Reality Show Winner Operates Winamac-Based Forge Business
Writer / Lois Tomaszewski
Photographer / Jubilee Edgell
When the opportunity to apply for a spot on a reality television series came along, Rita Thurman jumped at the chance. She did appear on a reality show and walked away a winner, but it wasn’t the show she initially applied for.
Thurman appeared in October of 2020 as a contestant on the “Forged In Fire” competition show, which pits four blacksmiths against each other for the chance to win a cash prize and bragging rights. Thurman is one of only three women to win the competition.
“I actually applied to be on the show ‘Alone,’” Thurman says.
Before her appearance on “Forged in Fire,” Thurman was just beginning to learn how to operate a forge and make knives. It was a skill she quickly picked up on after attending a class in Missouri. To upgrade her technique and learn the required skill for “Forged in Fire,” she relied on her father Bob Smith to help her learn the skills she needed to compete, and he is still her mentor.
She won the show by forging a Japanese barbed weapon called a sodegarami. She had four days to craft the weapon. Thurman, a Boy Scout leader, says she was pleased to be able to compete on the show wearing her scout uniform.
Her forge, located in a former lawn and garden store and subsequent auto repair shop, carries the name Pixie Smash Forge. Thurman named it after her roller derby name.
The building that houses her forge has been in the Smith family for decades. It is now stocked full of oddities, curiosities and inventory of all kinds. Her family, Thurman says, is fond of holding on to things that may be reused in some creative work later.
Smith, who has done many projects at the shop throughout the years, began blacksmithing about 15 years ago. He accumulated many of the forges and presses in the shop from auctions. When the hydraulic press is working, the clanging is a sure sign that artists are at work.
Thurman worked at Hallmark in Kansas City as an artist. Ever since she could remember, Thurman says she was always drawing.
“Drawing is the basis for everything,” she says.
Hallmark provided employees an opportunity to take time off to explore creative opportunities. She chose to go to a living history museum where she experienced how knives were forged. She was hooked.
“Bladesmithing happened by accident,” Thurman says. “I thought it would be fun to do. [The blacksmith at the living history museum] told me what to do and I made a knife.”
After retiring from Hallmark, Thurman moved from Missouri to Winamac to work with Smith, who also forges in the back of the shop. She is building her business there, specializing in knife making, custom fabrication, blacksmithing and other creative projects that come her way. She also does custom engraving and blade sharpening, and creates ornamental decor out of forged metal.
One recent project involved crafting a mid-century modern decorative metal frame to support a 14’ boardroom table. She has also made and repaired cast-iron railings and forged fireplace surrounds. For another project, a customer wanted her to reproduce a fire pit that had been made by his father.
Building a business that specializes in custom knives is not easy, as forgers like Thurman face competition from overseas. The difference is that she can personalize a knife for each order to reflect that customer’s personality and needs.
For those who may be interested in learning how to craft a knife, Thurman offers classes. Gift certificates are available as gifts for those who want to try their hand at learning how to forge metal into custom knives. She recently taught 25 Boy Scouts how to weld.
Her experience on the television show was fun, she says. It has also offered her the opportunity to use her win to promote her business.
Pixie Smash Forge is active on social media with the help of Thurman’s cousin Grace Rausch. For more info, visit facebook.com/pixiesmashforge. The forge is located at 435 North Northwest Street in Winamac.