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 day’s championship title.
The series is hosted by Wil Willis, with a three-judge panel consisting of J. Neilson (Jason Knight during portions of season 03 and 04; Ben Abbott during portions of seasons 04-06 and remaining in season 07), David Baker, and Doug Marcaida, experts in weapon history and use.
Two spin-off series have aired: Forged in Fire: Knife or Death, first aired on 17 April 2018; and Forged in Fire: Beat the Judges, first aired on 03 June 2020.
- History ordered an initial eight episodes of the series with the first programme premiering on Monday 22 June 2015, at 10.00 pm (US Eastern Time).
- Season 02 premiered on 16 February 2016 and increased to 10 episodes.
- Season 03 premiered with a “Champion of Champions” match on 23 August 2016,with 16 episodes.
- Season 04 premiered on 11 April 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. 23 episodes.
- Season 05 premiered on 07 March 2018 with 40 episodes.
- Season 06 premiered on 06 February 2019 with 30 episodes.
- Season 07 premiered on 09 October 2019 and expanded into 06 May 2020, with 37 episodes.
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 starting material 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 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. Willis 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 Willis’ 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 Willis. 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 carcasses, and steel car doors. 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 Willis. 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.
The “Master & Apprentice” episode in Season 04 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 04) and “Rookies Edition” (Season 05) 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 03 October 2018, a five-week Invitational Tournament premiered, consisting of four preliminary heats and a finale (See Spin-Offs section below). 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 08 May 2019, with four smiths from a different branch of the United States armed services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) competing in each preliminary heat.
On 13 May 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.
Cast, Judges, and Producers
Wil Willis, the original and current host, is a former US Army Ranger (Third Ranger Battalion) and decorated US Air Force Pararescue specialist. Willis’ previous television experience includes Special Ops Mission and Triggers, two series that aired on the former Military Channel.
J. Neilson, a knife and sword expert, holds the rank of Master Smith within the American Bladesmith Society. He has over 20 years’ experience in making knives and edged weapons. He examines the weapons’ technical qualities and tests their durability. In Season 03, Neilson took a leave of absence in order to have surgery on his hand and returned in later episodes of Season 04.
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 US military contractor, martial arts instructor and knife designer for FOX Knives Italy. Specialising 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”.
During a period when he was recovering from an injury and could not test weapons himself, Marcaida had his younger brother, R.J., or one of his Kali students perform the task in his place.
Jason Knight, another ABS Master Smith, filled Neilson’s seat on the judges’ panel during his medical absence in Season 03. Neilson appeared alongside Knight for the Season 04 premiere, then Neilson resumed his seat in the eighth episode.
Ben Abbott, the two-time Forged in Fire champion debuted as a judge starting with the 21st episode of season 04. Abbott would replace Neilson in some episodes during seasons 05 and 06.
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.
On 17 April 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.
On 03 June 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, 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.
- The second round 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.
- In the third round, 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 they win, the prize is donated to the charity of their choice.
Forged in Fire: Tournament of Champions
In the first ever Forged in Fire Tournament, on 03 October 2018, four different classes of metalsmithing professionals would compete over five weeks for the chance to win the biggest Forged in Fire prize ever – $50,000. In the first week, four farriers are tasked with creating a San Mai blade from familiar tools: horseshoes and hoof rasps.
Marketed as Forged in Fire: Tournament of Champions, it formed episodes 31 to 35 of series 05.
- S05E31: Tournament, Round 1 (English Mortuary Sword).
- S05E32: Tournament, Round 2 (Indian Hooded Katar).
- S05E33: Tournament, Round 3 (Knightly Pole Axe).
- S05E34: Tournament, Round 4 (The Flamberge Rapier).
- S05E35: Tournament Finals (Nodachi).
Forged in Fire Series
- Forged in Fire:
- Forged in Fire: Beat the Judges:
- Series 01 (2020).
Production & Filming Details
- Presenter(s): Wil Willis.
- Director(s): Alfonso Trinidad and Michael Pearlman.
- Producer(s): Jodi Flynn, Sean Moran, Paul Hogan, Daniel McKenna, Brittany Einsick, Mark Montgomery, Sam Rubin, and Eric Mathis.
- Music: Justin Crosby and Kevin Bluhum.
- Cinematography: Jacob Goodwin.
- Editor(s): John Como and Michael Brown.
- Production: Outpost Entertainment.
- Distributor(s): A&E Television Networks.
- Original Network: History Channel.
- Release Date: 22 June 2015 to 06 May 2020.
- Running Time: 42 minutes (per episode).
- Rating: TV-PG.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.