Cafe Interview with Joe Mason
Q. What's your name?
A. Joe Mason
Q. Where are you from?
A. Brandon, Mississippi
Q. How long have you been engraving?
A. In 1995 I bought the book “Art of Engraving”, a chasing hammer and all the other things I thought was needed and started tapping.
Q. What made you want to become an engraver?
A. I was a beginning knifemaker looking through a Blade Magazine and saw a photo of an engraved knife and thought this is what I want to do.
Q. Are you a hobbyist or professional engraver?
A. Professional – I am a part time engraver, but I have been averaging 30 to 40 hours a week at the bench. Sometimes I feel like I have two full time jobs.
Q. How did you learn engraving?
A. I am self-taught, and it took about five years before I would show my work. I don’t recommend a beginner to take that route. About four years ago I went to GRS to Chris DeCamillus’s bulino class.
Q. What was your biggest obstacle when you first started?
A. Well, there were so many, but the biggest was not having an engraver that lived close to me to talk with. We did not have the Internet forums. I had to go to knife shows to question engravers and I asked a lot of questions. It was also important to me to hold good engraving in my hand to study. Shows were very important to me.
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 use a GraverMax, but every now and then I will pick up the hammer and make a mess out of something.
Q. What are your favorite books pertaining to engraving?
A. The Art of Engraving, Winchester Engraving, Modern Custom Guns
Q. Of the old masters, who's work is among your favorite?
A. L. D. Nimschke
Q. What's the worst engraving mistake you ever made, and how did you fix it?
A. I was working on a folding knife that had a beveled edge and the owner wanted something engraved on it. I decided on the beveled area to cut 3 linked leaves without a border. I finished the last set of leaves and it looked funny. I cut all the others pointing to the blade end of the knife and the last area was pointed to the rear.
I was really lucky that some of the cuts were in the right place when I turned the pattern around. I had to burnish the cuts closed, refinish the area and use some creative shading. I had to do some additional shading on the other areas to make sure they matched. Now I am very paranoid when laying out a pattern.
Q. What are the majority of your engraving jobs (guns, jewelry, etc)?
A. All on my engraving work is now on knives. I have not done a firearm yet, but hope to next year.
Q. What type of magnification do you use (microscope, Optivisor, etc)?
A. I use a microscope and it is the tool I treasure the most.
Q. What part of engraving do you find the most challenging or difficult?
A. I use a high speed rotary tool to remove background material. It is the fastest way to remove the background, but the most stressful. It is not fun repairing mistakes made with this tool.
Q. What part of an engraving job do you dislike the most, and why?
A. Removing Background…. To me it is the most stressful, and it takes longer than any other step.
Q. What's your favorite part of an engraving job, and why?
A. Shading…. To me it is the step that brings the engraving to life.
Q. Do you like or dislike lettering, and why?
A. I like doing lettering, but the only lettering I do is when I sign an engraving.
Q. What kinds of engraving do you refuse to do?
A. Firearms… I will engrave one of my own before doing one for someone else.
Q. How do you rate the quality of engraving done today as opposed to 50 or
100 years ago?
A. I think the engravings of today are cleaner cut because of the use on the microscopes and pneumatic tools.
Q. Do you perceive any part of hand engraving as a dying art?
Q. What country or countries impress you with their highly skilled engravers?
Q. What affect has the internet had on your hand engraving?
A. The Internet has made me a better engraver. The ability to ask questions on the forums and get help with how to do things is amazing. Being able to visit websites and study the works of master engravers is overwhelming.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn engraving?
A. Go to shows and meet the engravers, ask questions and study their work. Take a class to shorten the learning curve. It would not hurt to have an engraver in the town you live that would share information.
::: Personal :::
Q. How many children do you have?
A. I have two boys. They are both grown. Brad lives in Huntsville, AL and Brian in Brandon, MS
Q. What's the occupation of your wife/husband?
A. Judy is a homemaker.
Q. If you have traveled, what was the most exciting country you visited
and what did you enjoy most?
A. Germany… I served my tour of duty in the US Army in Germany. Great food, beer and it is a beautiful country.
Q. Besides engraving, what are your hobbies and interests?
A. I enjoy fishing and woodcarving.
Q. Where is your favorite place to be?
A. In my engraving studio.
Q. What's one thing of which you are most proud?
A. Tom Overeynder and I won “Best Collaboration” at this year’s Guild Show
Q. When you were a child, who was your hero?
A. Roy Rogers
Q. Tell us something that not everyone knows about you.
A. I have a black belt in a marshal art.
Q. Where were you on September 11, 2001?
A. I worked at a Civil Engineering Company and was in my office.
Q. Do you have any pet peeves?
A. Not that I can talk about here.
Q. What is your favorite thing to do in your home town?
A. Brandon has always been a bedroom community, but now we have a Home Depot.
Q. What one person was most influential in your life?
A. My Dad
Q. Describe what you would think of as a perfect day.
A. The day I retire and only engrave.
Q. Is there anything else you'd like to say to the folks reading this?
A. Family first
I enjoyed that very much!
Do you feel like the discipline you learned in your martial art training is useful in engraving skills?
Your work is beautiful,I'm glad the photo's were added to show your outstanding work. Inspiring!!!
I'm a jeweler and novice engraver. I don't own any knives, certainly haven't engraved any, and up until 18 months ago, didn't even know knives were objects to be engraved. Joe Mason's work is beautiful almost beyond belief. I'd like to see one in person some day.
Great interview (great idea)
Simply stunning knives
What a great idea. It's going to be very interesting to see what influenced these folks to take up the graver, and other similarities as well as differences.
It also puts into perspective how much learning they have done over the course of their careers and how far behind some of us (me) are. But the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step...
Great interview, and the knives are fantastic.
Best regards, John B.