We all know who they are. We all have them. That annoying person that we have to deal with at our place of work. The guy or gal that you would swear was placed on the earth for the sole reason of driving you to the frayed edge of sanity. The metaphorical booger you can’t flip off your finger. I’m not gonna name names, so for the sake of this article, we will call him Craig.
Craig was “that dude” that you just wanted to smack in the face with a 2×4 every time you saw him. Now understand, things never got violent between us. It wasn’t like that, but Craig was an obnoxious moron with the maturity level of a undisciplined 3 year old hopped up on pixie sticks and Mountain Dew. Everything he touched turned to manure and seemingly the only one with the shovel was me.
I worked next to Craig for several years on a machining line and it wasn’t uncommon for us to have some free time. He spent his time annoying me and others around. I spent my time, as you may of guessed, working on knives. This was very early in my knife making days and I was trying to hone a lot of skills as far as fancier, file-worked, one-off pieces. I would piddle with hand sanding blades, polishing brass and whatnot. One time I even made a small cleaver style knife with the intent of chopping off Craigs pinky toe as he would stick his feet in my face to take a nap at my gauge bench… Yeah, he was that kind of guy…
One day, Craig came to me as I was hand sanding a blade. I was taking it down to a mirror finish and he watched me work it on and off for several hours over the course of several days. The end result was a beautiful piece, and Craig even agreed, but as he held it in his hand he looked up at me with a bewildered look on his face. I remember him saying, “I gotta admit, its very nice, but… Why Knives????”
I knew what he meant. He meant why would I or anyone spend that much time and effort on something as common as a knife that you can go to Wally world and buy for five bucks?
Obviously Craig wasn’t a knife guy, and in his defense he had hobbies and interests that I couldn’t have possibly cared less about, so I just shrugged the question off and filed it in the “to each their own” part of my brain. Way back in the back beyond the cob webs and the stuff I should have remembered from college. But dammit, his question has stuck with me for close to 20 years now, permanently tattooing him into my memory. Even though I didn’t answer him that day, I often visit his question in my own mind and I think I can answer it now.
I guess my love and fascination with knives has a pretty big back story, but I think it all started with my Grandfather William Hunt. Grandpa was a hard worker. He owned and worked (with the help of my dad, two aunts and my Grandma) a 500-acre farm. They had crops, livestock and lived pretty self sufficient at least by today’s standards. Of course I wasn’t around then, but I hear tell that 14 to 18 hour days were not uncommon. Nobody bitched. It was just what you did. It was how you made a living.
My Dad was the youngest of the three kids and the only son. Grandma and Grandpa had him pretty late in life so Grandpa was fairly advanced in age when my dad was a young man. My dad got worked pretty hard. I’m assuming that is where my he acquired his fantastic work ethic, but I’m pretty sure dad got his belly full of farming by the time he met my mother and was thinking about marrying her and starting a family.
So, in 1966 when the state made an offer on the farm in order to turn it and the surrounding 8000 acres into the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, Grandpa accepted the offer.
Just like that, the family farm was gone. My Grandpa went from working for 16 hours one day to retired with nothing to do the next. My Dad and my two Aunts thought he wouldn’t last long with nothing to do, but he lived a very relaxing life with my Grandmother for a lot of years doing nothing more than sitting on the porch watching cars go by, chewing on old Dutch masters cigars (he never lit them) and taking us grandkids bluegill fishing at the lake that was within walking distance of their home.
Grandpa never talked much. Whoever first said that actions speak louder than words definitely must’ve known him. As a kid it kind of bothered me a little that he was so quiet. It made me feel like maybe he didn’t like me much. But I was just too young to know any better. He used to always call me Daniel, which was my cousin’s name. It drove me insane back then but looking back on it now, I know it was his way of teasing me.
Truth be told, I was probably a little intimidated by him as well. He was strong as an ox. He wasn’t tall but his chest was the size of a barrel and his forearms were like anvils. One time the neighbors 90+ pound German Shepard got out of the fence, bit me in the ass and chased me up a tree in his backyard. I thought I was in for certain annihilation but, low and behold, Grandpa came out the back door, grabbed the beast by the collar. and with one hand threw the dog back over the fence that he was standing 30 ft. from.
The only thing he had to say as he looked at me from under his fedora, never removing the Dutch Masters cigar from his mouth was, “Grandma has lunch ready. Come down and wash up.” I sure miss that old man.
Unfortunately, I didn’t fully understand the things he taught me until I was an adult. I’m 43 now and still reflect back every now and then and wish I had just one opportunity to spend a day with him. He could give me some advice, tell me if he approves or disapproves about the man I have come to be, or if nothing else, I would be happy with him just taking me by the hand and walking down to the lake for a quiet day of bluegill fishing. Granted, I’m probably a little too big to sit on his lap now, but what a great day that would be just the same.
I remember they had a very small tool shed built inside their two car garage probably no bigger than 6ft x 12ft. One side of it had Grandma’s stuff in it. That I found boring, but the other side was filled with Grandpa’s stuff. I’d hate to think of the hours I spent rummaging through his stuff with the anticipation of finding some new treasure. Grandpa’s side had old tools brought from the farm, all worn from hard use, but all still oiled and well cared for. If it was a cutting tool it was always sharp.
I remember sitting on the front porch with him several times. He had a sharpening stone connected on a wooden handle and he would go through all of the gardening tools and make sure they were always ready to work. He had his particular way of sharpening things; the results were never overly attractive, whatever they were, but they were always razor sharp. Whether it was tools in the shed, lawn mower blades, or the pocket knife in his pocket, I promise they would shave hair. It wasn’t to show off. It was because that was the way it was supposed to be. A tool for its intended purpose… well cared for, respected, and valued.
A pocket knife in Grandpa’s pocket was as common as wearing underwear (at least for most of us anyway), and I’m quite certain that my appreciation of a good quality tool, be it a knife, shovel or whatever, has come from him. So, you can imagine my excitement when at the age of 6, my grandpa reached into his cabinet in the kitchen, past his pack of Dutch Masters and handed me my first pocket knife, an old 2-blade Imperial trapper. Nothing expensive, and if the truth was known it was probably something he was tired of looking at. But I thought it was the best thing ever, and it sparked an interest that has never died.
I’ve owned that knife my entire life until two years ago. My cousin’s oldest son, Spencer, has taken an interest in knife collecting and every time I meet up with them on family outings he singles me out to show me his growing collection. To see him being proud of them takes me back to those days when I was young. So I gifted him the knife that belonged to his great-grandfather who, unfortunately, he was never able to meet. I know that someday, maybe even after I’m dead and gone, he will come across that old knife with the missing handle scale on one side and think of me and think of his family roots and maybe it will brighten his day. Win-win in my book.
Time rolls on. It waits for no man so I’ve heard. Next thing you know, people get old. Of course, Grandpa was always old to me. I mean after all, he was a grandpa right? On January 31, 1986 he woke up in the middle of the night, got up, and used the bathroom. He then went back into the bedroom, woke my Grandmother up, kissed her on the cheek and said, “Goodbye Rose, I’m leaving.” He laid his head back down on the pillow and closed his eyes for the last time. He was 90 years of age…
After that, I never missed a beat as far as hanging out at their house. Seems my childhood memories recollect me being there quite a bit. I spent several years mowing Grandmas grass in the summer time and helping her maintain a small garden. Tomatoes, turnips, and radishes are the ones I remember as well as having a cherry tree and a pretty large strawberry patch that was Grandpa’s favorite.
One time I remember trying to help her hoe up a strip that was about 3 ft. wide by 20ft long. Living in the city, I’d never used a hand hoe before, so it didn’t take her long to take it from me and show me how it was done. She went through that strip faster and more proficiently than a high dollar rototiller and in half the time. This was when she was well into her mid-80’s mind you! I’m sure the razor edge on it from Grandpa’s sharpening job helped but still!
Most kids this day and age would complain about the work, but I loved spending time with Grandma. Sure, she would give me a $10 bill most times for mowing her grass but the real payoff was when she handed me a 1 gallon bucket. That meant it was time for me to climb the cherry tree. While I picked the best cherries the tree had to offer, Grandma would go in the kitchen and start preparing a homemade crust, then we would de-pit the cherries together. It seemed like it took all day — and it probably did — but later in the evening we had homemade cherry pie to show for our efforts. For those of you that have never had it. there is nothing like REAL homemade cherry pie.
It wasn’t just the cherry pie that was great. Anything that Grandma fixed was the best. So much so that it has yet to be rivaled as far as my palate is concerned. Her constant companion in the kitchen was an old Case XX butcher knife, once again, a tool brought from the farm for an intended purpose. She used it for everything from peeling apples, butchering chickens, cleaning fish from Grandpa’s good days at the bluegill hole and making those great pies. I can’t possibly begin to count how many family meals, be it Christmas, Thanksgiving, or birthdays, that the old wood handled Case helped prepare. All the years I knew her I never saw her use but the one knife. For her, that tool was right as the summer rain. Grandma live another 14 years longer than Grandpa. She died, warm in her own bed in 2000. She was 96 years young. I never knew a more gentle soul.
Moving on, My Dad did a good job keeping my interest in knives piqued after Grandpa died. He and I always had different interests, which was fine. He was always athletic and into sports. He played in tennis, racquetball, and volleyball leagues and was an avid golfer. Personally, I was never really into any of that stuff, but another talent that my Dad was blessed with (that I fortunately inherited) was his ability to work with his hands. So, from what I understand (and I’m still to this day unclear of the exact details), my Dad borrowed and broke a knife that belonged to my uncle. We’ll be kind and call him “economical,” but Dad thought he could make a replacement instead of buying one.
Needless to say, the knife making bug was born in him, and the way it goes is this. You can seldom make only one knife. Before it is finished you are always thinking how to improve on the next one. I remember being very young, (around 5) and standing on a plastic milk crate watching my dad make a knife every now and then out of old saw blades and deer antlers. He never made many, and most were gifts for uncles and close family friends, but I can still recall being totally blown away by the fact that my old man could make something so useful with nothing more than a little dedication, a few simple tools, and some hard work. I didn’t know it then, nor did my folks, but it started a fire in me that would eventually lead me to my own path in life. Maybe not right away, but hey, better late than never.
Despite my dad and I being two totally different people, we always had common ground in knives, and he was really good to pick up on that. There was always, and still is a local gun and knife show that hits our little Indiana town close to my birthday in February. Dad always made it a point to free up a Saturday and off to the show we went with the promise of me getting to pick out a new pocket knife. I could hardly sleep the night before. But still, I wasn’t just able to pick out any old piece of crap. Dad made sure that I understood quality, and value. Parker Bros. Anvil, and Old Timer came up on my radar at an early age. I was probably the only kid in the 6th grade that owned more than a dozen knives in my whole hometown, but to me it was as common as baseball cards. I thank my dad for that.
Fast forward to what, I guess I could say, has been the last 20 years. I too have gotten older, but it started with my teenage years and young adulthood… you know… the years when you know it all. I was no exception, trying to find my own identity and carve out a piece of this big old goofy world that I thought was owed to me. I went to college and earned a degree in applied science and went on and started a career at a diesel engine manufacturer. I was in the machining/tool and die trade (where I worked with our buddy Craig) which later led into lab work and metallurgy.
During all of this time I met the love of my life, married her, started a family, enjoyed hunting, commercial fishing with my father in law and martial arts. I built a couple of hot rods and rode several thousands of miles on an old chopped up rigid Harley Davidson. Out of all of those things, only two of them still exist… my wife and family, and knives. if I had it to do over again. I wouldn’t change a thing. Why? I guess it’s a matter of devoting your efforts, talents and passion towards something tangible and something of value. Surely you have all heard the phrase “you get out of it what you put into it”?
So, let’s get back to our old buddy Craig (remember him?). I guess if he was here in my shop now I could finally answer his question, “Why Knives?” Why do I spend so much time and effort on them? Why is it such a big deal for me?
I don’t know that there is really one answer. I guess maybe because in some strange way it keeps me connected to people that mean something to me that are long gone, or that it’s always been the one thing that has stuck around when other hobbies and interests have come and gone. Maybe knives remind me of a time when life was a little simpler. Or maybe I would tell him it’s about having pride in something that is 100% your own and going to bed with a sense of accomplishment every night. Whatever it is, there is no doubt that knives have been the vehicle for me that have led to that satisfaction.
As far as all you other knife people out there, I’m sure some of you will read this and feel where I’m coming from and others will think I’ve flipped my lid once again. But I guarantee that each and every one of you have something in your life that is in it for a very concrete reason. It’s not just coincidence.
Its been 10 years since I have seen or talked to Craig, and while I gave him a hard time earlier in this article, I imagine If I saw him today we could pop a top on a cold brew and have a few good laughs. I do what I do for a living now and over the years I have asked myself his question of “Why Knives” for different reasons — whether it be out of frustration, or because I wonder if the answer has changed much from then to now — but one thing I have learned is most all things eventually come full circle.
Now that I can whole-heartedly answer his question, maybe I can forget about him and devote my thoughts to answering the next annoying doofus that decides to consume my time for no other reason than spite. Lol,… Besides, I think I have better coping skills now.
One of the things my Grandfather told me years ago was, “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty but the pig likes it’. I never really understood that until now.