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Jason Bivens works in the John C. Campbell Folk School shop during filming.
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The faithful ‘Forged in Fire’

Tennessee church member competes on national TV for the title of champion.

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‘I’m alive and well. I’m thankful for it.”

That’s how Jason Bivens answers the question, “How are you?”

The deacon of the Church of Christ at Unity in McMinnville, Tenn., tends not to make a fuss about things — including his recent victory on “Forged in Fire,” the History Channel series that pits bladesmiths against each other. 

In fact, his audition for the show wasn’t even intentional. 

Jason Bivens works in the John C. Campbell Folk School shop during filming.

Jason Bivens works in the John C. Campbell Folk School shop during filming.

“Somebody had sent out a text — I think somebody from Chattanooga Choo Choo Forge — saying there’s going to be a ‘Forged in Fire’-style competition at John C. Campbell, did I want in?” Bivens recalled. “I just texted back, ‘Sure.’ Next thing you know, I’m getting phone calls from people in New York.”

The lifelong Warren County resident competed in the show’s 10th season, which recently aired on TV, and emerged triumphant with the title of champion in the series’ “On the Road: American Championship.” 

But Bivens doesn’t give the credit to his own expertise. 

“First and foremost, the talents aren’t mine,” Bivens said. “God gave me the talent of working with my hands — gave me that one talent. So I took that talent, and I increased it to be a blacksmith, bladesmith, gunsmith, master mechanic. … I give back glory to God.”

“First and foremost, the talents aren’t mine. God gave me the talent of working with my hands — gave me that one talent. So I took that talent, and I increased it to be a blacksmith, bladesmith, gunsmith, master mechanic. … I give back glory to God.”

Swords from scraps 

Bivens also credits his success as a mechanic and blacksmith to his upbringing “in a good home.”

“My father taught me how to use my hands to make a living,” he said. 

Pilfering through the scrap pile on his family’s property, 12-year-old Bivens used his father’s grinder to shape steel scraps into swords. 

“I didn’t know anything about blacksmithing,” Bivens said. “There was no internet back in the 1980s. Only thing we had was whatever books and magazines you could find, so I bought every Knives Illustrated and Blade magazine that came out.”

Then at 18 years old, he met Chris Johansen while working at a factory. Johansen ran the forge at the yearly county fair, giving demonstrations on blade making to those interested. 

Before long,  the two men began taking their lunch breaks together to discuss the craft.

It was Johansen who inspired him to pursue further education in blacksmithing, Bivens said, recommending courses at the Appalachian Center for Craft, which is managed by Tennessee Tech University.

“When me and Jason got together, he was always asking me questions,” Johansen recalled. “But it wasn’t long before I was asking him questions, because he had delved into it so deeply. He tried so hard to learn all these things. … And that just made us the best of buddies.”

When Johansen eventually retired from running the county fair forge, Bivens — now a member of the Appalachian Area Chapter of Blacksmiths — was his successor. 

“He really loves his trade,” Johansen said. “Of course, he’s an auto mechanic as his full-time job, but he loves the blacksmithing and the knife-making.”

“He really loves his trade. Of course, he’s an auto mechanic as his full-time job, but he loves the blacksmithing and the knife-making.”

Cash for concrete 

Bivens’ expertise has even come in handy for members of his church.

He’s one of the first people Brian Cook, the minister for the Unity church who also works at a pawn shop in Chattanooga, Tenn., contacts when handcrafted items are brought into the shop. 

“From time to time we see handcrafted knives and swords and things of that nature,” Cook said. “I’ve used him as the phone-a-friend guy to ask. … Even sent him pictures of a couple of things. He really knows his stuff.”


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Cook also admires Bivens’ commitment to the church. 

Despite his long hours as a mechanic, Bivens and April, his wife of 27 years, are present nearly every Sunday — attending the morning service, class and second service.

And the recent publicity around his work hasn’t affected his attitude either.

“I know part of the reason they didn’t tell us about the whole thing with ‘Forged in Fire’ was because of the NDA that they had to sign,” Cook said. “But even once the news came to light, it wasn’t a thing where he went around being braggadocious about it or anything. He’s still very, very humble about the whole experience.” 

When asked about his humble demeanor, Bivens cited James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Yet, his wife is glad his talents are being recognized more broadly after his appearance on “Forged in Fire.” 

“I had been looking forward to it for several months,” April Bivens said. “It seemed surreal at first. I enjoyed knowing that others would be able to see how talented he is.

“God gave me the path to get what I needed. It’s not like a life or death thing that I need, but it’s something that I can really use, because I use my shop to teach other people. So I look at it as God provided me the path to get concrete in my shop. People can believe it or not, but he does open doors for people. They just have to look.”

“I have had several people come up to me to congratulate us and tell me that they are proud of his accomplishment,” she added.

And winning the show includes more than just a title and exposure. 

The show awarded Bivens $20,000 as well as $10,000 to the shop he represented, John C. Campbell Folk School’s Clay Spencer Blacksmith Shop.

The money is a blessing, according to Bivens. He had received a quote of $18,000 for installing a concrete floor in his personal blacksmith shop a few months prior — far outside of his budget. 

Then he received the text about competing on the show. 

“God gave me the path to get what I needed,” Bivens said. “It’s not like a life or death thing that I need, but it’s something that I can really use, because I use my shop to teach other people. So I look at it as God provided me the path to get concrete in my shop. People can believe it or not, but he does open doors for people. They just have to look.”

Filed under: blacksmithing Christian blacksmith Church of Christ member Deacons Features Forged in Fire National National TV News People Top Stories

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