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’.