Army Veteran Forges More Than Knives With Mobile Forge ‘Arc of Fire’
Joe Maynard is on a mission: to outfit any veteran in need with his own forge.
Maynard served 20 years in the Army as a Black Hawk pilot. Upon retiring (as a chief warrant officer four), he became a full-time knife-maker, father, and husband, as well as a participant in Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid.
“After I retired, I ended up getting into a lot of government contract work,” Maynard said. “I found myself in places that excited me and fulfilled that sense of belonging and purpose that I knew for so long.”
Photo courtesy of Joe Maynard.
“Fast-forward to end of my contracting — I ended up with a broken back and had to have my fifth surgery in under three years,” Maynard said. “After surgery, the phone stopped ringing … no one “needed” me, and I stopped feeling like I belonged. For so long, I had been at the top of my game and held a sense that I was important to a lot of people, and I found myself suddenly in a place where I was spending 18 hours a day in my recliner, and that didn’t allow my back to heal properly.”
“I couldn’t shake the feeling in my chest that I no longer belonged anywhere,” Maynard said. “I never became a mean person, I wasn’t fighting with my family; I just felt like I didn’t belong. So one night, I told my wife I was going to the barn to end it all, and 15 minutes later, my Beretta misfired for the first time in my life.”
Fast-forward a few months. Maynard connected with a friend at the Georgia Aquarium while scuba diving with whale sharks. A month after that meetup, that friend (none other than Zac Brown) invited Maynard to attend Super Bowl LIII with him.
“I met Laura Zerra at the Super Bowl [LIII] in Atlanta,” Maynard said. “The day after the game, I’m with my friend Zac [Brown] at his knife shop, and Laura helped me make my first knife.”
“After eight or nine hours of knife making, I realized that I hadn’t thought of anything except making that knife with my hands,” Maynard said. “When I got home, I started making knives immediately in my woodworking shop using primitive tools. ‘Primitive Grind’ was born, all thanks to Laura Zerra and Zac Brown.”
Discovering knife-making three and a half years ago completely changed his life. The mission to share this life-changing experience with fellow veterans who also find respite in knife-making lead to the creation of a mobile forge.
“Almost immediately after friends found out that I was making knives, I started getting visitors in my shop,” Maynard said. “Occasionally, some of them would stay all night, and I saw the same struggling look in their faces that I had.”
Now, even in retirement, Maynard has found a way to continue a legacy of service, and for more than a year, he’s has been funding his mobile forge, “Arc of Fire,” out of pocket.
“I thought it would be cool if I could travel and give as many veterans the same experience that I had had,” Maynard said. “I’ve been traveling and doing this out of pocket for over a year; my entire military retirement [pay] has been going into this. Since I can’t leave my family and make no money, I went ‘all-in’ on the mobile forge and started filming videos with hopes of getting funding to continue doing it."
Maynard’s mobile forge is not only a way to connect with other veterans but also a launching pad for developing forges for veterans across the country. The sense of camaraderie that comes from forging together is therapeutic, and Black Rifle Coffee Company knows more than most the importance of finding what works for you.
“I met Jay and Kaila last year during a veteran event [Forge Your Way Veteran’s Weekend] in Montana hosted by Josh Smith,” Maynard said. “I brought the mobile forge along, and when they heard what I was doing, their words of encouragement stuck. Being told that I’m the epitome of what a veteran nonprofit is, that gives me the motivation to keep going.”
Photo by Lauren Warner/BRC Blog.
During the snowy grand opening of BRCC’s second Tennessee location in Sevierville, the BRCC Fund donated $2,500 to Maynard and his mobile forge. With that funding, Maynard will be able to surprise a veteran and outfit him with a knife-shop starter kit.
“The recipient for the first mobile forge this year has already been selected,” Maynard said. “They have no idea what’s going to happen, but we’ll be filming the surprise, which will allow me to showcase him and his story as well as everyone who helped me make the mobile forge gift possible.”
Thanks to the BRCC Fund donation, the anvil, forge, and any equipment aside from the grinder will be taken care of. The grinder will be donated by Maynard, the Montana Knife Company, and AmeriBrade.
“I plan on building out these mobile forges and gifting them to veterans as many times as I can afford to do so,” Maynard said. “Every dime I make selling knives goes to things like this — it's just a constant struggle juggling time on the road, attending events, spending time in the shop to make knives to sell, and then time with my family at home before having to leave again.”
“I’m a solo operation right now,” Maynard said. “Someday, I hope to be able to hire a couple of people to help with production and shop knife work.”
Maynard’s website features a variety of knives. The most notable are the miniature charcuterie cleavers in monosteel and Damascus.
To learn more about Maynard, Primitive Grind, and the mobile forge, check out the Primitive Grind website and Instagram page.
To check out Laura Zerra’s book, A Modern Guide to Knifemaking, click here.