Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hock Kitchen Knife Kits

I just put the first coat of finish on this guy:
If you've done much messing around with hand planes, you'll probably recognize the logo. If not, finish reading this and I'll try to start you down the path to enlightenment.
This post is hard to write because Hock Tools play a heroic role in my own nostalgic self-story about becoming a woodworker. I'll do my best to stave off the nostalgia for a minute and convey the main points of this post, which are:

1) Any woodworker who would like to make a gift for someone who loves to cook, with just a little bit of wood and a couple hours of time, should try these knife kits.

2) Any woodworker who would like to get the most out of an old Stanley plane should equip it with a Hock iron, and maybe chipbreaker too.

3) You can make something that will be loved for many years out of an insignificant amount of wood. On this knife, the scales are crotch white birch from up home in Wisconsin. They're so small, and the work itself is so simple (plane, sand, epoxy, file, sand, oil) that the process isn't really worth describing. But the knife might be used, and loved, for years and years, because of who gave it as a gift, its excellent functionality, and the fact that the wood was harvested a few hundred yards from the summer cabin where my son spent some childhood summers. So save a few lilac prunings, apple branches from the firewood pile, or a splinter of oak tossed out by a lightning strike: they can become both meaningful and useful.

Now indulge me in one paragraph of nostalgia: I have been using Hock plane irons for 20 years. I bought my first one in hopes of getting a hand plane to finally work the way I thought it should. I had been struggling along with a hardware-store-brand jack plane (purchased at Lenoch and Cilek, so it must have been a True Value, right?), trying to prepare 8/4 red oak to glue up into the top of my first workbench. I began the project sharpening with a black corundum stone from the same store, and my first realization that things might get better came when I switched from the corundum to a set of King waterstones. Still, the iron needed honing two or three times during every work session. I don't remember whether I bought my first Hock iron at the Woodsmith Store in Des Moines, or the Woodcraft store near the 98th St exit from 35W in MSP. I knew things were going to be different before I even took the first shaving with the thing; its extra weight and the completely different tactile experience of honing it (like buttah!) were striking. Sure enough: it got sharper; it stayed sharp longer; and I reached a higher plateau in my woodworking just by having that iron in the plane, and some new trust in my own judgment. Soon I bought an old Stanley plane in an antique shop and things got even better.

It's easy to find out about Ron Hock, his serendipitous meeting with the College of the Redwoods/Krenov people, and his contribution to the renaissance of hand tool woodworking over the past 30 years. All I will add here is that every Hock product I have used functions wonderfully. And almost every plane I own has had its iron replaced with a Hock iron. The only exceptions I can think of offhand came with excellent irons of their own: my Japanese planes, an antique English smoother, a Lie-Nielsen block plane.

So when I saw the Hock Kitchen Knife Kits at Highland Woodworking right before Christmas, I bought two of the paring knife kits to give as gifts. I ended up giving ONE of them as a gift because I liked them so much (my excuse was that the handle wasn't as pretty as I think a gift should be). My son, a budding cook, loved his as much as I loved mine, so the knife in the photo will be his (late) birthday present. And I know I'll make one more, soon, for myself.

These knives aren't for everyone. It's true that they come wickedly sharp and will be relatively easy to keep that way, but it's also true that they're not stainless steel, and so MUST be cleaned and dried right after each use. They'll gradually build a dark patina. 

One final note: Ron Hock has also written a wonderful book about sharpening. I recommend it. He has terrific knowledge about metallurgy, and using edge tools, plus a wonderfully modest and humorous voice as he writes. 

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