Louisville Magazine

FEB 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 2.19 57 Damon Adkins, owner of H&D Brass Polishing, knows he buys too much — something every day. Pickers will call, talking about this fireplace piece or that pretty door hinge, and Adkins will add it to the room that glows gold when the sun shines through the windows. Quite the cluttered opulence here. Hundreds of candlesticks and chandeliers shimmer. On one wall, lamps are shelved floor to ceiling. Light fixtures have even been mounted to the front door of the showroom. Despite the mess, Adkins knows exactly where the push plates are when an inquiring customer navigates the narrow path to the counter. To get there, the customer squeezes past Adkins' wife, who's at the tool-laden worktable unwiring a lamp before polish- ing. When Adkins' son steps in to give him a break, he'll sometimes call, say, "Dad, Ms. so-and-so is here and I can't find her order…." Adkins will know it's under the microwave or wherever. Adkins, now 56, was 15 when he began working at H&D Brass with his dad, who opened the shop in Clifton in 1979. e opposite of the downstairs sheen is the upstairs polishing room, added on 25 years ago. Dust layers like thick wigs on the chandeliers. "Dust bunnies," Adkins says. "All the dirt is from where the polishing wheel spits off dust when it licks a piece of metal. e dirtier, the better. Right, Victor?" Victor Bradley is his main man, has been with him about 17 years, the only non-fami- ly employee. It's like magic watching Adkins put a door- knob to the soft wheel, which turns at the humming command of the machine his dad built. One minute, the doorknob is dull and discolored, then it's winking. Adkins learned all the ins and outs from his father, who pol- ished in a factory beginning in 1949. Adkins knows to use a slower, less aggressive wheel on silver, because it's more sensitive. Flimsier stuff demands polishing by hand. Real curvy stuff, too. When you've got texture on a piece — engraved flowers, for example — you've got to polish it in four different directions, to hit all the edges. He can lighten the dark, darken the light. His father also taught him how to weld. One day recently, Adkins wielded the welder his wife got him one Christmas and fixed 40 pieces that had piled up on the workbench, including a broken cowbell from a woman's grandpa's farm. Adkins' friends joke, "You make a living polishing brass? Really?" And the answer is, yes, he has his whole life. Only one in the city doing it. He gets orders from Florida, snowbirds wanting their brass kick plates shined before they return to Kentucky for Derby parties. One guy from New Jersey with 450 spittoons sends them eight at a time to be finished. Adkins once welded a finger back on a $250,000 statue for the Speed Art Museum. He has polished elevator doors. Distilleries make Adkins' wife jump up and down when they ring: "Guess who called! Guess who called!" Last summer, Adkins, his son and Victor went to Wood- ford Reserve and cleaned up the 35-foot-tall copper stills top to bottom — especially the green buildup from a bad seal. Six days, $49,000. "We kicked our butts," Adkins says. A good life, but Adkins is ready to semi- retire. He doesn't know if his son — who makes good money at Ford doing metal finishing ("Swear to God," Adkins says) — will take over the business or not. Right now, he focuses on the small stuff. Like these medals. When a woman brought in her father's ribbon-tattered WWII honors, they were solid green. You couldn't even read the writing on the metal. But now, after Adkins has got his hands on the neglected pieces? "She's probably going to cry," he says. "Most do." H&D Brass Polishing 2219 Frankfort Ave. Employee Victor Bradley and (below photo) owner Damon Adkins.

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