A fierce red-orange blaze fills the forge with flames streaming out the front, dancing in the cold workshop air.
Wesley Crum removes the glowing metal rod and lays it on the anvil. Crum bounces the head of his hammer on the anvil before raising his arm and striking the hot metal, sparks exploding in every direction. The Mississippi bladesmith is in his element.
Until four years ago, Crum had never thought about knife making.
“For Father’s Day, my son bought me a set of knife handle scales, and he wanted me to make him a knife,” said Crum. “I didn’t know anything about making knives.”
However, Crum and his son Chandler were watching the competitive television show “Forged in Fire” on the History Channel, where a winner said he learned knife making from watching the videos of J. Neilson, a judge on the show.
“I bought a copy of his DVDs, used an old piece of railroad as an anvil, bought a cheap grinder, and it’s been going on from there,” recalled Crum.
After completing his first knife, Crum took it to accomplished Saltillo bladesmith Chris Crawford.
“He asked me, ‘Are you proud of it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m proud of it,’” said Crum, playing out the conversation with Crawford. “He asked, ‘Do you see anything wrong with it?’ ‘I see a lot wrong with it.’”
Crum was proud of his craftsmanship – flaws included. The original W. Crum blade is still displayed in his workshop.
As time passed, Crum’s skills in knife making improved. After about a year of success and failures, Crum applied to appear on “Forged in Fire,” the very show that started his new craft, but only as a goof.
“I told my wife, Erin, I kind of applied as a joke,” said the Ripley resident with a grin. “I never thought I’d make it.”
Crum was selected to compete in “Judges Takeover – J. Neilson” episode in New York City in 2021.
“The biggest city I’ve ever been to is Memphis,” said Crum. “Going to New York was sensory overload.”
At the show’s taping, Crum met his bladesmithing idol, Neilson.
“It was like meeting a rockstar,” laughed Crum.
Although Crum did not make it out of the first round of the competition, he says it was one of the greatest experiences of his life.
On days when he’s not working for the Mississippi Forestry Commission, Crum can be found wearing a leather apron in his workshop. He sells his blades to customers throughout the south. Though most of his orders are sent through the mail, Crum says his favorite part about completing a custom knife is handing it to the new owner.
“When they see it for the first time and their eyes get real big,” said Crum, a 2000 Kossuth High School graduate. “It’s amazing that something that I made with my hands – just metal and wood – can now be handed down for generations.”