Monday, March 12, 2012

Patina, Designing a New Brese Plane

Most old things have a patina to them. Not long ago Julie and I purchased an old rocking settee we noticed in an antique shop. I didn't think it looked particularly comfortable and from a functional stand point it looked as if it would end up being a catch all for clothes that we planned to wear again the next day but were two lazy to hang back in the closet. The thing that sold us on the piece was the aged surface on the reed seat and back rest. It just had that look and we knew it would look at home in our house.

When I first began making planes I read everything I could find about this work and in the process I came across the web page of Bill Carter. What really struck me about his work was the unique materials he used to construct his planes, and the hand tool techniques he implemented to create his tools. This gave his planes a unique look that was celebrated by the use of imperfect materials that possessed features that he then enhanced by applying an aged look to the metal parts of his tools. I was intrigued by this idea but sort of put it aside as something I might re-visit at some point in time.

Over a year ago Jameel Abraham and I were at a Midwest Tool Collectors Meet. I picked up a Chaplin Patent plane, showed it to Jameel and said, "there's something here that I like" and that started the process.

When I design I take an idea and for quite a while I just think about it and try to visualize that plane. In the case of the Winter Smoother I actually "noodled" on it for about 6 months before I put pencil to paper. You may not see a lot of the Chaplin plane in the final result but it was the starting point for this design.

As the design developed two thing occurred to me. (1) The Norris style variation lever cap I used on my other planes would never work with the lines of this tool. (2) This was the tool that would benefit the most from the patina process.

The lever cap was actually the easier of the two to accomplish. Then I set about experimenting with different aging materials that would create the look that I had envisioned.

I experimented with cut offs of mild steel and brass and learned that I could achieve a nice antique look on the brass and a soft pearl gray color on the mild steel. Of course getting this look on scrap bits of metal and getting same look on an assembled plane body might be quite a different matter but I was confident.

When the plane was together I started having second thoughts about applying the patina. I liked the plane a lot just as it was and feared ruining many hours of work in just a few minutes. Finally I decided "Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained" and with the reassurance of the plane's future owner I went forward with the process. There were some frantic moments during the work but ultimately I achieved the look I desired and a coat of oil on the metal the next day enhanced the finish in a pleasing way.

At this point there was just one more detail that needed to be made right. This plane had taken on such an old traditional looked that I decided the iron needed to be as uncluttered as possible so before sending the plane on it's way I replaced the iron with one sans the back bevel disc. I believe this was the crowning touch. You can see the difference in the above photo.

I used Koa for the wooden bits on this first plane. While I was trying new things I thought what better time to try a new wood. I've not decided if this will be a standard offering but I was pleased with the look. While not as heavy and dense as many woods we use in planes it has a nice nutmeg brown color and is interestingly variegated.



  1. Ron,
    This is a very nice effect. As a traditionalist this "aged" look is a natural. In my new handmade planes takes a while to develop and I find them coming to me gradually with use. I like this approach as an option for a new plane, done properly it is very nice.
    As a luthier, I put my vote in for Koa, tha would be nice on the plane I have on order.

    Keep up the great work!


  2. Lovely. The patina really adds character to the plane. This finish, with a deep rosewood or "dirty" boxwood... just terrific. It looks like it should have a user's mark clumsily stamped into the sidewall, and that's a compliment.

  3. Hello Ron,

    Love the look of this piece. Something truly unique for a brand new plane. I'm sure if you offer it, there will be those who want that included in their tool.

    Any info as to how you accomplished that look or is that a Ron Brese proprietary formula?

    Thanks Ron

    Doug B.

  4. Hey Ron,

    As you know, I think that this is the most gorgeous plane that you have ever made. In addition as I am the very lucky owner, I can tell you that even with some fairly heavy use there has been no change in the patina whatsoever. It is a such a pleasure to use and I loved the picture you used of mine with the plane on top of my chop for my new bench. As soon as the Santa Maria wood that I have acclimates the Winter Smoother is going to get a huge workout. :o) Thank you so much Ron, Fred

  5. I second Richard Wile's recommendation of Koa, one of the most beautiful woods around.

    This plane looks even more inviting to use than your planes usually do, and that's saying something. A triumph.

  6. That is one great looking plane, Ron. I really love the Koa wood. Also the patina really 'makes' the plane feel a bit more 'authentic.'

    Fred is one lucky guy to have the first one!