In re: Flying Solo

By Judge Brian Addington, Kingsport

About six years ago, I had the pleasure to meet a master bladesmith, Burt Foster. He is pretty famous, having appeared on various radio and television shows. He won an episode of “Forged in Fire,” and has routinely won other competitions against master bladesmiths. His knives are known all over the world.

Burt’s son and mine play basketball, and we serve as coaching assistants. That typically means we show up and do what the coach asks us to do, as we don’t have coaching experience. The main thing we do is give coaching “the old college try,” because we love our sons and want them to succeed. My job is to motivate the players, while Burt’s is to get the players to think about the whole concept of what the team is trying to achieve.

When it comes to professions, Burt and I could not be more different. I am not adept at working with my hands, while Burt is a master. I am amazed to watch him take a hunk of steel, a piece of hardwood or antler, and a piece of leather, and fashion them into a beautiful knife and sheath. Given the same materials, I would create a rusty, twisted disaster. It is truly an art to manipulate these rough materials into a beautiful, yet usable knife.

Considering Burt’s skills with his hands, he and the coach (coach works for a machine manufacturer) decided to conduct a team-building exercise. They got together and crafted a stool, which served as a model for the boys to make their own and use in the locker room. Burt offered his shop as the place where the team could gather to make the stools. Parents who could come were to bring hammers to help with the project.

When I heard the plan, my workers’ compensation judge- and dad-mind kicked into overdrive. I mentally envisioned our “boys” lopping off fingers, getting splinters in their eyes from the saw, punching holes through their hands with nails or mashing fingers with hammers. I foresaw our chances of success on the basketball court sinking as our players nursed wounds from the team-building exercise. My fatherly instinct and war stories from my job caused me to be overly protective. I really should have followed the advice Crush gave Marlin in “Finding Nemo”: “Kill the motor dude! Let’s see what Squirt does flying solo.”


I was nervous when we met at Burt’s shop. However, Burt’s electric saw was equipped with a protective guard. He not only told the boys how to work the saw but also demonstrated the proper, safe use of it. Coach, Burt, and even I gave safety warnings before the boys started work, and we followed-up with reminders when needed. One boy really did not want to use the saw, but after talking with him and telling him he could use it safely, he used it three times.

It was satisfying to watch the boys put on safety glasses and then saw the wood for their stools. They then hammered or screwed the stools together. It truly was a safe and effective team-building exercise–although I did observe a few fingers shaken vigorously in the air after a hammer tagged them (someone really needs to invent the self-starting nail). Overall, everyone had a great time. Below is a picture of my son’s stool. Once we got home, he primed and painted it himself.


Orange is our favorite color.

I encourage all grown-ups to take some time to do exercises like this with their children or children they know. Try something (sort of) new and frankly, a little on the edge of their comfort zone. With planning, including safety planning, it really is a rewarding experience.

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