Welcome and thanks for checking out Cutting To The Point. A place to showcase makers, and artists that are creating unique hand made stuff whether its custom knives, art, orjewelry,or unique brands. This is the place I want to share the folks who are doing great things that inspire me as a maker. I will be doing one a month and hope you enjoy and learn about other makers across the country.
This month and my first show case is with Joe and Alaina Wheelis, a crafting couple from Pennsylvania who are busting out the meanest bushcraft knives to some one of a kind blacksmith creations. Hope you enjoy some insight and a very relaxed interview with some good folks and hope to share their creations with the world.
You can find their stuff at www.wheelisforge.com, and @wheelis_forge and @thistle_fire_design on Instagram.
Joe and Alaina Wheelis. Hailing from South Central PA
What are you known for in the makers world?
I (Alaina) think Joe is mainly known for knife making. He is a Marine combat veteran and spent many years as a paramedic and he definitely uses that background to really inform the designs that he creates. He is definitely a function over form kinda guy. I feel like I am mostly known for jewelry though I have been branching out lately into more tool/utensil type things. I think my heart will always be with jewelry though. I really love making pretty things.
What was your occupation before becoming a Smith and what was the thing that made you start doing what you do?
I (Joe) was a paramedic working for a 911 ambulance service. The job was just really burning me out. When we moved from Georgia to Pennsylvania, I could not get my license to transfer. So instead of taking a minimum wage job I decided to make even less and go into knifemaking full time.
I (Alaina) have had a bunch of different jobs running the gamut from server to performer, retail to pharmacy technician. Immediately prior to making the switch to full time blacksmith I was commuting over an hour every day as a pharmacy tech when covid started. Covid was kind of the impetus for the switch from side hustle to really trying to make it a full time thing.
Out of all the makers and small crafters out there what would you say you do best and what is your “trademark” within the craft?
I (Joe) don’t know if I really have anything signature or immediately defining about my work. I like fullers? Does that count?
Lol I (Alaina) think twists could maybe be considered my “trademark”. That and the fact that I like to make delicate looking things out of tough materials.
Being a veteran, did you gain inspiration to start making knives because of the service?
(Joe) Definitely! We were always using knives (to open MREs) and drooling over the fancy Strider knives at the tactical shop because our issued KaBars were dull and worn out. I used to sit around and brainstorm about trying to come up with the perfect service knife.
For Joe: If you had one knife to carry on duty what is it?
This is an easy one! My Recon model! I designed it just for the purpose. A great all around size that is stout without being too heavy to carry on patrol.
What’s new with you and what’s coming down the pipe your'e excited for?
(Alaina) I’ve gotten into utensils lately. I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I’m excited to see how I can really fine tune them and the process.
How long have you been blacksmithing and what’s something you really wanna accomplish in the craft?
I (Alaina) started in the summer of 2019. I’m not sure that there is any one specific thing I’m looking to accomplish right now. Maybe just expanding my portfolio so to speak. Keep working on utensils and maybe finally make another knife.
Do you work well with each other in the shop?
Hahaha (Joe) hmmmmm….since she isn’t currently sitting here to hit me I will answer a big NO! lol. She is always stealing my tools and hogging the forge! I mean its great and everything to have my best friend working in the shop with me but I want my tools back!
(Alaina) I have to say he is 100% accurate. I am the worst forge hog and I do have a knack for squirelling away tools and forgetting to put them back. Apart from the forge though I feel like there isn’t a ton of overlap on the big tools for us. I mostly have tendency to steal hammers, rulers, punches, and markers. On the flip side though it is so nice to be able to show each other works in progress and bounce ideas off of each other.
Have you been working an anything bushcraft that is yet to be announced?
(Joe) Nothing super crazy right now. I am about to release a pilot survival style knife that crosses over into the bushcraft market. Also started turning a lot of custom firesteels on the lathe which I discovered is a lot of fun.
Favorite thing to make and why?
(Alaina) This literally changes all the time! Right now it is probably anything out of nails. Masonry nails are my current favorite medium and I love starting out and just seeing what happens with them. From heart and love knot pendants, to rings, to Christmas ornaments. I just really love letting the metal tell me what it wants to be. I know that sounds hippy dippy but I have found some of the coolest inspiration in just trusting the process.
Makers that you are inspired by?
(Joe) This is a tough one, so many people I follow and get inspiration from! I will have to say it’s a tie between Neels Van Den Berg of Black Dragon Forge and Salem Straub of Promethean Knives. They do such amazing work and their attention to detail is superb.
(Alaina) For me Lindsay Murphy (lindsay_creative), Emily Joyce (emilyjoyceofficial), and Mark Hopper and Jessica Collins of GoatnHammer are big inspirations for me.
What do you wanna see come out of the community of crafters and smiths?
(Joe) I would like to see more of working together for the common good of quality American made products. I think people are getting tired of cheap, disposable tools and turning to better constructed and longer lasting products. I also like the idea of the younger folks learning about being creative with their hands.
(Alaina) I want accessibility. I want there to be a de-mystification of smithing. One of my mentors (Mark Hopper) told me there is no right or wrong way really to do what we do. There is safe way and a dangerous way and obviously people need to be safe when smithing, but people have and continue to smith all over the world with a variety of tools some of which are very primitive. That’s something that I wish more people realized.
Any tips and advice you would give to folks looking to do what you do?
(Alaina) Just give it try. There are instructions all over youtube to build a forge, modify a hammer, and improvise and anvil. Wear your safety gear and go for it.
(Joe) I agree with Alaina. Try it out. A basic forging set up can be done for pretty cheap. I ground out my first 100 knives or so with a cheap 2x42” grinder. You don’t need the latest and greatest tools to smith or make knives. Develop your skills first then buy the nicer tools when you absolutely need them.
Just fill me in on what’s currently happening in the shop and what if anything you guys have as a couples collab.
This time of year is always crazy for us as we get ready for Christmas order, the Georgia Bushcraft event, and other smaller craft shows. So Joe is full bore on knife orders and Alaina is making all sorts of things for orders and the shows. We haven’t really worked on much together but look forward to combining our skills next year on some cool projects.