Hello I'm Lee Griffiths
On a cold winter day in 1997, my neighbors (fellow farmers) wandered in and asked whether I would embellish some knives they were making. And so it began. I was clueless, but intrigued. Art had always been a hobby and a dream, but the rigors of farming didn't leave much time.
I learned of an engraver in a nearby town and dropped in to visit. Daniel Paul used a hammer and burin. He wasn't much for talking, but he let me watch. I would then go home and try to copy what I thought he was doing.
My first tools were less than crude. I made a hammer from a chunk of steel I found in the farm bone pile and thinned down a broken hammer handle, which I proceeded to insert in the designer hammer head. It was ugly and not even close to what I now know to be the correct type of hammer. My hand piece was a large carriage bolt that I welded to a small pin vise. A carriage bolt is a little tough on the hands, so I pushed a piece of heavy industrial hose over the threads. In the beginning this also doubled as my burin. It was a case of being too dumb to know where to purchase proper tools and too broke to buy them if I had known where they could be purchased.
The only thing I bought was a box of cobalt blanks. A bag of rice that my wife made for me became my first vise. I would embed the steel in the bag and whack away, constantly repositioning. Later, I purchased a small jeweler's ball vise. It made a big difference. I stayed with these tools until I did my first paying gun job, at which time I purchased some GRS equipment and used the first paycheck to help pay for it.
When a person is a full-time farmer, time is limited. I did a lot of engraving in the middle of the night and early morning, a practice that continues to this day.
My first mentor passed away before I engraved my first gun. It left me on my own to figure out the mysteries of engraving. About this time I learned of a group named Firearms Engravers Guild of America (FEGA). This group became my second mentor. I told my wife I was going to attend their annual exhibition. Fortunately for this farmer, it was held in January, my slower season. It was my intent to spend all three days at the show and decide whether to continue engraving or give it up. I could not afford the time or money on something that held no promise. Fifteen minutes into the show my decision was made, and I have never looked back. I really felt that I could learn the art and do something with it. That was the first part of the decision. The clincher was probably the feeling of goodwill and camaraderie of the guild members. They made me, a nobody who had never engraved a gun, feel welcome and accepted. Many of my most cherished relationships are with members of the guild.