Tim, using good wood is always helpful, but the flawed woods have the grain that give our work character and uniqueness. When you are doing the final smoothing on a piece, pretty sharp = dull. A finishing plane needs to be sharp. It also needs to be set up correctly. You can do the job with a #3 or a 4 but the 3 is better. Good luck
I get the point about sharpness, but I think my blade is sharper than my word usage. As a relative new comer to traditional woodworking I knew that sharp tools needed to be a priority. I spent most of my first few years learning everything I could about sharpening. What I found is that everyone has their own method. They all say theirs is the best. Many sell expensive sharpening systems that are said to be “The only way to do it.” When I say that the blade is pretty sharp I mean it is ground to a 1000 grid diamond plate and honed on a strop to a mirror finish. When the grain is with me, the planes produce whisper thin shavings. It’s pretty cool.
Most of my work so far has been in red oak. You are right, a varied pattern in the grain is nice, but I want to get to a level, finished state before the board is too thin to use. Any additional thoughts would be greatly appreciated.