Turning point: When Ron Hock met James Krenov

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Ron Hock, founder of Hock Tools and author of The Perfect Edge. Photographed at ‘Woodworking in America’, September 2016.

Words and photos: Linda Nathan

Hock Tools are well known as premium quality toolmakers, specialising mostly in replacement plane blades, but also in luthier tools, marking knives and custom orders. What’s not so well known is how the creation of these tools came about through the connection that arose between company founder Ron Hock and the legendary woodworker and author James Krenov.

By the 1980s Krenov was already famous for his writings on woodworking and was looking to settle down from travelling around North America to promote them. He had taught some classes in Fort Bragg and liked it enough to move there.

The week that Ron and his wife Linda Rosengarten arrived in Fort Bragg to set up their knifemaking workshop in the shed in the backyard turned out to be the same week that James Krenov’s teaching workshop opened at a local college. ‘I didn’t know him. My woodworking experience was turning a couple of walnut bowls at high school and doing some carpentry because I couldn’t afford to hire anyone’, said Ron.


Knives and plane blades made by Hock Tools

Prior to his move, Ron Hock had, at the behest of his father, taken on the family sheet metal business while also working as a sculptor. ‘We were living in Monrovia (a Los Angeles suburb) at the time’, explained Linda. ‘Things weren’t going so well with the business arrangement with Ron’s father. Then, one hot summer night, Ron is yet again lying awake, stewing on what he is going to do. He wakes me up, sits bolt upright, and says “I’m going to be a knifemaker.” “Of course...”, I say to Ron, “and I’ll write the next great American novel”, and turn over to go back to sleep.’

Forward in time again, one of the instructors at Krenov’s school heard about ‘a knifemaker’ and then went to see Ron to ask about supplying blades for James Krenov’s plane making classes. Ron said, ‘Oh leave me alone, I’m busy going broke making knives’, but was later convinced that it could be worth trying.

The first batch of blades was tentatively received, however the second batch, made in a different alloy, was so successful that according to Ron, the basic specs have not changed in 35 years.


‘Krenov style’ handplanes with Hock blades. The central plane was made by James Krenov.

At a time when James Krenov was plagued by and refused requests to endorse all kinds of products, Hock blades were something he voluntarily promoted to others because they ‘closed the circle for him’. ‘We had an incredible synergy’, said Ron. ‘I had this great relationship with Jim Krenov and we were good friends.’

In those early days when specialty products for fine woodworking were being developed, the growing reputation of Hock Tools’ line of replacement blades made them an established mainstay. The range now includes over 100 different products and the market for them continues to grow.

Ron is an acknowledged expert in metallurgy and sharpening of tool steel. In The Perfect Edge (2009), he describes the characteristics of various steels and their suitability as tooling for woodworking. Ron’s knowledge is largely self taught, learned while working in the family sheetmetal business, and through his own endeavours as a sculptor and knifemaker. ‘I started making knives from sawblade stock from the lumbermill. And then I was just learning it by doing it. And reading a lot of books.’

‘Providing the answer to the question, ‘Which tool steel should I get: O1 or A2?’ is something Ron has considered putting on his answering machine. So I risked asking him one more time...

‘A2 holds its edge longer, that’s its claim to fame as a woodworking blade. O1 is more like grandpa’s blade that everyone reveres. The “O” stands for oil hardening, which means it was quenched in oil when it was hardened during the heat treating process.

“A” stands for air, or air quenching, you can just take it out of the high temperature oven and it will harden fully in still air.’
With only two employees, Ron and Linda’s business has remained a small scale enterprise. ‘One of the fun parts about being the lone entrepreneur is that I get to do all the stuff that I consider to be fun, and I still do most of the customer support...’, said Ron, noting that most people are surprised when, all jokes about answering machines aside, he’s often the one to pick up the phone.

First published in Australian Wood Review, issue 95, 2017

Read James Krenov's last recorded interview as published in issue 64, September, 2009.

Postscript: From March 2023, Hock Tools will be produced and distributed by Lee Valley Tools, Canada.

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