A paramedic had just taken the blood pressure of Scott Sweder, who was standing with three other blacksmiths, waiting to begin the competition.
Sweder wasn’t enduring a medical emergency; it’s protocol for the medics to check everyone’s vitals. The contestants were about to endure a very hot and physically taxing three hours, during which they would stand over a 2,000-degree fire and forge a knife in that timeframe.
“I was very, very nervous,” Sweder said. “I have a tendency when I get worked up over something … I couldn’t even really talk.”
Last year, Sweder was selected to appear on the History channel’s reality TV show, Forged in Fire. Sweder’s episode, The Sword in the Stone, will premiere on the History channel on Wednesday, Jan. 8 and can be streamed at history.com.
The knife-making competition consists of four rounds where winners battle to win $10,000. With three judges watching over the three blacksmiths, the pressure is on. That was one of the reasons the 51-year-old blacksmith from Columbia Falls wanted to be on the show.
“I wanted to go on the show just to test myself, to see if I could do it,” Sweder said.
With 20 years of experience, Sweder was the oldest contestant, competing against blacksmiths ranging from 18 years old to 40s.
“I was the old man,” he said.
While he’s forbidden by contracts to divulge much information about his experience until it airs, he says it was better than he expected it to be.
“I filmed it in August and I couldn’t even tell people I was on the show until this week,” Sweder said.
Since returning home from the show, he has resumed his normal routine, transforming steel into art at his shop in Columbia Falls. He runs his business, Iron Bear Knife and Forge, out of his home’s one-and-a-half-car garage, where he makes furniture, railings, knives and even swords.
Furniture is among Sweder’s top sellers, and he gets a lot of business from contract work with Vinoture, a furniture company based in Kalispell. He also installs railing in homes, but he says he’s trying to transition into forging more knives because they’re easier to deal with as he ages. The show inspired him to do even more knife making, he said.
Damascus, or the forged layers of patterns, is Sweder’s favorite part of creating knives, and he makes his own patterns.
“Damascus causes the patterns,” he said. “You take and stack up different types of steel and you forge weld it together. It’s a whole science onto itself.”
Sweder has forged hundreds of knives since he began his career 20 years ago. He discovered jewelry making when he was in college in Illinois and soon it evolved into blacksmithing. Following college, Sweder worked under a master swordsmith and then a master goldsmith after.
Sweder says since Forged in Fire launched, blacksmithing has become more popular than it was. It remains a relatively small community in the Flathead Valley.
While winter is typically a slow business season, he says he’s abnormally busy. He’s also preparing for knife shows that he attends throughout the year. This spring, he’ll head to the Oregon Knife Show where there will be 300 tables filled with custom knife makers.
For more information on Sweder’s business, visit www.ironbearknifeandforge.com.