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 Unknown 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 Unknown 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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