Tuesday 11 November 2008

A voice from the past.

When I was in my first year of design school - we had a massive 20' wide wall covered in cork. Every week, we would pin our work to the wall and critique it. At first, no one said anything - we didn't know each other and were too scared, really. Then we got to know one another and started critiquing... bare knuckle style. It got pretty nasty, and it was apparent that the critiques were motivated more by who stole who’s girlfriend or boyfriend rather than actual design. Thankfully - we got over that pretty quickly and started to learn how to see and then to critique. At the time, I did not really appreciate how valuable this skill was. I call it a skill because I truly believe it is. It is one thing to say “oh I hate that” or “that is ugly,” everyone is certainly entitled to their opinions - but to be able to articulate the “why ”of that opinion is much harder. We learned that style and taste are not the same as good design. There are lots of things out there that I do not care to own, use or interact with - but that does not mean they are not well designed - they just don’t appeal to me. In my opinion - something that is well designed performs its intended function extremely well - and is also visually appealing.

One of my most memorable phone calls with Brian Buckner was about 2 hours long discussing and comparing the effects of two different plane sidewall profiles. We were tossing around words and phrases like “this one looks faster” and “this one looks like a horse with a broken back”. We were looking at the same images and discussing the differences - it was pure design bliss. We were using a design language that we both understood, and while it was, IS over the top - it allowed us to design together despite the 1,000 miles between us.

About 2 months ago - I started a new XSNo.4. This was no ordinary XS - this one would have a Titanium sole and sides. I was talking with a very good friend when Titanium entered the conversation and I have been intrigued ever since. Titanium offers some unique considerations. It is rust proof, light weight, has a great color and just about indestructible. It is also tenacious, does not like to bend, nor does it like to be piened. but... I was interested in at least trying it.

The shell took at least 10 times longer than the same shell made from steel or bronze. It was brutal to say the least. It took an 8' pipe clamp (and 2 hours) to bend the sidewalls into shape.

Now for the infill - and this is where the design side of this comes to play. In my mind - Titanium is a pretty high tech material - and I thought I should continue down that unconventional vein. I pondered a synthetic infill. I talked to a friend who does a lot of machining of various materials and he suggested a product called Delrin. So I looked into it and found a piece of bright white Delrin. I started to get excited - cold Titanium sides and sole, bright white infill... it has to be a stainless steel lever cap! In my mind's eye - it looked awesome.

Working with Delrin sucks. It is messy in a different and more annoying way than Ebony. It is staticky and it stinks. It sticks to files and rasps worse than wood does. Did I mention it is staticky? But I kept going - it would be worth it in the end.

The only joy I experienced working with Delrin is that it planes well.

Piening was a disaster - I was convinced it would fall apart when I took it out of the jig. One of the other great things about Titanium is that if you are piening and hit an edge - that edge breaks off. Surprisingly - the shell stayed together once I took it out of the jig. Hmmm... maybe all is not lost?

So I kept going and installed the infill - using 1/8" Titanium medical grade pins no less:)

Now that I was this far - I just had to see how badly the dovetails worked. To my shock and amazement - there was only one broken corner that did not lap out.

And suddenly - out of nowhere - a little college age voice appeared... “its plastic, its plastic, its plastic”. It was late, I decided to call it a day and sleep on it. The plane sat on the bench for 2 months. Some days the voice was quite and I wanted to finish it - but some days the voice was screaming.

So I waited.

I sent photos to a few people to get their feedback. Everyone understood how it evolved - but they still didn’t like it.

As Berea started getting closer and closer, I realized I had to make a decision and finish the plane. A long phone call with Robin Lee pushed me off the fence.

My friend David Antscherl gave me a wonderful old piece of English boxwood that was left over from one of his exquisite model ships - it seemed like the right infill for the plane (be sure to follow the link - his work is staggering!).

I was excited about the plane again - and as the boxwood went in - it “felt” right.

Here is what I have learned.

I will never use a synthetic again - I enjoy working with wood not plastic. I will not make another coffin plane with Titanium sides again, but... I think there is a place for Titanium in planes. I suspect the college voice will guide me if I pay attention.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pictures don't do it justice Konrad.

Again, it was great to meet you and try out some of your planes.

-Ryan C.

17 November 2008 at 22:26  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Ryan. It was great to meet you as well - and to see that wonderful little Cocobolo smoother. Keep up the great work.


17 November 2008 at 23:13  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Konrad, thought we'd lost you to the Dark Side with the use acrylic!

The boxwood looks great, and gives the plane a very clean simple look.

Gorgeous work as always, thanks for the update and pics.

Steve C

18 November 2008 at 00:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It turned out beautifully! Great to see the pictures after hearing about it at WIA. I used Delrin for a project in college and found it equally annoying!


18 November 2008 at 13:48  
Blogger Aled said...

Konrad, You did the right thing, please get rid of the delrin, and never let it back in your shop. The boxwood and titanium look great however.

The XS No4 has been playing in my mind since Westonbirt, it just feels so right!!

I'm currently working on the small shoulder plane we spoke about, I'll send you some pics when I get around to completing it.


18 November 2008 at 16:26  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks for confirming I did the right thing. Actually... no one has said they prefer the plastic so far:)


18 November 2008 at 20:20  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks Emily,

What was your Delrin project?


18 November 2008 at 20:21  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Aled,

Yes, yes - the left over evil white stuff has been removed from the shop - never to return!

Please do send the shoulder photos - I would love to see it.

best wishes,

18 November 2008 at 20:22  
Blogger EMBO said...

My project was not as cool as any of your work. :) I did an honors thesis in Psych that required sliding-scale measurement devices.

I drilled out the centers of blocks of Delrin to fit them with magnets so the devices would stay in place once the subjects moved them. I screwed a little piece of plexi over the face; the gap between plexi and Delrin allowed me to slide the unit onto my measurement device. Even that little bit of work was a pain!

19 November 2008 at 13:45  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Konrad,

The boxwood looks amazing. I like the idea of using delrin with the titanium for a high tech style, but for that effect I think the best material would be carbon fiber! It would probably be a bear to construct and finish, etc. But maybe some day...

Thanks for all the great posts.


19 November 2008 at 20:50  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, this plane was wonderful to use at WIA--and as I have mentioned before, I sure love Boxwood for the infill.

I used this plane and its heavier brother to refinish some of the wonderful Birdseye and curly Maple Konrad had at his bench. I hold them a little odd and simply move as if I am wiping down a surface with a rag--irrespective of grain orientation. This finish left behind was incredible.

This little guy has moved to the first place on my want list.

Take care, Mike

20 November 2008 at 09:20  
Blogger Tom said...


What titanium alloy did you use? Commercially pure Ti is much more maleable than the structural alloys - maybe use that on the sides & alloy for the sole. If you ever feel like making another Ti plane, that is.

Also, I agree with everyone else that delrin isn't the best material for the infill. If you want to try a manmade material consider phenolic. Many knifemakers use it for handles, it's fairly dense, and the layers of fabric in the resin give it some "grain".

Tom B

20 November 2008 at 14:44  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't give up quite yet...

Tufnol, micarta, garolite and Corian all have some interesting properties.

Corian comes in pattens and colours...


21 November 2008 at 10:03  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dont let your experience with delrin scare you off synthetics! We need people like you pushing the technology forward. I like the idea of using tufnol, a product I have used in boatbuilding. Keep up the good work. Also, when are you going to teach a class or something in the K/W area?

Stephen K.

22 November 2008 at 12:04  
Blogger Konrad said...

Yeah great Matt.... thanks for that... carbon fiber!? :)


22 November 2008 at 17:28  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hey Mike W.,

I have to admit, I was not sure what the heck-fire you were up to with that little plane... but the truth was in the surface - and that birds eye was polished!

It was really great to be able to meet you in person Mike. My only regret is we did not really have a chance to shoot the breeze too much desipite our geographic proximities:) Next time I hope.

Best wishes,

22 November 2008 at 17:30  
Blogger Konrad said...

Thanks for the suggestion on Phenolic Tom. It will be a while before I even consider using something other than wood. No... wait - I have a section of mammoth tusk coming from Alaska... :)


22 November 2008 at 17:31  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hey Bugbear,

I have a stack of Micarta already:) Maybe in a moment of weakness I will try it out.


22 November 2008 at 17:32  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Stephen,

I appreciate your comment about pushing things forward. It sounded right in my head, but I really could not get over the plastic side of it. I will keep pushing forward though - don't worry about that.

Are you in K-W?


22 November 2008 at 17:33  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I enjoyed finally a face to face with you. Too bad that dang Brit tied you up so much [g].

Our (W&S) placement was was so ideal to me. Philly on one side, you on the other. Vesper on the other side of the curtain and Blum on the far corner. And meeting up with Don Weber just to the rear of our mutual space was an incredible treat to me.

Really, all I did was "wipe" the board's surface--just like wiping off a counter top with a rag. That little plane of yours did all the work. It was a shear pleasure to use.

It was also the very first time I actually got to use one of your planes. Like a first love, it will hold a place in my heart. Unlike my first love, this one I will get to have one day...

Take care, Mike

22 November 2008 at 22:01  
Blogger Unknown said...

I am in K/W, (linclon and University.) I only know you are in K/W because one of your pics had a shipping box with a mailing label (pretty stalker-ish I know). I agree, I don't think I like the pure plastic, but I enjoy new materials. I am currently looking for a wood that is strong in every direction for a winter project. I am thinking the spiral growth pattern of Mahogany is the ticket. Also, your work has inspired me to delve into tool making. thank you.

Stephen K.

22 November 2008 at 23:46  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about a infill plane with glass instead of wood? A natural material.


24 November 2008 at 23:16  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That titanium looks great! Halfway through your posting I asked myself "he isn't really gonna make a plastic infill is he?". Thank you for dumping that plastic.


28 November 2008 at 22:20  
Blogger Ken M said...

You might want to consider anodizing the titanium -- you can get spectacular color effects (very bright because the transparent oxide layer becomes thick enough to produce interference colors).

I'm also truly impressed that you managed to do this -- titanium work-hardens easily, machines like chewing gum, etc. From my time as a high-tech metallurgist, I'd have said this couldn't be done at all.

2 December 2008 at 14:48  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm graphic designer and art director and I used to hate some colors. Then I realized that it depend on texture and on material and most hated shades can look amazing on certain material. So now I know that there are no ugly colors. So please don't reject plastic or any other material before you finish it.

Thanx for amazing artefacts you create and share on web!

Petr D.
Czech Republic

21 December 2008 at 22:41  

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