LEXINGTON -- Dustin Parrella's Zulu war axe blade didn't survive when it was smashed into wooden ammo boxes Wednesday night.
But the warmth of the love and support the 31-year-old Lexington union iron worker and bladesmith experienced during a "Forged in Fire" watch party at The Local 97 will last far beyond the hour-long popular History Channel episode.
The popular Lexington restaurant, bar and grille was packed 90 minutes before the show aired on every flat-screen TV in the establishment.
"It's been incredible," Parrella said after finishing second among four competitors on the program recorded last August. "The love of my friends, my family, even people whom I never met before ... just coming in and showing up tonight.
"I thought I was going to show up early (on Wednesday) and get things set up. People were already showing up," he said.
"It's overwhelming ... just a great feeling," he said after narrowly missing out on the $10,000 first-prize award.
THE COMPETITION: The four bladesmiths had three hours to forge a a blade, in this case a Japanese Ni-Mai Nata.
The four had to use high-carbon steel from hatchets and tomahawks supplied by the program, as well as a lower-carbon steel from the show's "pantry."
Parrella, a 2007 graduate of Lexington High School and the Pioneer Career & Technology center, survived the first round, though his finished blade had a bit of a curve.
Watching the episode, the bearded member of Ironworkers Local 550 listened as the crowd of men, women and children at The Local at 97 cheered whenever he appeared on the screen.
"I am just reliving it ... and thinking of things I could done differently," he said of the show taped over four days Connecticut, not far from New York City. "
Their work was evaluated and one of the four, a 23-year-old man who recently earned his degree in mechanical engineering was sent home.
Judges noted the warp on Parrella's blade, but said "the steel is solid and the welds are solid."
After that, Parrella and his two remaining competitors were given two hours to fit and finish a handle for the blade.
During the second session, Parrella fashioned and attached his handle and also straightened the blade a bit.
Judges then used the knives to hammer and slice through wooden logs, a test Parrella's blade passed while sustaining no damage. His two competitors also survived, though a 41-year opponent saw the sharp edge of his blade nicked up.
That damage cost the older bladesmith in the second test, a sharpness examination created by a judge slicing three times through a large fish. The 41-year-old was eliminated when his blade failed to slice cleanly through the fish.
FINAL ROUND: That left Parrella and a 36-year-old contestant from Colorado Springs. The two men were sent back to their home forge, tasked with creating the Zulu war axe with a blade 15 to 17 inches in length, attached to a handle 28 to 30 inches in length.
The program showed Parrella working at the home forge in the garage at his home. His opponent worked in a much larger "maker's space" that he pays money to use.
During the four-day build, Parrella had to cut open the front of his force to accommodate the weapon. He also experienced difficulties with his electrical power supply as circuit breakers repeatedly popped off.
On Wednesday night, Parrella laughed when he was told the iron worker needed an electrician.
When the two bladesmiths returned to the show to present their weapons, judges used both axes to easily slice through a boar hog carcass. After that, judges swung the axes against the ammo box.
On the third swing, Parrella's blade broke. When his opponent's blade survived all three swings, the Colorado man earned the victory, creating groans throughout the watch party participants.
After the show ended, Parrella said he wouldn't have done anything differently during the build.
"The (weakened) area was beneath the surface. Apparently, I didn't grind it out enough," he said.
He took pride in his project, which required him to tear open and widen his home forge in order to get the weapon in and out.
"I tried to utilize (the forge) as long as I could before I had to tear it apart. I knew I was going to have to do it as I moved further along in the process ... cutting it apart was the only option I had," Parrella said.
"I stayed true to myself and used my own home forge," he said.
"I wasn't too excited about (the ammo box test)," Parrella said. "It's one thing to hit an ammo box with a knife that's got a handle on it. It's another thing to put a knife-shaped blade on the end of a long wooden handle. The momentum you have coming down set me up for disaster. I wish mine could have made it."
Parrella said the show has since mailed his axe back to him.
"I haven't looked at the since the day it came back," he said. "But I will get it out eventually. I will put it back together and maybe put it on display above my mantle."
As he exited the program, Parrella remained upbeat, despite being disappointed.
"I am here, I am healthy, I'm alive and I am happy," he said.