What would you call a barrel-chested man who owns some 50 chainsaws, often cuts his meat with a buck knife, turns 100-foot-trees as wide as Ben Stiller is from head to toe into beautiful pieces of art, and could overturn most sedans with his bare mitts despite not lifting a weight since high school?
I call him Dave Stine, and I can assure you, he’s more man that you are, unless you’re Chuck Norris. Yet while it’s easy to apply the traditional badassery labels to him, what makes Stine interesting is the dichotomy of man vs. myth.
The son of a railroad heavy equipment operator, Stine grew up on 1,000-acres owned by several family members in rural Illinois outside of St. Louis. As a kid he milked cows, went to school, butchered pigs, played sports, bailed hay, handcrafted small wooden boxes, milked more cows, punched walls and periodically slept. Then he went to college at Penn State were he worked overnight shifts as a diesel mechanic.
All of this screams a hybrid of Johnny Cash, Hillbilly Jim and Brett Farve – but that’s where things get interesting.
After college Stine ran for, and won, a county council seat in Snyder County, Pennsylvania. Then he moved to Washington, D.C., to attend law school at George Washington where at nights he not only made hand crafted wood humidors and furniture, but also – and I kid you not here – baked and delivered cheesecakes riding his pink Harley Davidson roadster.
After law school, within a two-month period Stine bought a home, took the bar exam, opened a restaurant, got married, and started a job at a law firm – all while building and selling tables, humidors, beds and other fine furniture. But he hated being a lawyer so in 1997, Stine incorporated David Stine Woodworking and in 2002, he and his family returned to the St. Louis-area, purchasing a 40-acre farm right next to his family’s land.
Why all the twists and turns?
“I pretty much just do whatever I want all the time,” said Stine, who begins and ends every day by chopping wood. “This (crafting furniture) is what I want to do right now. When I was going to law school, that’s what I wanted to do then. And this is what I want to do now.”
A lot of guys like Stine would avoid certain conversations or altogether avoid aspects of his life that may be perceived as not being so, well, manly. But Stine’s kind of an open book. He’s happy to tell you how he fell head over heels for his equally badass wife at first site. He’s just as comfortable talking woodwork gutting a pig as he is about the nuances of contemporary art and literature. His son Oskar is gay and an aspiring EDM musician and Stine is damn proud of him (although he’d prefer he spend less time on his computer). Oh, and it should be noted that he’s a recipient of the American Mustache Institute’s 2013 Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year.
The more you speak with Stine about his life, family and work – you realize he’s not a hulking, rye bourbon- and Stag beer-drinking Neanderthal. Well, actually, sure he is. But more than anything, Stine is an artisan and craftsman who is committed to the quality of whatever he is doing at the time.
“What I’m doing right now is really born from a love of the wood and the raw, natural materials with which I work,” said Stine, who manages his land sustainably, only using trees that have been fallen by the elements. “I take my inspiration from the natural forms of the trees and try to let each slab of wood be what it wants to be rather than me imposing my will upon it. I could take a piece of wood and torture it into any shape I want, but I think it’s more challenging and rewarding to let the wood be what it wants to be.”
But here’s the mark of Stine’s true badassery.
“I’m not trying to be manly or cool or interesting,” he said. “I try to do things that are of value and honest. I build things that have integrity, that I can be proud of, and I know that I can come home every night and not have to bury myself in a bottle of whiskey because I can’t live with myself.”
Stine likes to live his life by a certain creed, and he notes 10 rules that guide him through his twists and turns.
- Nearly all good things come from the Midwest.
- Always order steak for two, especially when you’re eating alone.
- You can fix a lot of things, but you can’t fix stupid.
- Ear protection is best left on your mom’s nightstand.
- Every time a woman introduces her child to you, always question who the father is.
- Real men never wear open toed shoes.
- Salad? That’s what food eats.
- Never forget the laws of physics do not apply to whatever I’m doing at that time.
- Most people are assholes. Just give them a chance and they’ll prove it.
- It aint worth getting out of bed if you’re not living the dream.