For more than 30 years, Paul Brach has been making knives.
“I’ve been a knife-maker since high school, mostly doing it [by] stock removal,” he said. “About nine years ago, I moved to Cumming, where I continued with what I’ve been doing part-time all my life.
“About seven or eight years ago, I began forging because it allows more freedom with the material, freedom of creativity and is just an awful lot of fun.”
The bladesmith, though more experienced with making knives through stock removal — a technique where an artisan starts with a bar of steel and whittles away at the metal to make a knife — recently appeared on The History Channel’s “Forged in Fire: Ngombe Ngulu,” a competition reality show where bladesmiths create historic weapons using the forging technique, where a smith uses heat to make a blade.
Though Brach did not win in the final round, he said the experience was eye-opening and an exciting, albeit stressful, task.
“The bladesmithing community is kind of small, and I’d seen some [social media] posts for casting,” he said. “I first applied last year but didn’t get selected, so I applied again this year and got a Skype interview with the producers.
“They decided I would be on the show and we began filming in March. Because I got into the final round, the finale [filmed] later in the spring. It was extremely challenging but very interesting.”
The competition consists of three rounds.
In the first round, the show’s initial four competitors have three hours to make a blade.
“It usually involves forge welding, which is taking two bars of steel and heating them to very hot temperatures so the surface is almost fluid,” Brach said. “You have to strike them in a fashion to weld them together, but you’ve got to keep oxygen out of the process.
One person was eliminated after the first round, and in the second round, Brach said they were tasked with making a handle that included a mosaic pin — a decorative element.
“I’d never done one of those,” he said, “but we got an extra hour for that.”
Brach advanced to the final round, where he competed against one other person.
“They revealed the challenge item, which was a West African executioner’s sword that was used in the Congo,” he said. “The Congolese had a very unique way of executing people, who were typically slaves.
“They would have the person bend over a tree but attach the branch to the person’s [head,] so once executed, the branch would snap back and the head would be flung by the tree. It was an interesting and exiting weapon.”
The bladesmiths returned to their home workshops to complete the task, which Brach said gave him time to understand and incorporate the Congolese culture into the weapon.
“What I did find was that this was a great, longstanding culture, and their people were very proud,” he said. “Family was a big part of their world, and there was a very village-like approach to raising children.
“Their weapons were often symbolic of reproduction and had very explicit symbols, and it was really interesting to dive into the culture.”
Brach said he would be willing to compete again, should the show ever host a redemption round.
“I really enjoyed the challenges and working through them,” he said. “It was a constant process of doing the best you could with what you had to work with in the time you had remaining, and that process and doing it all while being filmed was very stressful and very exciting.
“When you go on a show like this, you’re putting it all out there, and it’s more of a risk than you’d get as the $10,000 reward because you’re really risking your reputation. But learning to do the best you can with that you’ve got — that’s something I’m applying now to my everyday life.”