Forged in Fire (2015– )
|Content Rating||TV-PG (TV-PG)|
Forged in Fire (TV series)
Forged in Fire is an American competition series that airs on the History channel, and is produced by Outpost Entertainment, a Leftfield Entertainment company.
In each episode, four bladesmiths compete in a three-round elimination contest to forge bladed weapons, with the overall winner receiving $10,000 and the show's championship title "Forged in Fire Champion". The series has a host (formerly Wil Willis for the first seven seasons, currently hosted by Grady Powell) and a three-judge panel consisting of J. Neilson (Jason Knight during portions of season 3 and 4; Ben Abbott during portions of season 4th, 5th, 6th and remaining in the 7th season), David Baker, and Doug Marcaida, experts in weapon making, history and use.
The History channel ordered an initial eight episodes of the series with the first program premiering on Monday, June 22, 2015, at 10pm ET. Season two premiered on February 16, 2016 and increased to 10 episodes. The third season premiered with a "Champion of Champions" match on August 23, 2016, and was announced as having 16 episodes. The fourth season premiered on April 11, 2017, with a "Judges' Pick" episode in which the four judges (Neilson, Knight, Baker, Marcaida) each selected one smith from past seasons to compete again. The fifth season premiered on March 7, 2018. The sixth season premiered on February 6, 2019. The seventh season premiered on October 9, 2019 and expanded into May 6, 2020. The eighth season premiered on November 18, 2020.
The set, referred to as "The Forge," is stocked with a wide range of metalworking equipment, including propane forges, coal forges, grinders, power hammers and hydraulic presses. Medical personnel are present to treat any injuries or other health problems and may, at their discretion, disqualify smiths who are unable to continue safely. At the end of each round, the smith whose weapon is judged to be the least satisfactory must surrender it and leave the competition.
In a typical episode, the four smiths are presented with a quantity of steel that they must use in the first round to forge a blade in a style of their choosing. In some episodes, they all begin with the same starting material; in others, they may choose from an assortment of metal objects or must salvage their material from a source such as a junked car or lawnmower. The host states one set of criteria concerning blade or blade/tang length, and often a second set for a feature that must be incorporated, such as serrations or a fuller groove. The smiths are given 10 minutes to sketch out their designs, followed by three hours to forge the blades; they are not required to adhere to their original designs. Once time expires, the judges evaluate the blades based on the host's criteria and inspect their workmanship, quality, and design, then deliberate privately before announcing their decision. Any smiths who fail to meet the criteria, or who fail to turn in a blade at all, are subject to immediate elimination.
For the second round, the three remaining smiths are given an additional three hours to turn their blades into fully operational weapons. They must attach a handle, choosing from a range of provided materials, and incorporate any additional special features stated by the host. They must also grind, sharpen, and polish the blades, and may address any flaws or issues pointed out by the judges in the first round, if they choose to do so. After the time expires, the judges put each weapon through a series of tests to gauge properties such as sharpness, durability, and ease of use. For these tests, the weapons are used to chop/slash/stab objects that include ropes, ice blocks, animal bones/carcasses, and metal plumbing pipes. If one weapon suffers catastrophic failure, defined as damage that renders it unsafe or ineffective for further testing, its maker is immediately disqualified. In the case of catastrophic failure by multiple weapons, the worst performer is eliminated. The judges may, at their discretion, choose not to subject a weapon to a particular test if it is sufficiently cracked or flawed.
In the third round, the two remaining smiths are shown a historically significant (and technically difficult) weapon and are given five days to create a version of it. They return to their home forges to do the work and must comply with any specifications set by the host. Afterwards, they return to the Forge and submit their weapons for testing against objects and environments similar to the historical scenarios in which they were typically used. Based on the test results, the judges select one smith to receive the $10,000 prize and the day's championship title.
Some episodes have incorporated modifications to the rules, as follows:
- Extension or omission of the 10-minute design period in the first round.
- Omission of a required special feature in the first round.
- Extension or shortening of the three-hour forging time in the first and/or second rounds, depending on the difficulty level of the blade design and any special features.
- Requiring the smiths to forge a blade of a specific style in the first round.
- Omission of the requirement to attach a handle in the second round.
- Shortening of the working time from five days to four in the third round.
- Wil Willis (seasons 1–7) is a former Army Ranger (Third Ranger Battalion) and decorated Air Force para-rescue specialist. Willis' previous television experience includes Special Ops Mission and Triggers, two series that aired on the former Military Channel.
- Grady Powell (season 8–present), a former U.S. Army Green Beret, replaced Wil Willis as the show's host as of the Season Eight premiere on November 18, 2020. Powell's previous television experience includes two seasons starring on Dual Survival on The Discovery Channel.
- J. Neilson, a knife and sword expert, holds the rank of Master Smith within the American Bladesmith Society (ABS). He has over 20 years' experience in making knives and edged weapons. He examines the weapons' technical qualities and tests their durability. In Season 3, Neilson took a leave of absence in order to have surgery on his hand and returned in later episodes of Season 4.
- David Baker, a Hollywood prop maker who has appeared on the Spike TV series Deadliest Warrior, is an authority on weapons history and an expert on replicating period-accurate weapons for both museums and films. He judges the weapons' historical accuracy and aesthetic beauty.
- Doug Marcaida, an edged-weapons specialist, is a U.S. military contractor, martial arts instructor and knife designer for FOX Knives Italy. Specializing in the Southeast Asian fighting style of Kali, he has taught classes in weapon awareness and use for military, law enforcement, and security organizations. He also designs "the most dangerous knives in the world", owns, and sells his own line of knives. Marcaida evaluates the smiths' weapons to determine their effectiveness in combat with his famous "KEAL" tests. His original catchphrase was to declare of a worthy weapon: "It will kill." However, to keep the show family-friendly, he replaced the word "kill" with his own self-created acronym "KEAL" -- "Keep Everyone ALive"—which he currently uses in the phrase every bladesmith finalist wants to hear: "It will KEAL".
- Jason Knight, another ABS Master Smith, filled Neilson's seat on the judges' panel during his medical absence in Season 3. Neilson appeared alongside Knight for the Season 4 premiere; Neilson resumed his seat in the eighth episode.
- Ben Abbott, a two-time Forged in Fire champion, debuted as a judge starting with the 21st episode of the fourth season. Abbott would replace Neilson in some episodes during the fifth and sixth seasons.
Tim Healy and Steve Ascher are executive producers for History. Jodi Flynn, Brent Montgomery, David George, Shawn Witt and Simon Thomas are executive producers for Outpost Entertainment. Healy observed the demonstration, and later the filming, from the sidelines. Healy says that the inspiration for Forged in Fire came from his and other developers' love of food competition shows such as Chopped and Iron Chef. However, in order to appeal to the History channel's audience, they decided to have the competition focus on historical weaponry.
|First aired||Last aired||Network|
|1||8||June 22, 2015||August 10, 2015||History||TBA||7.7|
|2||10||February 16, 2016||April 19, 2016||TBA||7.6|
|3||16||August 23, 2016||February 14, 2017||TBA||8.0|
|4||23||April 11, 2017||October 31, 2017||TBA||8.1|
|5||40||March 7, 2018||December 19, 2018||TBA||8.1|
|6||30||February 6, 2019||September 25, 2019||TBA||8.1|
|7||37||October 9, 2019||August 19, 2020||TBA||7.7|
|8||TBD||November 18, 2020||TBD||TBA||TBA|
The "Master & Apprentice" episode in Season 4 featured four master/apprentice pairs of smiths. Only one member of each pair was allowed to work at any time, trading off every 30 minutes in the first two rounds, and every day in the third. The non-working member was allowed to offer advice. For this episode, the forging time in the first round was extended to three and a half hours.
The "Ultimate Champions Edition" (Season 4) and "Rookies Edition" (Season 5) each featured five smiths instead of four. The smiths were required to forge a particular type of blade at their homes and bring those weapons to the studio for a preliminary test. One smith was eliminated based on the results of this test, after which the competition proceeded through the normal three rounds.
On October 3, 2018, a five-week Invitational Tournament premiered, consisting of four preliminary heats and a finale. Four smiths with a particular specialty (farrier, armorer, blacksmith, metalworker) competed in each preliminary heat, with the winners advancing to the finale for a $50,000 prize. Dave Parthemore of Connecticut won.
A similar "Battle of the Branches" tournament began on May 8, 2019, with four smiths from a different branch of the United States armed services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) competing in each preliminary heat.
During the 2019 season, Forged in Fire aired "enhanced" episodes called Forged in Fire: Cutting Deeper, which featured bonus scenes of older episodes with expert tips and techniques from the judges like Dave Baker explaining what happened to each blade during the weapon tests. Each episode was two hours long (made up of 2 older one-hour episodes) highlighting blade themes such as "Revolutionary War Swords" and "Curved Blades", etc.
On May 13, 2020, a special episode titled Forged in Fire: Meet the Judges aired at 8/9c on History. The judges J. Neilson, Dave Baker, and Doug Marcaida were in the "hot seat" as fans asked them questions about the show, their personal lives, and bladesmithing techniques.
Several competition shows have been created as Forged in Fire spin-offs.
Knife or Death
On April 17, 2018, a spin-off series titled Forged in Fire: Knife or Death premiered on History. This series is hosted by Bill Goldberg and co-hosted by Tu Lam, a martial arts expert and retired member of the Green Berets.
Beat the Judges
On June 3, 2020, another spin-off series titled Forged in Fire: Beat the Judges premiered on History, hosted by Willis. On each episode, three previous Forged in Fire champions return to compete for an opportunity to face one judge (Neilson, Baker, or Abbott) and win another $10,000. For the first round (level 1), the three smiths each bring one weapon to the Forge, in a style of their choosing and created at their home forges, and submit them for testing by Doug Marcaida. The second round (level 2) follows the same format as the third round in a typical Forged in Fire episode, but the two remaining smiths are given only three days to forge an example of the featured weapon at their home forges. In the third round (level 3), the last remaining smith and the competing judge are given eight hours to create a fully functional example of a particular weapon type in the Forge, including handle fitting and grinding/sharpening/polishing. The other judges then test the weapons and choose the $10,000 winner. The competing judge is announced at the start of the third round; if he wins, the prize is donated to the charity of his choice. J. Neilson (Melanoma Foundation), Dave Baker (Breast Cancer Research), and Ben Abbott (Black Horse Forge: free blacksmithing classes to First Responders and Veterans).
Opening Introduction: Dave Baker: "We've seen the best bladesmiths battle it out to earn the title of Forged in Fire champion. This time, you're entering a different arena. Our arena. Champions, we're going to find out if you have the drive, the skill, and determination to Beat the Judges."
|Ep||Airdate||Title||First level||Second level||Third level||Results|
|1st place||2nd place||3rd place||4th place|
|1||Jun 3, 2020||"Short Sword Damascus"||Signature blades (from home forge)||Khanda sword|
(featured in season 2)
(using scrap metal)
|Double-edged Short sword|
(using large & small pieces of high carbon steel)
|John Summerhill (Season 6: Greek Kopis champion season 6)|
|Kelly Vermer Vella (Season 3: Falcata champion)|
Recurve Fighter knife
|Ethan Kempf (Season 5: Polish Karabela champion)|
|2||Jun 10, 2020||"Medieval Times"||Signature blades|
(from home forge)
|Medieval knight's dagger|
(using steel from a suit of armor)
|Medieval arming sword|
(featured in season 5)
(using a variety of high-carbon steel)
|Steven Bryan (Season 4: Ngombe Ngulu champion)|
|Josh Navarrete (Season 6: Ram Dao champion)|
|Mark Knapp (Season 4: Taber-Shishpar champion)|
|3||Jun 17, 2020||"Dual Swords"||Signature blades|
(from home forge)
(using only 2 steel ball bearings)
|Matched set of Fighting Knives|
(using 5160 coil springs in the San Mai technique)
(Season 2: Shotel champion)
Recurve Camp knife
(Season 7: General Patton's Sabre champion)
(Season 5: Schavona champion)
Musso Bowie knife
|4||Jun 24, 2020||"Smith's Choice"||Signature blades|
(from home forge)
|Short Sword with a D-guard|
(either using a foundry to cast handle or canister Damascus to make entire blade)
|Choice or Spadroon, Ida, or Kora Sword|
(using layered Damascus steel)
(Tobin chooses for himself and Dave: the Ida)
(Season 2: Pirate Cutlass champion)
Persian Recurve Fighter knife
(Season 1: Katar champion)
(Season 6: Battle of the Branches: Marines – Mameluke Sword champion)
Modified Bowie knife
|5||Jul 1, 2020||"The No Can Can"||Signature blade|
(from home forge)
(using high-carbon steel from old tools)
(using saw blades in a make-your-own "no-can" canister Damascus)
(Season 5: Sica Sword champion)
Recurve Drop Point Bowie knife
(Season 3: Hook Sword champion)
Recurve Bowie knife
(Season 1: Chakram champion)
Recurve Persian Chopper
|6||Jul 8, 2020||"Rock Star Smiths"||Signature blades|
(from home forge)
(using high-carbon steel bars in a twist and stack method with a handle from a guitar)
|Ben Abbott (Judge)||Tyler Hackbarth|
(Season 6: Battle of the Branches: Army & overall champion – Army Officer's Saber & General Washington's lion-headed cuttoe)
(Season 1: Viking Battle Axe champion)
(Season 5: Jumanji Aire champion)
Influence and controversy
In the city of Cohoes, New York near Albany, a man, inspired by the series, tried to forge a piece of metal over a fire in a barrel near his home. He caused a fire that destroyed three residential buildings and damaged 28 others.
In the Season 8 Episode Veteran's Knife Special: Salute to Veterans, contestant Brandon Rader wore a bandana around his neck for the duration of the episode, which hid two large neo-Nazi tattoos on each side of his neck. The show received backlash, resulting in the removal of the episode from the History Channel site.
|Year||Nominee / Work||Award Associations||Result||Ref(s)|
|Award Ceremony / Media||Category|
|2016||Forged in Fire||BLADE magazine||Publisher's Award||Won|