For Russellville native and hobbyist blacksmith Collin Steenbergen, he never would have guessed starting to forge his own swords and bladed weapons in his free time would result in a television appearance just a few short years later.
That will become a reality tonight, as Steenbergen is set to appear on History Channel's "Forged in Fire," a program that pits participants against one another to re-create historical edged weapons in a competition format. Steenbergen's appearance comes after just two years working at the craft.
Steenbergen's start in smithing actually is a result of his own interest in the show, so his appearance on it brings him full circle in a way.
"I've always been a bit of a nerd when it came to weapons and stuff like that," Steenbergen said. "I always liked swords, I'm the guy who liked watching 'Lord of the Rings,' things like that. I stumbled across the show a few years ago now in one of the earlier seasons. I thought it was really, really cool. Like 'God, I'd love to do that.'"
Steenbergen said "Forged in Fire" took his interest to the next level because it shows how weapons are actually made.
Steenbergen converted his grandfather's old open-air welding shop into his blacksmith shop. His wife bought him a forge for his birthday, and he began working to learn the craft using the anvil and other assorted tools his grandfather had left behind in the shop.
"It was a situation where I was like 'I could do that, if I just had all the tools,'" Steenbergen said. "And I don't have all the tools they have on the show — most people don't because it gets really expensive. Even the bare bones (things) — the anvil costs money, a forge is like $400all that stuff costs money, but when I walked in and saw my grandpa's stuff, all the stuff (I needed) was already here. The show showed me what it took to do it, and once I knew what it took to do it, I could identify I had the tools for it."
Steenbergen said he was actually cast via the "Blacksmiths Association of Missouri" Facebook group, where he'd shared some of his work.
"I got a message from a casting person from the show — they said they liked my stuff and asked if I'd be interested in applying to be on the show," Steenbergen said.
He went through an interview process, and the rest is history. He was flown out to New York City — a culture shock since he grew up and still lives in Russellville — and met the other show competitors, where they then road tripped to Connecticut. Steenbergen said show participants spend a lot of time around each other, from the green room to dinners at the hotel, and he still talks to the other competitors from his episode today.
"(And) it is an experience, which once you've done it is a shared experience," Steenbergen said. "The only people that can relate to your experience are the other people who have done it."
Steenbergen said the filming process was fun and stressful. He had some knowledge of how television shows worked, knowing there would be multiple takes and time spent in the green room, but being there in person was a different experience. Forging was another stressor, since the addition of a lighted set meant it was even hotter while he was working.
"You're under the clock. They give you an assignment that's very difficult — it's not something you're ever going to do in your own shop, certainly not under a time constraint," Steenbergen said.
The adrenaline is constantly pumping, he said, and the forging process is a blur. Steenbergen said he started to forget about the cameras because he was so focused on accomplishing his task.
"I'd do it again in a heartbeat," Steenbergen said.
It was an eye-opening experience, Steenbergen said, as far as gaining perspective on his skill level. He was pitted against a fellow hobbyist, a knife maker by trade and a young competitor he described as "the most talented blacksmith he's ever seen."
It was the first time Steenbergen had really been able to "talk shop" with people who also understood the craft.
"The only smith I ever met was me," Steenbergen said. "I had been self-taught working in my grandpa's open-air shed, so I'd never been around anyone else who knew how to do it. My entire education came from 'Forged in Fire' and YouTube videos."
Steenbergen said he'd classify himself as a novice, since he's unable to put in as much time as some of the others on the show. Steenbergen, however, navigates around a full-time job and parenting his four children.
"It's a tried and true hobby for me," Steenbergen said. "There's also an artistic side to it. People are better at it than others, just like anything else. It doesn't matter how much I practice basketball, I'm never going to be as good as LeBron James."
Steenbergen said part of the reason he was drawn to blacksmithing was his other artistic pursuits — he does weather work, carves wooden signs and draws, things he said have always come naturally to him.
Steenbergen said picking up the hobby is easy enough to do if people are interested in it. If anyone is on the fence about giving it a shot, he said, it's well worth the effort.
You can catch Steenbergen's appearance on "Forged in Fire" at 8 p.m. tonight on the History Channel.