What began as a hobby, has allowed an Oklahoma man to forge a second career in the art of smithing.
It also gave Billy Helton with a chance to appear of the very first episode of Forged in Fire, a reality competition show which appears on the History Channel.
On Friday and Saturday, Oct. 12 and 13, Helton will be in Grove demonstrating his smithing techniques during the annual Pioneer Days at Har-Ber Village. Friday's session is geared towards school field trips, while Saturday's events are open to the public.
"I feel like I owe it," Helton said of his demonstration schedule. "Someone demonstrating got me involved in this [craft]. It led me to give back, and it's fun."
Learning the craft
Helton began smithing in 2006, when he had what he describes as a life change.
It was then Helton, who lived in town at the time, decided to sell his race car and move to the country.
A chance encounter with a blacksmith, doing a demonstration at a festival, led him to purchase equipment and begin to learn the trade for himself, joking he developed an "addiction" to the craft.
As a journeyman blacksmith, Helton is one of less than 250 people world-wide to carry that title.
He qualified for that title, after going through a certification process which included creating a knife that would slice through a 2x4 piece of wood and a one-inch rope, while still "shaving the hair" off of his arm and bending 90 degrees without cracking.
After moving beyond that stage, he created five presentation knives, which were then judged by a panel of master blacksmiths.
He has been smithing full-time for several years. He teaches knife making at an area vo-tech, and hosts at least three "forged in fire" type of experiences at his personal shop.
In those classes, Helton teaches his students about knife making in general. Each leave with a knife of their own.
"I eat and breathe it, it's so unique," Helton said. "I got to bed thinking about what I'm going to do tomorrow. It's amazing. It's unique and it creates something unique, which has been hammered out in fire.
"Everyday sparks something new. I can't believe I get to do this for a living."
Forged in Fire
Helton was given the chance to appear on Forged in Fire, after obtaining the journeyman blacksmithing title.
He said appearing on the first episode, of the first season was "nerve wracking."
"All of the people in Season 1 had no idea what they were walking into," Helton said. "For Season 2 on, all of those guys had a chance to watch the show."
To appear on the show, Helton traveled to Brooklyn, New York. He and his fellow competitors saw the set five minutes before filming began.
In the first test, Helton created a camp knife. While his knife passed by cutting a three inch rope in three slices, he was sent home when judges discovered it had "fisher cracks in the blade."
Helton said during the four days of filming he traded information with his fellow competitors, including new techniques on the heat treating process for his blades.
"I'm from Oklahoma, but in the northeast they do things different," Helton said. "There, they make more blades for collectors. They are more of a sword maker.
"Here we make hunting knives. I make them for my clientele to use."
Helton said the show that appears on television is "pretty real." He said judges keep a strict timeline on competitors, unless there is a medical emergency.
He jokes the only rule he was given at the start of filming was "don't hurt the camera man."
At times, Helton said, he was being filmed by two camera men, at the same time. The pair would work with Helton to get the shots they needed for the show.
Life after Forged in Fire
While Helton said appearing on the show did not immediately boost his career, it has helped him connect up to a variety of people.
In fact, he did not become a full-time smith until more than a year and half after appearing on the show.
Recently, he and more than 30 other show veterans, gathered in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for a Forged in Fire event.
Helton said it's always fun to meet fans of the show, and to exchange ideas and techniques with his fellow contestants.
"I would go on again if I had a chance," Helton said, adding he was asked to return at least once, but scheduling conflicts kept him from accepting the offer.
Helton said being known as a Forged in Fire guy, has increased his recognition within the public and led to additional orders. An article in American Handgunner, which followed the show, took his career to where it is now.
"It launched me to a new audience," Helton said. "I went from no orders, to being one and a half years behind."
Helton said his favorite knives to make include a drop point hunter and a drop point bowie.
"I just like that curve," he said.
Most of his hunting knives, designed for use range in price from $250 to $400. His knives which are created more as investment or show pieces can range from $750 to $1,500. He has created one knife, which intricate embellishments for $2,000.
Helton said he is also well known for his style of damascus, which includes some unique patterns.
More about Helton
Helton and his wife, Lisa, live in Claremore. She is the daughter of Charlene and Merv Bennett in Grove.
Together the couple have three children: Cody, Austin and Emily.
Helton said he likes to talk about how smithing can relate to a person's faith.
He likens a person's life, who has been transformed by their faith, to a piece of metal transformed by the fire.
Helton believes, like a smith hammers the metal into a new shape, God uses different experiences to shape a person into a new creation.