So You’re Going to Compete on Forged in Fire?

April 3rd, 2019

[Note: This list was originally compiled by me then posted on /r/forgedinfireshow, where I made significant changes based on comments from other members of the subreddit.]

Regular Forged in Fire viewers are all too familiar with statements like these:

“I’ve never used a welder before.”

“This is the longest blade I’ve ever forged. I’m going to have to make a bigger quench tank.”

“I’ve never used a coal forge in my life.”

The Forged in Fire producers enjoy throwing unusual situations and obscure techniques at their smiths. And learning new techniques during the competition is a sure path to failure. The following list is based on actual mistakes made by contestants:

Practice the following techniques beforehand:

  • Canister Damascus welding
  • Using a coal forge with a manual air pump
  • Forge welding, especially with (1) different metals and (2) a thick piece of cable

Mistakes that have actually happened:

  • Give the Liquid Paper time to dry before adding anything else to the canister
  • You need -both- the red and the blue epoxy containers
  • They supply 5-minute epoxy and 24-hour epoxy—choose wisely
  • Some extremely well-made blades have been eliminated because they didn’t meet parameters
  • If the judges tell you something should be fixed, don’t convince yourself there’s not enough time to fix it

General weaponsmithing:

  • Never quench in water unless you have a very specific reason for doing so
  • For larger blades, the judges take balance and weight very seriously
  • When forge welding, first clean the surfaces that will be welded together
  • Be extremely careful bending hardened/quenched steel, and never hammer it
  • Pro tip: it’s much easier to drill/drift holes before you quench
  • Pro tip: quench a test piece of steel and then break it to see what the metal looks like after quenching.

Handles:

  • A great blade with a bad handle will almost always lose
  • Functionality and quality of construction are far, far more important for a handle than how good it looks
  • The judges put significant emphasis on how comfortable a handle is and how well it fits their hands
  • Do not get fancy with your handle in an effort to impress the judges—this almost always does more harm than good
  • Knife handle shapes that don’t prevent the user’s hand from sliding onto the blade -must- include a guard—failing to do so is an automatic disqualification
  • Nothing in the handle should have -any- possibility of digging into or cutting the judge’s hand—a bleeding judge significantly increases your chances of being eliminated
  • Round or heavily rounded knife/sword handles look nice but fail to perform
  • The burn-through method of creating knife handle holes is risky and should be avoided unless you’re hard-pressed for time and have no other option
  • The tests apply significant stress to the handle—epoxy alone will not hold a handle together.
  • Pro tip: note the judges’ hand size when you shake hands with them at the beginning of the competition, and craft your handle accordingly

Know the following skills:

  • How to use a magnet to check for proper heat treat temperature (also, bring a magnet with you)
  • How to use a MIG welder
  • How to use a spark test to identify an unknown metal
  • How to use a belt grinder like the ones on the show, and especially how to change the belt
  • How to use a gas forge like the ones on the show, and especially how to adjust the temperature
  • How to correct a post-quench warp without breaking the blade (hint: hammering or bending in a vise rarely works)
  • How to construct a friction folder knife

Regarding your home forge:

  • Before you leave, triple-check your equipment to ensure it’s in perfect working order
  • Equipment failures happen—be prepared
  • Some of the weapons you have to make are unusually long or wide—you may need a bigger forge and/or quenching tank, so obtain the materials for that beforehand

General philosophy:

  • Stick to the basics; don’t try to be fancy and impress the judges
  • Stick to what you know; this is not the time to be experimenting
  • Stay calm—getting rushed affects your decision-making and is the best way to be eliminated
  • Many, many contestants have been eliminated because of poor time management
  • When things are going badly, it’s often better to just abandon what you’ve done and start over
  • No matter how bad you’re doing, there’s always the chance that someone else is doing worse

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