Dustin Parella

Lexington resident and iron worker Dustin Parrella competes Wednesday on "Forged in Fire" on the History Channel at 9 p.m.

LEXINGTON -- Dustin Parrella's phone chimed with an incoming message Friday morning.

"Someone just texted me and asked if I won," the 31-year-old Lexington man said with a laugh. "It's been a common question lately. Everyone is just gonna have to tune in."

The texter will have to watch Parrella when he appears Wednesday night at 9 p.m. on the History Channel's "Forged in Fire," a competition in which world-class bladesmiths re-create historical edged weapons.

There will be a special "watch party" at The Local 97 in Lexington on Wednesday night. The event begins at 8 p.m. and the menu will feature medieval fare that requires no silverware.

Parrella will also raffle off two new knives he has fashioned. 

Working inside his Blue Collar Forge along Steam Corners Road, the bearded iron worker explained how he ended up competing against three other experts for a shot at a $10,000 first prize.

"I have watched the show every week. It's one of my favorites," Parrella said of "Forged in Fire," now in its seventh season. "I reached out via email. We chatted back and forth for a few weeks.

"Then I did a phone interview, which led to a video chat interview. They had me forge a certain length blade and document with photos as I did it. I submitted the photos, did a couple more interviews, and then they placed me on a show," he said.

Parrella flew to New York City last August to tape the show, which is actually done in Connecticut. It took four days to film the hour-long episode.

"I was extremely excited," said Parrella, who graduated from Lexington High School and Pioneer Career & Technology Center. "I was nervous until the timers started. Once that timer started, I was able to put all the nerves away and do what I do best."

forged in fire

THE METAL LIFE: What Parrella does best is work with metal. All kinds of metal in all kind of shapes and forms.

Two days after graduation from Pioneer in 2007, Parrella was sworn into Ironworkers Local 550, based in Canton. He completed a four-year apprenticeship and remains a union iron worker today.

He has recently worked on the new OhioHealth heart center, a building at the Mansfield Lahm Airport industrial park and the new UH Samaritan building in Madison Township.

In addition to work building and enforcing cell phone towers, Parrella said his construction highlight was working on the 23-story Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

"My union hall is a hiring hall and I have worked with a lot of different contractors over the years and I have a great relationship with many of them," Parrella said.

A talented welder whose father worked in the industry, Parrella quickly saw a parallel between the old and the new when it came to working with metal.

"Welding led me into forging," he said. "In the old days, buildings were erected strictly with rivets. One guy would be there heating the rivets, toss them to another guy who placed them and them forged them together.

"I wanted to pay some respect to the old timers, learn their craft and how they did things," Parrella said.

He said forge work is equal parts science and art involved with heating metal to almost 1,500 degrees and then shaping it with a metal hammer.

hammering

Dustin Parrella shapes a heated blade on his anvil on Friday morning.

"The metallurgy that goes into tempering and hardening, the whole heat treatment process, has to be nailed or you're going to have a high-quality piece," he said.

"The art aspect ... there are a lot of people now making knives. Aesthetically, you have to separate yourself and I feel I have my own style that I have kind of come up with.

"Once I started watching 'Forged in Fire,' it struck a different kind of interest in me in making edged weapons, rather than just blacksmithing in general," he said.

That interest and desire is what led him to the set of the popular TV show, which is hosted by Wil Willis, a former U.S. Army Ranger and Air Force pararescueman.

In Parrella's episode, the four bladesmiths were told they had three hours to forge a blade, in this case a Japanese Nata.

That was perfect for Parrella, whose brother is a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Japan with the 35th Civil Engineering Squadron at the Misawa Air Base.

"I took a lot of pride in doing a Japanese weapon with my brother being stationed in Japan," Parrella said.

Their work was evaluated and one of the four was sent home. After that, the three remaining competitors were given two hours to fit and finish a handle for the blade. After another evaluation, another contestant was dismissed.

The two remaining men were sent back home to finish the weapon in their home forge before returning for the finale.

"It was a very strict timeline while I was there. They get right down to business. We had some long days. There is a lot more behind the scenes that goes into it than what you see on television," he said.

"They were a great bunch of guys I went up against," Parrella said. "We are all still friends and we still talk to this day.

"The judges were great. It was a little overwhelming meeting them the first time because I have watched the show for so many years. But they were all very nice and accommodating," Parrella said.

forge

Dustin Parrella heats a new blade at his Blue Collar Forge on Friday morning.

BLUE COLLAR FORGE: Parrella's shop is next to his house, filled with metals of all shapes and sizes. He has prized pieces he is proud to show ... and he has a plastic bucket full of "mistakes."

Parrella recently named his forge, which he has operated for about for years, and hopes to turn it into a small business, work that could supplement his income. Construction work during Ohio winter slows down and the forge is like a second home.

"I try to represent myself in the name (of the forge). I am a blue-collar guy who has been working construction since high school," he said.

Though his skills are considerable, Parrella is just now comfortable turning into a business.

"I just started selling products. I wanted to get to a level of quality before I started selling things," he said.

Parrella works with several types of steel. He has plans to add a hydraulic press and eventually also begin making hand tools like axes and hammers.

"One of my goals in the future is to move into a larger shop and start offering classes," he said.

He is often joined in the forge by his 4-year-old son, Dominic, who has a child-sized anvil.

"I set it up on a stump and he hammers away," Parrella said with a father's knowing laugh. "I am hoping in a few years, he can come out here and we can start doing this together. It's a dying art."

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"