When Bill Pyles had to undergo spinal surgery after suffering two broken vertebrae, he couldn’t do much during recovery, so he binge-watched television.
More specifically, he watched “Forged in Fire,” a History Channel show where bladesmiths compete in elimination challenges until one remains as the Forged in Fire champion. The Oxford resident was hooked, and after a few episodes, Pyles thought, “I could do that!”
He bought a forge and started pounding and molding steel to resemble a knife. As he continued to practice his skills, he became invested in the craft. He took up forging as a hobby and even sold a few of his knives.
“Now I look back at the first things I made and go, ‘Wow, and I was proud of that,’” Pyles said.
As he continued to get better and sold more of his work, his clients, friends and family encouraged him to apply to be on “Forged in Fire,” but Pyles was hesitant.
“It’s his stress relief,” Judy Pyles, Bill’s wife, said. “It’s just a hobby for him. It’s not his full-time job or anything, but he was having a lot of fun with it and really making some cool things, so I thought, ‘Well why not? What is it going to hurt to see what kind of experience he would have and what he might learn.’”
After much persistence, Bill Pyles considered applying and began making replicas of the blades shown on the show and even mounted a countdown clock to his wall to practice working under the time constraints.
In the fall of 2021, he applied to be on the show. After many months of silence and a thorough interview process, he received the call that they wanted him to be on the show.
In December, Bill Pyles was flown out to Stamford, Connecticut where he competed with three other contestants in three challenges.
In the first challenge, the judges tested a knife that each of the contestants brought from home.
“I sat down at my kitchen table with a big sheet of paper,” Bill Pyles said. “They gave me the parameters that I had to meet ... so I just started drawing things out until I found one that just kind of clicked, and I ran with it.”
Bill Pyles’ blade was 15 inches with 160 layers of steel. The handle was made up of retired fire hose and bunker gear which he got from his job as a volunteer fireman with Milford Twp.
Bill Pyles completed the first challenge and moved on to the second where he had two hours to make a push-dagger that measured between four and five inches. After various complications with the steel and timing, Bill was sure he was going to go home and was ready to give up, but he looked down at his gloves and kept going. His gloves were covered in encouraging messages from his wife and children that reminded him to keep going.
“Every time I looked at [my gloves] it was like, ‘Yep got to keep going. I’ve got to this. I can’t just quit and walk away,’” Bill Pyles said.
His forge hammer, which was not shown in the episode, also had inspirational messages from his family written on it.
With a few critiques from the judges, Bill Pyles went on to the third challenge where he had six hours to finish the push-dagger and build a replica blade from a past Forged in Fire Champion.
After the judges tested out both blades, they crowned Bill Pyles as Forged in Fire Champion and awarded him $10,000 which he says will go to Judy Pyles.
“My wife says she feels like a forge widow, so a majority of it is going for things to make her feel less forge widow-y,” Bill Pyles said. “I might get a few more toys for the forge but probably nothing major.”
Although filming took place in December, the episode did not air until May 25.
Judy Pyles, who did not go to Connecticut with him, said watching the show and seeing what Bill went through was unimaginable.
“I can’t really explain it,” she said. “It was awesome. I was so in awe of how well he did. I could never do that. I thought he just did awesomely. I was really impressed.”
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