Cafe Interview with Steve Adams

sam

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There are many gun, knife, and jewelry engravers here in the Cafe, but not many die engravers. In fact, Steve Adams might be our only professional die engraver. His unique skills set him apart from other engravers who can't help but be amazed at the beautiful 3-dimensional engravings he produces. I met Steve a few years ago when he posted a hobo nickel on eBay, and he has raised the benchmark several times since our introduction. When it comes to sculpted portraiture, he is THE MAN.

Thanks for doing the interview Steve, and welcome to the Cafe! / ~Sam

::: Engraving :::

Q. What's your name?
A. Steven Adams

Q. Where are you from?
A. Currently Green Bay ,WI , although I consider Pennsylvannia my home and will be moving back there.

Q. How long have you been engraving?
A. Just over 27 years now

Q. What made you want to become an engraver?
A. An interest in art, exposure to die engraving, and I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time, and given a chance.

Q. Are you a hobbyist or professional engraver?
A. Professional

Q. How did you learn engraving?
A. I was given a few basic tools and principles and told to have at it. After three weeks I became the only die engraver at the business and learned quickly.

Q. What was your biggest obstacle when you first started?
A. Not having someone to consult.

Q. Are you a hammer & chisel and/or push engraver, or do you use pneumatic tools, or a combination of hand and power?
A. Everything, I use it all. Die engraving is about meeting deadlines, so I use whatever is available. My background is hammer and chisel though and I am most comfortable with this. I freely admit to not being an expert with the pneumatic engraver yet. Even when engraving coins I use any tool available. My use goes something like this. Die engraving - graver for patterns, pantograph for flat levels, and a combination of chisels and punches, plus gravers and rotary tools for modeling. The tools I use for engraving coins are chisels, gravers, rotary tools, micro sculpting tools, and punches. Diemaker or moldmaker stones are used for cleanup.( Micro sculpting tools are very very small versions of the same tools used for carving plaster.)

Q. What are your favorite books pertaining to engraving?
A. I don't have a favorite.

Q. Of the old engraving masters, who's work is among your favorite?
A. Natale Rossi, a hand die engraver.

Q. What's the worst engraving mistake you ever made, and how did you fix it?
A. I can't think of a specific bad mistake, but going too deep or slipping would be the most common. If you go too deep in a die, you remove some material from the background or start over. As far as slips, there is rarely something you can't fix by peening metal. Fortunately mistakes are seldom now.

Q. What are the majority of your engraving jobs (guns, jewelry, etc)?
A. The majority of my work consists of steel dies or sculpted models for the minting industry, followed by hobo nickels and engraved coins.

Q. What type of magnification do you use (microscope, Optivisor, etc)?
A. Mostly optivisors, and a stereo microscope when necessary.

Q. What part of engraving do you find the most challenging or difficult?
A. learning to compromise. There is a balance between producing a masterpeice and producing sufficient work in a scheduled deadline.

Q. What part of an engraving job do you dislike the most, and why?
A. In my industry I often do work for companies and other artists who then take credit. Its part of business, but it doesn't make it right.

Q. What's your favorite part of an engraving job, and why?
A. Knowing that you have nailed the subject and the customer is happy.

Q. Do you like or dislike lettering, and why?
A. I no longer enjoy doing lettering by hand, I did enough of that early on. I still do lettering, but mostly by machine or by sculpting.

Q. What kinds of engraving do you refuse to do?
A. Because of ethics there are things I won't consider, but there are also times I have to say no to someone who simply thinks the work is too expensive.

Q. How do you rate the quality of engraving done today as opposed to 50 or 100 years ago?
A. I can only speak for the medallic industry. We have engravers and sculptors capable of producing good work, but because it has become so commercialized and competitive the art of engraving or sculpting has suffered. The talent is there, but the quality is not. The minting industry would most likely not admit this, but all you have to do is look at the product compared to 50 or more years ago. Although not an expert in gun or knife engraving, I am amazed at the quality and artistry produced by todays masters.

Q. Do you perceive any part of hand engraving as a dying art?
A. I don't know if hand engraving is a dying art or not, I do know hand die engraving is.

Q. What affect has the internet had on your hand engraving?
A. The internet has had quite an influence in business coming in , helpful
information, and meeting fellow craftsmen.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn engraving?
A. Don't give up, don't take short cuts, and practice.

::: Personal :::

Q. How many children do you have?
A.One

Q. What's the occupation of your wife/husband?
A. Admin. Assistant

Q. What's the most interesting experience you had when meeting people?
A. trying to explain what I do.

Q. Besides engraving, what are your hobbies and interests?
A. Old tools, old cars, the outdoors, fishing, hobo nickels.

Q. Where is your favorite place to be?
A. In the woods.

Q. What's one thing of which you are most proud?
A. Honesty, integrity.

Q. When you were a child, who was your hero?
A. Father and Grandfather.

Q. Where were you on September 11, 2001?
A. at work

Q. Do you have any pet peeves?
A. oblivious people and ignorance

Q. What is your favorite thing to do in your home town?
A. visit an old friend or go hiking

Q. What one person was most influential in your life?
A. Grandfather

Q. Describe what you would think of as a perfect day.
A. Long walk on a crisp Fall day in some remote woods in PA

Q. Is there anything else you'd like to say to the folks reading this?
A. I think it is important to share knowledge and pass on skills that you have learned. These same skills may also on occasion be the avenue for helping others.
 

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Billzach

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#3
As you can see by steve,s carved coins, you know why steve is considered the best hobo nickel carver in the world today..As john stated, amazing.
 

Tim Wells

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#4
I am absolutely speechless. The quality, the concepts, are sooo many light years ahead of anything I can ever hope to do. I like it all but my favorite is that building. What is it on (not a nickel I don't think) and what's the story behind it?

Thanks for the interview and showing that wonderful workmanship.
 
Joined
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#5
Nice engraving, by engraver I've never herd of before. Really neat to see how big and diverse engraving is.
Good interview.
 

Andy

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#6
There are very few engravers that I would consider as a master engraver. You, Steve Adams, are a master.
 
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#7
Great interview. Steve puts another meaning to engraving. After reading this interview, Steve you really can't wait to get back to PA can you. Well the hills and mountains are still as beautiful as ever.
It is such a pleasure looking at your work. Thanks for sharing it.
Mike
 

Steve Adams

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Thanks Sam, and everyone. Tim, the building is the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia. I hand engraved the die on a nine inch block of steel with hammer and chisels. The photo is a hand hammered aluminum tray from that die and made at Wendell August Forge in Pennsylvania.
 

Jim-Iowa

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#10
Another great interview. I love this forum, it is a priveledge for a wanabee like me to figuratively rub noses and learn from the greats in this profession.
 
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Harmony, Maine
#11
Beautiful work Steve. Many of the oldtime gun engravers were also die and plate engravers. What type of tool steel do you usually use for a die and how does it cut? Thanks for doing the interview.
A question/request for Sam. Would it be possible to get a picture of each person interviewed so we could put a face with the name and work?
Kerry
 

Steve Adams

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Kerry,
S7, A2, and O1 are good tool steels to use for dies and all engrave and machine relatively easy ( for steel that is ), but I don't suggest D2 or high chrome content steels because of their toughness for hand work.
 

JJ Roberts

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#13
Steven,

It is amazing how much detail you achieved in such a small space. Keep us posted with your future creations.
Keep up the good work.

JJ Roberts
Manassas, VA
 

Shamey

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Ligonier Pa
#14
As usual, your work is beyond description. It is always a treat to view your latest work. I want you to know that the information that you provided me with when I first started carving coins was invaluable to me and that I am still absorbing most of it.
I feel privilaged that the people on this forum are helpful and free with sharing their hard learned information.
Thanks Sam for gathering all of these good folks together to share their knowledge. and thanks again to Steve, JC, Bill Zack , Cerelli and all of the other great people that are willing to share their skills and artwork.
Your friend,
Shamey
P.S. There were some good hatches on Spring creek this year!
 

JamesO

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#15
You don't get the full effect unless you are holding one in your hand. I was WOW'd when I got to see
his carvings at the F.U.N. Show, they were the first Hobos I had seen up close- besides my own- and I was simply AMAZED! His work is very inspirational.
 

JJ Roberts

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#16
To All Coin Carvers,

I really admire what you all are doing, but wondered if any of you have ever met a real hobo? While visiting
my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins up in Shelby, Ohio around 1946 we were sitting around Grandma's kitchen having lunch and suddenly where was a knock at the back door. Grandma opened the door and there was a man standing there..he wanted somthing to eat, and was willing to do some chores.
Grandma said, " I have nothing for you sir", but you are welcome to join us for lunch." He came in took off his
hat and sat down and had lunch with us. Hobos would carry white chalk..they would mark sidewalks and telephone polls with their own graffiti that only they could understand..they knew exactly where they could get some chores to do and a meal, and passing this information on. Back then they were called hobos, and now they are homeless. I wonder if there are anyone riding the rails today?

Yours truly,
JJ Roberts
Manassas, VA
 

Abigail

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Location
Covington, Louisiana
#17
We had two 'hobos' that hung around our town when I was growing up. One was Delos Nobles and the other was Scaley Red. I guess they knew each other but they didn't travel together. They carried hobo sticks and wore big hats and everyone knew them around town. They would often disappear for months at a time and then we'd see one or the other of them back walking on the streets.
I was very young but I remember that most people in the neighborhood would leave their shed doors open or their workshops open so that they could sleep inside.
I should find some photos of them somewhere.....Maybe Sam could do a nickel.....hmmmmmmm
 

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