Was there a mentor/inspiration that taught or guided you to become a maker? How long have you been seriously pursuing making stuff and perfecting your craft? My father began his own company designing and manufacturing bakery and restaurant equipment in downtown Los Angeles in 1948. His little company went on to have 30 employees and a golden reputation for top-quality products. So I grew up with entrepreneurial and metal-manufacturing "buzz" all around me.
I earned my MFA from the University of California at Irvine as a painter and sculptor -- always intrigued with the materials of the arts and crafts, always exploring what they could do, often incorporating unconventional materials into my work. On and off during that time I worked in my father's business doing pretty much everything there was to do. It was one of those ground-up educations in small business and manufacturing, including sales and marketing, designing products, setting up machinery, production engineering, and learning a lot about metal. My art education sort of blended and fused with my practical manufacturing education, and it’s always made sense to me that I’ve ended up where I am. I guess you could say that I was mentored by my father, along with some of the best artists in L.A.
I worked in the family business for a couple of years after graduate school before moving to Fort Bragg, California, where I began crafting knives. We moved here in 1981 and it was only a year later that I got "the call" from James Krenov's assistants at College of the Redwoods Fine Furniture Program to make plane irons. 32 years later, I'm still doing that and a whole lot of other blades as well.
What’s the coolest thing you have ever made? The sentimental answer to your question, "what's the coolest thing you have ever made" is of course our son, Sam Hock, who's a writer in San Francisco. You can read his web comic at www.commandobear.com (go all the way to the beginning and read the whole thing. It's really good.) But as a maker of things it's hard to beat having made blades for Jim Krenov. He is well known for having been demanding and cranky but he loved the blades I made and was perhaps my most appreciative fan. I miss him and will always be proud and grateful to have had his support. The best thing I've ever made we still make: The best blades you can buy. Every one, every day. It's what we do.
Any other advice for people wanting to follow in your footsteps? I can give business advice all day long. You know the usual stuff like keep good records, pay your bills, your taxes, etc. All true, by the way. But my best advice is to:
1. Get a spouse who believes in what you are doing (even if you are a hot-shit young sculptor deciding to make kitchen knives one at a time), and is willing to be the main household support until you can fully share or take over that job.
2. Recognize an opportunity when it presents itself even if it's not exactly what you have in mind. I never set out to be a woodworking handtool maker. I was doing the lone-craftsman thing making kitchen knives, selling (or trying to sell) them at crafts fairs. I even stubbornly resisted "the call" at first. But I made a batch of blades for the Krenov class and was amazed by the appreciative reception. That was a lot of blades ago!
I've never "pushed" my business. I've always allowed Hock Tools to be pulled along by our customers' demand. "Hey Ron, make a blade for my Blurfl". Okay. After several such requests, Blurfl blades get put on the shelf and -- surprise, surprise -- I had a catalog of products!
3. You’ve heard it before: hard work and perseverance are the keys to success. My own experiences tell me that, along with a hard-line attitude about quality, these adages remain true.
4. Enjoy the ride you are on! It’s been 33 years for me and I can't imagine a better career.
You can read more of my thoughts about perseverance here: http://hocktools.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/on-showing-up/).