Round 2 Testing
I knew my heat treat had gone well in round one and I felt pretty sure that a properly heat treated blade made from new 5160 steel should be able to withstand a fair amount of hard abuse. I also knew that since J. Neilsen had recovered from his hand surgery the previous season, he was likely going to be giving it his all during the strength testing. As a matter of fact, when we walked onto the set for the test portion, our 'Contestant Wrangler' told us, "J has been especially hard on knives this season, he's vicious." We all knew that in some way, we were in for a rough test.
We walked in and were told to stand on our marks. As we made our way across the set we caught the first glimpses of the strength test. I could clearly see the table and some devices on top but I couldn't quite make out what was there. As we waited I began to make out what looked like pieces of steel rod and I wondered just how they were going to be used to inflict damage on our blades. All 3 judges and Wil Willis are standing directly opposite us on the far side as we wait for the cameras to begin rolling. Wil introduces J for the strength test and J takes a couple of steps forward, produces a bat from behind his bat and dons an evil grin. Immediately, I knew what was coming. A baton test. Typically, hard-use knives face similar tests in the wild quite often when used to baton logs for firewood but these weren't logs, they were industrial grade bolts. I was just hoping that my knife would be up to the task when J asked if I was ready to go first. Even with all my prep, I wasn't. J stood over the bolt, swung the bat in a circle in his right hand and placed my knife blade edge down before delivering three HARD hits on the back of the blade. In the studio you could hear him grunt with each swing, there was absolutely no holding back. Bits of bat flew and I held my breath to see what the knife would look like. There were slight edge deformations but they weren't serious rolls, no chips either. (Later, when I was able to inspect the blade, the edge 'rolls' weren't bad at all, one pass on a belt and it would have been ready to shave hair again. I was really pleased with how it held up under such an extreme test. I'd used a copper pin in order to 'spread' the pin out in the slightly oversized pivot hole and while that helped me with friction, I think the soft copper allowed the blade to shift just slightly during the test. The blade still opened and closed correctly but there was definite resistance now when opening fully. All in all, my blade made it through still fully functional, and sharp.
Watching J perform the same tests on Bob and John's blades was still nerve-wracking but somewhat less so since I knew my blade had survived. Bob's handle came apart but his blade held up very well. Bob's knife probably would have fared better than any of ours had he added a reinforcing pin at the bottom of his handle, but as he said, "Well, in the heat of the battle you just kinda forget things." John's blade took a bit more edge damage than ours, perhaps it was overheated a bit and had a larger grain structure. All in all, I think we were all pleased to know that all three blades would survive and make it to Doug's testing stage.
Next up, the sharpness test. Doug stands before us and asks if I'm ready. I was SO ready, this was one thing I was really excited for, to hear Doug say "IT WILL CUT." Watching him cut into the ham was pretty satisfying but I REALLY wanted that ham to get cut completely in half, it was just hanging by a flap of meat. All three of our blades made good cuts into the meat and again, we were all happy to see that none of us were disqualified early from a catastrophic failure in the strength test. I think every bladesmith that makes it to Forged in Fire wants to see their first round blades fully tested and to know that if they went home, it was only after a thorough testing and evaluation.
Coming up - Deliberation and Judgment