Forged in Fire is an American reality television 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 for season 3), David Baker, and Doug Marcaida, experts in weapon history and use. History 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. The third series premiered with a "champion of champions" match on August 23, 2016, and was announced as having 16 episodes.
The series is filmed in Brooklyn, New York. 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. At the end of each round, the smith whose weapon is judged to be the least satisfactory must surrender it and leave the competition. 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.
In the first round, the four smiths are presented with a starting material that they must use to forge a blade. 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 length, and often a second set for a feature that must be incorporated, such as serrations or a fuller groove; not all competitions require a special feature. The smiths are typically given 10 minutes to sketch out their designs, but this time is occasionally extended to 20 minutes or omitted altogether. Following the design period, they are given an additional length of time to forge their blades. The forging time is three hours in most episodes, but is occasionally extended to four hours if the additional feature poses a sufficient challenge, such as being required to forge a billet with modern damascus steel methods and use it for the blade. Once time expires, the judges evaluate the blades based on Willis' criteria and inspect their workmanship, quality, and design.
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; grind, sharpen, and polish the blades; and address any flaws or issues pointed out by the judges in the first round, if they choose to do so. 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 various objects that include ice blocks, coconuts, sandbags, and car doors. If a weapon suffers catastrophic failure, defined as damage that renders it unsafe or ineffective for further testing, its maker is immediately disqualified.
In the third round, the two remaining smiths are shown a historically significant bladed weapon and are given five days to create a version of it, travelling to their home forges to do the work and complying with any specifications set by Willis. Once this time is up, 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.
Willis is a former Army Ranger 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.
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. During Season 3, Neilson took a leave of absence in order to have surgery on his hand; Jason Knight, another ABS Master Smith, filled his seat on the judges' panel during this time.
David Baker, a Hollywood prop man who has appeared on the Spike 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. Marcaida evaluates the smiths' weapons to determine their effectiveness in combat. He often uses the phrases "It will cut" and "It will kill" when a blade he is testing proves to be sufficiently sharp or lethal, respectively.
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.