Cafe Interview with Joe Rundell
In 2007 I had the great fortune to be seated next to Mr. Rundell during the Winston Churchill and Ken Hunt master classes in Kansas. I had not met Joe previously, but I left the classes much richer in knowledge and friendship because of him. His fine work is on the front cover of the FEGA Engraver magazine which should be out shortly for all to read and admire.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Joe Rundell
::: Engraving :::
Q. What's your name?
A. Joe Rundell
Q. Where are you from?
A. Originally Owosso, Michigan and now I live in Clio, Michigan. I've only made it about 40 miles from my birth place.
Q. How long have you been engraving?
A. I actually started building muzzle loading guns in 1961 and I ended up going to a antique shop and found a cigar box of 25 palm chisels for $3.00. You always put your name on the top facet of the barrel and I needed to do that so that's how I started engraving.
Q. What made you want to become an engraver?
A. I built 25-30 muzzle loading firearms so far and each one got more ornate so I ended up having to do a lot more engraving. I started out by doing push engraving which was a very hard thing to master. Then I made a chasing hammer and started making my own chisels. I went from push engraving to hammer and chisel engraving.
Q. Are you a hobbyist or professional engraver?
A. A professional engraver
Q. How did you learn engraving?
A. I'm self taught with the exception of taking a class from Ron Smith, Ken Hunt and Winston Churchill. I did well by learning by myself and I wanted to say that I learned by myself, but after I started taking the GM classes I made a quantum leap in my skill level because of the classes. If I stayed by the self taught method I would have been about 5 years behind where I am now.
Q. What was your biggest obstacle when you first started?
A. My biggest obstacle was when I was pushing with a chisel I didn't have an engravers vise - I was using table top vises. When the chisel would slip it would stick into my hand. I lost a lot of blood when I was first learning. When I pushed the chisel the engraving still had to be heavy (deep). If a chip would break nothing would hold the graver back and then there would be a large slip and it would put me in repair mode. Then I tried the hammer and mastered the hammer & chisel way and then I went back to learn the bulino method. I think my forte is high relief engraving and that's what I would like to do best.
Q. Are you a hammer & chisel and/or push engraver, or do you use pneumatic tools, or a combination of hand and power?
A. I seldom use power. On steel almost never. On wood I do use a dental set up and dental burrs to remove wood. Now I have a piece of ebony in my vise and I'm carving a pharos face into ebony. Then I'll inlay that into the stock I'm doing now. I go back and forth between the H&C and push method.
The piece I'm doing now is a Kriegloff classic with 3 different barrels. The main battery is a double rifle .416/500 nitro express, the next barrel is a .30/06, the last is a 20 ga. magnum shot gun barrel. This is my gun that I'm doing for myself.
Q. What are your favorite books pertaining to engraving?
A. All of them. I get something from all of them. My first book was by Jack Prudhomme - Gun Engraving Review. That book started me off. Then from there I went to the Bliele book - that book got me further down the line than any other book because it came out in 1980. I bought it at the Houston gun show in 1981 where the FEGA stuff started to germinate. Right now Ron Smith's book is one I dearly love. And Custom Firearms Engaving by Tom Turpin also.
Q. Of the old engraving masters, whose work is among your favorite?
A. Frank Hendricks, Winston Churchill, Ron Smith. Ron's presence really helped me..... just to be able to look at the work he did. I judged myself by looking at the best in the show and looked at these people. They acted as pathfinders and have allowed me to do the work that I do now. Presently, I have Winston Churchill's last book and the book by Firmo Fracassi and my favorite foreign engraver is Alain Lovenberg.
Q. What's the worst engraving mistake you ever made, and how did you fix it?
A. There were so many. The mistake I made more than anything else was when I stared intertwining scrolls and instead of stopping at the line I would inadvertently cross over it. So to fix that mistake I would take a flat punch and fit it down into the line I wanted to erase. If you looked at the punch from the face it would look flat, but it was rounded around the sides. It would bring up material on either sides of the line. I would take a piece of steel wire and cut it to the length of the enlarged area and then I would fit it into the hole. I would fold the material over the sides and hammer everything down smooth.
Q. What is the majority of your engraving jobs (guns, jewelry, etc)?
A. Speculative jobs on guns. Most of my commissions are guns.
Q. What type of magnification do you use (microscope, Optivisor, etc)?
A. What I use is a 3.5 set of reading glasses with a #5 optivisor over the top of the glasses.
Q. What part of engraving do you find the most challenging or difficult?
A. Doing high relief engraving especially human faces.
Q. What part of an engraving job do you dislike the most, and why?
A. The one that I dislike the most is when a customer wants me to engrave down to a price. He's only got some budget and wants a big job for a small price. The customer goes off pleased because I make a good job with simplified scrolls or less coverage, but I don't like that type of job.
Q. What's your favorite part of an engraving job, and why?
A. My favorite part of an engraving job is when I'm working on a piece that I've designed wholly. The whole gun - and not just the engraving, but the carving too. I love to do project pieces and all the parts are important. I try to put as much as I can in every part so every area looks complete. I don't do it the KISS (keep it simple) way. I do just the opposite. I usually weigh 2 or 3 ideas and try to do the most complex of the options and think the customer (viewer) enjoys that. He is usually attracted by what he sees at a distance, but gets a lot more when he sees it up close. Then he will study it and see more and more and the gun stays new to the customer every time he looks at it. This makes me over stretch. I can usually do 100% on a piece with my current skills, but if I try to do something I've never done before it makes me stretch to learn how to do the task as I'm doing it. If I'm able to accomplish it then it becomes part of my repertoire, my memory, and then I can build on that with the next project.
Q. Do you like or dislike lettering, and why?
A. Lettering is a very definite thing. Everyone knows what a letter looks like. It's like engraving a straight line and if you mess it up a bit everyone knows. It's a challenge. I don't shy away from it. I worked as a commercial artist my first 2 years out of school so I had to design and do a lot of it. To do that is an art in itself and is a challenge.
Q. What kinds of engraving do you refuse to do?
A. I won't do erotic stuff. I don't like anything erotic. I'll come close to it, but I'll put clothes on it. The opposite of what I don't like is what I do like, which is classical art. I don't like to do commissions down to a price.
Q. How do you rate the quality of engraving done today as opposed to 50 or 100 years ago?
A. The best that was done 50 or 100 years ago might not even make it to a mid level engraver now.
Q. Do you perceive any part of hand engraving as a dying art?
A. No. I think it is just the opposite. It's leaping ahead by light years and going tremendously fast.
Q. What country or countries impress you with their highly skilled engravers?
A. Italy and Belgium.
Q. What affect has the internet had on your hand engraving?
A. Right now, none. I'm looking forward to utilizing the internet. I'm trying to learn now. Once I learn, it will be mind boggling the amount of info I'll be able to take in. I hope I can put stuff out there that other people will find useful too.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn engraving?
A. Become a plumber. I think it's a fine extra job at the beginning. To make decent money at it you have to break out of the main stream.
::: Personal :::
Q. How many children do you have?
A. I have a son and a daughter.
Q. What's the occupation of your wife/husband?
A. Right now she is a full time wife and the greatest thing that God put on this earth. Her name is Zadra and we started our association in 1958 and were married Aug 20, 1960.
Q. If you have traveled, what was the most exciting country you visited and what did you enjoy most?
A. When it comes to guns and things - Germany and Austria. One of the persons that interested me most was Peter Hoffer in Ferlach, Austria.
Q. Do you have an interesting experience while traveling that you'd like to share?
A. I went on a hunting trip in South Africa and after the hunting was over with we took a 10 day excursion down the African coast and finished up in Cape Town. I had a shirt on that had "Great Lakes Outdoors" embroidered on the back which was given to me by the guy who had the show on television. I was interviewed on his show, which airs locally in Michigan, for 15 minutes about engraving. While I was looking out to sea at the cape of good hope as a tourist, a man came up to me and said "Are you from Michigan?"and I say yes. He then asked me if I was on the show Great Lakes Outdoors. He said he had seen the show and lived in Lansing Michigan. It was kind of neat to meet someone in South Africa that was from Michigan.
Q. What's the most interesting experience you had when meeting people?
A. I met Deiter Kriegoff and we've become good friends.
Q. Besides engraving, what are your hobbies and interests?
A. I love old cars. I've got a 1928 model A, 2 door sedan that my wife and I like to take out into the country. We putt along at 20 mph and look for deer and sight see. I also have a 1926, 4 door touring model T. I belong to a car club and I'm a vice president of the club.
Q. Where is your favorite place to be?
A. Home with my wife and cat. I'm right now where I'd most like to be.
Q. What's one thing of which you are most proud?
A. My son and daughter and my wife. This last over and under shot gun is something else I'm quite proud of.
During the 1970's I helped to start a bicentennial army unit - the 13th Pennsylvania Regiment, Continental line. In 1979 we went to a reenactment battle in Rhode Island and there were 1400 troops and I was asked to command the 2nd division of the reenactment including 35 cannons. Then, in 1981 we went to Yorktown and we saw President Reagan. There were 6000 of us in that battle and it was a moving experience.
Q. When you were a child, who was your hero?
A. My father. My father was 65 when I was born and I was the first child. He was born June 6th, 1874. My grandfather was born during Andrew Jackson's presidency. My father died when I was 10 - that was the bad part. Up until then we were inseparable.
Q. Tell us something few people know about you.
A. I usually speak as I feel and I don't have a lot of secrets.
Q. Where were you on September 11, 2001?
A. I was in Ulm, Germany at the Kreighoff plant. We had a wonderful tour, but it took the wind out of our sails when we found out what happened. We were upstairs at the plant to meet the in-house engraver. While we were talking, the World Trade Center towers fell. The workers tried to explain this to us in broken English and German.
Q. Do you have any pet peeves?
A. Yeah, but I don't think I'll voice them.
Q. What is your favorite thing to do in your home town?
A. I'm a Mason. I go to many masonic functions. I was master of my lodge in the year 2000.
Q. If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be?
A. I would like to sit down with Firmo Fracassi.
Q. What one person was most influential in your life?
A. My father and my wife have influenced me the most. After that it would be Winston Churchill (the politician) - the engraver (Winston Churchill) has had a great deal of influence on me too....
Q. Who (living or deceased) would you most liked to have met?
A. George Washington
Q. Describe what you would think of as a perfect day.
A. I think driving around in one of my old cars right on up to sundown in the country and stopping at a root beer place (A&W) and then coming home and watching TV - an old movie - all with my wife. Sitting next to her and holding her hand and sipping on a glass of Napoleon brandy with water. That would be a perfect day.
Q. Tell us a good short, clean joke.
A. I'm a complete blank about jokes.
Q. Is there anything else you'd like to say to the folks reading this?
A. For people who are coming along I will answer any question I know the answer to. A lot of engravers have great work. I think I'm scratching the ground with the chickens with the rest of the pack. I guess I believe what the army says: I'd like to be the best that I can be and I try to make myself my own worst critic. I see the flaws in everything I do, but sometimes I look back and am surprised with my own work.
Fabulous interview!!! and of course an even more fabulous gun!!
This is the gun that at the FEGA show in Reno won the Engravers choice award, best engraved shotgun & the metal on metal inlay award.
Joe is a wonderful guy, a highly skilled engraver and thouroughly good company.
I should also ad that it's Joe's gun that features on the cover of the latest issue of the FEGA Engraver magazine.
Thanks Andrew for all the good that you do.Joe
Thanks for the interview Joe and it was a great pleasure to meet you and learned so much from you at the engrave-in at Scott's...
To see the shotgun live was a thing to always remember...
Enjoyable interview Joe! Makes me even prouder to know you. TOS
(The Other Sam)
Cravingravin=a chronic malady that afflicts some of the world's nicest people...TOS
Joe was one of the first engravers I met in the "early days".
His latest shotgun is simply amazing!!
Another GREAT interview. I met Joe last year at Scott's Engrave-In and saw his work up close.
While the pictures are nice, they don't come close to capture the beauty of his work.
Thanks for the interview,
Found it very interesting!
Thank you for the interview Joe, these interviews in general are helping a lot learning to know other people engravers I have never met. How they started and about their interests.
I've known Joe for many years and have some of his wood carving on a personal rifle of mine. It is first class work. watching Joe's progress over the years on that amazing shotgun of his was a thrill and education to us all. Fantastic work.