I’m a sucker for reality shows like How It’s Made or Dirty Jobs, the kind that take reveal the creation process behind everyday items. Man at Arms: Reforged is a show that hits a the same button, and just the other week, the show crossed over a milestone: the 100-episode mark.
If you haven’t seen Man at Arms: Reforged, you can check out the entire run on YouTube. The premise is incredibly simple: every other Monday, a team of blacksmiths at Baltimore Knife and Sword craft a sword (or sometimes a shield or other weapon) from scratch, sometimes based on user suggestions or simply what the team wants to make.
The show first debuted in February 2013, and featured blacksmith Tony Swatton of Burbank California’s Sword and the Stone. That first episode was devoted to replicating Jaime Lannister’s sword from Game of Thrones, and was short: just under five minutes. It was a rush of tightly edited footage that eventually yielded to a montage of the sword being tested on car windshields and other modern objects.
Over the course of the first 50 episodes of the show, Swatton forged everything from Link’s Master Sword from Legend of Zelda to the Lich King's Frostmourne from World of Warcraft, staying close to the original formula and runtime. Swatton and his team at Sword and Stone eventually “needed to take a break from the show to pursue some other opportunities,” prompting the introduction of a new team, led by Kerry Stagmer and Matt Stagmer of Baltimore Knife & Sword.
With the shakeup came a whole new look for the show: the relaunched series began playing with some hybrid weapons, such as a Batman’s Wolverine Claws, a lightsaber katana, and throwing shields for Captain America, although the show largely has returned to the original premise: asking commenters what they’d like to see created.
The show’s creator, Andy Signore, the senior vice president of content and head of creative at DEFY Media and the show’s executive producer, Brent Lydic told The Verge by phone that early on, the approach to the show was like that of Honest Trailers: “I would go to comments: ‘tell us what you want to build next’, and so that’s sort of where things were born,” Signore said. “We really listen to Matt [Stagmer] and the team over there, and what they want to build.”
There’s a certain inquisitorial pleasure of watching blacksmiths at work
The show also has up to six weapons in production at any given time, which the team works into their already busy schedule. (When they aren’t creating the series, the team is crafting weapons for films and renaissance festivals.) “They’ve got a team of five or six guys out there,” Lydic noted, “so each person has gotten us a specific aspect of that build and we just move along kind of like a conveyor belt.”
There are a number of YouTube channels out there devoted to blacksmithing, such as Alec Steele’s daily vBlog into the life of a blacksmith, and Miller Knifes, which forges knives out of random objects. There’s a certain inquisitorial pleasure of watching these sorts of videos, as a chunk of metal is fashioned into a functional object. Signore chalked this up to a general fascination with watching things get made. “I think it’s not just something that anyone can just do,” he noted. “I think a lot of people want to learn it or try to do it, it’s like, you want to look to these guys and feel manly that you can make a knife with your bare hands.”
With over a hundred episodes under their belt, Lydic and Signore noted that they have been playing with the format a bit more, bringing in some additional sponsors for some of their more ambitious episodes, and upping the length of each episode into the 20-minute range, while also experimenting with some more in-depth historical builds. The pair noted that they’ve experimenting with some other things as well, including a Virtual Reality episode that will drop in the next couple of weeks.
The show has a base appeal: it’s exciting to see a molten piece of metal get shaped into a deadly blade, and there’s a sense of safety in watching the process from the sidelines. But blacksmithing is a complicated, difficult occupation, one that requires years of training to produce a quality sword. At its best, the show’s pleasure comes looking into a world of master craftsmen, a place that you don’t usually get to visit, right from your computer.