For the last six months, I have been using some extraordinary gouges made by Carter and Son Toolworks in Seattle, Washington. While the gouges are everything you could want in a bowl or spindle gouge, the story behind the family that designed and makes them is even more interesting.
The Carters are talented craftspeople. Dave Carter is a tool and die maker who has run an engineering company specializing in plastic injection molding dies for many years. Making such dies involves a lot of metallurgy. Dave’s hobby is building furniture. His wife, Jan, is a fiber artist. Their son, Paul, age 14, and daughter, Valerie, age 17, grew up immersed in the business.
At age 10, Paul became enamored with woodturning after taking a few lessons. As his skills improved, he often complained to his father that the tools didn’t seem very good quality. Dave explained that the steel was not very good. Paul asked, “couldn’t we build better right here?” Dave’s answer was, “Yes, of course.” That was the start of a new product line for their engineering firm. And, when it comes to the woodturning tools, the Carters let their children do the lion’s share of running the business. After all, Paul was the reason for the tools in the first place.
Those high quality tools are made from M42 high-speed steel. The M series of steels are true high-speed steels: you can get them red-hot in the grinder, and the temper will not be affected. Invented in the early 20th century, they alloy large amounts of molybdenum with varying amounts of tungsten to achieve this property. M2 has been one of my favorites since manufacturers introduced it in the 1970s.
The M42 that Dave chose is even better because of the addition of eight percent cobalt to the alloy. This improves high temperature stability as well as wear and corrosion resistance. It is a walk in the park to bring M42 to a burr-free, polished edge, and it holds that edge for a good, long time. It is impossible to burn it in a grinder.
Son Paul is in charge of the design, development and testing of all the new products manufactured by Carter and Son Toolworks. “I discuss my designs with Dad and experienced woodturners from around the world,” he said.
Among the current products are spindle and bowl gouges, both made from the M42 steel. Each tool comes with an aluminum handle laser-etched with the company name. At the start of the manufacturing process, the butt end of each gouge is cross-drilled with a small hole. During manufacture, this alignment hole allows two flats to be milled exactly where the grub screws come through the handle. These flats, which are at right angles to the flute, bring the tool into perfect alignment when the grub screws are snugged up. This ensures that the tool will not rotate in the handle.
In addition to their 3/8-inch and 1/2-inch spindle gouges, 5/8-inch and 3/8-inch bowl gouges, 1/2-inch skew, ¾-inch spindle roughing out gouge, and detail gouge, which sell at prices ranging from $134.99 to $174.99, the Carters’ most recent addition to their lineup is a parting tool. “We made a number of prototypes that Paul tested, and he has now approved a final design that we are starting to manufacture,” Valerie said.
Valerie is in charge of sales for the Carter and Son Toolworks business. She runs a full social media campaign, with a website, Facebook page and Twitter account. “Having grown up in my dad’s engineering firm, I’ve always been around business people and customers,” she said. “My dad always encouraged me to think like a business person, and he even supported me in starting little businesses when I was young, like selling farm-fresh eggs and cookies that I baked. Because of this, running Carter and Son has come more naturally. Paul and I have worked very hard to come up with a quality product and earn a good reputation, and we have found that the woodworking community has been very encouraging of us.”
Both of the Carter children have complete input on the business operations, with decisions made via round table discussions with their dad, Dave. On a day-to-day basis, Paul and Dave handle the manufacturing and design side of things, while Valerie works on marketing and sales, developing the budget alongside her mom. And, at trade shows, Paul demonstrates turning with his tools while Valerie talks with customers and the parents try to stay in the background as much as possible. Overall, however, Valerie said, “We all know each aspect of the business inside out.”
Paul said, “It is very exciting because I learn something new every day, whether it be about woodturning or manufacturing. I have found that most people are very encouraging and happy that Val and I are running a business together.”
According to Valerie, “Putting a premium tool in a woodturner’s hand and watching their eyes light up is the best feeling.”
While, for Paul, “Seeing woodturners enjoy woodturning to the max with our woodturning tools is my favorite aspect of the business.”