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Old Trade, New Tricks

An interview with Jese Stetson

A craftsman is only as good as his tools, and Jese Stetson has some impressive welding instruments lying around his Fromberg forge. Near the center of the workshop stands a well-loved anvil that Stetson inherited from his great-grandfather.

“Every mar and mark over the last hundred years was added by a family member,” said Jese. “I love that I get to continue using it.” A fourth-generation rancher, Jese centers all his work on his family’s tradition of quality products and creative flair, but he does so with a unique twist to our times. To market his custom-crafted knives, he uses a tool rarely associated with old trades and Montana ranches: the social media app, TikTok.

“I’ve been making knives for about twenty years, but I only started selling them a year ago,” said Jese. “Before that, it was a hobby. I would make them for family and friends as gifts. Our Colorado ranch sold two years ago and my dad and I went on one last hoorah down there, elk-hunting in the fall. I found an old farrier rasp in my great-grandfather’s dairy barn. It’s like a fingernail file for horse hooves. I took it and made a knife out of it for my dad’s birthday, and I put pictures on Facebook. A bunch of people reached out and wanted one. The business took off organically from there,” said Jese. TikTok, Jese learned, was an easy way to add music to his videos so he made a knife and took a video of himself dipping the knife in oil and getting the handle finished. The knife is called a bull-cutter, which is made of cholla cactus with real turquoise stones. “I woke up the next morning and the thing was blowing up. It went viral and got a couple million views. I got so many orders it crashed the website. That video was what got me established, and now I’m a couple-hundred deep on the waitlist,” said Jese.

Humble as any good craftsman, Stetson refuses to namedrop, but plenty of the orders on that waitlist belong to celebrities—and business continues to pile. “It’s a juggling act,” said Jese of his expanding obligations. “I’m a husband first, then a father, then a rancher, then a knife-maker.” These roles keep Jese moving around the clock: traveling with his wife for her boutique business, Whiskey Flair; raising his teenage daughters and toddler son, and assisting his parents with ranching duties. At the end of this stack of duties, Jese still carves out the time to forge hunting knives, fishing knives, and cooking knives from materials as unique as giraffe bones and wooly mammoth tusks. “Bottom line is: I just don’t like to sleep much.”

Luckily, Stetson’s family members are just as generous with their time. “They’ve all been tremendously supportive. I owe so much of my success to my parents, and I attribute it to growing up ranching. They instilled in me a work ethic that’s pretty tough to replace. It’s something I’ve tried to pass on. My daughters work with me a lot in the shop; they can build a knife from start to finish. They do a lot of irrigating and ranch-work for me, but they’ve done a lot of hand-sanding, too,” said Jese.

Ranching often lends the hands of everyone in the family, and with that comes a lot of different skillsets. Jese taught his eldest daughter to weld with a stick-welder when she was just three years old. “She could write her name better with a stick-welder than she could with a pencil,” said Jese. Jese displays the first knives his daughters ever forged on the wall of his workshop, and they serve as a guiding symbol for his business. “The people I love to make knives for the most are the people who want to spend time outdoors with their kids. It’s something they’ll build cool memories with and eventually pass down,” said Jese.

Like a knife handed down from father to daughter, social media is a double-edged tool, with just as much potential to divide the world as to unite it. “I used to chastise my girls all the time for being on TikTok,” Jese admitted, “and now their dad is on TikTok way more than they are. I hate the division that social media causes for sure, but the reality is no one would know who I was in little Fromberg, Montana without it. And it’s such a great business tool to reach people across the world. I’ve got to give credit where it’s due.” As for the older ranching generations’ attitude towards his TikTok account, Jese smiles and remarks, “My dad says I’ve always had the gift of gab, so it makes sense to him.”

Find Jese Online

Instagram: @StetsonForge

TikTok: @StetsonForge

Website: StetsonForge.com

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