Henry Freeman
Henry Freeman
Western Wayne News Podcast

Kate first discovered Henry Freeman when her husband received one of Henry’s handmade knives as a gift. It is now a treasured possession in their home, and they use it every single day. When Kate sat down to talk to Henry for this episode of the Western Wayne News podcast, he described the satisfaction he experiences when creating his knives, seeing them as vessels for connecting to people in deep ways. They also spoke about how special the Richmond Farmer’s Market is; Henry describes it as “community of people coming together at a common table,” where differing beliefs and political stances fall away, and where we can simply enjoy a Saturday morning as fellow human beings. Listen now — we hope you enjoy it!


Henry Freeman: I am Henry Freeman and I make knives.

Kate Jetmore: From Civic Spark Media and the Western Wayne News in Wayne County, Indiana, I’m Kate Jetmore. As a native of Richmond, Indiana, I’m excited to be sitting down with some of our neighbors and listening to the stories that define our community. My guest today is Henry Freeman, a 35-year resident of Wayne County, Henry is a 75-year-old Quaker knife maker, widely known locally as the guy who sells his old-fashioned knives at the Richmond Farmer’s Market. Henry started making knives five years ago as a post-retirement hobby. Today they can be found in kitchens and knife collections throughout North America and as far away as Bolivia, New Zealand, Japan, and Singapore. Welcome, Henry. Thanks so much for joining me on the podcast.

Henry Freeman: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Kate Jetmore: I want to start by saying there’s a country missing from that list, which is Spain where I live. We have a Henry Freeman knife in our knife drawer here in our kitchen. My husband received one of your knives as a gift last summer, and I have to say it’s something he uses every day. It’s become a prized possession of his, and even though I’m not the one who received that gift, it’s also really special for me to know that it was made from the wood of a tree near my hometown. What is it about wood and how it ages that is so special?

Henry Freeman: What an interesting question, and it really speaks in part to the heart of why I make knives. Let’s use your husband’s knife as an example. It’s from a barn built in the 1850s in Winchester, Randolph County. Oh, I guess it’s 10 miles, maybe 12 miles north of Richmond. Over 170 years ago, a farmer sat under a beam of wood milking his cow in a barn that he probably, along with his neighbors made, is made out of cherry, which is very, very rarely used for barns. In the 1850s, the average trip to Richmond from Winchester, 10 miles, would be an all day journey to Richmond and back.

In fact, that farmer would probably spend the night in Richmond if he was selling his product in Richmond, and there’s a high probability that that farmer had never traveled 50 miles from this area. So here is that farmer connecting to your husband in Spain, sharing part of his life through a little sliver of wood with your husband 3000, 4,000 miles away. That same beam of wood is now serving up vegetables in Alaska, in Bolivia, and in Australia. That wood develops a bond between people across more than a century, and it’s especially true with barn wood because 80% of people in Wayne County and in the United States, if you go back a hundred years, 80% of people lived on farms. So it’s almost built into a DNA to have nostalgia for barns.

That is what excites me about wood, the connecting of human beings, and that’s why I have such a passion for making knives.

Kate Jetmore: It’s funny because what you’ve just said really strikes a chord with me. I also feel that connection and it makes sense to me when you put it into words, but it is not what I expected you to say. I thought you were going to talk about the wood not being from a barn, but from where it was before it was a barn, which was a tree. You did mention it’s cherry, but you didn’t talk about it was alive. It was a plant. So is that not part of the sort of food chain that speaks to you?

Henry Freeman: It is, but what really attracts me is the human story behind the wood. It’s the fact that a tree has had multiple lives. Yes, it was a cherry tree probably on that farmer’s farm, but then it was translated into an object that became a memory box of stories. So your husband’s knife will never end up at goodwill because your children will look at that knife… The time I will know that I’ve been successful as a knife maker is 50 years from now when someone looks at their 90-year-old father who is grieving for the loss of his wife and his 60-year-old son will say, dad, really what I want is that pairing knife that mom used to butter my toast. That will be success for me because I’ll know that I have made more than just a knife that’s used. I will have made a vessel for families to share and pass down memories. That is what brings me joy. That’s where I find the meaning in making my knives.

Kate Jetmore: In all of your bios, whether it’s a text that you’ve written or someone else has written about you, your faith figures prominently. What are the Quaker values that you bring to knife making?

Henry Freeman: Well, first of all, I’ll begin by saying that being a Quaker is very important to me. On many levels I’m not a good Quaker. I’m an extrovert. I’m an extrovert in the extreme. Sitting in Quaker meeting solemnly worship is very difficult for me. But the Quaker concept of looking for that of God in every person, seeking the Christ within is a term often used or the inner like. That involves connecting to people’s stories and connecting to people at a very deep level, and that Quaker faith, that search for people’s journeys has really empowered me in my entire career from when I was a chaplain at Yale to when I was in fundraising, when I was vice president at Earlham, it was all for me, the search for people’s stories and my ability as a fundraiser came out of the fact that I didn’t really care that much about raising money.

I cared about connecting with people around their stories and seeing the connection between their stories and doing something with their lives through their giving. For me, that same principle applies to the knives because they become vehicles for connecting to people’s stories. I have had experiences of people coming up at the farmer’s market as an example, showing me a knife and crying, and crying because that knife embodied memories of their father, memories of their mother. I remember one man at 90 years old came up and showed me a knife and it had the initials of his father on it, and he said, my dad made this knife in 1938 and gave it to my brother. My brother died three months ago. That knife connected to that. So it started the conversation about, well, tell me about your brother. Tell me about your father. Share your journey. So it’s a vehicle for connecting with people in deep ways.

Kate Jetmore: Has that come as a surprise to you? When I read your bio at the beginning of the… When I introduced you at the beginning of the interview, I mentioned that this was a post-retirement hobby, something that you decided to explore starting five years ago. Did you know that it would help you and lead you to connect with people in this way?

Henry Freeman: No. I just saw Forged In Fire and I said, wow, that would be cool to play around. And I made a B minus in eighth grade Shop.

My kids will tell you that until I started making knives, they would’ve told you that I had no ability to change a spark plug. But what I found was I made one of my first knives out of my father’s old walking stick when it got broken and I inherited it from him. And as I made that knife out of that old walking stick, I realized that I was bringing new life to that stick and it was connecting me with my father. So now I have one walking stick that I use to walk in the mornings. It’s my dad’s. Another day I used one that my son and I made back in 1988 when he was 10 years old. And then I have one of my first knives that won’t cut butter, but it’s my dad. It’s my dad expressed in that wood. Fortunately, my knives now cut butter.

Kate Jetmore: Butter and more, right?

Henry Freeman: Yeah, hopefully more. I think more, otherwise people will not buy dull knives.

Kate Jetmore: The image that comes to me as I hear you speak Henry, is bridges. You’ve used the word connection several times. How do we connect with people through story, through objects? And you’ve also mentioned the Richmond Farmer’s Market, so I’d love to talk about what that connection is like at the Richmond Farmer’s Market. As we said in the introduction, you are known as the guy who sells his handmade knives at the Richmond Farmer’s Market, and I also know that you have a preference for making better deals with people who choose to buy knives face-to-face rather than clicking through a website to buy your knives. So obviously you are inspiring people to come and see you to do the deal in person. So I’d love to hear more about what your experience has been with the farmer’s market and what those interactions there mean to you.

Henry Freeman: One, I think farmer’s markets are special places. I’ve had an interest in farmer’s markets going back for years, and in fact, my granddaughter and I had Addison and grandpa’s tomatoes that we sold at the farmer’s market when she was six, and it was a way of connecting her to people and taking the responsibility. And more recently with my knives, the reason I value so much selling at the farmer’s market is the human connection, and there’s something about the market that makes it a very special place, and I’ve tried to figure out what that is, and it goes far beyond the knives. It’s that every Saturday morning when I’m at the market, I’m surrounded by people who are there because they love what they do and the affirmation that comes when a farmer picks up a tomato and hands it to somebody and that person says, “You grow the best tomatoes”.

There’s that sense of saying there’s part of you in what you’re selling and the Richmond Farmer’s Market, every vendor there either raises, grows, or makes what they sell. There are no secondhand clothes. It’s a product of those people’s hands and that impacts the environment of the market. The other thing that I really find valuable about the market is that it’s a common table. I am at the market, every Saturday morning that I’m at the market I’m with people who believe different things than I do who may have a different perspective on politics, but we’re together in a common place and it’s a community coming together where people care about your smile and how friendly you are and if you pay attention to their kids, if you love their dog, but they could give two hoots about your politics because we don’t talk about that or your faith or your sexual identity.

We’re just this melting pot of people coming together because they love pastries, and I’ll tell you, the farmer’s market, the Richmond Farmer’s Market has the best pastries you’ll find any place. And there are people who come an hour for the pastries, and there are people who come for a specific farmer because they have the best corn and they’re people who come for my knives. I absolutely love it. I can’t say too much good about the farmer’s market.

Kate Jetmore: What I hear is a description of humanity. It’s people, and so often in situations like you’re describing, situations that we have the privilege of being a part of, of witnessing or participating in, basically if we are allowed to just be people in the same space without a television channel there sort of commenting on it or someone telling us how we should be reading it. If it’s just people in the same room speaking, listening to each other, looking at each other’s smiles or tears, whatever the dynamic is, we’re actually fine.

Henry Freeman: And we’re living in a community of people coming together. And the wonderful thing about the market is there are people who, if they don’t show up, you wonder what’s happened. And it may be, there’s an elderly woman who was coming by the market over and over and over again, and then she stopped and I tried to find out where she was. I don’t know her name, but it’s like that woman with a wonderful smile, where is she? And I still don’t know. And that’s just being welcomed because you have a friendly smile or you have a friendly dog. What better thing in life can there be?

Kate Jetmore: Exactly. I couldn’t agree with you more, and actually what you’re saying makes me feel so proud of Richmond and so hopeful for Richmond and communities like Richmond because I think what you’re describing is the very thing that will save us.

Henry Freeman: I agree.

Kate Jetmore: As people, as a society, as a country, is remembering that we’re all in this together, that we’re neighbors, that we’re a community. And that connection that you’ve so beautifully described.

Henry Freeman: That’s true. And I think it’s significant. Richmond, last year, 2023 was voted one of the top 10 farmer’s market in the United States out of 7,800 markets. It’s not that we’re the largest, we are far from it. It’s not that we have the most vendors. We are far from it. We are a farmer’s market that people appreciate and it’s because of the people. It’s the people, it’s the customers, it’s the vendors. It’s the best pastries in the area. It’s just-

Kate Jetmore: People, it’s the pastries.

Henry Freeman: It is the pastries. I can’t tell you enough about the pastries. In fact, I have to limit myself. I get kidded because I finally admitted that the pastries out at the market never make it home. They just don’t. They never make it home. They’re that good. And I’m not paid to say things good about the pastries.

Kate Jetmore: The pastries. Maybe you should look into that.

Henry Freeman: Right. That’s an idea.

Kate Jetmore: Well, Henry, I love that you mentioned some of your pre-knife making experiences and credits in life, and we might have to have you back to talk about some of those. You’ve accomplished so much in your life, lived in so many different areas of the country and traveled internationally as well, and it’s clear that this pastime, this current chapter of knife making has taken on a life of its own. And you’re showing no signs of stopping, although you might need to be careful with those pastries. But what I want to ask you is what’s next for you? What does 2024 hold? What does 2025 hold?

Henry Freeman: Oh, well, I’m glad you put it that way because when you ask a man who’s 75 going on 76, what’s next? Who’s to say? It could be a hip replacement. It could be falling over, it could be lots of things. But when it comes to 2024, one of the things I’m really excited about is I’m going to be offering classes in making knives.

Kate Jetmore: Oh, wow. Wonderful.

Henry Freeman: I’m going to offer the opportunity starting this spring and summer for people to purchase a knife. But rather than me making it for them, I have set aside eight to 10 hours in groups of maybe four or five folks, and I’ll teach you how to make a knife. And I should mention your father, David Jetmore was a Guinea pig that I tested on. I taught him how to make a knife. He made a beautiful knife and he would like to assist me in some of these classes. So I’m very excited about that.

Kate Jetmore: That’d be great. I love hearing about that. You guys will be a great team teaching those classes.

Henry Freeman: He’s a lot of fun.

Kate Jetmore: Oh, I love hearing about that, Henry. And how can our listeners get in touch with you if they want to either purchase a knife that you’ve made or be part of one of these courses?

Henry Freeman: Well, one, they can visit me at the farmer’s market. I am there most Saturdays in the winter. This summer I will start being there the first Saturday in May. I will start being there the first Saturday of each month for six months at the summer market because I’ll be offering these knife classes the other weekends during the summer, and they can also visit my website, hfreemanknives.com. The best way to stay in touch is on Facebook with my knife Facebook page, which is H Freeman Knives, but definitely come down to the farmer’s market.

Kate Jetmore: I hear you loud and clear that that’s your preferred mode of connection.

Henry Freeman: I will make a deal, if somebody comes down to the farmer’s market and they tell me that they heard about it on this podcast, I’ll buy them a free pastry.

Kate Jetmore: I love it. I love it. Well, our listeners will be coming down in droves, I’m sure.

Henry Freeman: Okay, wonderful.

Kate Jetmore: Well, Henry, thank you so much for this conversation. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you, hearing all about knife making and lots of other things in the process. So I want to wish you and your family all the best.

Henry Freeman: Good, good. Thank you. I’ve enjoyed it.

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