The red-hot heat from Scott Sweder’s forge radiates throughout his fabrication shop on the west side of Columbia Falls. He carefully slips a roughed-out piece of steel into its fiery mouth until the blade in progress becomes an orange-red ombre — a sign the metal is ready for hammering.
“This probably has another 45 minutes of forage work to go — refine the edge, draw it out more,” Sweder said, examining the piping hot steel.
In as little as a day’s time, the steel bar will become an elegant knife — one that could last a lifetime.
And if Sweder has his way, even longer.
After 20 years in the blacksmithing field — 25 if you tack on his jewelry expertise — the man knows what he’s doing. And earlier last spring, his metal work caught the attention of the History Channel. In March 2019, Sweder was selected to be a contestant on the reality show, “Forged in Fire,” now in its seventh season. In the show, four skilled bladesmiths face off in timed metal-working events, in hopes of claiming a $10,000 prize and the title of Forged in Fire champion.
Previous challenges include making a pair of throwing axes, a Chinese war sword and crafting blades out of non-traditional materials, like steel from a vintage pinball machine. Sweder was selected to appear on the show after a lengthy vetting process in the spring. He submitted images of his work to an online casting call and went through multiple Skype interviews so producers could see how well he performed on-camera.
“They want to know you have something to give the camera … I guess I do,” he said with a smile. “The beginning of last year, I actually took a part-time job because things were so slow … and out of nowhere I got an email.”
Filming was completed last August and the show airs at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8. Until then, Sweder can’t divulge how he fared in the competition. But he did acknowledge that he enjoyed the experience and said the show pushed him to be better at his craft.
“There’s a lot of things you don’t realize you can do until you push yourself to try and do it,” Sweder said. “The hardest part was actually talking to cameras. They’ll stop you and they’ll ask you questions [during the competition.] You have to stop whatever you’re doing and answer those questions until they’re happy with the answer — and the clock doesn’t stop.”
Sweder began his career in metalworking by studying jewelry in college. He went on to hold a series of jobs in different facets of the field, including sword making, goldsmithing and a number of years in ornamental iron work — his specialty of choice.
But for a while, he walked away from the forge.
His wife gave birth to their first child and Sweder took a job in information technology. There, his creative spirit floundered.
“My wife basically gave me an ultimatum,” he said. “[She] just said, you hate this, you’re miserable, you need to make a change — or I will. So I made a change.”
Sweder eventually found his way into Klahm and Sons in north-central Florida — a forge with a reputation for excellence in ornamental iron, crafting pieces like scrolled railing, intricate custom doors and even elevator cages.
“The first project I worked with him on won a silver medal at a national competition — it was that kind of quality,” Sweder said. “After I worked there, I knew that that’s the kind of stuff I wanted to keep doing.”
For the past 14 years, he’s operated his own shop, recently rebranded as Iron Bear Knife and Forge.
The chandeliers at Sportsman & Ski Haus? Those are his, as are parts of the furniture at Flathead Lake Brewing Co. and Kalispell Brewing Co. In addition to his ornamental work, Sweder is an expert bladesmith.
Each of his knives begin as a bar of new steel, so his customers “know what they’re getting.” A simple model can be forged in a day, where more intricate pieces can take up to a month. One of his favorite techniques is called damascus, which produces a layered pattern in the steel, the result of repetitive stacking, welding and hammering. After heat-treating, grinding and polishing the blade, he’ll add a handle out of woods such as red coolish, striped ebony or even giraffe bone.
“In our throwaway world, people don’t treasure things like they should. You try to make something functional that they’ll want to use and hand down to their kids,” Sweder explained. “I really love that this is a three-dimensional object that came out of my head — and it means something to someone else … someone else finds beauty in it. That means a lot to me.”
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
When to watch
Watch Scott Sweder in the heat of the competition on the History Channel’s “Forged in Fire,” season 7, episode 23 “Sword and the Stone” airing at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 8 on the History Channel. For more information about the show, visit www.history.com/shows/forged-in-fire. To see more of Sweder’s work visit www.ironbearknifeandforge.com call 406-885-7791, or stop by Electric Buffalo Gallery in Bigfork.