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Bladesmith’s mettle tested on History Channel

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Bladesmith Austin Hensley demonstrates the forging process for creating one of his handmade knives at his workshop. Hensley, 23, hammers the soon-to-be blade for about 15-30 seconds and then puts the blade back in the forge for a minute. Hensley said the forge was somewhere between 1,700-1,800 degrees for this knife. (Alison Penn Photo)

Austin Hensley, a self-taught bladesmith and a fire apparatus operator for the Roswell Fire Department, competed in the History Channel’s “Forged in Fire.”

When off-duty from the RFD, Hensley, 23, utilizes fire to forge handmade knives and makes leather sheaths for his part-time business Hensley Handmade Knives (HHK).

“One job I get paid to put the fire out and the other job I get paid to start the fire and beat steel,” Hensley said.

For the logo and touchmark on his knives, Hensley said Christopher Casey, another firefighter, helped design his logo with a Maltese cross — also seen in the RFD logo — with a knife and fire ax.

At the fireworks explosion on June 5, Hensley was one of the 12 firefighters in the building near the Roswell International Air Center, where Robert “Hoby” Bonham and Jeff Stroble were critically injured. He said that experience “hit close to home” and he raised $2,180 for his coworkers through a knife raffle on June 13.

“Forged in Fire” is a competition where bladesmiths craft specialized or historic blades with elimination rounds for a chance at being the Forged in Fire Champion and winning $10,000. To be a contestant, Hensley contacted the show and had Skype interviews to show them his skills and his shop.

Hensley’s mettle was tested on “General Yamashita’s Gunto” (season 6, episode 8) where four bladesmiths had to recreate two weapons for a chance at being the Forged in Fire Champion and winning $10,000. Unfortunately, Hensley said his blade broke during initial tests and said this was one of “worst things that could happen to somebody on the show.” He placed third in the competition.

“I would definitely like to get back on “Forged in Fire” for a redemption round because I was definitely way ahead out there — and it was just kind of a fluke thing that happened why mine broke,” Hensley said.

The episode was filmed in Connecticut in January and it aired this past spring. Hensley was recognized for this achievement by the city of Roswell at the new brand launch in May. For other accomplishments, Hensley has also been featured in Blade Magazine twice.

As a future aspiration, Hensley plans to be master smith with the American Bladesmith Society. He said there are fewer than 200 in the country.

Self-taught success 

Hensley’s interest in knives and firefighting began in his childhood. His favorite subjects in school were math and science; he added that bladesmithing takes “a ridiculous amount of science” in the forms of chemistry and metallurgy.

Following his childhood dreams, he joined the RFD shortly after high school. After watching someone make a knife on YouTube five years ago, Hensley took up bladesmithing and, within the last three years, he said it has become a “serious business” of making predominately high-quality hunting knives.

“I’m all self-taught,” Hensley said, in terms of bladesmithing and leatherwork. “I’ve never had a mentor or anything, which I wish I had. I would have made a lot less mistakes.”

For about eight months, Hensley now shows knives and his sharp bladesmithing skills on his own YouTube channel, HHK. He does offer an intro to bladesmithing class for locals because he enjoys teaching and wants to “pass on the craft.”

On June 29, 1995, Hensley was born in San Angelo, Texas, but has lived mostly in Roswell. Hensley attended Valley Christian Academy for two years and graduated from Goddard High School in 2013. Hensley is married to another young entrepreneur, Haley Hensley, who own Haley’s Powerhouse Academy of Dance. The couple met at GHS.

In his free time, Hensley enjoys hunting and fishing, playing poker and snowboarding occasionally.

Functional art

“I tell people two things about my knives,” Hensley said. “One, they’re functional art … and then every knife has a purpose. Every knife is purpose built. I’m not going to use the same knife that I would use to cut limbs off a tree that I would to fillet a fish. The geometries are going to be different, the heat treats are going to be different, it’s all going to be different.”

Now that business has taken off, Hensley has sold knives with prices ranging from $100 to $1,000 to buyers all around the world. Hensley takes about 30 custom orders and works his way down the list — turning away two to five people a day when his books are full. At this moment, he is working on five knives and has 10 more to complete before taking more orders.

On his Facebook page, it states that he uses “a range of different materials and styles in my knife making — from stock removal to hand forged Damascus.” There is also a Facebook fan group to share their Hensley knives.

One of HHK’s top customers, Eric Morales, was introduced to Hensley by a mutual friend after being displeased with a handmade knife from a bladesmith in Texas. After two years, Morales owns 26 HHK blades and has two more on order.

“Austin himself is a very down to earth and personable feller,” Morales said. “I don’t think they quite make ‘em like him anymore …

“I think he says it best that he tries to make functional art — and he really does. Those knives are made to stand up to the test of time. I use them almost daily in the oilfield and have yet to break one or have to have one fixed.”

Harold Morgan said he has known Hensley personally for four years and described Hensley as an “amazing guy” who “does a lot for the community.” Morgan also owns four blades from Hensley and he said the blades are the “best in the country” because of the high quality work and “impeccable details.”

“The man is a true genius at what he does and it’s only a matter of time before he is globally known,” Morales said.

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.