In this latest season of blade and weapons-making reality competition show Forged In Fire, previous champions will be returning to compete against one another in a series of technical challenges.

In the first round, 3 competitors must present the best-ever weapon that they made on their home forges for testing (considering what judge J “the knife destroyer” Neilson does to test blades, we’d be tempted to bring our second-best weapon, though). In the second round, the 2 who make it to the top in round 1 will have 3 days to create the challenge weapon. And the contestant who makes it through both rounds will then have 8 non-stop hours to create a fully functional and finished weapon – competing against one of the show’s judges (who’s chosen by production).

That final challenge is the killer – it’s the Iron Chef, Ninja Warrior round of the show, and it does not disappoint! Along with the sheer pleasure of watching craft masters at work, there are a lot of silly jokes and the camaraderie between the contestants makes the show a pleasure to watch.

The judges to beat

J Neilson: J is probably the most technically qualified of the judges He’s a Mastersmith (an official rank that he achieved in 2008) with over to 20 years of experience, and in his down time from the show, he’s a professional metalworker. To attain his title, J had to pass some familiar sounding tests – like forging a Damascus steel blade made of 300 layers of folded metal and creating 5 different knives to the panel of Mastersmith judges. J has the most hands-on knowledge of metalworking in a forge environment, so if anything goes wrong, he probably knows the way out of it. “Mean judge” J has always been the first to turn up his nose at contestants with shoddy, showy forge techniques. "They didn't hire me for my comic timing. If people think I'm mean, it's because I'm the technical guy," says J. Like judge David Baker, J tests the challenges (especially knife challenges) to make sure that they’re achievable within the time constraints of the show.

David Baker: David is a self-taught Hollywood prop maker who’s created museum-quality weapons replicas. In his spare time, he researches forging techniques and visits museums to study original historic weapons in every detail. He’s the one who runs the tests of the challenges before each season to make sure that they’re actually achievable by the contestants, and he usually makes the demo and example weapons for the show. So, while he is meticulous about detail, he’s also clued up about the time constraints, and as a prop maker, he’s often had to turn out weapons in 24 hours, where the contestants get 5 days. David might have the broadest knowledge of weapons’ use, history and manufacture out of the 3 judges, and he’s seen many of the world’s best examples of those weapons in person, so it’ll be hard to beat him on aesthetics. “It’s always been a passion. If I could wear a sword every day I would,” says David.

Ben Abbott: Ben won Forged In Fire twice himself as a contestant before stepping up to become a judge. He’s been a metalworker since he was 13 years old. Off the show, Ben works at Caltech (The California Institute Of Technology) as an electronics engineer on projects like LIGO (The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory). Beat The Judges will see him bring his lab style preparedness and meticulousness to the forge, along with a jaw-dropping ability to multitask as he works on several weapon elements simultaneously. As he works, Ben explains his processes, which makes his episodes worth watching even if you’re not into the competition element of the show. “I picked up knowledge bit by bit, until the internet was invented, then I started drinking from a fire hose! I've watched tons of YouTube vids, emailed masters, and looked at innumerable pictures of other people’s craft,” says Ben. “Seeing someone else do something, of course, does not a master make. It sure does speed the process up, however! Finding information on some of the more esoteric processes involved in metalworking is now vastly easier than they used to be.”

Where are the weapons?

Ever wondered what happens to the weapons created on the show? The runners-up get their blades back from production once the season has aired in its entirety. “As a symbol of our gratitude and out of respect for the amount of work put into the weapon, we return it to the creator,” says a History Channel spokesperson. According to the spokesperson, though, the winners don’t get their blades back. “The winning weapon is vaulted and used for display on our ‘winners wall’ and in various other places.”

Watch Forged In Fire: Beat The Judges S1 on Mondays on History (DStv 186) at 21:10. Note that episodes are screening out of order. 

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