A Father, With The Help Of His Uncle, Works To Make A One-Of-A-Kind Knife For His Son After Living The Life Of A Military Kid.
The hardest question for my son Zachary “Kaz” Kazmir to answer is “Where are you from?” His answer usually falls along the lines of, “Home is where the military takes your family.”
Zach’s answer is true for just about any token “military brat.” Military families often move every two to three years—that’s a rate of 10 times more than average civilian families. Living this kind of life for a child requires tremendous resilience, exceptional adaptability, and an uncommonly high maturity level. Zach would repeatedly get settled in a routine, a school, a friend group, and community activities, only to pick up, leave it all behind and start fresh again.
Oh, and the trials of life do not stop there. He persevered through my frequent deployments, earthquakes, accidents, and even a direct hit by one of the strongest tornadoes ever recorded while he was living in Moore, Oklahoma. Zach’s life led him on a journey spanning two countries, four states, and five schools.
I wanted to give the young man something special on the occasion of his 21st birthday. Even with all the places he’s lived and the experiences he’s had, Zach’s fondest memories always gravitate to his time in Okinawa, Japan. The first memories of his life were created there. Okinawa will forever hold a special place in his heart. With that, I set out to have a knife crafted in hopes of capturing and honoring these priceless memories for him.
I could think of no better place to turn for such a task than my uncle, Stanley Buzek. Uncle Stanley is a knifemaker from Caldwell, Texas, and is most certainly the right man for the job. There’s no one I know who puts as much heart into his craft as Uncle Stanley. He guided me through the many options, and I closed in on what would become the most meaningful and elegant 4.5-inch, two-blade Texas trapper I’ve ever seen.
My uncle crafted the frame and liners from raw bars of integral 416 stainless steel. As with each of his knives, he added a personal touch to the spine. This was truly amazing to witness. I’ve seen many of his finished knives over the years, but I hadn’t realized the level of precise craftsmanship he put into the pieces that non-makers like myself often take for granted. Most of us just naturally look to the business end of a blade.
In thinking of the knife for this gift, I aimed to give Zach a glimpse into his resiliency through my eyes. He has been stretched so thin that at times his only choice to keep from breaking was to fold over in the fetal position to regain his strength. He’s been heated, hammered, pressed to the edge of his capabilities, put back in the fire, crushed, bent beyond his limits, beaten down even more, and subjected to unrelenting pressures in different directions.
Nonetheless, he emerged from the fire stronger than ever before, with a character that can only be described as beautiful—just like the banding and mottling of damascus. The beautiful steel forged by Bill Poor couldn’t be more fitting for this knife. Bill transformed raw 1084 carbon and 15N20 nickel-alloy steels into an extra-fine River of Fire pattern with elaborate feathering that perfectly captures how I view Zach’s coming-of-age: indicative of many intense moments, but not scarred. Instead, radiating with a unique, luxurious magnificence that exemplifies resilience.
Making The Knife Handle
The next essential element on my mind was the scale material. (I called it the “side of the knife” but you know how knifemakers are about educating the ignorant.) The scales had to be more than just the perfect material, they had to be uniquely sourced. I wanted my son to have a literal piece of his childhood that he could hold in his hands whenever he wanted.
I reached out to a military friend stationed in Okinawa to acquire a piece of one of the famed, colossal banyan trees from the island. With travel restrictions, import/export regulations on agricultural items, and COVID-related shipping delays, it proved much more difficult than we expected. However, my contact was able to come through! After nearly a year, a heavily worn, 5-by-10-inch piece of banyan tree finally arrived in the mail.
Uncle Stanley was reluctant to use banyan. He cautioned me not to get my hopes up because he knew how challenging it can be to properly stabilize such a soft wood. In addition, the sample was very weathered, extra-soft, and had several deep cracks inflicted in transit during shipping. In other words, there wasn’t a lot of room for error!
Uncle Stanley sent the wood to the very capable Terry Dunn of TNT Enterprises, and I was truly blown away by what he was able to do. Dunn not only stabilized the wood, he preserved its beautifully subtle grains and the small, intricate pitch pocket. The latter is a cavity in the wood where the tree suffered some sort of damage over its life, or a small knot of sorts if you will.
Stanley assembled the sleek trapper, affixed the scales, and presented me with a truly remarkable knife. Then he took it from my hands and said, “Now it’s time to go get it ‘scratched up.’”
Engraving The Knife
A slight fear came over me. I worried that an engraver could potentially damage this work of art. However, the worry left me as quick as it came when I learned the engraver was Alice B. Carter. I’ve seen her amazing work in the past. I knew she could add another layer of beauty to the piece.
To my surprise, Alice asked so much more than, “What would you like me to engrave?” She had an authentic interest in the story of the knife and its eventual recipient. I think she asked me more about Zach than she did about art that day. I shared with her the things Zach tends to reminisce about from his time in Okinawa, and we honed in on a few specifics.
One of the first memories of his life is enjoying the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Okinawa’s capital city of Naha. The festival draws crowds of thousands each January to see the city streets completely encased in the vibrant blooms. Zach also speaks of how massive he remembers the banyan trees being there. If you’ve never seen a 200-year-old banyan, the behemoths appear to be as old as time and so wide they seem to fill the sky with a majestic, towering presence as if from a fantasy movie.
Alice’s smile grew wider and wider as we continued to talk through a few other details. She drew inspiration from our chat and created an absolute masterpiece. Engraving for more than 40 hours and inlaying more than six feet of 24k-gold wire, she created so much more than a scene or picture. Her art marvelously captured the emotions connected to the memories.
Reaching from corner to corner on the upper bolster of the facing side shines the island of Okinawa in pure, radiant gold. The shading effect seems to literally draw the island’s shape out from the knife. Carefully inlaid in the exact location of Kadena Air Base where Zach lived on the island, a one-millimeter copper marker memorializes his time there.
On the opposite side in exquisite detail is an ancient, powerful banyan tree spanning from edge to edge. In a beautiful complement to the gold inlay, the banyan’s leaves are adorned with Alice’s self-alloyed green gold. Zach can view the upper bolsters in remembrance of the land he once knew.
As is customary in the military, a servicemember’s last name becomes his or her first name. It’s the military way. Kazmir was shortened to “Kaz” almost immediately, and that nickname stuck for the entire two decades I served. As Zach approached adulthood, he began to go by this moniker as well. The knife’s oversized shield brilliantly gleams “KAZ” in Japanese-styled English letters—an embodiment of how I’ve passed on my name to my boy.
Finally, the lower bolsters hold a personal message from father to son: Ichi-go ichi-e. Emblazoned in bold Japanese Kanji, the message is an idiom roughly translating to “for this time only.” It means that Zach’s experience in Okinawa was truly a once-in-a-lifetime episode that can never be duplicated, and he should treasure it forever.
Alice brought all the components together by incorporating gorgeous cherry blossoms engraved with intricate detail resulting in what I see as the perfect gift. Zach received it as a Christmas present and shed some heavy tears as I explained each element. He and I are both still amazed at how everyone came together to help me make this one-of-a-kind knife happen.
Uncle Stanley once told me that nearly every knifemaker is an expert at something, but no knifemaker is an expert at everything. He described knifemaking as a network of experts who bring their talents together to make the impossible possible. In the military, we have a term for this—it’s called synergy. With this beautiful piece, I’m convinced the knifemaking community is synergy at its finest.
For more information about the knife, contact Stanley Buzek, Dept. BL8, P.O. Box 621, Caldwell, TX 77836 346-412-2532 firstname.lastname@example.org, s.buzekknives.com.
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