Above, Shawn Ellis hands out souvenir bracelets at the watch party.
Shawn Ellis’s secret is out. He’s a Forged in Fire Champion – winner of The Kachin Dao knife making challenge which aired on the History Channel Aug. 1.
A full-time knife maker for the past two years, Ellis participated in the network’s original competition series in the spring, and was required to keep the results confidential until the episode aired.
Each show brings four bladesmiths together to put their skill and reputations on the line to create history’s most iconic edged weapons, trying to avoid elimination and win the $10,000 prize.
Encouraged by his mentor, Jim Crowell, to enter, Shawn was accepted for the competition along with knife makers Chad Boseman and Buster Grubbs, both of Georgia, and Rachel Oliver of Michigan. All of them, he discovered, were much less experienced.
Shawn expressed it this way: “I’ve made more mistakes than all of them put together.”
He made few mistakes in the two assigned builds, and he was disappointed that he didn’t get to see his weapons perform fully because those of his opponents failed to measure up.
In the first stage, Boseman was medically disqualified after suffering health issues. The remaining three completed the challenge of forming a basic blade to required specifications with the added challenge of incorporating wrought iron from chain links with the high carbon steel.
The second stage involved attaching a handle with the challenge of incorporating brass from a boat propeller, and sharpening the blade. The blades were to be tested by one of the judges using them to chop through boards of a crate, and then slice through a fish. Shawn had designed and built a bowie knife with a three-inch blade and it easily chopped through the boards, but Grubbs’ blade bent at a weak spot and he was eliminated. Oliver’s blade also successfully chopped through the wood, and with Grubbs eliminated, neither knife had to slice the fish.
Shawn said the first four days he spent in New York at the studio were interesting and challenging, but it was also stressful meeting the requirements for filming and doing interviews. The first day of forge work, he said, came after what had already been a long day of filming interviews with many re-takes, which was frustrating.
Working in the studio was not the optimum set-up. The forge area was geared to what was best for television, and was not the most efficient layout for working. For example, there were greater distances between pieces of equipment, his anvil was situated backwards, and grinders were set up high so that crate steps were necessary to get the best angle. In addition, there was little ventilation because the noise of fans would have interfered with the sound recording.
That stress showed in a few expletives uttered when things didn’t go just as planned, but there were also lighthearted elements of his personality caught on camera. After deciding to incorporate the bronze into his handle by simply using it for the pin, Shawn commented, “Easy peasy, lemon squeezy ... it’s there. They said all you gotta do is see it.” When asked by the judges if he was ready to see his blade tested he replied, “Let ’er rip, tater chip.”
Such comments elicited hoots and hollers from the group of friends and family who gathered with him at Anglers Restaurant for a watch party the evening the show aired. More than 60 people watched on five television screens.
See the full story in the Aug. 9, 2017 issue.