After taking his first railroad spike knife class in February of 2020, it didn’t take long for Chris Tillotson (aka Dr. Chris) to realize one class just wasn’t enough. Not only was Chris the first official student at Northstar Forge, but he also helped forge the membership program, making him our first official member, as well.
Chris has had a “primitive attraction” to knives his whole life, whether it was admiring knives in a display case at the local hardware store in his youth, to later seeing knife ads as he paged through an outdoor sporting magazine.
“I have always had a love affair with knives,” he said.
Like many seeking to learn a new skill, Chris sought the “University of YouTube” before Googling knife-making classes near Minneapolis, MN.
Lucky for us, Northstar Forge was at the top of the search.
Not knowing how difficult it would be or whether he was even going to like it, Chris quickly realized he liked it “a lot.”
Part of it was his intrinsic interest of the trade, though a large part had to do with his teacher and Northstar Forge owner Jason Kraus.
“Jason just has that natural knack for interacting with people, having fun, letting people do as much as they feel comfortable with, standing back, always showing you how to make it perfect, but letting you dictate a little bit how it goes. So that’s a nice balance,” he said.
Since the COVID pandemic had just begun, Chris decided to spend the extra time making knives. Ultimately, he helped Jason develop a membership model where he would pay monthly dues, rather than continuing to take knife classes. A wise economic decision on his part!
Under this model, Chris was able to make knives under Jason’s tutelage and at his own pace, without having to create his own space at home and invest in his own equipment.
Within that three-and-a-half-year time span, Chris estimates he’s made 150 knives, keeping only 15 of those for himself. The rest he’s given to others as gifts. A labor of love, indeed!
“It’s a great way to show somebody some appreciation, because it’s something you made yourself,” he said.
“Everybody loves getting a knife. Even if they don’t cook or hardly use a knife at all, they still love getting one,” he said.
“I got really interested in the kitchen type knives right away. And since I wanted to make them for presents, stainless steel is a great way to go because it’s very carefree and it stays shiny and nice,” he said.
For Chris, making knives has become “addictive.”
“And it brings me a lot of joy – and joy is not an easy thing to get,” he said, explaining that joy is a different emotion than happiness and contentment.
“I just think there’s a lot of satisfaction that you get out of making something like that,” he said. “A lot of people tell me, the knife that I made them is their favorite knife and that’s the knife they basically use all the time.
There is also a tangible social element to being a member in a shop like Northstar Forge, rather than working alone in your own shop, he said.
“It doesn’t matter what we’re doing in here. Everybody’s enjoying whatever that is, and they’re having fun, they’re talking and joking and showing you something new that they saw or they’re trying, and that’s just a fun place to be,” he said.
Much of that social element has to do with Jason as a person. “It’s natural for him,” he said.
Note: Currently, memberships are closed.
Tips for getting started
He suggests starting with a stock removal kitchen type knife. “It’s just metal and wood. There are no guards or other special pieces you have to make,” he said.
While the first couple of knives may not be cosmetically pleasing, they are still going to be functional.
“They still cut just as well as anything that was made perfectly,” he said.
Once you have the basics down, you can copy knives you like, design your own and play around with different materials, whether that’s different metals, fasteners, woods, composites, etc.
“So there’s a lot that you can play with there,” he said.
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