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Tumwater knife-maker is ‘Forged In Fire’ for History Channel

Mareko Maumasi works on a weapon in May during production of the History Channel’s “Forged In Fire” at Brooklyn Fire Proof Stages in Williamsburg, N.Y. Maumasi will be in Monday’s episode.
Mareko Maumasi works on a weapon in May during production of the History Channel’s “Forged In Fire” at Brooklyn Fire Proof Stages in Williamsburg, N.Y. Maumasi will be in Monday’s episode. Courtesy

A Tumwater kitchen knife-maker will be making historical themed weapons on a History Channel reality show airing Monday.

Mareko Maumasi is one of four contestants on “Forged in Fire,” a show where bladesmiths compete against one another to create edged weapons.

Each weapon is tested by a panel of expert judges. In typical reality show mode, the contestants are eliminated one by one until the top blade-maker is left standing and $10,000 richer.

Maumasi’s day job is making culinary knives. Essentially, he’s a blacksmith who specializes in knife-making.

His clients, who pay up to $1,500 for one of his knives, range from professional chefs to enthusiasts who appreciate well made, custom knives.

“I consider myself a tailor of kitchen cutlery,” Maumasi, 30, said. “I talk to (clients) to understand who they are, what their experience is, as well what they are really trying to achieve.”

Maumasi found the way of the knife while working at Fish Tale Brew Pub in Olympia. “I was 24 and kind of lost in my life, and I didn’t know what my direction was,” he said.

That’s when he met Olympia knife-maker Bob Kramer. Soon Maumasi was working for Kramer. In 2013 Maumasi set out on his own.

The process of making a knife takes a week, Maumasi said. He first starts with a chunk of steel, heated in a forge. Then the hammering begins.

“Essentially, you’re sculpting clay except that it’s extremely hot metal. But when it’s hot, it’s sort of in a plastic state,” he said.

Then comes grinding, shape refinement and a heating process that makes the knife strong. Finally, he attaches a handle and completes the fine finishing work.

The knives Maumasi makes are mostly in the Damascus style, a process that imparts swirling patterns of banding and mottling on the blade. Combined with the wood handles, the knives are functional works of art. But, they are also efficient tools.

“I’ve designed them not only from my experience working with Bob, but also my own experience working in kitchens,” Maumasi said. “They feel like a natural extension of your hand.”

His profession has made him somewhat intolerant of inferior knives.

“When I cook at somebody else’s house, I bring my own knives,” he said.

‘FORGED IN FIRE’

Maumasi is one of 32 knife-makers featured on “Forged in Fire” this season. More than 500 people applied for the show, he said.

The History Channel flew Maumasi to Brooklyn, New York, in early May to film Monday’s episode. As with most reality shows, he can’t say how he did until it airs. But he said it was a grueling experience.

The show follows a similar format to “Chopped” on the Food Network. Each episode features four contestants, two of which are systematically eliminated following a series of challenges.

“You don’t know what kind of space you’re working in. You don’t know what kind of material you’re working with,” Maumasi said.

In New York, Maumasi — who works by himself at his own pace in Tumwater — had to work with a room full of strangers and under a time constraint.

“It’s a madhouse. You have production staff with cameras in your face, almost resting on your shoulder while you’re working,” he said.

On top of that, Maumasi had to enter a world he was unfamiliar with: weaponry.

“I think (before the show) I’ve made three nonchef knives,” he said.

Each weapon challenge had specific lengths and other requirements. A task that normally would take Maumasi two days to complete, say grinding and buffing, had to be done in three hours.

“You essentially have to present them with a finished weapon that they are going to put through some testing,” Maumasi said.

The last two challengers in each episode return home and have five days to make a historical weapon with their own embellishments.

FORGED IN FIRE

When: Mondays.

Where: The History Channel.

Information: history.com, maumasifirearts.com.

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