Internationally recognized ABS Master Smith and Forged in Fire Judge J. Neilson will be headlining at the April 1 & 2 Texas Select Custom Cutlery Event at the Austin County Fairgrounds in Bellville! While most people recognize him as the judge who breaks things on the popular History Channel competition show, Neilson will be working in the fires to demonstrate his own canister Damascus forging techniques on stage with his apprentice Shelley Jack both Saturday and Sunday. Neilson is coming to Bellville all the way from his Mountain Hollow Forge in Pennsylvania. He has also set aside time to sign autographs and take pictures with the fans each day. (See Texas Select Event Schedule at TexasSelectEvent.com)
J. Neilson will be joined by over 150 bladesmiths and knifemakers from 23 states across the country, from New York to Washington, who are coming to Bellville the first weekend of April. The Texas Select Event is hosted by Cowboy Szymanski of Phenix Knives, who competed in the first season of Forged in Fire. Cowboy started this annual event on his birthday in 2018, inviting 18 of his fellow Forged in Fire competitors from 5 states to the backyard of the Blacksmith Shop on Main Street. That first year saw about 2,500 visitors pour through the property to meet the bladesmiths, watch them work, and purchase hand-crafted knives. Since then, with enthusiastic support from the community, this grass roots event has continued to grow each year. By 2022 the event had outgrown the backyard and was moved to the Austin County Fair Convention & Expo Center and Show Barn. In addition to viewing and shopping for high quality hand-crafted knives, visitors will also find interactive forging opportunities, tomahawk throwing, chopping competition, and even the Battleship Texas 20mm anti-aircraft gun!
From the beginning of this event, Cowboy has looked for ways to give back to the community which has shown him so much support since he moved Phenix Knives to the Blacksmith Shop 20 years ago. Each year he has donated one of his hand-crafted Damascus knives to the Bellville Engineering, Science & Technology Booster Club which they raffle off to raise money for their science camp and scholarship fund. Tickets are sold leading up to and during the Event, with the winner being drawn on stage. In the last 5 years, BEST Boosters has been able to give away about $22,500 in scholarship money from the knife raffle.
Also, as the event grew, so did the need to have concessions available on site. Resisting suggestions to bring in out-of-town food trucks, Cowboy turned to the Bellville Lions Club. The Lions and their high school apprentices the Leo Club are able to raise money for the numerous charities they support in our community by selling a nice variety of hot lunch choices and cold beverages.
Last year, a formal knife judging followed by an awards ceremony was added to the show. In order to provide a hot meal on location, Cowboy asked local Boy Scout Troop 36 if they would like to serve the dinner as a fundraiser. The knifemakers love it that the money they spend for dinner will support the scouts activities.
Support for this growing annual event has come in many ways, not the least of which are the many volunteers who chip in some time and effort to help everything run well. The family favorite Chopping Competition (2:00 each day) was in need of new tables for the chopping obstacle course, so Cowboy sought out the Bellville High School Construction Class. Under the guidance of their teacher Alan Jeffrey, the high schoolers have been working on building those new tables which will get put to use this weekend.
Knife Magazine attended the Texas Select Event last year and wrote about it, calling it a “new breed of knife show.” Many wonder how a town so small (and so far away from airports) can attract so many skilled knifemakers, from Master Smiths to the next generation of new talent. In addition to the uniqueness of this Makers only show, many of them say it is the warm welcome they receive in this town. They see the support from community businesses posted on the stage banners. They are even treated to a complimentary breakfast provided by Bellville First Baptist and Bellville Methodist Church.