Take a drive through the North Country and you will find a diverse selection of businesses that, collectively, form the unique footprint of our region.
For now, take a trip through downtown Keeseville, New York and you will find one of the most unique businesses operating in the North Country: Adirondack Flagpoles.
The Start of Adirondack Flagpoles
Danny Kaifetz is the owner of Adirondack Flagpoles, a veteran-owned business. He’s been handcrafting traditional wooden flagpoles for over 14 years, and the business has delivered over 300 handcrafted flagpoles across the United States.
The business was born after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when a rush of patriotism swept the country. While Kaifetz was living on the West Coast at the time, he learned of a neighbor who waited over a year for a flagpole to be delivered. At that time, the only timber used to produce traditional handcrafted flagpoles was the Douglas Fir, a native species sourced from the Pacific Northwest, and this limited their availability.
As a retired land surveyor with a Forestry degree, Kaifetz applied his knowledge of woodworking, the log market, and timber sourcing to the flagpole industry. Seeing a market for handcrafted flagpoles but the limited supply of Douglas Fir, Kaifetz recognized the opportunity to utilize hardwood sourced from his roots: the Adirondacks.
Vertical Grain & Finger Joints
Kaifetz conducted extensive research and consulted cabinet makers as well as ship masters to identify the best way to construct his flagpoles. Ultimately, he decided to partner with a local lumber mill — Adirondack Hardwoods — to supply him with Northern Adirondack Red Oak, carefully milled into vertical grain lumber. “The grain is the key,” said Kaifetz. “It helps to prevent the pole from warping or curving over time.”
For the average consumer, the most common lumber available typically has been “flat-cut”, which means the growth rings run parallel to the front face of the board. You can also find evidence of flat-cut lumber by looking at the end of the board, which will show significantly curved growth rings. Because of this curvature in the growth rings, it is not unusual to find a board at the local hardware store that has already bent, shrunk or warped.
For Kaifetz, the local partnership with Adirondack Hardwoods is critical. “The vertical grain provides much better aesthetics and integrity to the pole,” he emphasized. “It’s very hard to get, so that’s why we use only one vendor.”
But there is more to each flagpole than vertical grain Red Oak. The finger joints Kaifetz uses to assemble the flag poles require technical skill and expertise. A finger joint is exactly what it sounds like. If you hold your palms out in front of you, with your finger- tips barely touching, and slide them between each other, you are demonstrating the jointing mechanism Kaifetz uses to fit the Red Oak timber together.
The Art & Precision Of The Craft
The craft of manufacturing wooden flagpoles requires a combination of both artistic talent and technical precision. At any given time, the shop has an array of flagpoles resting at different stages in the production process. In some ways, what you see resembles a simplified assembly line, with special stations for each pole to rest depending on its stage in the process.
After Kaifetz has carefully selects the lumber, several boards of Red Oak are glued, finger-jointed, and clamped together. They are aligned using precision laser technology. This process allows multiple pieces of lumber to essentially become one solid structure. “We use a special marine epoxy,” he explained. “Once everything is fitted together, it takes about a 24-hour curing process.”
Once cured, the pole moves to the next stage of development: sanding and shaping. Kaifetz has a unique design that captures the tradition of handcrafted flagpoles while also adding a signature shape to his product. The sanding and shaping phase requires several hours to capture the perfect symmetry necessary. It is at the conclusion of this stage when the pole really begins to take shape. At that stage locating the original finger joint locations is virtually impossible.
The art of the craft becomes clear in the final product when the flagpole shows off its glassy finish and beautiful grain. Because his flagpoles are intended to be permanent structures after they are installed, Kaifetz takes great care to protect his product. Each flagpole receives 14 coats of high-quality varnish. “Unlike a piece of furniture that you can bring into a five- by ten-foot space to refinish every few years, you only get one shot at finishing a flagpole correctly,” said Kaifetz. Consequently, the final product looks and feels like it’s been encased in a layer of glass.
Orders flow in regularly and Kaifetz and his small team are working on anywhere from nine to eleven poles at any given time. “We used to take some time off each year, and we looked forward to that. Now, we’re working pretty much year-round,” he explained.
Delivering To Clients Across The Country
Crafting and producing the flagpoles is just one portion of Kaifetz’s business. He also delivers and, for many clients, installs the flagpoles as well. This is a tall task (pun intended) considering Adirondack Flagpole’s annual production over the years. “I’d say we made probably 52 poles last year,” said Kaifetz. “We delivered and installed a little more than two-thirds of them. If they need to go to the West Coast or Alaska, we have to ship those.”
Competition in the handcrafted flagpole industry is almost nonexistent, according to Kaifetz. “I rarely need to compete on a bid. If I do, and I’m not chosen, it probably means they’re not getting a flagpole,” he said jokingly. “There’s just no one else doing this kind of work at the same level of quality and precision.”
The cost of an Adirondack Flagpole varies significantly depending on the size and other features, such as running a strip of copper down the center to prevent lightning strikes. Also, depending on the size of the pole, Kaifetz might need to rent a crane for installation. All-in, a precision handcrafted Kaifetz product could price out anywhere from $400 for a small mountable pole to $25,000 for a large double masted flagpole.
A Patriotic Legacy
Adirondack Flagpoles has supported patriotic initiatives all over the United States and has installed flagpoles at many historic sites. “Our most recent project is a replica flagpole that is being installed at Asgaard Farms in Au Sable Forks,” said Kaifetz, referencing the farm, which was once the home of writer and artist Rockwell Kent. It is a large project. The pole alone is about 875 pounds.”
Other locations that now host an Adirondack Flagpole include a major battlefield in New Orleans, The National Museum of the Pacific War, Congress Hall in New Jersey, and the Poway Veterans Park in California. “There are over 300 of our poles installed throughout the U.S., including Alaska,” Kaifetz explained.
With thoughts of retirement beginning to loom, Kaifetz has a goal to accomplish. “I’d really like to have 500 of our flagpoles installed across all 50 states.”
The real passion Kaifetz carries for his trade circles back to his love of the United States and his desire to support patriotism across the country. “My dad landed on Utah Beach in Normandy,” said Kaifetz. “I’m also a veteran, and that’s why I have an emotional experience every time I raise an American Flag. I’m doing this for more than just making the flagpoles,” he concluded. “The whole thing has a deeper meaning for me.”