One of the most popular tools in my Stainless line of planes is the 812-50S smoothing plane. It's a great size and it covers a large scope of task for a bench plane. When luthier Richard Wile contacted me about ordering one of these planes he requested that I take my time and find an exceptional piece of material for the wooden tote and knob for this plane.
Most independent plane makers keep an inventory of quite special and even rare woods but Richard indicated he was looking for something a bit different. I had in my possession some wonderful pieces of Olive but I was pretty sure those would not be dry in time to use for Richard's plane. Along about that time my friends Steve Walls and Charlie Levan came by the shop for a visit and when Charlie walked in the shop he handed me a piece of 8/4 koa and said "see what you can do with this". You'll see what Charlie can do with Koa at the bottom of the page.
Koa is a wood that I had investigated but I always hesitated because it is not nearly as dense as most woods used by plane makers. Well here I had a piece in my hand and I was at the point of making the wooden bits for the prototype Winter Smoother (see below) and I asked myself " why not?" I was intrigued with the Koa. The variegations in this wood are compelling.
As I was making the tote and knob for the Winter Smoother I was a bit concerned about the durability of the koa. Not so much the knob, but the tote gave me some concerns. The entire time I was shaping the rear tote I was still questioning whether or not I would actually use this tote. Once the tote was refined and it came time to apply the finish all my doubts were vanquished. Nothing looks quite like Koa!
At this point I set about looking for some Curly Koa for Richard's plane and I soon found an exceptional piece.
When purchasing kiln dried Koa you have to consider the average moisture content of wood in Hawaii. They typically don't dry wood to a moisture content of less than 10%. In most areas it will reach an equilibrium moisture content of about 12% percent after it's been out of the kiln for a period of time. Once I had a couple of blanks in my shop they still needed time to acclimate and reach a drier condition.
When Richard's plane was complete I was smitten. I had a hard time bagging this plane and packing it for shipment. I wanted to take just one more gossamer shaving. Oh well, I get to have them all if for just a little while.
And if that's not enough figured Koa for you then take a look at this picture of a Koa rocker made by my friend Charlie Levan.
If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.
- Albert Einstein