'Forged in Fire' winner forges ahead in steel and military service
Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series that features Alle-Kiski Valley people and the notable things that they do.
Maj. Jonathon Nagel of Oakmont has a will as strong as steel — and lots of other things made of metal.
The full-time Army reservist serves as the operations officer for the 336th Military Police Battalion in Pittsburgh’s Highland Park neighborhood.
But it’s his part-time job that garnered him national attention.
Nagel, 35, is a blacksmith and champion of the History Channel’s “Forged in Fire.”
The competition series is hosted by weapons expert and Army and Air Force veteran Wil Willis. It features world-class bladesmiths competing to create history’s most iconic edged weapons.
Four competitors battle each episode to win $10,000.
Nagel went up against other military personnel in the show’s military history tribute episode, during which he crafted a naval cutlass used in World War I and until shortly after World War II.
They filmed in April and the show aired in late May.
Nagel won first place.
But the catch was the prize money was to “purchase” the tool, which means he could not keep his award-winning piece.
He was able to buy a 16-ton forge press with his winnings.
The desire to craft hot metal came from attending festivals and fairs while he was growing up in the Midwest. Nagel lived in Indianapolis before he moved to Oakmont.
“I’d always be drawn to the sounds of the blacksmith tent,” he said. “The hammer — and you’d see the fire and got this big ol’ burly guy making something. It was something that was really cool.
“About five years ago, I was watching some videos on YouTube on it. I saw people were making their own forges and different stuff. I had some extra time and wanted to pick up a hobby. I turned a shed that I had in my house in Indianapolis and converted it into a forge out of some leftover scraps from an auto (salvage) yard.”
His initial creation was not something one would find in stores.
“The first thing I made was a pointy object,” he said. “I put a point on a bar and just practiced all the basics.”
Those pointy objects would later become swords, axes, a fireplace set and knives made from railroad spikes.
Nagel said he developed a passion to serve his country at a young age.
“Growing up, I was always drawn to the military,” Nagel said. “A lot of people in my family were military folks.”
His grandfather, Jack Nagel, was a World War II Navy pilot. His older brother, Andy, was in the Army Reserve in the 1990s.
“I remember going to his basic training graduation as a little kid,” Nagel said. “Seeing all the troops and discipline and everything fascinated me. One year, I was in college and pretty close to graduating. It’s during the fever pitch of the Iraq war in 2004.
“I felt like it was my turn to ante up and kick in.”
Most Army reservists are part time. Nagel was granted full-time work through the service’s Active Guard Reserve program. He moved to Oakmont from Indianapolis after being selected for the program.
“It’s an honor to be able to serve and to do it full time,” he said. “It’s something I think a lot of people take for granted. … We serve our nation at their beck and call. At any minute, we could get plucked up and go overseas. We could go down to the southern border, go to any number of operations across the globe.”
Nagel was deployed overseas twice, to Iraq in 2006 and Kuwait in 2009.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis in 2006, and a master’s in security and safety leadership from George Washington University in 2014.
When not serving his country, he toils away in a garage with two propane burners in a small forge sitting atop a metal cart.
Nagel lives in the borough with his wife, Alyssa, and stepson, Ryan, 2.
You can check out his creations online at facebook.com/nagelhausforge .
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, email@example.com or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.