CERESCO – Colton Arias is making his mark in a world filled with sparks and sharp edges.
The 19-year-old’s hobby is bladesmithing, a skill he taught himself in a barn at his parents’ rural Ceresco home. For the past few years, he has used a forge and tools he created to craft knives and historical weapons for fun and for profit.
His interest in the hobby started with his grandfather, Stanley Jensen of Lincoln who was a woodworker. Arias enjoyed spending time with Jensen as he worked on his projects.
While he enjoyed woodworking with his grandfather, Arias was fascinated with metal and weapons.
“I was always interested in medieval and historical weapons,” he said.
Arias took over a corner of his dad’s barn where a few tools were kept.
“I started out with a corded drill, angle grinder and some files,” he said.
He began making bows and arrows out of wood. Then he forged metal arrowheads, moving on to small knives and swords. He eventually graduated to building air powered rifles and potato cannons.
“I really enjoy making pretty much anything,” he said.
Most of his knowledge came from just doing.
“I try to learn from others as much as I can but there’s really nothing that kind of sticks in your brain like trial and error,” he said.
He has made hundreds of items over the years. But knives have brought Arias the most income and recognition.
Arias makes custom knives for use in the kitchen, for self-defense and by hunters. He also crafts swords. The money he makes goes back into his tools and equipment or to help pay for college. He is a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he is studying business management and entrepreneurship.
“I really enjoy doing it and it has definitely helped me pay for college,” he said.
Last year, the college freshman won $10,000 on a reality/competition show called “Forged in Fire” by creating knives and a medieval weapon. He was only 18 years old at the time.
Arias has been a fan of the show for several years.
“I saw the show and I was happy they were giving life to the art,” he said.
Scouts for the show saw examples of Arias’ work on his Instagram page. They contacted him about being on the show, but he had to wait because he was only 17 years old.
“I thought that was super cool but I was too young at the time,” he said.
Not long after he turned 18, Arias sent an application to the show’s producers. They quickly signed him up for an episode to be filmed in July.
Arias was flown out to Stamford, Conn. for three days to film the first two rounds of the show. The four competitors had to forge a knife in three hours in the first round. Arias and two other competitors survived the round.
In the next round, the blacksmiths had to add a handle to their knife in two hours. Then the knife was tested for sharpness and strength.
Again, Arias avoided elimination, as did the other finalist, Craig Miller. The pair were sent home to work on the final project – a rock-throwing crossbow – in their own shops.
Arias wasn’t familiar with the weapon, something he said is also called a stonebow, which has a sling shot pouch that throws pellets and little rocks. But his experience with other types of crossbows was a plus.
“I had not seen one but I’ve made crossbows before,” he said.
As he worked at his home shop in Ceresco, a camera crew filmed the action. He worked five hours the first day and 10 hours a day for the next three to complete the project. Then he had to build a crate to send it to Connecticut, where the finale would be filmed.
The rock-throwing crossbow was tested in two ways. The show’s judges fired the weapon at a human form made out of ballistics gelatin to gauge its accuracy. Arias’ crossbow hit the dummy but did not penetrate the heart, while Miller’s did.
But Arias said the result was not as it seemed on the show. The weapon was designed to stun birds and kill small animals like rats, Arias said, not humans.
“So it looked like he beat me on that one hit,” he said. “It was kind of confusing because it wasn’t supposed to be that powerful anyway.”
In the second test, the weapon was fired at a piece of tempered glass to determine its impact. Arias’ crossbow did well, but Miller’s misfired, shooting without the trigger being pulled. Judges deemed the weapon too dangerous to continue testing and Miller was disqualified.
Arias had to wait three months before he could reveal the results of the show to anyone but his family and close friends. On Oct. 23, he gathered with family and
friends to watch as he won the grand prize.
Some of the prize money was spent, and some was put in the bank.
“Now I’m saving it and putting it toward school and I bought a few nice shop tools,” said Arias.
Since the show aired, Arias has become a local celebrity at home and at school.
“A couple of my professors actually recognized me,” he said.
When UNL shifted classes to online only after the coronavirus threat emerged, Arias moved back home. In between online classes, he heads out to the shop to work on custom orders, which skyrocketed after the show aired.
Being on the show not only helped his business boom, but also gave Arias connections in the bladesmithing world. He also learned tips that will help advance his skill set from one of the judges, who is a master smith.
“I definitely met some really cool people,” he said.
While he has made a name in bladesmithing, Arias has set his sights on a future in another arena.
“I’m looking for a business-oriented job,” he said. “I’m going to keep (bladesmithing) as a hobby.”