We all have a story to tell.
Mine begins in the early 70’s when I’d go to work at my dad’s auto body shop. On Saturdays, and in the summer months I’d hop in his truck and drive just a couple miles down the road from our house to learn my first lessons in how to use my hands. When I was seven or eight I’d wet-sand entire cars with a folded piece of sandpaper and a bucket of water.
By age ten, I was using a ratchet and wrench to remove bumpers from the frame. While they were at the chrome shop I’d get to work taping door handles and mirrors in preparation for prime and paint. When the bumpers returned, I helped my dad put them back on the car.
But the most important lessons came from simply watching. My father was (and still is) a master. In high school, when I wasn’t playing baseball or football, I was fixing dents and learning to paint. I also worked for a roofer and an auto mechanic. After graduation, I went to work with a carpenter named, Bill Rudolph. Bill taught me how to do things right – or don’t do it at all. He was quiet, meticulous, and incredibly smart. And he never cut corners.
My profession for years was as a fitness trainer. I still own a studio in New Jersey (although I now live in South Carolina), and after 30 years it is still busy. I went into that business because that’s what athletes like me do. I played a year of college football before turning to the solo sport of triathlon, mostly to be alone for a while. In 1990, I finished in the top 100 at the Hawaii Ironman, and won my state championship twice. I also purchased a piece of land just north of the Gettysburg battlefield, where I went to work building a log cabin by hand. It was a project almost done in secret, in between client appointments and my training.
It was during this time that I met my future wife, Holly. On weekends, she’d help with the construction, and for a short while it became our full time home. It was a dream come true for me in so many ways. I hunted and fished all year long, built things, spent quiet time hiking the woods. But after our third child was born, the long commute back to to my fitness center three hours away was taking a toll on my health. We sold the property and moved back to New Jersey. It was heartbreaking.
Three years later we found Charleston, S.C.
In the years since, I’ve been a head high school football coach, a travel baseball coach, a writer (I’ve written four books), and a teacher. I started a program called, Huck Finn School, which now boasts over 1000 students. At our summer camps we teach Viking survival, World War II survival, Mountain man survival, and art and music. It’s a family affair, with all three of our children working during the summer months, and my oldest daughter, Jessy, working in the shop with me year round. Jessy is one of the most talented artists and musicians I know.
And so how does all this lead to knife making? I’m not sure, to be honest. All I know is that I’m back where it all started, working quietly in the shop, making things by hand. It’s where I am at peace, and where I can visit with all my old teachers. It’s a long road to get back where we belong. But it’s a road that must be taken to learn what we need to know.
Shortcuts don’t amount to much. My old boss, Bill Rudolph taught me that. And they aren’t nearly as satisfying as a job done well. That’s what draws me to knife making. You can’t fake it when the techniques are pure. I never gave much thought to the money in all this. I just do what I do best and the rest takes care of itself. It’s the same philosophy I used in the fitness business, and in my coaching.
When you own something I make, you’ll own a little piece of the entire journey. I suppose it’s why it was all so necessary.