I'm sure I share this experience with pretty much any bladesmith or knife maker. Anytime I do a sales event, I inevitably receive the Forged in Fire comment. The sad thing is, I have been on that show, it just wasn't very memorable for the audience. I had an incredible time and it was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity that I was in no way qualified or prepared for. Here's the thing though, I'm not really much of a "character" and normal dudes just doing their work don't make good TV.
The story goes like this: I got a call from New York from one of the producers of the show, they said that they found me by my website and asked if I would be interested in participating. I was very skeptical that it was real, but they didn't seem to want any money so I went along with it. "TV? Sure!" I was very clear that I had NO forging experience and was a stock removal knife maker who has never made anything resembling a machete, much less a sword. They asked if I was willing to try and we went forward from there. Before I knew it, everything was settled and I had a very short time to prepare.
Kyle Lucia (see: "The forged Tanto" journal entry) was kind enough to give me a crash course in not only blade shaping but also the basics such as stance, hammer control and forge heat management. I was fortunate to have such a friend since I didn't otherwise have access to a forge or anvil! I worked on the basics of moving hot steel on two occasions at his shop in Scott's Addition here in Richmond. I would have liked more time to prepare but that turned out to be all I could work out. So after a totally inadequate amount of time to prepare, it was off to the Big City.
After all the arrangements and travel finished, I found myself riding away from JFK airport in a minivan with Nate and Tom - two of the other contestants on the show. I was surprised right away at how comfortable I was with them and how personable everyone was. Nate and I decided to go out for dinner and drinks. Tom turned in early but we weren't surprised, he was making blades when we were just a twinkle in our fathers' eyes! After exploring the wilds of Brooklyn, we ended up at a neighborhood pub that was nice and quiet. Nate and I discussed elements of knife making and wondered aloud about what the show experience would be like. Just then a man a few stools down from us asked "Hey! Are you fellows here for Forged in Fire?" When we answered in the affirmative, he said "Me too!", and that's how I met Ben Abbott. He proceeded to drink us under that table.
What can I say about the actual experience of being on the show? Hours of waiting and boredom, punctuated by moments of extreme tension and intensity. I can honestly say that the best part was sitting and talking with Tom, Ben and Nate. We shared stories, tips and techniques. Ben and Tom as the more experienced smiths freely gave Nate and I critical advice on how to do our best in the competition. I was sorely outmatched and I new it but these guys were awesome! Fortunately, Forged in Fire is really a competition with yourself and not really about the guy next to you - and we understood that. And yes, although there is definitely TV magic involved, the actual fabrication time is two unbroken sets of 3 hours and that is it. We were allowed no contact with the judges but Will was nice enough to come and entertain us for spells here and there.
*Spoiler Alert* I did not win. I was eliminated 2nd because my blade did not hold up to the testing as well as Tom and Ben's blades. I was proud that I was able to produce a good blade using a process that I had never used before and tools such as the power hammer and hydraulic press that I was new to. Truth be told, I hit the sweet spot for me. I certainly wanted to have the chance to make a blade, move on to finish the handle and have Doug test it. I was not, on the other hand, sure I wanted to commit 2 more unpaid weeks of work to building a sword since my chances of winning against Ben or Tom were basically zero. Ben and Tom are better smiths than me and deserved to beat me on the show, both because of their skill and performance.
I don't want to re-litigate what happened that led to my elimination. Suffice to say that I have been forging blades ever since my experience on the show and understand perfectly why I had the issues that I had. That is the main take away for me. This opportunity lit a fire under me to expand my knife making abilities to include forging and laminated steel such as damascus and san mai. The experience truly enriched my life and brought me new friends as well. I keep in touch with the guys but have been able to spend time with and even forge some with Ben.
Forged in Fire has many detractors. Some of the reasons are valid, but most are vapid. Ultimately, it's a fun show about making knives. Its really hard to make money in this field and it gives makers a chance to win a boon. Some even experience an increase in business as a result of the exposure. Everyone that I've heard speak negatively of the show hasn't been on it, but I have. And I say it's legit.