SEVEN HILLS, Ohio — Through his hand-crafted masterpieces, a Navy veteran is honoring those who serve both at home and abroad. The products he sells, however, aren’t nearly as important as the product he donates.
In his sawdust-covered, two-car garage in Seven Hills, Joe Burdick is hunched over a workshop table. His latest project, one of his custom, wooden American flags, has its stripes but not its stars. One by one, Burdick will chisel and Dremel out the hand-drawn stars, each one representing a state in the sometimes imperfect Union.
“Our country isn’t perfect. We aren’t perfect as people. We all have defects,” Burdick said. “We all have imperfections but I make my flags to be symbolic of those things.”
Each one of his custom wooden flags has a unique level of distress. Each slat of the wooden American flag will be put to the blowtorch. Sometimes it’s a slight burn. Other times it’s a char. Every time, it’s a work of art.
“I know [customers] are going to hang that flag in their house or man cave or in their office,” Burdick said. “They’re going to look at that thing every day and just think a little bit about the flag. I distress them because it’s symbolic of the battles we have fought as a country, as well as the personal and internal battles we fight every day.”
Burdick served eight years in the Navy, including during Desert Storm, as an ordnanceman, loading bombs, missiles, rockets and guns aboard some of the Navy’s most powerful aircraft. He loved every minute of it, he said.
His company, Burdick Custom Flags, was born four years ago after a trip to a local arts and crafts store. Burdick and his wife were drawn to a wooden American flag. You can imagine Burdick’s frustration when he saw the flag was made in China.
“As a Navy veteran, I saw that and said, ‘I could do that. I could do it better.’ [My wife] pretty much said, ‘do it,’” Burdick said. “I wanted to redefine made in America, which is why I do this stuff.”
The custom wooden American flags, which can be made of pine or oak slats from reclaimed pallets, grew in craftsmanship with each one Burdick made. Some of his clients include A-List celebrities. However, what Burdick takes the most pride in are the wooden flags that he makes for veterans, first responders and charities.
“We’ve had a couple of police officers that were killed in the line of duty. I rush to make one because I know their memorial is not far away,” Burdick said. “I want them to be able to raffle it off and raise as much money as they can for the families.”
Over the past couple of years, Burdick said he has donated $10,000 worth of product to benefit fallen first responders, veterans and other charities. One of his pieces prominently hangs at the Cleveland Fire Department’s headquarters downtown.
“It means everything to me to be able to do this for those guys,” Burdick said.