Focus on the Maker: Wes Jannusch
Tonight I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with Wes Jannusch of High Falls Forge. I may or may not have guilted him in to taking the time to visit and he may more may not be laid up so he couldn't run away fast enough. I will never tell which is actually the case but I'm glad we got to talk and I hope his story will speak to someone out there who is thinking about taking up this art.
Wes started his journey younger than most do when he was just 8. Being an adventurous youth he loved to be outdoors and was in the cub scouts. When camping he was drawn to the functionality, symmetry and style of the camp knives. His father also took him to a re-enactment in which there were blacksmiths and the hook was set. From 8 to 17 Wes drove his dad nuts experimenting making various blades from whatever he could find.
As often is the case, life tossed him a curve ball and his priorities shifted for many years until this show that no one knows <end obvious sarcasm/> Forged in Fire inspired him once again and rekindled that spark. At the time he wasn't in a position to start making knives due to living situations but that spark was steadily growing into a burning hot flame. When he got the opportunity to pick up the hammer again he jumped in with both feet or hands I suppose would be a bit more accurate. Though his passion was for blades, Wes wasn't ready and he knew it so while he was honing his blade craft he was also making metal art. Now after 20+ years of dabbling, pursuing and dreaming he makes knives for a living. (That is the dream for many of us I'd wager)
Wes started out with his first forge being a 2 burner oval propane forge he got from amazon for a couple hundred. This worked fine for all the smaller projects but when he was commissioned to do a sword he quickly found it was entirely too small for his needs. After much discussion his wife came to the rescue with the solution of just buying a second 2 burner identical to the first and butting the two together to make an extended burning area. Wes tells me that this works like a dream and he can heat a 27" blade with no issues now.
For the grinder Wes uses a 2x72 Phere grinder. He is now in the process of modifying a small wheel attachment to use with his Phere 2x72 grinder for fullers. If you've ever tried using a Dremel you know they don't do the trick very well for this kind of work.
When it comes to the belt progression Wes starts out with a 36 then progresses through the following stages: 60, 80,100,120,220, and finally 240. For the final finish Wes (just like almost all of us except for those really sick people that like it) prefers to avoid hand sanding like its the plague so he works with an emery cloth finishing belt to produce a smooth and polished look. Wes recommends Red Cat belts and says that he gets 2x the belts for the same price he was spending on other belts.
When it comes to the heat treat, Wes does three thermal cycles on his steel then one up to critical temp before he sends the blade bobbing for HRC in the quench. Wes swears by using Canola oil instead of going for some of the more expensive quenchants. "As long as you change it out regularly it does just as good". You definitely will want to change it out though because if you don't the oil will degrade and you will eventually start getting uneven quenches.
Once its been through the bath o' fire, the blade goes into the temper oven within 30 minutes for a one hour cycle at 400 if dealing with 5160 or three cycles at 400 if dealing with 1095.
Wes shared some tips with me along with some great general conversation and maybe a little griping about the longevity of Dremel sanding barrels. One great one I thought would really give some value is the little wire wheel you can get for the Dremel. They work great for removing some of that excess glue that can sometimes creep up on your blade after you've attached the scales.
We talked about quite a bit in a short amount of time and I've discovered my hand writing isn't nearly as neat as I thought so I'm going to have to close it here as I can't decipher the hieroglyphs on the page.
Thank you Wes for the interview. It was a pleasure talking with you and I hope we can chat again in the future. I can't wait to see what you're going to come up with next. You can follow what Wes is doing in any of the below places. And as always, no matter what you do, no matter what you're going through, Forge Ahead.
Facebook: High Falls Metal Shop
Instagram: High Falls Forge
Clapper: High Falls Forge