Tuesday, 14 April 2015

happiness is...

...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.


Blogger Jeremy said...

Excellent post, computers are so bad for my designs, it's just so hard to get those free flowing curves out of it and stay away from straight lines and simple arcs. Does these pics go along with the previous? If so then it should be really interesting reveal at HandWorks.

14 April 2015 at 13:22  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Jeremy,

Glad the post struck a chord with you. The pics do go with the previous post... I am not sure if I will be able to wait until handWorks to show it off... I am pretty excited about it.


14 April 2015 at 13:46  
Anonymous Narayan said...

Your experience matches mine. The designers I miss working with the most are the ones who worked in print. That said, as much as I miss that era, I am consistently inspired by the creativity of younger, digital-only designers and artists. They simultaneously make me value and enjoy my "old school" skills more while giving me comfort that the next generation of creators have a broader horizon of possibilities to strive for.

14 April 2015 at 14:24  
Blogger Bartee said...

Great post. 11 is always good...

14 April 2015 at 14:24  
Blogger Richard Wile said...

Up to 11 and snap the knob off!!

14 April 2015 at 15:38  
Blogger Peter McBride said...

Hi Konrad,
what an inspirational post...
I find that many folk looking at handmade articles seem to react to them positively without knowing why.
Over the 40 years I've hand made jewellery, what has become obvious to me is that when a maker knows how the viewer looks at a piece, the design can be used to encourage an automatic and unconscious flow.
When that flow is in pleasing direction, and is satisfyingly resolved in the viewers mind, they just seem to love the design.
Other factors completely separate from the design can influence some people, and the most influential force I know is the price ticket.
I don't want to denigrate the wine label reader who will spend money and actually taste the description, because they are another group who support makers.
However, when a maker feels they have got it just right freehand, I describe it as like dancing on a tight rope. Risky and rewarding.
I find that as I look at your plane designs, my eye wanders back and forth, and does resolve itself in a satisfied way on a featured element in the design.
Articles made on computer controlled machines, making a design reduced to the simplest of curves, surely must be no more than a reflection of the machine that has made it.
Peter McBride

14 April 2015 at 18:19  
Blogger Paul Bouchard said...

I was admiring the planes you set up for Tools of the Trades and couldn't figure out how you're able to carry the line of a curving chamfer from metal into the wood without marring one or the other. Particularly inside of the front bun of the coffin smoothers; they're pretty complex curves and it's hard to imagine that you're able to get the metal part perfect before starting on the wood.

15 April 2015 at 00:30  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hey Narayan,

I think what I am lamenting a little bit is that I wish the tactile experience I had in school was still being taught. I suspect there are many students out there who are kinetic learners - and learn by using their hands more thoroughly than by reading about it.

I have met many younger designers and makers who are very inspiring... I just wonder if their skills and enjoyment might increase with a tactile component as well.

A good conversation for HandWorks!


16 April 2015 at 21:23  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Peter,

Thanks for your post. Interesting observations about comparing jewelry to planemaking. There is a lot of overlap in materials and working within a somewhat pre-determined space. There are expectations about jewelry the way there are about planes - and deviating can be immensely rewarding - and challenging.


16 April 2015 at 21:27  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Paul,

The easiest way to explain the chamfers and wood blending together is to ignore the fact that they are 2 different materials. Ignore the joint between them and treat them as a single element. I have said it many times, but metal is just a strange wood with strange working properties... that somewhat simplistic and maybe even naive notion affords me all sorts of processes and techniques that just seem to work.


16 April 2015 at 21:29  
Blogger Konrad said...

Ah, Richard... that is what happened to the knob on my receiver!


16 April 2015 at 21:30  

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Thursday, 9 April 2015

new plane for handworks

(the attic before moving in)

It has been a bit of a scramble the last two months. Pre-renovating our attic, two slow moving, but very exciting woodworking-ish projects plodding along, one heck of a cold winter, and a new plane in development.

(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!


Anonymous Martin said...

Hello Conrad,

Good to see your new posting this morning after a few months of silence. It made me wonder if you had started working on the book you've hinted at... But being involved in an ongoing renovation project myself for the past 4 years (along the dayjob, spendig time with my family and some first fumblings with planemaking in my sparetime) I fully understand that "pre-renovations" Always take a lot more time than the casual by-stander would think:-)
Kind regards, Martin

10 April 2015 at 02:08  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What happened to Nathan Green?

11 April 2015 at 00:13  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

are you holding back on us Konrad?

11 April 2015 at 00:14  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sounds like somethings cooooookin

11 April 2015 at 00:15  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Martin,

Thanks for your patience. Time has a habit if flying by, and the older I get, the faster it seems to go. The renovation was not too serious, but was a fair amount of work for all of us. It is amazing how emptying one room (or in our case, a whole floor) results in the rest of the house swell to the point where it barely functions. Other than the improved living space, the next best thing was it forced us to evaluate the 'stuff' we were keeping and decide what to keep, what to donate to a local thrift store, and what to toss.

best wishes,

11 April 2015 at 07:03  
Blogger Konrad said...

Things are cooking, and I am holding back somewhat... for a big reveal and Nathan Green has not been forgotten - just part of a bigger picture post I have been picking away at. Hopefully soon...

11 April 2015 at 07:04  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the new tool is a block of wood? i don't get it.

12 April 2015 at 00:43  
Blogger Kevin Brehon said...

Does the mahogany sole mean an all-bronze shell?

12 April 2015 at 09:32  
Blogger Konrad said...

The blade is wood too... cool eh?

12 April 2015 at 12:21  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Kevin,

The Mahogany sole is just to simulate the 1/4" thick steel sole - I figured if I am going to go through the trouble of doing a mock-up with a different sidewall material, I may as well go all the way and do the sole too. In hindsight, it is the best way to do it - it revealed a lot of information about how the shaping on the leading edge of the mouth will look. In for a penny...


12 April 2015 at 12:23  

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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  
Blogger Christianna said...

Konrad, I found myself missing you today. I hope all is terrific, Chrissie Dyck

6 April 2015 at 13:21  

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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. konrad@sauerandsteiner.com


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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