Doug Marcaida and J. Neilson: Forged in Fire season 8 interview
Forged in Fire returns with a new series and a new presenter in Grady Powell who replaces Will Willis.
While the host has changed, edged weapon combat specialist Doug Marcaida and Mastersmith J. Neilson return to put the bladesmiths through their paces. Sky HISTORY spoke to the judges about what we can expect from the new series via Zoom.
Sky HISTORY: What should fans be most excited about in season 8?
J. Neilson: I say, Doug.
Doug Marcaida: We're trying to do things differently and making some of the testing a little bit different. We're always trying to go bigger and better. That's what I love about the show. And the new host of course.
J, can you tell us about your legendary strength tests.
J. Neilson: The reason that I'm on the show is that I have been doing this same kind of testing on my own for years.
Even knives that I forged and quenched that had a crack or another issue, I wouldn't just throw it in a bucket and ignore. I would take it and beat the hell out of it. And that's why I'm not super sympathetic with the contestants. I appreciate all the work they put into them but I do this for my own knives. I'm not holding back.
Doug Marcaida: This is a competition show, and we have a judge over here that is a Master Smith. The standard of testing is going to be at that high level. So, don't come to the show simply to make a knife. Contestants better come up with the best knife they've ever forged because otherwise J. is just going to look at it and it'll break
J. Neilson: Don't make a blade to pass, make it exceptional make it go beyond that.
Everyone thinks my favourite part of the show is the strength test, it's not. No, my favourite part is the first 15-20 minutes of round one because I know what I would do in that amount of time. Here's a table full of metal, go make it work. I love that.
I can figure out what their plan is and whether it's going to work or not. And sometimes I get fooled, sometimes I think it’s not going to work but it does. That's one of the things I love about the craft is you're always learning.
What are your favourite blades in the new season?
Doug Marcaida: We had a William Wallace sword. That was the biggest sword I’ve ever had to wield. That stood out because of the length and the size of the blade. Another interesting blade was the Vajra-Mushti. It's got a knuckle duster, and a blade pointing forward and a blade pointing back. It's like the back scratcher from hell. That's why I look at some of these blades and think this must be a ceremonial blade because no one's going bring this to combat first of all how do you even sheath it?
Another one is the Maguro Bocho which is a very sharp knife, made for cutting tuna. It was sharpened and easy to wield. Those three blades were the ones I was most excited about in season 8.
Doug, how do you go about practising with a new blade like the William Wallace sword?
Doug Marcaida: Carefully...We have a hero blade I practice with so I can work out what kind of damage it will do. It's very important that we test them out beforehand so we know what to expect from the contestant's blades in the show.
What period is the best era for weapon-making?
J. Neilson: Now. I'm just stunned all the time, what comes up and what people make on the show. We put them through knife-making hell and send them home for 4 days and they bring back amazing things. What someone can produce in such a short amount of time just stuns me. The fact that we were able to be a part of that and part of the inspiration, is humbling.
Doug Marcaida: I prefer the 16th century period when blade making was part of alchemy. I'm a student of blades that have a soul. There is a mysticism that comes with blade-making and wonderment and magic as well.
I'm a big fan of trying to find out how these swords were made and who made them because the bladesmiths and the blacksmith of those days were magicians. As a martial artist that's the way, I tend to look at things. Whereas I am not a forger I'm the end-user.
Doug, can you tell us about your favourite weapons test?
Doug Marcaida: The most memorable test was when I first decapitated the ballistic dummy and saw the head fall down. Wow, that was fun. Who gets to do with this, for a living?! I would do this for free.
After 174 episodes now and how many weapons tests we’ve done I do have a sense about what different grinds of a blade will accomplish: what chops well, what slices well, what thrusts well.
What makes a really powerful blade?
Doug Marcaida: It's got to be forward heavy, because the weight, and the width, help with the follow-through behind what you got to drive behind the edge
J. Neilson: You don't need a boat anchor to have a strong blade. And we've seen so many times where something is ground geometrically right and is light but can tear things apart, much better than a heavy metal weapon.
Has a weapons test has gone wrong?
Doug Marcaida: There was one time where it exploded in my hand because it was not tempered properly,
J. Neilson: There was one episode in the early season, with two finalists. One blade wrapped around the pig and the other one exploded into several pieces.
Doug Marcaida: It was a claymore. He had already said, ‘I'm not sure about my tempering, it's not very hard cutting. So, when I went to slice the carcass, sure enough, it didn't cut, it bent and I'm left holding a sword that is bent up at an angle.
I looked at the next guy and asked, ‘It's your turn, is this going to cut?’ He said ‘Oh yeah it's going to cut,’ and I took a swing and it exploded into four pieces.
What mistakes do experienced bladesmiths make?
J. Neilson: The biggest thing is patience. Though my wife will tell everybody that I have no patience. Forged in Fire is a time competition. Everybody gets really rushed, and they feel super hyper that they have to get everything done. Sometimes you just need to slow down, take a breath, let your steel heat.
Doug can attest to this as well, we've seen so many blades fail because they don't let the steel heat up in the forge to the right temperature. Then they start beating on cold steel which causes stress fractures in the steel.
You have a bit of patience. You forge as a relaxation from the stress in your life. Don't put stress on the steel. Slow down, take a breath. Let your steel heat
Do you think you've encouraged people to take on Forging as a hobby?
Doug Marcaida: Without a doubt. We're in season 8 not and a lot of our contestants are people who started forging as a hobby and they are now competing. We've created our own Forged in Fire contestants.
Watch Forged in Fire season 8 Thursdays at 9pm.