As a craftsman I put a little bit of myself into everything I build. I am critical of every blemish in anything I build and when I sell something I feel like I am shipping a child off into the world. About a year ago one of my customers asked if I could make a memorial plaque for a friend of hers that had passed away. Of course I was happy to oblige. She proceeded to tell me, she and her friend had fought fire together on the local hotshot crew many years ago. She wanted to mount his axe on a piece of wood that she could give to his son. I fortunately had a piece of black walnut that was milled by a friend of mine that would work perfectly. She agreed to bring me the axe and I would get it done as I had time.
The thing about firefighters is that they are always firefighters, on duty or off. If they did a few seasons 20 years ago or retired after 30 years on the job they are always firefighters. I spent most of my adult life working as a fireman. I am currently trying to build a new career for myself, but being a firefighter will always be part of me. So when she told me this was a memorial for a friend she fought fire with it pulled at my heart because an old firefighting buddy of mine had just passed away from a heart attack a few weeks earlier. He and I spent many shifts together in fire stations, he had been retired just a little over a year when he passed.
Due to geography and the circumstances of life I was unable to do much when my friend passed away. This project, mounting the axe, was an opportunity for me to help a fellow firefighter and honor her friend appropriately, the way I felt I was unable to do for my friend. I was swamped with Holiday orders when the axe arrived, so I was unable to work on it for several months. When I finally got to working on the axe I took extra care, this was not just another order I needed to “knock out” so I could get it shipped. As much as it pained me to a do, I drilled two small holes in one side of the axe and glued small metal pegs into it. As a tool maker drilling holes in a tool and rendering it inoperable goes against one of my core values, but I was doing this with the end goal in mind. I was able to mount the axe to the stained black walnut with no visible attachment points, it hung against the board as if floating in time.
I am very proud of the finished project and completing it helped me do something for a fellow firefighter I haven’t always been able to do for myself. When I gave the plaque to my client this week she was very pleased. As my family mourns the loss of another co-worker this weekend, I am reminded life is precious. So I hug my girls tight and start looking for another axe that I can hang. It will be for someone important, even if it’s not for the person I have in my heart at the time.