Preserving the past has been a long standing inspiration for my process, using materials that have a story and creating knives that will share the story over time. Personally, the idea of preserving a material for its inherent representation of a time and place all started with a home renovation that threatened to banish the cherry floor of my childhood to an indignant burning pile. I salvaged about 400 square feet of this "poor man's mahogany" and it became the primary handle material for the first few years of Heartwood Forge. The creaky floor boards of my youth, with 25 years worth of memories, is now preserved. To me, that is priceless.
This isn't my story though, this is about a thoughtful customer from North Carolina who wrote me over a year ago to see if I could turn a homestead apple tree into a set of knives. I jumped at the opportunity to work with him as it struck the chord of my childhood cherry flooring, which rang deep within my heart.
It all started with his great grand father building a primitive cabin years and years ago, in the far reaches of western North Carolina. Surrounded on three sides by National Forest lands, the acreage was vast.
As this young man grew older, he grew to love the land through creating memories of the wilderness and relaxing from the grind of the eastern part of the state. The cabin was rustic, with only a wood stove and no electricity, it was basically used for sleeping. In addition to the cabin, there was one other key geographic location in the vast wilderness of this homestead, and it was known by the family as the "big spring." This supplied water to the property and represented a source of energy. Eventually, it became a meeting place for the guys when they were out on the land: it was their common ground. Here, they shared meals and relaxed under an apple tree that had been there, without an orchard, since before their great grand father built the cabin. "He didn't plant that tree, but someone before him must have." He remembers his grandfather using a pocket knife to quarter apples, removing the worms and passing along the flesh to his son and two grandsons. The tree served, not only as a meeting place, but also as a beacon of nourishment; a retreat.
Five years ago, upon a visit to the old familiar property, news of the fallen apple tree was immediate and simple. "We lost the tree" and the whole family knew, of the thousands of acres and surrounding National Forest land, which tree had fallen. Despite the loss, the families' memories, unique to the area, circumstances and time of life, remain intact.
I was handed the sacred remains of this apple tree and given creative freedom. My design stayed basic, not to overshadow the delicate story of this group of men and their apple tree. I used three silver pins upfront, arranged equilaterally to represent the father and his two sons, the recipients of these knives. The single pin at the back of the handle represents the tree, the common ground, the one thing that binds us all.
It's my hope that these knives serve a long and useful life before they are handed down. I hope the story of this apple tree follows the knives and inspires young people to get outside and make memories in nature. I am honored to have assisted in the preservation of these memories.
American Made Simonds Files, tested as 1070 carbon steel