An Interview with Craig Vandall Stevens

I owe a debt of gratitude to Craig Vandall Stevens for his consultation on the Hock Tools Carving Knives. Linda interviewed Craig about carving knives over a few e-mails to include in Sharp & to The Point, the Hock Tools’ Newsletter. She couldn’t fit the interview into the newsletter, so I’m publishing it here. Thank you Craig for all your help with the knives!

Craig Stevens at College of the Redwoods Marquetry Class, July 2011

Linda: What do you like in a carving tool?

Craig: The shape of the blade, high carbon steel, comfortable cutting angle, a comfortable fit in the hand.

I love the Hock Tools’ Chip Carving Knife. The shape is a winner. It has great balance of handle and blade and it feels like an extension of my own hand. I know there are good knives out there and I have bought them, but I was always on the search. I truly think there is no improvement that Ron could make with this Chip Carver and I don’t know when I have been able to say that.

I’ve pushed carving so hard for myself over the years. I handle these things every day; they need to become part of you. This knife gives me that confidence; it is like my own finger. Ron got it right.

Linda: Which tool do you find yourself using the most, and why?

Chip Carving with Hock Tools' #CKC100

Craig: The Chip Carver (#CKC100) is the one I use most followed by the Stab Knife (#CKS125). I also use the 1” Carving Knife (CK100) for all around work.

Linda: Which sharpening method do you favor for quick, in-between sharpenings and which method do you use the most.

Craig: I don’t use a strop on carving knives, as I feel it rounds the bevel shape and steepens the cutting angle. I’ve found that having a straighter bevel makes it easier to accurately maneuver the blade through the wood.  I use ceramic water stones for sharpening as well as touching up the edge.  These are the same stones (Shapton brand ceramic waterstones) I use for sharpening my plane and chisel blades.  Small ceramic hand-held stones are also helpful or touching up the blade.  When the blade needs touching up, I use a polishing stone (rather than a strop) to re-attain a sharp edge.  After touching up the blade a number of times, I return to the coarse stones to re-establish the geometry of the blade angle.

Linda: How many carving knives do you have?  How many do you use?

Craig: I have two knives for chip carving (the chip carver and the stab knife).  For general carving at the work bench, I use several Hock knives as well as many knives I’ve made myself using a small gas forge.

Using the Stab Knife (#CKS125)

Linda: What is your favorite thing about Hock Tools carving knives?

Craig: The high quality of the steel used in the knife blades is very important to me.  I want the blade to have the ability to be taken to a very fine edge, and I need that edge to hold up well in use.  Also, the angle of the blade (in relation to the handle) is very important in chip carving.  The Hock Chip Carver not only has the high quality steel that I need, but it also feels very elegant and comfortable in the hand.  In use, the knife feels like an extension of my hand, allowing me to draw the blade through the wood accurately and very intuitively.

Linda: Do you make your own handles?

Craig: For the two chip carving knives, I use the Hock handles.  For nearly all my other knives, I make my own handles.

Linda: Which woodworkers do you appreciate/admire?

Craig: I appreciate the work of Wharton Esherick, Hans Wegner, Finn Juhl, my teacher Jim Krenov. I also admire the quiet work of many Japanese woodworkers. It’s difficult to say – I guess my appreciation for woodworkers changes and evolves with time.  Some I admire for their beautiful sense of proportion, others for the simple, clean lines in their work and others for their command at creating challenging pieces that don’t shout about the complexity.  There’s been a lot of beautiful, memorable work that’s been created, both in the past as well as a lot of current work.

***

Feel free to e-mail subscribe to Sharp & to The Point or check us out on Facebook for the interview. One question-and-answer Linda did not include in the newsletter was the question about which woodworker would Craig most like to have a conversation with today. Here is that snippet from the cutting room floor: And, just to show the breadth of Craig’s knowledge and how deep his view of furniture design —  not to mention how eclectic his aesthetic is —  when asked which woodworker in history he would most like to converse with today? Craig Vandall Stevens’ answer came quickly to his lips, Louis Majorelle.

A mahogany bed, known as the Nénuphar bed for its water lily motifs, designed and manufactured by Louis Majorelle around 1902-3, on display at the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Louis Majorelle! I have to admit, considering the Japanese and Krenovian influences that persist in Craig’s portfolio, Majorelle, the renown late 19th and early 20th Century French Art Nouveau furniture designer, was a surprise and further illustrates what an elegant and expanded thinker Craig Vandall Stevens truly is.

Hock Carving Knives

Also available without handles for the DIYer

About Ron Hock

Owner of HOCK TOOLS (.com) and author of "The Perfect Edge, the Ultimate Guide to Sharpening for Woodworkers"
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