You wanna get stuff done? Better to be underestimated. Get off the parade float, dress sloppy, and develop a stutter; drool a bit too much. Then you got room to MOVE, boyo.
– Sulkin’ Stevie Daedalus
Greetings dear reader. It has been a while, I know…
I would like to begin this post by regaling you with a fascinating tale of mischief and woe – in this way excusing my long season of absence.
But that would have required preparation, so here’s another picture instead:
Moving right along…
a – the pretense
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been adding some photo galleries to my website (mitres, bench planes.) In the process, I’ve been thinking a lot about the range of aesthetics that using wood alows for. The mitre planes in particular can be completely transformed by different choices for infill materials…
Now, lord knows I love me some wood. All of it. More than anything else, I love its absolutely astounding variety.
And working with woods is a fascination to me – where the fine arts and industrial design are completely open-ended expressions of the artist or designers’ “vision”, any work involving wood is necessarily a collaboration between the craftsman and nature. This is one of the most appealing thing about woodworking, to me – whether it’s furniture or toolmaking.
I’ve pulled some photos for the blog because I thought it might be worth talking a bit about some of the choices, and the differences they can make. Today, I’d like to look at two ends of the spectrum I think of as form and pattern.
I – FORM
First up is the quintessential ‘form’ choice: boxwood. Boxwood is prized because it takes detail extraordinarily well. It’s incredibly closed-grained, has a very consistent surface texture, and the color develops an amazing richness over time. Carvers, instrument makers, and toolmakers have always sought it out because of these qualities, and because it’s incredibly cooperative to work with. It cuts and planes easily, it’s almost immune to tearout and chipping short grain. The best boxwood is less like a wood than a pastry.
What boxwood generally is NOT, however, is a graphically interesting wood. It’s rarely figured, and the grain patterns tend to be fairly mundane.
All of this makes boxwood a perfect material when one wants to emphasize form. The proportion, shaping, and execution of detail is front and center. The wood brings a tremendous coloration and beauty to the equation, but the emphasis is all on the forms.
In this example, the client also asked to have the infills pinned in place, eliminating the securing bolts at the front and rear from the design and streamlining it even further. This plane is very steeply skewed to emphasize the form of the tool. I love this plane.
African blackwood, which ends up in a lot of planes I make, falls into this category as well – very heavy on form, though with a much more modern sensibility. I also love this plane.
II – Pattern
Now, as a counterpoint – here’s a recent plane in brazilian rosewood.
This is about as far on the other side of the spectrum as one can get. The grain and coloration of this material is the only thing grabbing the eye initially – this is one of the most visually striking pieces of wood I’ve ever put in a plane. The client in this case asked to leave a bit of sapwood in place as well, making the dynamic range of the wood even greater.
Normally, a detail like this would be a significant draw on the eye – perhaps even to the point of distraction – but in this case, where the wood is such a dominant feature, it’s relegated to its proper place as a subtler detail. In the boxwood plane at the top, a detail like this would probably ruin the plane – but in this plane it works extremely well – at least to my eye. I love this plane.
Finally, another example of heavily dynamic wood – this one in Desert Ironwood.
Do I love this plane, you ask? Like a writer loves scotch, dear reader. Like a dog loves a scratch, and Dr. Seuss loves a rhyme. Indeed, indeed…
b – The lead-in
Now, of course there are a myriad of options within the spectrum of these planes. But I think there is also something of a ‘third way’ here as well – one that appeals immensely to my delicate little psychoses. But this post has already gotten longer than my day allows for, so that will have to wait a few days until I can sneak a few minutes back in the loving arms of my computer.
Now, though, it’s back to the drudgery of cramming bits of timber into metal shells – a hard life, but someone’s got to do it.