Endless Creativity and Unyielding Motivation to Succeed Sets Him Ahead of the Rest
I met several talented knife makers when I went to my first Blade Show earlier this year in Atlanta. So many beautiful knives and excellent craftsmen attended the show. I ,of course, enjoy meeting the well-known makers, but I especially like to keep an eye out for the younger makers who are still working on getting their name known and their work seen. Blade Show defines ‘best new maker’ as any knifemaker who has been making knives for 5 or less years. So, while Jesse is a ‘new maker’, his knives suggest he has been honing his craft for much longer.
Jesse Hu’s creativity sparked in middle school where he enjoyed creating things out of popsicle stick pieces and hot glue. He started dabbling in forging in 8th grade, but he says he can’t count that as “getting into knifemaking”, as he started with just some bricks, charcoal, and a hairdryer.
While popsicle sticks were fun, he says “the thing about them is that they’re impermanent, and I wanted to find a better medium of creativity that would last longer than I would live.” He truly got started in knifemaking in his junior year of high school in 2018.
He started out making mono-steel, full-tang knives including chef and hunting knives. He started experimenting with Hamons within 6 months. After two years of Hamons and meeting other bladesmiths in college, he started getting into Damascus and gained an interest into forging integral blades. After a class with Salem Straub, he started incorporating that construction into everything he made.
The hardest part about getting into knifemaking for many people is finding and obtaining all the tools you need and the space to put said tools as well as a working space. Jesse started out forging in his parent’s backyard with the cheapest tools one could find and working on the fine handle work in his bedroom. After getting the opportunity to compete in Forged in Fire in 2021, he was able to pay for his dream shop. He moved his shop from the front yard to the garage with an AC unit, which has made his job much easier and enjoyable. Even then he says, “I still do my hand-sanding and file-work in a bedroom.”
Many makers inspire Jesse, too many to count. YouTube provided his first inspirations from a variety of knifemaking videos and other makers including Alec Steel, Will Stelter, Matt Stagmer, Ilya Alekseyev, and Liam Hoffman. He says these people have the most impact on his work, as he has spent dozens of hours watching their videos.
Outside of YouTube he says that Instagram provides a massive source of inspiration, no matter their skill level. Bob Kramer and Curt Haaland are a few more people he looks up to. While inspiration helped start the journey, motivation is what keeps people moving forward. Jesse says that his motivation stems from his desire to be the best he can be. To let his knifemaking talent pass by would be a terrible mistake. Jesse says, “At this point in my career, I can say with certainty that I have managed to uphold that promise to myself. … it’s a unique art form that is just fun as hell to do.”.
Right now, he says his work right now is not special enough to set him apart from other knifemakers. The best aspect of his work comes from seeing other maker’s do their own knives; his faceted handles are inspired by Mareko Maumasi, Damascus is inspired by Salem Straub, and his fit and finish are inspired by Kyle Royer. Jesse’s efficiency is what makes him stand out, “put me in a room with a random knifemaker, there’s a 90% chance I can make a better product than they can in the same amount of time.” He says there are so many makers who make amazing stuff that he can only dream of making one day.
Jesse loves the efficiency of his work and through his experience he has found certain techniques that have raised his skill curve to the perfect balance of time and effectiveness. He says “I believe that’s one reason I did so well on Forged in Fire. I was good at doing things with methods that were both very fast and produced a nice product.” For example, he says while most start with Damascus and move to Hamons later, I started with Hamons and moved to Damascus.
Now, you might find that Jesse doesn’t have a particular set of standard models he makes. That is because he wants every piece to be unique. He does, however re-use certain blade or handle profiles, like his wide American-style chef’s knife and faceted handles or thin blades with bold Damascus.
Due to his desire to keep every piece unique, Jesse will not make any production knives or batches of certain styles. His favorite steel to use is W2 for Hamons and 1084 and 15n20 for Damascus. “Someday I will venture into the world of the CPM super steels and maybe find a way to make stainless Damascus from those super steels. That would be epic”, he says. His favorite handle materials are dense hardwoods from Australia, like Ringed Gidgee and Tasmanian Blackwoods. Brass and bronze are his preferred materials for accents.
Jesse’s proudest build is the Damascus Bowie he made for Blade Show Atlanta earlier this year. It was his first mosaic Damascus and first guard he made in his own shop. His first entry into the world of complex Damascus “makes me feel so much more confident about my future works”. His next big project is lined up for summer of next year after he is done with College for the year. A twist Damascus katana with a full set of fittings and a Saya. He plans to spend the better part of a month on it while also making a YouTube video to document the entire process. He is currently a full-time student at the University of Michigan, studying Electrical Engineering and Materials Science, then he goes home and is a bladesmith for the Summer.
Jesse’s books are always full during the summer, he takes in a mixture of custom orders and knives of his own personal preference. He will take custom orders if they are intriguing enough, as he cannot turn down a super fun commission. If you’re interested in getting on his books next summer, you can contact him through his website form. When Jesse isn’t busy doing college homework or forging in his shop, you can probably find him at the nearest sushi bar in his hometown in Arizona.
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