10 December 2014 at 18:08  
Blogger Konrad said...

What is it that Vader said to Luke... "you underestimate the power of the dark side?"


10 December 2014 at 19:49  
Blogger Kevin Brehon said...

Given that you were once considering plastic as an infill material sapwood hardly casts a shadow!

13 December 2014 at 10:47  

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Monday, 1 December 2014

Trio in Desert Ironwood

This was a really, really fun set to make. A K5, K6 and K7 - all Desert Ironwood burl. There isn’t too much I can add beyond the photos  - other than the technical specs.

The K5 is 5-1/2" long, with a 1-1/2" wide V11 blade, bedded at 52.5 degrees.

The K6 is 6-1/4" long with a 1-5/8" wide, high carbon steel blade and a 52.5 degree bed angle.

The K7 is 7" long with a 1-3/4" wide, V11 blade, and a 52.5 degree bed angle.

Ok. Maybe I can add a little bit. It is always fun to work on a set like this in one shot - all 3 planes at the same time. I try to maintain a very consistent look to all my work, but given the nature of handwork, I know there are little variations and evolutions from one plane to the next. Little things like subtle changes to chamfers, or the roundness or flatness to the top of a front pad, the level of polish on the lever cap... you get the idea.

When I can work on 3 planes at a time, I like to work on them so that one stage is repeated from one plane to the next to the next. Shaping the chamfers one after the other for example. It feels like I am really only filing one large set of chamfers - and subtle muscle memory changes transfer from one plane to the next insuring consistency. Blaring music (or the CBC) certainly helps keep the energy and focus level up, and I think it makes for an even more cohesive family of planes.


Blogger Bob Duff said...

Sweet....wishing Santa would bring them to my house. :)

2 December 2014 at 06:43  
Blogger Richard Wile said...

Nice set Konrad, still amazes me how stunning that wood is. Hopefully the owner/user will appreciate the consistent feel when moving from one to another in use.

2 December 2014 at 06:54  
Blogger Brad Quarrie said...

The wood in that K6 is…
I don't even know! If the camera can catch it, the real deal must be just incredible! Another amazing job Kon.

2 December 2014 at 20:23  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, they look amazing. I can tell you that they do look and feel even better in the flesh. Thanks so much Konrad. I feel lucky to be the custodian of these.

3 December 2014 at 04:35  
Blogger natejb said...

I love the sunburst look on the rear bun of the K6. Absolutely stunning. Looks more like a precious gem than wood. Beautiful work as always.

3 December 2014 at 13:05  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Bob - arrangements with Santa can always be arranged :)


3 December 2014 at 20:28  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Richard.

The planes just arrived today, and I know they will be used very well and appreciated.


3 December 2014 at 20:29  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Brad,

Yeah - that K6 rear infill was particularly crazy! In sunlight it looks like it is on fire - Desert Ironwood is pretty incredible stuff.


3 December 2014 at 20:31  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Natejb,

I hadn't thought of it as a sunburst before - but now that you mention it, I totally see it. Wouldn't it be cool if you could find a piece big enough for a natural 'burst' on a guitar? It would likely weigh an additional 3lbs though.


3 December 2014 at 20:32  
Anonymous Chris M said...

Love your planes. Absolutely drool worthy. Thank you for posting lots of pics of these functional works of art. Very few things in this world are both useful and beautiful.

I've been following your post for a couple of years. But I read in your previous post that you were running out of topics. How about one that describes the skills you learned to be able to make these and how you learned them. Like peening etc. I'd be interested to know how you got here to making these great planes.

3 December 2014 at 22:12  
Anonymous Peter Franks said...

Konrad - these are possibly the most beautiful things ever made! Congratulations.

5 December 2014 at 11:40  

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Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The ‘we can do this’ plane

Joe Steiner stopped by the other night to continue working on a plane he is making for himself. He commented on the previous blog post and the first planes we each made and how magical that experience was. This lead to talking about our early beginnings and all the challenges and excitement we both felt. It was really great to reminisce - there were a few details I had forgotten about. 

One thing I asked Joe was if he remembered the plane that stopped us in our tracks when we had finished it. He answered right away, and it was the same plane I had recalled. That plane was for our third customer and went to California. That plane, an A6, was significant on many levels. 

It was the first plane we made using old, stunning wood (and it was not Cocobolo). This plane marked the beginning of a career long obsession with finding the finest infill materials possible - working with this wood was just that inspiring.

It was a plane we were shipping to someone across the continent, and was commissioned by someone we had not met in person. It felt like a monumental project - it was a monumental project. There was immense pressure of getting it just right along with a deep sense of gratitude towards our customer and the risk he was taking with us. 

That plane has an identical twin - my own A6.  This pair of planes have several important first. These were the first adjusters we used - were made by Ray Iles in England.

They have bronze sides - as opposed to brass. The lever cap screws are also much more refined with much better knurling and overall shape.

The handle shaping had essentially been finalized and has not changed since, although the K-series of planes represents another evolution.

This plane has an 01 tool steel sole - we spent the extra money and started using a more appropriate steel than mild steel.

We continued to try different bed angles - in this case, 47.5 degrees. This is often called a ‘Norris pitch’ because Norris used this bed angle splitting the difference between the common pitch at 45 degrees and the 50 degree ‘York pitch’.

The sidewall profile also changed and the shaping of the front bun started getting better, both ergonomically and aesthetically.

We had always stamped the bed with a serial number and a maple leaf ( a stamp purchased from Lee Valley) and Joe and I started using our own unique serial numbers for our own planes. KP-12-03 stands for ‘Konrad’s Plane, No.12, made in 2003’.

One of the challenges with adding an adjuster was positioning the lever cap so there was enough clearance for the blade and lever cap to be removed from the banjo or cup. The head of the screw in the cap iron is captured in the banjo and is what allows the adjuster to move the blade and cap iron as shown below.

When Joe and I finished this customers plane, we sat on my workbench and just stared at it. Neither of us spoke for several minutes. I am not sure who spoke first, nor what exactly was said, but with this plane, we both knew we could do this - and do it well.


Blogger Bartee said...

What a GREAT story. I always read your blog. It is so personal at some levels.

You are one of a group of tool makers who truly make a difference.


11 November 2014 at 11:55  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Bartee - for the very kind comments and the encouragement.


11 November 2014 at 11:59  
Blogger Tom Fidgen said...

Great story-; )
thanks Konrad.

11 November 2014 at 15:02  
Blogger Chris Bame said...

And they keep getting better and better.
Proud to say I own one!
Great post Konrad

Cheers Chris

12 November 2014 at 10:03  
Anonymous Wiley Horne said...

That A6 was my first infill plane. It turned out to be a wonderful adventure, because Konrad (and Joe at that time) customize every tool. I felt--and was-- engaged in the process all the way. He had me scan a palm impression, so he could get the tote just right. Then there was the infill wood, the bedding angle, the side metal to choose, the mouth gap, the choice of steel for the iron--all customer choice. Progress photos every week or two. The excitement builds. You get bonded to the plane while it's still being fabricated. I like that Konrad kept the twin.

Years later, it's a fabulous plane. It always will be. Built for many lifetimes of use.

For me, it was the 'I need another one' plane--a 16-1/2" blackwood panel plane, also at Norris pitch. Magnificent! I'm looking at the two of them right now. Over the years, there were more adventures to come, yet the first planes were never outshone by the later ones. They're all the best.


16 November 2014 at 17:59  

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