These Are the Only Two Women to Ever Win First Place on 'Forged in Fire'

Mustafa Gatollari - Author

Feb. 18 2021, Updated 4:04 p.m. ET

Kelly Vermeer and Rita Thurman of History's 'Forged in Fire.'
Source: Facebok | History

I don't know about you, but when I think of a blacksmith, I think of a burly, barrel-chested dude with huge hairy forearms and a beard, laboring over a fire as they use a gigantic hammer to bang out some metal. But that's because my knowledge comes solely from fantasy films and Middle Age-period TV shows.

But Forged in Fire has disproved that notion handily, although many fans of the show want to know if a woman has ever won first place on the program.

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Has a woman ever won 'Forged in Fire'?

Yes, two! While there is generally a dearth of female competitors (Rae Lynn Vander Weide competed twice on the show, coming in fourth and fifth on separate challenges), there are some women who took home the top prize.

Rita Thurman won Forged in Fire when she crafted a beautiful Sodegarami, which is a Japanese barbed weapon that was used for catching criminals by Feudal Lords and officers.

Rita's "Man Catcher" earned high praise from the judges after she beat out Justin Harrington, Chuy Talavera, and Cory Miller to earn the top prize. She runs the Witchy Woman Facebook Page that shows off an impressive collection of handcrafted weapons.

The other female winner on the show was Kelly Vermeer, on Season 3's fourth episode, "the Falcata." She made waves after the victory and has launched a successful smithing business, which you can check out on social media here.

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Although she hasn't taken home the top prize, Rae Lynn Vander Weide became a bit of a local celebrity in her hometown of Turlock, Calif. after getting on the show, too. Like all contestants on the show, Kelly, Rae, and Rita both display high enthusiasm for their craft work, and that passion is being showcased and celebrated on the Forged in Fire Facebook page, which is quick to praise "women who forge."

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How much does a blacksmith make?

Earning a living as a blacksmith isn't easy, which is why so many bladesmiths are eager to get a spot on the show and compete in so many challenges. Crafting metals into weapons doesn't really pay that much: The average salary for blade-makers is approximately $38,450 a year.

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Obviously, more renowned bladesmiths can earn more, especially if they get a nice prop-making gig or are commissioned for cool private pieces. But the amount of time and effort it takes to make these bad boys means that they aren't cheap to produce. 

Plus, the quality of a blade made by a blacksmith who is passionate about making a fine piece will be much different from the quality of some mass-manufactured hunk of metal. That becomes very evident to anyone who's ever tuned into Forged in Fire.

The premise of the show, if you haven't seen it, is simple: contestants are tasked with forging a blade or iconic historical weapon.

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Everything from Katanas, to rapiers, to U.S. Army officers' swords are on the table. There's no shortage of awesome weapons and while the show does a great job of showing the artistry and care that goes into the forging of each blade, they also serve as mini-history lessons for viewers at home.

Judges select whoever did the best job of creating said weapon and first place winners take home a whopping $10,000 for their winning blade.

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Do the winning 'Forged in Fire' contestants get to keep the weapons they create?

If you've ever created something that you put a lot of time and effort into making, then you know how difficult it can be to let go of it. Sadly, the Forged in Fire contestants are expected to do just that. The winning weapons, regardless of whether or not the pieces are completed, are handed over to production. A lot of the weapons even decorate the walls of the studio/shoot locations as judges decide who did the best job during that episode.

Do 'Forged in Fire' losers get paid or at least keep their weapons?

Sadly, only one person walks away with the prize money and that's the first place contestant. Runners up stake a claim to return to the show and "make a name for themselves." Viewers may remember familiar faces from episode to episode, but no, the losers aren't paid for their pieces on the program. Production actually holds onto the weapons, but, reportedly, those who don't win first place get to take their blades back home after the producers have finished using them for shooting purposes.

You can catch episodes of the show on History.

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