Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Different Woods and Metal Finishes

I'm occasionally ask if I grow tired of making the same model plane time after time. The short answer is "no". Every plane is a challenge and there are a myriad of different woods, metals and metal finishes to try and combine into one plane assembly and that is what keeps every plane build fresh.

The wood in and of itself is enough to keep someone like myself entertained with the work. I've just recently completed a plane of the Winter Smoother variety. The choice of wood for this plane was Macassar ebony. For a real classic look it's hard to beat a darker wood and  Macassar has the added benefit of a variegation in color. Almost as if someone swirled milk chocolate and dark chocolate together and then set the mixture up into a very hard substance.

The Macassar ebony is quite hard and it's of those woods that can cause one to use a few expletives in the process of making it what you want it to be. Of course most woods that are very challenging to work also yield a nice reward for perseverance, for when the finish flows on you're remind of why you chose that particular material.

This tool features an 0-1 tool steel body with a ground finish on the interior and a lapped satin finish on the exterior of the plane body. The brass lever cap, screw and knob seat has a patina'd finish applied and is then oiled and cooked overnight in the finishing kiln to ensure a thorough cure of the oil finish. It's a unique look and also offers the added benefit of the brass actually having a finish and this cuts down on the maintenance required to keep brass bright or even satin which for me is the preferable way to have bright brass. Highly polished brass shows finger prints so readily it's just not a reasonable finish to have on a tool that's meant to be used.

Each plane also presents a challenge to machine parts to very tight tolerances and most people that pursue similar work are typically striving to make the next plane better than the previous tools. You can call it an obsessive compulsion, but believe me it comes with the mindset for doing this work. I was once giving a presentation to the Athens Georgia Woodworkers club. After my presentation a Sociology professor at U.G.A. approached me and said "Ron, you may be one of the most down to earth, obsessive, compulsive people I'ver ever met",....I thought about that just a bit trying to decide if this statement was a compliment or what, I finally just replied "thank you" and decided to ponder that comment on the way home..........



  1. Would you consider sharing how you antique and "oil" cure the brass? Thanks. Jeff

  2. Another beautiful masterpiece! I especially like the oiled brass patina and your description of the Ebony is wonderful.

  3. Jeff, I apply a cold bluing product typically used on firearms. Lately I've been using Brownell's Oxpho blue. I submerge the parts and when they've turned quite dark I dry them and rub them back to the desired look with gray Scotchbrite. Sometimes I repeat this process multiple times in order to get the look I want. When I'm satisfied with that part of the process I apply a coat of True Oil, remove the excess with a rag and then put the parts in my finishing kiln overnight, then repeat the oil application the next day and then back in the kiln. At times the kiln can achieve temps of 85 to 100 degrees depending on prevailing weather conditions but I think the important thing is the low humidity in the kiln environment.

  4. Looking forward to getting mine in a while. This one looks lovely.