Bladesmith Todd Bitler: Man of steel

Kathy Lynn Gray
Todd Bitler, a blacksmith in Amanda, specializes in recreating historic weapons for collectors.

Todd Bitler credits a fluffy little Yorkie named Widget for his recent stint as a contestant on Forged in Fire. He'd just spent $20,000 on surgeries for the 8-pound pooch, who was his constant companion. So when the History Channel asked him to vie for a $10,000 prize on its show about bladesmiths, he agreed, with a little push from girlfriend Candy Stoer.

He saw the show as a way to replenish his savings account and be challenged. And the exposure would be great for his business: creating handmade, American frontier weapons for collectors and museums around the world. He's the one you call if you want a Woodland Indian war club, a 1690s English officer's carbine, a brass-banded scrimshaw powder horn or a D-guard Bowie knife.

That last one, the Bowie knife, was what Bitler made on Forged in Fire when it filmed last summer in New York City. Each of the four contestants made the weapon in the show's workshop, while he and the other finalist forged cavalry sabers during five-day stints in their home studios.

Bitler works in a bathroom-sized cubby in a garage he built next to his father's home in the Fairfield County village of Amanda, 36 miles south of Columbus. The garage and most of Bitler's equipment consist of repurposed castoffs, including the old cast-iron sink he fills with coal and uses as a forge.

It's where he grew up and where he's been forging weapons since the mid-1990s, when he became a French and Indian War re-enactor and wanted authentic-looking weapons. Others noticed, and he turned his passion into a business. “I used to make them sittin' under the porch on a 5-gallon bucket,” says Bitler, 54, who lives in Grove City. Now, he's backlogged for months.

His foray into reality television was something of a disappointment; he was runner-up on his one-hour Forged in Fire episode, which aired in late January. And Widget, the dog that inspired his participation, died last year, just a month after surgery. “He was so full of life,” Bitler says.

Bitler's next chapter? He wants to appear on Alone, the History Channel show where contestants try to survive in the wild. “And I'll win,” he vows.