Interview with Ron Hock

So what was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?

The greatest challenge caught me completely off guard: managing the task of writing a how-to book. I started writing about steel, much of which I just dashed off out of my head. Okay, gee golly, we’re rolling now! That turned out to be the easy part. I then found myself climbing a long, curvy, and steep hill called  “research.” I spent a surprising amount of time locating and consulting with experts on a variety of technical topics. I had already developed an outline and kept to it as best I could, making sure all along the way that I wasn’t forgetting anything. I asked for help and for samples from manufacturers and suppliers (and while it’s fun to get all the gear for testing, I had to record who sent what so they could get their samples back and receive proper credit for their generosity.) I needed a shelving unit just to organize all the stones, tools, machines, jigs and fixtures that I acquired over the year-and-a-half this project took.

I had to keep track of what was finished and what wasn’t, prioritizing what to do when, following up on consultations, etc., etc. Even though I have a degree in art, I found that I had to learn all over how to translate my ideas for an illustration to an illustrator, plus keep track of her work as it related to my captions. When I look back and want to be honest about it, I would say that the organizational task was larger than I ever imagined by a factor of 10. I have such a new respect for writers and editors – you have no idea.

Then there were the photos. I was an art student way back when, and photography was part of my happy life in the studio. So, I agreed to be the photographer of record. What was I thinking?! I had to build a studio so that I could control the consistency from one photo to the next. Thank goodness for digital photography and no more darkroom, the main thing I used to love about photography in the old days. I built the studio in our garage/shipping area at Hock Tools. Poor Julie! She put up with a backdrop and lights and a workbench right in her way. That reminds me, I probably should send her flowers.

I included some 400 photos along with the text and thanks to the film-less nature of digital photography, I shot maybe 10 times that many. Each one had to be cropped and color-corrected, identified according to its placement in the text, vetted to make sure it told the story it was supposed to tell, captioned, etc. Many times I’d look at the photos, re-read the text they were supposed to illustrate, and head back to the “studio” to re-shoot. Though I live in a bucolic wonderland just about two miles off the Pacific Coast, I spent a large part of last summer in the garage with the windows shuttered.

Which portion was the most fun to do?

What was the most fun? E-mailing the final draft and photos to my brave and patient editor, David Thiel! That was fun – celebratory. There was beer.

Actually, I truly enjoyed getting to know all the machines and systems that came my way. Kevin Drake became a valued co-tester and I enjoyed the time he and I spent evaluating the various “ways to get there.” As I slogged through the ancillary management activities I found myself looking forward to just writing. After having finished the research and all, getting the words down on paper was immensely satisfying.

And finally the re-write. Re-writing is much less stressful than generating meaningful sentences. I looked forward to it, too. My wife, Linda, did all the initial copy editing. She’s a great wordsmith and I trusted her completely to fix my clumsy prose. And she knew little about the topic so when she didn’t understand something, I clearly needed to work on that passage. I didn’t always agree with her edits but I understood where they were coming from and she contributed mightily (and steadfastly and tirelessly and lovingly) to the finished product.

And finally, what is your goal for the book?

I hope that “The Perfect Edge” is an up-to-date authority on all things sharpening. If some specific sharpening task isn’t covered (and there are too many to cover them all) it is my sincere hope that the technical sections on steel, abrasives and the physics of cutting wood fibers will provide any woodworker with what he or she needs to tackle the job, whether there are step-by-step instructions with an accompanying photo or not.