In April, Richey Crew appeared as a contestant on the History Channel's "Forged in Fire". For Crew, who has been making knives for many years, it was a once in a lifetime experience, and one that he was initially reluctant to get into.
"My wife (Sherry Crew) had been trying to get me to go on there and I wouldn't do it; she pretty much signed me up," Crew said. "They called one day at the shop and I was like, 'I'm not sure I want to do that.' The girl on the phone said, 'well let's just set up a video interview,' and I agreed to that. Well then a huge stack of paperwork came in the mail with questionnaires and background checks. Next thing I knew they called and were asking what plane did I want to ride in."
Crew was chosen out of over 2,000 applicants to be on the program, which is in its sixth season after launching in 2015. He flew to Brooklyn the last week in January for the initial round of competition. After being picked up at the airport on a Sunday night and spending the evening getting to know his three fellow contestants- Elijah Williams, Austin Hensley and Dan Linton- the next morning they were picked up at the hotel and driven to the forge to begin the contest.
There were six different sizes of W1 steel at their disposal, and they had to choose three to forge weld together into a re-creation of the Fairbairn Sykes fighting knife, heat treating it and grinding it into shape as much as possible in the three hours allotted.
After they were finished, the contestants were taken back for interviews to get commentary on what they had just done. Then they went before the panel of judges- J. Neilson, Dave Baker and Doug Marcaida- who evaluated their work. Linton was the first one eliminated, with his blade being the least finished.
In the second phase of the competition, the three had only two hours to finish the blade, including correcting any flaws the judges had pointed out, attaching a metal handle and guard and putting a final grind and edge on the knife.
"The pressure of that clock was tough," Crew said. "Before I went up there I timed everything I did out here for a month or month and a half. So I knew I could spend this much time here and this much time here."
The knives then underwent a toughness test via a gas can stab. Crew's dagger performed well in the gas can stab, and after fellow contestant Austin Hensley's blade broke, Crew advanced into the finals along with Williams. The judges unveiled the project the two would undertake to compete for the championship, re-creating another World War II weapon- Japanese General Yamashita's "Gunto" katana sword.
That was a new challenge for Crew, as it represented a type of cutting tool he did not have prior experience making.
"I didn't even know what a Samurai sword looked like," Crew said, laughing.
The show filmed the forging and making of the sword, which four days was allotted for, in Crew's shop in Algoma. While working on the blade, one of the more memorable moments of the show occurred when Crew had to put out a small fire after the fiberglass gun-cleaning tank he used to quench the sword flared up.
About a week and a half after completing the blade Crew traveled back to New York to film the final round. Crew's finished sword had a 29-inch blade of 5160 steel with a wrapped curly maple handle and a brass guard. It, along with Williams' sword, were first tested by judge Doug Marcaida cutting, stabbing and chopping a pig carcass by before master bladesmith J. Neilson chopped thick bamboo and Marcaida sliced filled burlap bags. Ultimately, the title and championship prize money went to Williams. Crew's cutting and strength performance was equal to or better than his competitor's, but the judges determined Williams' blade was closer to the original profile and his handle wrap held up better.
"Elijah was a really good guy," Crew said. "He's 33 years old and has got three little girls, another one on the way. He had a dirt floor shop, no press, no power hammer, and he is making a living for his family doing that. So really the money went where it needed to go. Elijah has a new press now; I talked to him last week."
Neilson, one less than 115 men to earn the American Bladesmith Society's Mastersmith designation, gave Crew a big compliment.
"We couldn't converse with the judges, but after he did the strength test he sort of winked at me and said, 'That's a strong piece of steel,'" Crew said. "That really made me feel good. After it was all over that's what they (the judges) all said, that it was a very strong piece of steel for it to be so small and stand up to the abuse. He (Neilson) smashed that thick bamboo, and it still had the same edge when they got through with it."
They (the judges) asked Crew about his heat-treating process for the 5160 steel used for the sword, and he explained it was the same process used by the blacksmith who crafted the knife used by Jim Bowie in the famous "sandbar fight" near Natchez in September 1827. Witnesses described the knife as a "large butcher knife," and, after the story of the fight traveled around the country, the iconic "Bowie knife" found its way into American history and lexicon.
Crew's remark during the show of "if you gonna to be a bear, might as well be a grizzly," immediately caught on among his friends and customers on social media. It led to the shop making t-shirts emblazoned with the quote.
Crew said as a result of his exposure multiple orders have come in from out of state. He attended the 2019 Blade Show in Atlanta on June 7-9. He said a handful of strangers recognized him from the show.
"It was definitely something that I never experienced before," said Crew. "It was very interesting. Nothing about the show is staged. The competition was pretty stiff with the group I was up there with. We got to know each other real well. My steel did good, so I was well pleased."