Bethel, Sherman residents compete on History Channel’s ‘Forged in Fire’
Rick Rabjohn and Dave Parthemore had never made a flamberge rapier — a curved sword popular hundreds of years ago — until they had to forge one in five days in front of television cameras.
The Fairfield County residents were two of 16 contestants on a recent tournament on History Channel’s “Forged in Fire,” a show that pits bladesmiths against each other.
“I didn’t prepare for the thought of even winning,” said Parthemore, who has lived in Sherman for 17 years. “The rush that came on me, it was quite overwhelming. To stand alone out of 16 very talented smiths from all over the country, was a pretty awesome feeling.”
The contestants were split into four groups: farriers, armorers, blacksmiths and modern metal workers. Rabjohn and Parthemore were in the latter group.
They beat two other metal workers in the studio in Stamford, where they had to create and put a handle on a blade.
Then, they returned home to forge a fully-functioning flamberge rapier in five days, a project Rabjohn, of Bethel, said would normally take two weeks.
He said the sword was so long — about four feet — that he had to turn the gas forge sideways and feed the blade in and out of the fire.
“You’re constantly problem solving, so you do have to be fast on your feet and think about ‘OK, how am I going to fix this?’” said Rabjohn.
Cameras followed them for 10 hours each day, but both said they didn’t mind.
“They were just background, like a tree or gravel in a driveway,” Parthemore said. “I was so focused on the task at hand that everything else just melted away.”
For Rabjohn, being in front of a camera is second nature. He posts videos about his metalworking projects on YouTube, which is how the History Channel discovered him.
Back in the studio, the show tested the blades, by stabbing a giant pig carcass, beating it against a fake armored soldier and slicing a large duffle bag filled with rice.
Both swords passed the tests, but Rabjohn said the judges thought Parthemore’s was easier to handle.
In the tournament’s finale, Parthemore created a Japanese blade called a wakizashi in the studio, earning him a spot in the top two.
He then returned to Sherman to recreate one of the largest Japanese swords, the nodachi, narrowly beating his California competitor. Parthemore’s blade was slightly stronger and had a better handle, he said.
“It was a very, very tight competition,” Parthemore said. “It came down to the smallest of details.”
Parthemore started welding in 1982, a couple years after getting out of the Marine Corp, and now makes bits and spurs for horses.
Before the tournament, he had never created a sword and had only made a few knives.
“But with the skill set I have, I’m always moving metals in directions and shapes,” Parthemore said. “A blade is just another shape.”
Rabjohn has fewer years of experience, but making knives and similar items has become his specialty.
In 2015, he built his own coal forge and — through online tutorials — taught himself how to make knives, axes and more. He has since built a gas forge, a power hammer and a forge press he decorated based on the movie “Kong: Skull Island.”
He has an Etsy shop where he sells his products and continues to post videos on his channel, to teach others. He has befriended fellow blacksmiths, and they send each other material and advice.
“I’m not doing this for money,” he said. “I’m doing this for fun, but also because I’ve learned a lot from YouTube.”
Even though $50,000 was on the line, Rabjohn said he didn’t walk into the tournament with a competitive attitude that others who needed the money to start a business might have.
“I was retired, so I didn’t have that pressure,” said Rabjohn, who had been a vice president in human resources at IBM. “I was there for fun and to meet all the other guys, which was fun because not a lot of people do this.”
Parthemore, who said he plans to use the winnings to purchase equipment, held a viewing party with family and friends on Wednesday night. He had only told his wife, son and other close family that he had won, so they had to keep “poker faces” throughout the night until he was announced the winner.
“I couldn’t hear a thing,” Parthemore said. “Everyone was screaming. There was just this huge roar of delight.”