Laurel resident John Lockie waded through the History Channel’s “Forged in Fire” during an episode last Wednesday. The program pits blacksmiths across the country against each other for the chance to win $10,000. Competitors are given a set of parameters that must be strictly followed in their construction of a functional edged weapon. The judges evaluate the work of four blacksmiths through a series of tests until only two contestants remain. The two who make it to the end of the regular competition are then sent back to their home forge to recreate an iconic weapon from history, and the smith with the best blade wins a check for $10,000. Forged in Fire is in its ninth season on The History Channel.
John Lockie grew up on a ranch between Miles City and Jordan. Between a high school workshop teacher and a favorite uncle, Lockie learned to weld in a relatively short time. Due to seasonal allergies, Lockie stayed in the ranch shop when it came time to do outdoor work. “I would stay near the store. They would bring me things that needed to be fixed and I would do the repairs as they were done,” says Lockie.
Lockie eventually moved to Laurel and started his own shop, making various items using his welding skills. His interest in blacksmithing was sparked when he was working on a custom welding job and realized he needed to bend a piece of metal. He set up a simple forge to heat metal and discovered a whole new world of possibilities. Using mostly salvaged materials like old saw blades, roller chains and hoof rasps, Lockie can create a wide variety of knife designs.
“Make me a knife, any knife”
“People just want something that I did,” Lockie says. “I get orders where people say just make me a knife, any knife.” Business is good for Double Y Design Metal Works, where Lockie is taking orders for custom projects such as railings, hat racks and large metal signs. When things are busy at the shop, the blacksmith is used to working under time constraints, but “never in that time crunch we had on the show,” Lockie says, “When you’re working for yourself , you just know you gotta get it done.” Lockie says the forging process involves many trips back and forth between the forge and the press, “pressing and consolidating the material until it takes shape.”
Recalling his experience filming the Forged in Fire episode last January, Lockie said, “You can’t walk around the forge,” contestants must meet a very specific set of criteria and aren’t allowed to acclimatize too much to the studio before shooting. Lockie was also a bit disappointed that the production team was working under COVID-19 protocols and that there was little interaction between judges and contestants due to social distancing requirements.
A special event
Lockie’s experience on the show was a bit different from the usual format. Blacksmith Laurel participated in a special event called “Gladiators of the Forge”. This five-part competition was a one-on-one sudden death match, with the potential to win $5,000 for each victory. Bonuses for multiple wins brought the total prize to $75,000. This is the biggest cash prize the show has ever offered, which motivated Lockie as he tried to impress the judges from the start.
“From the time they said leave to when I came out of the forge and walked towards the press, it took eight minutes,” Lockie explains, “the judges had never seen anyone such a fast move.” Lockie faced stiff competition, going up against a competitor who had already beaten four blacksmiths. With the draw of a coin, the two contestants were allowed to choose either the metal used in the challenge or the style of Roman weapon they should build. Lockie’s competitor chose the Pugio dagger as his weapon, and Lockie chose the bicycle chain as his forging material. From there, the two smiths faced off in an eight-hour competition to see who could craft the best dagger. The Pugio dagger is believed to be the weapon used in the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC.
“It’s Gonna Kill”
After a grueling round of forging, the show’s judges conducted their series of brutal tests of strength and sharpness, as well as the popular kill test. The show’s smiths can’t wait to hear ‘it’s gonna kill,’ from judge Doug Marcaida after testing
Forged, Page 11 their weapon on a ballistic gel dummy. Lockie’s time on the show ended when the judges chose the other smith’s blade over his own. It wasn’t an easy decision for the judges, as both guns performed admirably in testing. Regular viewers of the show recognize that the final decision often comes down to intricacies in handle design or weight.
A craftsman from Montana Lockie hopes his appearance on Forged in Fire will bring more customers to his business. He also hopes to be invited back to the show at some point, which might be sooner than he thinks. The show often brings back past contestants who have shown exemplary skill and craftsmanship for “buyout” contests. Lockie says he would absolutely do it again. No redemption is needed for this Laurel blacksmith, as he carries the pride and experience of a true Montana craftsman.