I’ve come to appreciate stories over the years, even more than I did when I was younger. Stories about old objects, like tools and books are especially interesting to me, and some of the special objects in my life have accumulated some stories worth telling. 

Way, way back in a previous lifetime, in about 1997 or so, I bought a handmade knife at the Winter Arts Faire at the Mateel Community Center in Humboldt County. 

The maker was Michael Hemmer, from Corvallis, OR. He made knives out of old sawmill circle saw blades, and sold them through the mail, and traveled around to arts fairs like the one at the Mateel. 

I bought a nice medium sized kitchen knife from him, and also traded him some pear boards that I had milled for a small utility kitchen knife. That one was special to me, because the handle was made of Myrtlewood, from Myrtle Point, OR, where my grandparents lived, and where my dad grew up. And also because the pear tree that the boards came from was a very old tree from the original Early Ranch homestead near where we lived at the time, in Salmon Creek, CA. That knife was lost a few years later, but the larger knife was our main kitchen knife for many years. I also still have a few bits of that pear, and it has become part of a couple of small projects that I have made, too. 

Anyway, when Shannon and the kids moved to Astoria in 2007, that knife went with her, along with a cutting board I had made from a stunning piece of Claro walnut. The piece of wood was actually a kiln sample board from a load of lumber that my friend Dan had dried. A kiln sample board is a board that is measured and weighed as the drying process in a lumber kiln progresses, so as to keep track of how the rest of the kiln pack is doing. It was too short to be useful for much of anything in the cabinet making world, but it made a great cutting board.

As some of our friends might remember, a few weeks after Shannon and the kids moved to town in 2007, the house they rented was destroyed in a catastrophic fire that they were lucky to escape from. I spent a couple of days picking through the ashes salvaging what could be saved, and in the ashes of what had been the kitchen, I found that knife, handle scales burned off, sitting on the charred piece of Claro walnut. 

Of course, I saved it, but it sat in my shop for years because I didn’t have the confidence that I knew how to properly redo the heat treatment, and restore it. 

Last winter sometime, I dropped it off with my friend Patrick, who said he would take a crack at fixing it. I gave him an assortment of small pieces of lumber of various kinds to use as handles on the knives that he makes. 

This summer, I dropped by and picked up the knife, all fixed up and restored and even improved over the original.

Since this is all about stories, I have to mention also where this handle wood came from. 

In 1995, we sold our house in NE Portland and moved to …. well, nowhere for a while. We traveled for a bit in California in a 1968 VW van, and then lived for a few months in a school bus outside of Olympia, WA. While we were there, I bought my first sawmill, a 1995 Woodmizer, and started figuring it out as I went. My first real job was milling up the remains of a huge Big Leaf Maple that was removed when the Candlelight and Wine restaurant in Olympia was torn down. 

Old punk rock associate John Kangas sent that job my way, and it was an enormous undertaking that I was completely unprepared for. However, I and another guy managed to get it all cut up for the owner of the tree, and I kept a bunch of short boards from it, including some with some figure. 

Here’s a couple of pictures of two year old Alice, standing next to the main trunk of that tree in our log deck, and then on a stack of figured maple boards. 

(For what it’s worth, the truck that those boards are stacked on is still parked in my pasture today, with tags expired almost 20 years ago, and in constant peril of being overrun by blackberries. It’s got a few stories of its own… )

Alice and big maple log, 1995, Rochester, WA
Hippie child Alice, and figured maple lumber, 1996, Olympia, WA

Anyway, one board from that tree was in the assortment of wood that I had given Patrick, and that is now the handle of my “new” kitchen knife. Thanks, Patrick!

I think I’ll write up a few more stories like this in the future, about special objects and their stories. This was fun to write and dig up pictures for.

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