In Interviews

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“The Perfect Edge”

will publish in December, 2009. The author, Ron Hock, is the owner of Hock Tools, a 25-year-old cottage industry that makes world-class blades for planes and other woodworking tools. Since making his first plane blades he’s learned much about tool steel metallurgy, cutting edge geometry, hand woodworking tools and sharpening. His interest and expertise regarding sharp edges comes from a blade-maker’s perspective and he has given countless lectures about steel, tools and heat-treatment.

We sat down with Ron to get a behind-the-scenes look at his forthcoming book.

In a nutshell, what gave you the interest and desire to write this book?

I’ve long considered writing about metals as they apply to woodworking. There are very few woodworking operations that don’t include a piece of metal, usually steel, somewhere between the worker and the wood. A better understanding of that piece of metal seemed like a good thing. I often give talks about steel, heat treatment and such to small groups in our shop here in the backyard. Everyone seems to stay fairly interested and many stay after, asking good questions. Woodworkers are interested in every aspect of the craft and that includes details about the tools. So, I’ve written a sharpening book and have included a considerable amount about steel, heat treatment and even rust. A solid understanding of sharpening includes a basic understanding of steel.

Though you have a deep expertise in metallurgy and sharpening, did you learn anything while researching this book?

I was surprised by the complexity of the abrasives topic. Along with an understanding of steel I want my readers to come away with some clarity regarding abrasives. How many of us really understand the differences between silicon carbide and aluminum oxide? While information about the metallurgy of steel is readily available, and I knew much of that going in, peeling the onion of abrasives arcana took several times longer than I thought it would. Much of the information is proprietary, closely guarded trade secrets that the manufacturers aren’t forthcoming with much detail. I marveled at how complex this seemingly simple topic became as I learned more and more about it. I managed to answer most of my own questions and hope I distilled and conveyed what I learned in a way that will demystify abrasives to my readers.

As for learning new things, gad! I learned more than I ever imagined I would when I started this project. Most of my self-taught tool steel metallurgy was accurate but I’ve expanded it immensely and I have modified my lecture to include several new bits of information. Being a metalworker, I’ve long understood sharpening in the theoretical, but my actual hands-on experience was really rather limited. So I talked to everybody I know, and many new friends and mentors, about how they sharpen their tools. I have combined all that with my first-hand experience and research and distilled it into a “how-to-get-there” that covers all (OK, most) aspects of sharpening.

I did learn how to start a conversation with a taciturn woodworker. Here’s your opener: “How do you sharpen?” The ensuing conversation can last, oh, at least a couple of beers.

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