As one of just a few female farriers in the area, Turlock resident Rae Lynn Vander Weide is making waves in her industry after finding fame in the blacksmithing world as a two-time guest on the History channel show “Forged in Fire.”
Set to premiere on Wednesday, the first episode of the show’s sixth season will feature Vander Weide going head-to-head with six other bladesmiths to see who can best recreate some of history’s most iconic edged weapons. After appearing on the show in October, she was invited back to participate in this week’s “Long Road to Redemption” episode, where those eliminated in episodes past return for another chance to prove themselves and earn a prize of $10,000.
Working as a farrier in the Valley, Vander Weide had occasionally taken time away from shoeing horse hooves to create small blades, she said, but had never created anything like the weapons created on the popular show. When “Forged in Fire” producers found her on social media and followed up with an invite to be on the show in January 2018, Vander Weide began to take what had formerly been an occasional hobby more seriously.
“When they originally contacted me, I didn’t think it was real. I had to do some research and came to find out it was the actual company from the show that was emailing me,” she said. “That was the starting point of my actual blade making.”
After graduating from Turlock Christian High School almost eight years ago, Vander Weide went to college but soon realized it wasn’t for her. Her father suggested she go to horseshoeing school, and soon, she was enrolled and attending courses at Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School in the foothills of Plymouth.
Though she’s only been a blacksmith for just six years and her competitors were much more experienced, Vander Weide said her first appearance on “Forged in Fire” in October took place on a level playing field.
“You’re in the forge and it’s hot, you’re stressing out, you’re nervous and it’s really, really hot,” she said. “You can be crazy prepared and when you get into that forge it doesn’t matter how prepared you are, because it all goes out the window. You’re hopped up on adrenaline, everything is new and you’re forced to make a blade within a timeframe, rather than at home where you can plug along at your own pace.”
The October episode that Vander Weide appeared in was the show’s first-ever tournament and featured four farriers from the West Coast, herself included. The farriers were tasked with creating a San Mei blade from familiar tools: horseshoes and hoof rasps.
With little blademaking experience under her belt, Vander Weide was nervous to showcase her skillset on such a public stage.
“I had never made a San Mei style knife before. I didn’t even know what they were talking about, so that was intimidating,” she said. “I wasn’t in my own shop and wasn’t in my own element, and I was going up against people who have been doing it longer than I have and who were quite honestly better than me.”
Unfortunately, Vander Weide was the first farrier to be eliminated from the tournament after her blade measured too short for the competition’s requirements.
“It was heartbreaking...I came up too short because I had lost steel due to an error that I had made,” Vander Weide said. “My knife would have been a really epic knife to test, and I talked to the judges after who told me I had some awesome welds. They were sad to see me go.”
Vander Weide got the chance to redeem herself in the episode set to air 6 p.m. on Wednesday night, though under contract she can’t say how the episode turns out.
“I will tell you this: the episode that airs on Wednesday is going to be an extreme nailbiter,” she said. “It’s going to be a fun episode to watch and you’re not going to see a lot of stuff coming.”
In both episodes she’s filmed, Vander Weide was the only female blacksmith competing for the “Forged in Fire” title. She would love to see more women enter the industry, she said, and pointed out that her horseshoeing alma mater in Plymouth recently graduated its first all-female class.
“It’s definitely a boys club when it comes to being a farrier or even being a blacksmith, because it is a male-dominated trade. A lot of people think I’m a guy because my name is Rae, until they talk to me on the phone,” Vander Weide said. “I don’t want to say they underestimate women a little bit, but I feel like women don’t technically get the credit we deserve for being as strong and as powerful as we are.”
Vander Weide definitely earned her place among the men of “Forged in Fire,” forming lasting bonds with both the show’s host and judges as well as her male competitors. Representing women in a field filled with men was a rush, she said, and she welcomes those who question what she does for a living.
“It’s a very ‘shock and awe’ effect when I tell someone I’m a blacksmith. They say, ‘You’re a what?’” she said. “A lot of people are worried I’ll hurt my back or that it’s not a very ladylike thing, and I just say, ‘Yeah, but I love what I do and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”