(PNJ.com) - There's a Canadian guy near Hyde Park burning U.S. flags in his driveway.
Actually, he's just burning the stars. He paints the stripes, so don't get too upset.
But on this day, you can hear the sizzle and see the smoke as Brian Wielhouwer, 49, takes a red-hot branding iron with a star on it and pushes it firmly onto flat blue-painted wood lying flat in his driveway. One star down, 49 more to go.
Weilhouwer, a manager at The Fish House in downtown Pensacola, makes U.S. flags at his home. Wooden flags. They're grand old flags, but they're not high flying flags. Being made of wood and all.
"There's a lot of responsibility to get it right," Weilhouwer said, as the smoke poured upward as he held the red-hot iron to the wood. "When you think about the American flag and what it means to so many people, you want to get it right."
Weilhouwer has been making U.S. flags out of pine 2x4s for a few years now. He came up with the idea when he and his family lived in Las Vegas. Weilhouwer's two daughters were being homeschooled in Las Vegas, where the family lived for three years before moving to Pensacola a year ago. Weilhouwer started making the flags to get his daughters and their other homeschooled friends interested in history and woodworking.
"It was more of a project to get the kids into it," he said. "And people would see them and want me to make them one, and we went from there."
Weilhouwer previously lived in Pensacola 12 years ago, staying for eight years. The family moved to Las Vegas when his wife, an executive with Cox Communications, was assigned there.
But it was his trips to the United States from Toronto when he was a child that nurtured his love of the United States, and its flag.
"The United States was a big, big deal," he said. "It was so cool to come here, and you'd see the flag everywhere."
Weilhouwer only truly began selling the wooden flags, made in a variety of sizes, this year after a visitor saw him tinkering with the flags in the garage and stopped by to find out what was going on.
The man, Morgan Stinemetz of Manatee County, eventually purchased one of the flags and asked if he could sell them on
his website, www.mainsheetpartners.com, which bills itself as "Purveyors of the Unusual." Other items sold through the website include drinking glasses made out of wine bottles, photos of eagles, yacht caps and more.
"He drove by and saw me making them and told me he wanted to sell them on the website," Weilhouwer said of the March encounter. "He's just one of these guys who gets out of his car and starts talking to people."
Stinemetz, 76, once lived in Gulf Breeze and was in town visiting when he spied Weilhouwer tinkering with pieces of red, white and blue-painted wood in the garage.
"I had never seen anyone make a flag out of wood," Stinemetz said. "They're supposed to be wavy things. I thought, 'This is something different' and bought one from him."
Now, he uses the purchased flag to advertise the flags on the website.
"They're well-made, hand-crafted and high quality," Stinemetz said. "But he's from Canada and making U.S. flags. That's sort of ironic."
Weilhouwer feels the same.
"Yeah, I know it's strange," he said. "My mother-in-law would love a Canadian flag, but I haven't made any yet."
He has had a request for a French flag, which he plans to produce as well.
The flags are hand-crafted from individual pieces of wood. The stripes are painted red and white, then glued together. The blue background is painted, as well. Then each star is burned into the blue field. The flags come in three sizes: 13 by 24 inches, 18 by 32 inches and 24 by 48 inches and range in price from $65 to $105.
"He's out there working all the time," said daughter Sydney, 14. "He's always building something out there."
Besides flags, the artisan also makes bird houses out of recycled wood, as well as furniture and other wood items. But it's the branding of the stars that gets most people's attention.
"You would think it would be a lot of fun," Weilhouwer said of the branding process. "But after hundreds of stars, well. ... It's like you're sitting around the fire in Boy Scouts again."