“Did you grind so and so’s knife yet?”
I step back from the grinder and stretch my aching back, mentally flipping through the stack of orders on my schedule for this week. I’ve been grinding, heat-treating and cleaning up blades all day and it looks like it’s going to be a late night. Again.
“Which one was his again?”
Danielle, our office manager and Keeper of the Schedules, flips through the sheaf of paperwork on her arm and picks out the order in question. I immediately recognize it as one of the customs I’m working on. A really cool one-of-a-kind piece, my favorite kind of knife to create. “Yep, it’s sitting by the oven ready for heat-treat!” She smiles, gives a thumbs up, and retreats to her office sanctuary.
Like most workplaces, these kinds of interactions happen all day with the people I work with. The only difference is, my coworkers are also family. Danielle is my sister-in-law, my wife Lynn’s sister and “shop mom” to all of us. She helps keep us on track and lends a little estrogen to a business full of testosterone. And she brings donuts on Fridays.
Family, Family, Everywhere…
I put my respirator back on while surveying the stack of blades I’m working my way through. Halfway done, not bad. Not really bad. Over to my left is my nephew Dan, Danielle’s oldest son. Now that he’s spent a few years learning the trade, he’s able to help out with grinding and that makes my life a heck of a lot easier. His nickname used to be “Little Dan” in the shop, however we can’t really call him that anymore because he decided to shoot up to 6’3”. He has to hunch to reach the grinder, and is about a head taller than me. But I don’t let that stop me from ribbing him about stuff all the time. Most of the time he comes back with a heaping helping of sass though, so don’t feel bad for him. Good kid, and one of the most talented grinders in the shop. Right over from Dan on the handle grinder is Dan’s brother, Sam. Sam’s a bit shorter than his older brother, blond instead of brunette, but he’s just a kind person with a positive attitude and a happy-go-lucky spirit. He can be on the quiet side, so he’s always surprising us with jokes and clever comments that seem to come out of nowhere. He’s working on a group of handles for the knives Dan and I are grinding.
John is my brother-in-law, and we go to gun/knife/sport shows most weekends, so we have been lucky enough to meet some pretty awesome people. (Check out this link for John’s blog entry about the Top 3 Shows To See Before You Die) Believe it or not we actually get asked a lot of questions about not only the type of business we’re in, but also about working so closely together with family members. So here it is, some honest answers to some very real questions:
“How do you guys keep from killing each other?”
This one comes from a lot of people that see us up close and personal here at home. Compared to most families, we see each other a lot. We work together, but we also have close relationships outside of work. It’s not unusual for one or all of us to be at each others home helping with some project or another, or gathering together for a weekly dinner after church. All of our kids are close, and love each other like brothers and sisters. We’re family, so of course we love each other, but I think even more importantly we really like each other. That doesn’t mean that we always get along or never argue, but it helps to remember that business or no business, we’re family first.
“Who handles your website/media/production?”
I have to take a moment here and give credit where credit is due. I do it. I do it all, and am totally awesome at it. No, not really. As much as I’d like to take credit for it, technology is not my friend. Danielle handles the website along with many other things, and my other sister-in-law Violet handles social media. (I told you family was everywhere.) We get comments all the time about how impressive both are, and have had some companies actually try to HIRE them away from us. Obviously the glitz and glam of working for huge companies was nothing compared to the incredibly fulfilling life that eternal servitude offers. These girls are creative and very talented obviously, which is lucky for us.:-)
“Didn’t I just see you at that one show?”
Yes you probably did. Or you might have seen my brother-in-law John. Customers have begun to get John and I confused with one another at shows. I guess when people are around each other as long as we’ve been (going on 15 years now) they start to look alike. It gets to a point sometimes when a person insists he talked to me at a show John attended, but I just smile and nod and ask how I can help. I don’t see it, but apparently we are like the old married couple that is starting to look alike. John is the go-to tech guy, and he helps in the shop as well. We wouldn’t be where we are without his technical knowledge and people skills. When a situation requires patience and perseverance, John always has a cool head and a kind ear.
“How is Barry?”
Barry is doing great. He has semi-retired, which means he pretty much comes to the shop whenever he feels like it, if he feels like it. But come on, this is Barry, he always feels like it. I feel very blessed and honored to have been trained by Barry, he's a craftsman of the highest order. Sometimes I will still occasionally get an intricate design or custom order that he will lend me his expertise on, and it is truly invaluable. He’s a Navy Vet, and has carried a lot of that no-nonsense attitude with him throughout his career. He keeps all of us in line at the shop even to this day.:-)
Battlefield or blissful utopia?
If you’ve ever worked with family, you don’t need to imagine all the things that can come up. Personality conflicts, misunderstandings, differences of opinion, mistakes, etc. We’re no different. I can remember many a night we’ve worked into the wee hours of the morning because of one face-palm style mistake, or had very different ideas about some future aspect of the business. We have challenges and hardships like any business, but when times are tough we’ve learned to lean on and help one another, so in the end our challenges bring us closer together. I guess you could say we’re Forged in Fire. :-)