American Faces #36
Jason Kraus has built a reputation as one of Minnesota’s best bladesmiths, but his road to getting there took a lot of twists and turns. Along the way to becoming a metalworking and blade-smithing artisan he’s been and done many other things: computer tech, coffee barista, sous chef, house painter. But, throughout that circuitous journey, he cultivated an interest in blades and swords – an obsession he credits to receiving a Swiss Army Knife when he was five years old. He’s now 39, so I guess it’s true – guys never really grow up!
The forging of a sword-maker
In 2011, Jason was physically and emotionally exhausted from expending his energy in all those vocational pursuits, while finding no real fulfillment. Friends and family began to ask, “what do you really love?” and “what do you see yourself doing every day?” His answer: making swords. Which is everyone's response, right? In truth, the idea of sword-making spoke to Jason’s heart. So with the encouragement of those around him, he signed up for a two-week intensive class at Bill Moran School of Blade Making in Arkansas, and then another week-long hands-on bladesmithing workshop. These two immersive experiences began to meld together Jason’s wonderment of steel and fire, and launched a journey of discovery and refining his art. Jason now crafts exceptional blades combining razor-sharp edges, rugged functionality and impeccable custom designs. In life, every person faces some kind of struggle. Jason’s personal struggle is dyslexia. But his battle with deciphering the written word could not dampen his passion for reading steel and pursuing his art. The glint in his eyes and the passion in his voice when Jason describes his work clearly says this Bladesmith has found his true calling.
Wisdom from the fire: don’t be afraid to step out and take some heat
As I ended my time with Jason of NorthStar Forge, I asked him to share what he would say to the next Jason out there. He had just two pieces of advice. He said, first, let people help you, and second, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and invite the critique of others who know your craft. He mentioned he was once tapped by premier clothier, Filson, as one of a handful of Minnesota artisans selected to demonstrate his craft for the launch of their new line of CCF workwear. Turning up the heat a bit higher, he competed on the reality TV shows Forged in Fire (season 3, episode 15) and Master of Arms. These two experiences brought him shoulder to shoulder with equally amazing bladesmiths, pushing his skills to the limit in front of countless viewers. Talk about being refined by the flame!
Echoing Jason’s advice, my encouragement to you is this: get out there and push yourself to do something new and amazing in 2020. Maybe you won’t make a sword (or, maybe you will!). But you can certainly do something to make a difference. And be sure to take time to encourage someone else who’s on the journey of discovering their own passion. Help them see their potential to shine and make a difference in their corner of the world. Who knows, you may just discover the next Jason Kraus!