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Left to right - Doug Marcaida, J. Neilson, Wil Willis, David Baker.
Bladesmiths, welcome to the Forge.
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Forged In Fire is a reality show about the art of bladesmithing, hosted by Wil Willis. In each episode, four smiths compete to win $10,000 by forging bladed weapons in a three-round contest.

The first two rounds normally take place in "The Forge," a studio stocked with a wide range of metalworking tools and equipment, sometimes the show will mix it up by having one or both of them take place in an alternative location such as a scrapyard. For the first round, the smiths are given some type of steel and must use it to make a blade in a style of their choosing. The type of steel can vary from a standard block, to a choice of scrap metal objects, to material salvaged from a junked car or lawnmower, to rejected blades from previous episodes. Wil issues a set of specifications for the blade length, and sometimes gives an extra challenge (add things like serrations or a fuller, use a specific technique, and so on). The bladesmiths are given three hours (four if the extra challenge is particularly difficult) to forge their blades and deal with anything that goes wrong. Medics are on hand to treat any injuries or other health problems (usually caused by the intense heat) and may disqualify any smiths they feel are unable to continue safely.

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When the time is up, they present their blades to a panel of three judges who evaluate the craftsmanship/quality and point out any flaws or defects. Wil does not take part in the judging, but sometimes offers insights based on his service as a US Army Ranger in order to give the judges a different perspective on the blades. The person who handed in the worst blade (or a blade that didn't meet the specifications) is eliminated from the competition, and must turn in his/her weapon and leave the Forge.

In the second round, the three remaining smiths are given another three hours to turn their blades into fully functional weapons, by attaching handles, grinding/sharpening/polishing, and cleaning up any problems noted by the judges in the first round. The judges then put the weapons through tests to gauge properties such as sharpness, durability, and ease of use, by chopping/slashing/stabbing objects that include logs, ropes, animal carcasses, and steel car doors. As before, the smith whose weapon is judged the least satisfactory has to turn it in and leave.

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For the final round, the two remaining smiths are shown a historically significant weapon and have five days to create their own versions of it, working at their home forges. They then bring their weapons back to the Forge for testing against objects and conditions that resemble the situations in which they were typically used. The loser turns in his weapon, and the winner is named as the day's champion and receives the $10,000 prize.

Judges:

  • J. Neilson: Master Smith within the American Bladesmith Society. Replaced by Jason Knight (another ABS Master Smith) during a medical leave for hand surgery during parts of Seasons 3 and 4.
  • Ben Abbott: Two-time Forged in Fire champion. Replaces Neilson for some episodes as of the end of Season 4.
  • David Baker: Swordsmith and expert in fabricating replicas of rare weapons.
  • Doug Marcaida: Kali martial artist and edged-weapon specialist.

The show is currently in its sixth season, which premiered in February 2019.

2018 also launched a spin off show, Forged in Fire: Knife or Death, which is about wielding blades rather than making them. In this show, contestants pit themselves and a single blade against two courses of targets that must be cut, chopped through or destroyed with the weapon. The show test both the weapons' strength and durability as well as the contestants' skill, strength and endurance. The winner of each episode advances to the season finale, with a $20,000 cash prize at stake.

Troped in Fire

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     Forged in Fire 
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: In one episode, the contestants are instructed to create Fully Functional Friction Folding knives.
  • All or Nothing:
    • Quenching in water instead of oil. It confers greater hardness to the blade when it works, but it's much more likely to cause the blade to warp, crack, or even shatter.
    • Only the day's winner receives any prize money; the three eliminated smiths leave with nothing.
    • Only the winner of the Knife or Death season finale wins any money.
  • All Swords Are the Same: Averted. When the example weapon in the final round is a sword, Wil makes sure to explain the way in which it was used: katanas for slashing and quick draw, crusader swords for piercing armor, khandas for hooking around enemy shields, etc.
  • An Axe to Grind: Final-round weapon challenges have included a Viking battleaxe and a tabar (double-headed axe with a spike). One episode in Season 3 required the contestants to make hatchets in the first round. Season 4 ended with a pair of Viking axes.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Ben Abbott, a two time winner on the show, became a judge at the end of season 4.
  • Badass Beard: Many of the contestants have very nice beards. J. Neilson, Jason Knight, David Baker, and Doug Marcaida also have beards. In his earlier appearances Ben Abbott was clean shaven, but he also started rocking a beard in later episodes.
  • Badass Mustache: David Baker.
  • BFS: The Scottish claymore. Both of the people making it said that it was the biggest blade they'd ever forged. It was brought back for the first Champions Edition episode, and again, it was the largest weapon either had made. The massive size of the weapon is a consistent problem for the smiths, as most don't have equipment large enough to properly heat treat it, forcing some improvisation and resulting in three of the four claymores made across the two challenges bending or breaking.
    • Later on, the Zweihander gets the same comments. Wil, in his explanation of the sword's history, notes that it could only be wielded effectively by the strongest soldiers and was used to break up pike formations.
  • Blade on a Stick: One challenge was to make a naginata, a traditional Japanese pole-arm. Another challenge was making a Zulu short spear.
  • Call-Back: Some of the losing weapons from previous episodes are hung up on the wall. There's a katana, a chakram, a katar, and a Roman gladius, among others.
    • In the first round of one Season 2 episode, each smith had to choose a blade that failed the first round in Season 1 and re-forge it.
    • The first Champions Edition episode asked the finalists to make claymores after the claymore had proven to be the most difficult weapon to forge among all final challenges, and the difficulties and failures the previous smiths had faced are noted. Rounding it off, the pig carcass slice that had proven ruinous to both prior claymores is brought back, and again proves decisive in determining a winner.
    • The exact tests the blades are subjected to often reference the source of the materials used in it's construction earlier - for example when blades were made from steel harvested from motorcycles, the tests were batoning the blades into motorcycle handlebars to test their strength and slicing motorcycle seats to test their sharpness.
    • Every round in the 100th episode. In Round 1, the smiths were offered a smorgasbord of starting materials that had been used in all 99 previous episodes. One of the challenges in Round 2 was a rope slice, which had been used in the series premiere, but with the ropes set on fire this time. And in Round 3, the last two smiths were asked to forge a longer version of the katana that was assigned in the premiere.
  • Catch-Phrase: Doug Marcaida: "It will cut/kill" (or some variation thereof) after a weapon has performed well in the tests.
    • Borrowed Catchphrase: After David Baker performs a kill test, he uses it. A couple of the contestants also borrow it.
  • Cool Sword: Contestants make a lot of them.
  • Determinator: Many of the contestants keep powering through the tests even after severe setbacks. One guy even manages to work through severe pain caused by arthritis. A few other contestants get overheated from the high forge temperatures and must step aside until they recover, but they still finish their tasks.
    • In the "Knights Templar" episode of Season 4, one smith's dagger completely broke in half during the second round. He welded the pieces back together and managed to turn in a finished blade before time ran out, and it did well enough in the tests to get him into the final round.
    • In the second champion of champions episode in Season 4, Neil Kamimura was unable to get get his metal to properly forge weld and so abandoned it to forge a new canister damascus billet with 32 minutes remaining in the first round. In 1/6th of the time and using 1/3rd of the metal the other contestants were using, he pulled it off and it into the final round.
  • Do Not Try This at Home: The perils of an untrained person attempting to forge a blade were graphically shown when someone inspired by the show decided to try forging some metal over a barrel fire in 30mph winds in New York State. Burning embers started a fire that eventually ended up destroying several buildings and causing millions of dollars in damage. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt but they were charged with reckless endangerment and accidental arson and were sentenced to a year in jail. Following this incident the show added a Do Not Attempt bumper at the start of every episode.
  • Doctor's Orders: The on set medics can, and occasionally have, medically disqualify a contestant if they feel they are unable to continue safely. On at least one occasion a contestant was taken off set by paramedics to hospital after showing symptoms of a possible serious cardiac event, though they made a full recovery.
  • Doing It for the Art: In-Universe. The reason many of the contestants are bladesmiths is because it's their form of art.
  • Drop the Hammer: One third-round challenge was making a war hammer.
    • One first-round challenge required the smiths to forge their own hammers and use them to make the blades.
  • Dual Wielding: One challenge was making a twin pair of butterfly swords that were then dual wielded in various tests. Others have included pairs of "deer horn" knives and push knives. You also have the paired Viking axes in Season 4.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: In earlier seasons, the judging for the first two rounds involved the judges and smiths going into separate rooms; while the judges deliberated, the smiths would be able to see but not hear them. Later seasons cut this part out and only show the judges evaluating the blades in front of the smiths on the forge floor.
  • Eliminated from the Race: How contestants leave the show.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: Host Wil Willis is a former US Army Ranger and US Air Force Pararescueman. That's right, this is one of the guys who goes in and rescues other injured Special Forces operatives.
  • Enforced Plug: A stretch of season 5 episodes contain plugs for the mobile game DomiNations during the introduction of the final round, as the app was featuring tie-in challenges and unlocks related to the weapons featured in said episode.
  • Epic Fail: Every so often, something goes horribly wrong.
    • In the Scottish claymore episode, both finalists' blades had serious problems- one bent during the kill test and the other shattered. The one that bent ended up winning because the bladesmith who made it was able to straighten it out enough to perform the next test.
    • The Massasi Lion Spear episode had a parade of them. First, the smiths were asked to make a hatchet head. Two of the four failed to make their hatchet heads meet length requirements. The one who was sent home not only failed to make parameters, but had a head that was far too brittle and thin to be usable. The second round, the smith who made his hatchet head too short fixed that issue, only to make his handle too long and get sent home (earning a comment from Wil that he has the dubious distinction of being the only contender who failed both parameters). The two remaining contenders forged their spears, but the third contestant's blade had a catastrophic failure, snapping in half on the second strike of the kill test.
    • One contestant in the Sawback Hunting Sword episode had numerous instances of this; he didn't address the issues the judges brought up with the delaminations in his blade as well as adding some mass, and because it was so lean, he intentionally left the blade blunt to help it survive the strength test (an antler chop). Well, not only did his blade take damage from the strength test due to the delaminations, but it absolutely failed the cut test when it didn't even scour the meat. If you squinted you could maybe see the shallow tracks it left behind. While the other two contestants' blades also took edge damage, they could still cut, and he was sent home.
  • Every Japanese Sword Is a Katana: Averted. Contestants have made several non-katana Japanese blades. One of the contestants in the first episode made a tanto.
  • Exact Words: Usually, the blade made for the first round is a knife, but after a contestant suffered a setback and didn't have time to make a knife, he made an ax blade instead.
    • One Season 4 episode required the smiths to harvest the steel for their blades from a chunk of elevator cable in Round 1. When one of them ran into trouble using the cable strands alone, he decided to use it in a damascus steel billet instead. The judges let him proceed because they hadn't specified how the smiths were supposed to work with the cable.
  • Finagle's Law: Pretty much everything that can go wrong making a blade has happened to a contestant at some point: injury, heat exhaustion, failed welds, cracked/broken blades, and so on. Fortunately it hasn't all happened to the same bladesmith.
  • Funny Background Event: In the "Kachin Dao" episode, while Doug Marcaida is explaining why he won't test a defective, potentially dangerous weapon, the head of the ballistic gel dummy that had been almost beheaded before finally falls off and rolls a little towards Marcaida's feet. Even the contestant whose Kachin Dao was being rejected can't help to look at it for a second.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Happens all the time with the contestants' efforts. There's a reason the Know When to Fold 'Em trope is on this page.
  • Graceful Loser: The eliminated contestants, while disappointed, accept the judges' decision and understand why they made it.
  • Guest-Star Party Member: Season 3 and the first half of Season 4 feature judge Jason Knight, filling in for J. Neilson while he recovered from hand surgery.
    • At the end of Season 4, two-time champ Ben Abbott takes Neilson's seat on the panel for some episodes.
    • When Doug Marcaida can't test weapons himself due to injury, a co-worker or family member fills in for him. Doug still offers commentary on the weapons' design and balance, though.
  • Halloween Episode: Season 5 had a horror-themed episode where the first few rounds involved making Slasher Movie knives and the "historical" weapon was the Grim Reaper's scythe. Funnily, it missed Halloween for some reason and aired a week later.
  • Handicapped Badass: Season 2 contestant "One-Chop" Shayne Carter (appears in the Butterfly Swords episode, where eventual final rival Andy Alm gave him the nickname) is colorblind, and when he does quenches he has to go by instinct rather than eye the heat glow. He ends up winning the episode.
    • Earlier on, one contestant's arthritis didn't prevent him from doing his best.
    • Matt, the very first Forged in Fire Champion, has asthma.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Sometimes smiths injure themselves using the equipment. Luckily it's usually no worse than small cuts from the grinders, and there are medics on hand just in case.
  • Home Field Advantage: Invoked. The two finalists return to their home forge for the final challenge for this reason. Inverted in cases where the final weapon is of unusual size or shape and the smiths' home equipment isn't geared to handle it, forcing them to improvise.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Wil, Dave, and Doug are prone to making puns, sometimes trying to one-up each other, much to J.'s dismay.
  • Incendiary Exponent: The smiths' blades tend to catch fire quite a bit during the forging process, especially when quenched in a barrel of oil.
  • Knife Nut: The most common blades made for the first and second challenges are knives, because they fit the size parameters and are the simplest to make with the resources usually given. Most of the bladesmiths also make knives in their day-to-day work. A few Round 1 challenges require the smiths to make a specific type of knife.
    • Deliberately subverted in a Season 3 episode that required the smiths to forge hatchets in Round 1, and again in Season 4 when the smiths are required to forge cleavers.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: A very important trait and one most of the contestants possess. When the making of one of their blades has gone horribly wrong, they abandon the effort and start over.
  • Kukris Are Kool: Several contestants create a kukri as their blade for the first two challenges, and one episode's final challenge was to make a kukri.
  • Luck-Based Mission: In season 1, the bladesmiths were not told the tests their blades would undergo if they got through to round 2 meaning that a bladesmith who was lucky enough to choose a blade shape or type particularly suited to the test would have an advantage. Averted from season 2 onwards as the bladesmiths were either told what tests their blades would undergo at the end of round 2, allowing them to choose a design suited to them or they were all tasked to make the same type of weapon negating the possibility of an unfair advantage.
  • Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: One of the challenges was to make a spiked shield, and they shot arrows from a crossbow at it to test its strength. Unsurprisingly, it was Ilya Alekseyev of Man at Arms fame that won that match. Shields are also sometimes used as targets for strength tests.
  • MacGyvering: Many challenges involve using unusual sources and materials to make blades such as chainsaws, lawnmowers and car parts.
  • Martial Pacifist: Doug Marcaida is a very skilled practitioner of the Filipino martial art Kali but, as this quote from his website clearly shows, follows this philosophy.
    "It's not how many you can hurt, it's how many you can protect."
    • Also his "it will kill" catchphrase is actually "it will keal" which is an acronym for Keep Everyone ALive.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": The judges when a contestant quenches his blade in water instead of oil. Water makes the blade harder, but carries a much higher chance of cracking or even breaking the blade. More generally this can happen whenever a contestant does something risky or wrong that can damage or destroy their work such as quenching at the wrong temperature, hammering steel which is too cold, trying to straighten warps by bending the blade in a vise etc.
  • Mr. Exposition: The judges often explain exactly what the contestants are doing and what they're trying to achieve for the non-bladesmithing audience.
  • Only Sane Man: The show is almost unique amongst these type of reality competition shows by eschewing the normal paradigm of playing up interpersonal conflicts between contestants. The contestants show respect for each other, camaraderie is common and often co-operate if an initial task requires more than one person to perform efficiently, for example harvesting leaf springs from a car. On occasion a contestant has shown exceptional sportsmanship and fair play by pointing out something obviously wrong with another contestants setup, for example one contestant showed another who’d never even seen, much less used, a coal forge how to open up the vent to allow air to flow through the forge so it would work correctly.
  • A Rare Sentence: The episode where the first challenge was to salvage steel from a lawnmower gives us this gem, which makes all the judges start laughing:
    Wil Willis: Grab a lawnmower, your three-hour forging period starts... now!
  • Read the Freaking Manual: Several times, excellent smiths end up writing themselves out of the competition by forgetting minimum/maximum blade lengths or other requirements stated clearly at the start of the competition. They can apparently use presses, welders, and forges but not rulers?
  • Recycled In Space: Invoked: one of the show's creators explained that he got the idea for it after his daughter forced him to watch cooking shows. The concept of a weapon-making competition was combined with another producer's pitch for a similar show (described as being Project Runway with guns); the similarities in the overall format to Food Network competitive fare such as Chopped is readily evident.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Several contestants, most notably Ryu from the Viking battleaxe episode, have managed to win despite a severe disadvantage in tools.
  • Royal Rapier: Rapiers were the final challenge of one episode.
  • Shout-Out: When Wil Willis explains the history and use of the blade the final two contestants will be making, he includes the places it's turned up in popular culture.
    • In the first episode, the katana is mentioned as the weapon of the Bride in Kill Bill.
    • In the second episode, a modified chakram (intended as a melee weapon instead of a throwing weapon) is mentioned as the weapon of choice of Xena: Warrior Princess.
    • The Hook Sword is mentioned as having been featured in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
    • Aside from that, J. during the Fan Favorites episode mentions that he would like the final challenge in the series to be a lightsaber. The rest of the cast cracked up.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Most contestants are male, but there have been quite a few female bladesmiths competing:
    • Kelly Potter was the first female competitor in the show, Eliminated from the Race in the second round of the Nepalese Kukri episode. She was brought back as a fan favorite but got eliminated in round two again.
    • Kelly Vermeer-Vella appeared in the Falcata episode, becoming the first chick champion after her final round rival was eliminated due to a dangerous hook in his handle. She returned to battle champions in the T'ai Chi Sword episode but then suffered the same fate there as the other Kelly.
    • Rashelle Hams (Katzbalger episode) also was eliminated in the second round due to her blade's tip breaking off. Seems to be a curse with the women here...
    • The Chinese Dao team challenge featured all-girl duo Raleigh Desiato and Kelly Gregory, who were also eliminated after the second round, and Jessica Collins who was half of the duo that won the episode.
  • Sound Effects Bleep: Any swearing on the show (which is rather common when something's gone horribly wrong with the forging process) is bleeped out.
  • Suddenly Significant Rule: As the name suggests, Forged In Fire is a forging competition, and all blades produced must have been forged (that is, shaped using heat and force/pressure). Since forging is the most common way of getting metal into the shape you want it to be and most of the metals needed to be forged to make a proper blade in the first place, the rule was mostly background info until a contestant looking to save time decided to grind the lawnmower blade he was using into shape, instead of forging it. This resulted in his blade being disqualified.
  • Swords: Swords are a very common final challenge for the bladesmiths. Some of the swords made:
    • Katana
    • Moro Kris
    • Roman Gladius
    • Crusader Sword
    • Elizabethan Rapier
    • Egyptian Khopesh
    • Scottish Claymore (twice!)
    • Viking Sword
    • Shotel
    • Cutlass
    • Khanda
    • Hook Sword
    • Butterfly Sword
    • Zweihander
    • Ngombe Ngulu
    • Shamshir
  • Team Spirit: Two episodes have had teams competing, one of which was of masters and apprentices.
  • There Can Be Only One: As Wil Willis often points out, only one bladesmith can become a champion in each episode. So far this rule has held - there have been no draws or double eliminations to date. Even if two or more smiths turn in weapons that fail in testing or don't meet the specs, the judges will only eliminate the smith who made the biggest screw-up.
  • Timed Mission: All of the rounds. The first two rounds are three hours each (though the first round can be raised to four hours if there's a big enough challenge), and the third round is five days.
  • Wrecked Weapon: A few blades have snapped in half or had their tips or handles break during testing. This almost always ends up being defined as a "catastrophic failure," enough to disqualify its maker on the spot.

    Knife or Death 
  • Eliminated from the Race: Only two people who completed Knife Fight in the fastest times (including penalties) will make it to Dead Run.
  • Flawless Victory: A few have gotten through Knife Fight without incurring a single penalty. Interestingly, the first to do it was Forged in Fire champion Josh Weston. However, it isn't the ultimate victory.
  • I Can Still Fight!: Downplayed when Jhoanna Trias, a 43-year-old 95-pound Filipino martial artist armed with a ginunting, was barely able to finish the first obstacle alone and despite her best efforts to keep going through the second, she was asked to stop lest she get more fatigued.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: The show's title.
    • "All the Barong Moves" (Season 1 Episode 2).
  • Knife Nut: Broadly, it's either knife or sword but the competition chopper is preferred by most contestants. Several have even forged their weapons themselves.
    • Special mention goes to Jason Johnson, professional knife thrower who made it to the season finale's Dead Run.
  • Rival Final Boss: Big Chris and Dwayne Unger have long been rivals in knife competitions and between the two, Chris always had the upper hand. As if by fate, Episode 4 has both of these two reaching Dead Run. Dwayne wins.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Every roster of contestants so far has featured one female competitor and so far only one woman has completed Knife Fight, but not fast enough to make it to Dead Run.
  • Sudden Death: The Knife Fight round has Lifeline, where you have to cut three objects in half (fish, chicken, and a tube filled with sand) with one strike apiece, or else your run ends immediately.
  • Swords: Some contestants use some variant of a sword as their weapon of choice.
    • BFS: Michael Allenson's Oakeshott longsword helped him secure a spot in the season finale and then the $20,000 win. Guess size does matter.
  • Wrecked Weapon: Common due to the extreme abuse the weapons take during the course. However the contestant can continue even after a breakage as long as the weapon is still effective and safe to use.
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