Three years ago, Weston Paas, owner of Heart’s Fire Forge, posted an Instagram photo of custom knives he’d made for the groomsmen in a wedding.
A representative of the History Channel TV show Forged in Fire saw it and reached out to ask if he wanted to be a contestant on the show, where smiths compete for a $10,000 prize.
The competition involved working with Damascus steel, made by forging layers of iron and steel to produce a flowing, watery pattern. Paas didn’t think he was skilled enough in the process and declined.
But about this time last year, he felt comfortable enough to reconnect with the show’s representative. After a lengthy interview process, he was accepted and flew to New York last August to compete with three other contestants.
During the first two rounds, they had to rework small axe heads and mild steel into Japanese Natas, machete-like woodworking tools. Two of his competitors were eliminated, but Paas’ Nata held up to a log chop and then sliced cleanly through a piece of salmon.
For the final round, Paas came back to his shop in the garage of his Black Forest home to create a ceremonial Zulu war axe with a curved blade, using design parameters that created a lot of potential stress points.
Upon his return to New York for the final taping, Paas’ weapon survived blows to a log and a wooden ammunition crate, passed a use test on an animal carcass and won him the contest — and the $10,000 prize. The episode aired Feb. 5; since then, he has had inquiries from potential customers around the world.
Paas grew up in Aspen, where his parents owned the historic Limelight Lodge. He was on track to continue in the hospitality business, working at the lodge in various roles, including food and beverage manager.
After graduating in 2006 from the University of Hawaii at Hilo with a B.S. in business, marketing and tourism, and studying at Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon, he spent most of a year in Blenheim, New Zealand, working as a cellar hand at Allan Scott Family Winemakers.
While in New Zealand, he took a one-day blade smithing class that struck a spark. Since then, he has taken another class and learned welding from a friend. But he’s mostly self-taught and learned his craft through trial and error.
He opened Heart’s Fire Forge in 2010.
“It was part-time then,” he said. “I was doing mainly welding repairs.”
Five years ago, Paas and his family moved to Colorado Springs, where his wife Ginny’s father owns Strategic Financial Partners and Ginny now works as chief operating officer.
“Since I’ve got my own business, it was easy enough to move it down here,” he said.
After the relocation, Paas fired up the forging part of his business, growing it slowly while his two children, now 10 and 6, were in school half days.
“This past year is the first year they’ve been full time, so I’ve been able to really ramp up production,” he said.
“My business has got two sides,” he said. “I’ve got the ornamental iron and decorative steel side — that’s like handrails and furniture — and I’ve got the custom knife side.”
Most of his ornamental iron and steel clients are in Colorado Springs and Aspen, but the market for his knives is global.
“I’ve got a lot of customers on the East Coast, and I sent two blades to Russia last week,” he said. “I’ve got a couple in Kyrgyzstan that I left with people when I was there this summer.”
During the summer, he also sells custom knives to the hunters he guides for Kiowa Creek Outfitters in Elbert, but most of his sales come through the internet and word of mouth. His wife helps with marketing and social media.
“Instagram has been a big thing for the business,” he said. “A lot of my clients that buy knives are repeat purchasers.”
Paas has developed a signature artistic style for his knives, forging blades of Damascus steel with ironwood handles.
“I want to build something that is beautiful to look at and brings a smile to the client’s face every time they use it, but it is still used,” he said.
Paas has no employees but relies on several people if he needs extra hands on a project.
“I’d like to have a custom book of knife clients that would fill up each year,” he said, “and then have a handful of employees on the ornamental side and have that grow as well.”