Stepping into the heat, Spokane firefighter Andrew Hall had to be ready for anything.
He can recall how he had contingencies on contingencies leading up to the moment, his mind racing “a million miles a minute.”
Luckily, it wasn’t an emergency situation that had Hall on his toes this time.
Rather, it was his appearance on the TV show “Forged in Fire.”
The History Channel program pits four metalworkers against each other in an elimination-style competition for a $10,000 prize.
Hall took home the cash and the title of “Forged in Fire” champion on his episode, which aired July 14. The final round, which requires contestants to craft a historical weapon from scratch, tasked the 33-year-old with making a 32-inch Walloon sword, a 16th century European blade with a distinctive hilt.
Up to that point, Hall was in the dark about what he would have to make and how he would have to make it – one of his biggest challenges coming onto the show, he said.
“My job is to stay ahead of the eight ball and anticipate and plan ahead and be ready for what comes next,” Hall said, “so trying to translate that into this work – doing X so I can get to Y – I’d be ready and I’m not chasing my tail.”
‘Beautiful and functional’
Bladesmithing is a passion for Hall, who lives in Coeur D’Alene.
A native of Spokane Valley, Hall has worked for the Spokane Fire Department for approximately four-and-a-half years. He said he was hired by the fire department after around five years with American Medical Response.
His appreciation for survival tools emerged from his time growing up in the Scouts. Hall said he attended metal shop classes in high school, learning how to weld, use forging tools and other rudimentary blacksmithing techniques.
Hall also worked on hands-on projects with his father, Rustin, the president of the Spokane-based ALSC Architects.
“What I appreciate about that is he uses his ability to create legacy items, like a building. That’s not what I do. I work on people. I don’t work on buildings,” Hall said. “But, I really like the idea of making something that’s going to last longer than me.”
Hall volunteered with the area fire department and ambulance service while attending the University of Idaho in Moscow, which he said put him on his path to a full-time career. As a result, Hall tailored his psychology degree toward what he would use in the field.
While he didn’t have any tools to forge knives while in college, Hall said he was able to draw and design blades he commissioned through Schenk Knives, an Idaho Falls company. Hall then crafted the handles, sharpened the blades and made the sheathes before selling them, he said.
He honed his knowledge on the design process along the way, self-taught in forging through YouTube videos, online courses and “trial and error,” he said. Hall has been making his own knives from scratch for the past five years, now working out of his garage forge at his Coeur D’Alene home.
And while his Flatline Knives website and Facebook page showcase his work, Hall said it’s more like a brand for his creative outlet than a business. The scope includes customs for trade, family and friends and knives for himself, including those he uses for hunting.
“Being able to create something that’s both beautiful and functional, that’s the artist’s or the creator’s ultimate goal, right?” Hall said. “Making something like a Damascus chef’s knife that my mom uses every time she’s in the kitchen. That is super cool to me.”
Feeling the heat
Damascus steel blades are known for their wavy and distinctive patterns. One of his favorite forging techniques, Hall said his goal going onto “Forged in Fire” was to get to the final round and make something in the Damascus style.
He’d get his chance, but not before some uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hall said he responded in early 2020 to the casting call, which involved an interview, a screen test and an evaluation of his forging work. At the onset of COVID-19, Hall said he spent more than a year wondering whether “Forged in Fire” was even going to do another season, let alone call him back.
When he finally got the call, Hall flew out to compete against three others from across the country.
“Super stressful. Super fun. Totally rad experience. The guys that I competed against were excellent craftsmen. We really did have a blast together,” Hall said. “That’s one of the things that I really think is cool about the show, is it’s very much exactly like how you see it on TV.”
Each round of “Forged in Fire” is timed. Hall had just hours in the opening rounds to make a bowie knife from the show forge, while the final round allotted four days to make his Walloon sword out of his garage.
Weapons in the second and third rounds go through a series of tests to evaluate aspects such as strength and sharpness. In Hall’s case, the durability of his Damascus Walloon sword was tested against a Medieval-style wooden door.
“The clock is real,” Hall said. “The three-hour time limit (for the first round) is no joke. The two-hour time limit for the second round, that’s no joke. And then the testing is brutal and it’s real and it’s loud. You can feel it. You forget you’re on TV, quite honestly, because you’re so focused on what’s going on.”
‘Just scratching the surface’
Hall celebrated the win with family, friends and supporters during a watch party at MAX at Mirabeau.
Since the show aired, Hall said he’s received an increased number of social media messages from people in the knife-making community asking about different aspects of his craft.
“It’s one big learning melting pot of levels of experience – and I love that, because I’m always learning and I’m teaching somebody else,” he said, “and the idea that people want to learn from me kind of blows my mind, because I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what there is to learn, but we all make each other better. That’s what’s so much fun.”
As for the prize money, Hall said he spent some on forging equipment and set aside the rest for his family. He, his wife, Kate, and their daughter, Evelyn, went on a trip and are planning another in the near future, Hall said.
“I’m only able to do this because the people that support me pick up the slack,” Hall said. “I spend a fair amount of time in the garage working on these projects and missing out on family time sometimes. Finding that balance is important, and I’m given a lot of grace by my family. I couldn’t do it without them.”
The most common question Hall said he’s received since his “Forged in Fire” appearance is whether he got to keep the Walloon sword, which judge Doug Marcaida described on-air as “a show piece.”
“They keep everything you make,” Hall said, “and one of the hardest parts about the show was not getting to keep my sword.”
The second-most common question: Would he ever do it again?
“Forged in Fire” has produced episodes with returning champions in the past. At the moment, Hall said he would probably need some convincing to return, as he is “pretty happy with the way everything went.”
But if the show ever decides to bring back its ”Beat the Judges” spinoff, which saw “Forged in Fire” judges square off against returning champions during a six-episode run in 2020, that’s a different story.
“I’m a part-timer. I do it for fun. I would use that opportunity to learn as much as I could from a master smith or a master sword-maker,” Hall said. “To me, I don’t see a losing scenario there.”