Chris Kuehn, Sterling Toolworks


1. What is the #1 most played song on your ipod/audio device of choice?

There isn’t just one song, but several albums: OAR live at Redrocks, Flyleaf, and New Horizons. I am a product of the 80’s Hairbands that has branched out in the last 15 years.

2. What is your favorite food?

Steak and potato skins; loaded with bacon, cheese and chives.

(Chris told me over dinner one night when I was talking about eating butter with a spoon that “you only live once, might as well eat what you want).

3. Who is your celebrity twin?

I have been told by others that I look like Dave Matthews and Anthony Edwards.

4. When you were five, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a fireman.

5. If you could live in any time period in history or future, when

    would it be and why?

I would love to see the future if it was possible, but I am very content right here right now.  The internet, overall technology and life is very good for us here in the USA right now.

6. Who is your role model, and why?

I can’t think of just one. I love people that work hard to push themselves beyond their current capabilities and drive hard.  There are those that are talented and can spend half the time at things and be really successful. I like the people that apply 100% and push themselves to new levels. One cannot achieve perfection, but excellence can be achieved with frequency if one will completely focus, take feedback and work hard.  

 7. What is your “day job?” What does a day in your life look like?

I manage a business for a public company at my day job.  I am nearly always connected via computer or phone. Evenings I try to spend time with the family and then many nights are out to the shop to make tools.  Occasionally I get to do some woodworking.  I travel quite a bit for my day job which is difficult on the family and compresses my schedule for Sterling.

 8. When you aren’t working or making stuff, what do you love to do?

    What do you hate to do?

I really love to work in the shop, I love to read, and I love to relax with my family.  I do enjoy traveling and experiencing other cultures and places.  I love to ride my bicycle and listen to music. I hate maintaining the house, time is too precious, it used to be fun now its WORK!

9. What would your dream life look like? How do you see your life

moving towards that dream in the next year? The next five years?

In the next five years I hope its possible to bring more excellent products to market at Sterling so that I could consider Sterling as a more full time endeavor.  

10. What has your greatest success in life been so far? Or, what does

    "success" look like for you and when will you have achieved it?

Success has been many things, 20 years of marriage, earning my graduate degree while working full time, launching Sterling and having the first two products get such a positive response… I am very fortunate. Looking forward if I could make Sterling a full time endeavor that would support my family that would be a HUGE success!

11. Was there a mentor/inspiration that taught or guided you to become a

    maker? Or what was the catalyst that lead you to start making stuff?

I have always been inspired by excellent tools, I restored a whole shop of 1940’s and 1950’s woodworking machines.  Machines of that era had SOUL, handtools of the early 1900’s also had SOUL and I hope to bring that back through Sterling.  The catalyst to start Sterling was when I took the ATC class with Chris Schwarz at Roy Underhill’s shop.  I used a dovetail marker that was given to Chris as a gift during the class and wanted to purchase one.  I was unable to but told Chris that I would want some improvements to it. He basically dared me to make it and when I said I would he told me 4-5 others said they would and didn’t. He told me he would buy the first one if I followed through.  I had a prototype done in a month.  

12. What’s the coolest thing you have ever made?

I am proudest of my Plane Hammer, it’s a design I had in my mind and brought to 95% of what I wanted it to be.  The feedback from prototype testing was the soft face needed to be larger diameter. I tried a lot of designs and finally made one that I was satisfied with. A tool cannot just look pretty it has to work well and I gave up 5% beauty to make it work well.   

13. How long have you been seriously pursuing making stuff and

    perfecting your craft?

I was making acrylic filter systems, protein skimmers and calcium reactors for aquarium reef keeping in 1997-2000. A very good friend told me with my shop equipment all I would need would be a thickness planer to make any furniture I wanted. So I have been seriously building stuff since 1997 and using wood since 2000.  

14. When do you have your best ideas? What inspires them?

Woodworking classes and woodworking shows bring out my best ideas. I see issues to solve or products that need to be refined.  The plane hammer came to me when I was watching Matt Bickford at a show tune his planes with the “pedestrian” plane hammer from Lee Valley (which I own). His work is so beautiful and so refined, to have that clunky hammer be the instrument to work with his planes drove me to make a beautiful and fully functional Plane Hammer.

15. Who are some of your favorite makers?

Chris Vesper is at the top of my list, there are so many others that have inspired me and helped me.  I would be totally remiss if I didn’t cite Thomas Lie-Nielsen, David Lindow of Lindow White Machine works, and Matt Bickford. Those three had the biggest impact on me to start Sterling Tool Works.

16. Who is your biggest fan?

My wife who supported me for all these years and keeps the family running well while I work.  

17. What brings you the most joy? What gets you really excited? What

    makes you laugh?

WIA and similar shows get me really excited. I love meeting all the friends that I have made on social media sites and hanging out in person.

Just about everything can make me laugh.  Seeing my tools inspire such excellent craftspeople make such beautiful items brings so much joy.  Watching my children learn and grow is amazing – they are the best things I have ever helped make.  

What makes me laugh? Watching Anne (of all trades) trick or treat with my kids while hiding a beer behind her back, and her frequent retort of “you're not paying me enough for that”

18. What do you wish someone told you when you first got started making

    stuff? (Or maybe someone did tell you and you wish you had listened)?

Just go for it!  Years ago I wished I jumped into tool making, but the right things needed to align I have no regrets.

19. Any other advice for people wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Learn the business side. To be successful you can’t just make excellent things. Build a network of people that can help you and give you honest feedback, your designs will only get better with candid feedback.  Have a tough skin to take the feedback and fuel you to work harder for excellence.


Posted on November 15, 2014 .