Journeyman Smith Testing
In order for an Apprentice Smith to earn the rating of Journeyman Smith in the American Bladesmith Society, he or she must first pass a pre-determined set of tests that measure his or her ability to make a knife that will not only perform to a remarkable level, but will exhibit a level of fit, finish and design that is among the best in the world.
ABS Testing Rules and Guidelines for the Journeyman Smith Rating
ABS YouTube video of JS Performance Test
- Click: Video of actual JS Performance Test
Journeyman Smith Applicant Performance Test Certification Form
Journeyman Smith Testing
As you probably are aware, a bladesmith who joins the ABS must be a Regular (Apprentice) member for three (3) years before he or she is eligible to present knives to the judging panel at the annual Blade Show in Atlanta or ABS Expo in San Antonio, with the anniversary based on the date of that semi-annual ABS business meeting or event. For example, if, as it was in my case, a member joins in November, the months from November to the end of May will be more or less excess time if one choses to be judged at the Blade Show in Atlanta. "Time in grade", or the time the membership has exisited will be calculated from the following May or June, depending on the date of the Blade Show in Atlanta. The Blade Show in Atlanta will always fall in late May or early June.
Alternately, if one chooses to have his or her knives juried at the Expo at the end of January, he or she should be aware that their "time in grade" will be calculated from the time of the last January Expo, even though the membership may have been in place a few months longer. The member would, however, benefit from the months January through May in this case, should the knives be juried at the Expo, the following January, rather than the Blade Show. Although your ABS membership must be renewed each January 1st, the time requirement for having your knives juried runs from event to event in one (1) year increments.
Those who attend the Basic Bladesmithing Course are afforded a year's discount, and are therefore eligible to submit knives for Journeyman in only two (2) years. For this reason, it's a good idea to hold on to that graduation certificate. In either case, bladesmiths may schedule and take the physical cutting and bending test one (1) year prior to their eligibility date. Keep in mind, however, that this test is only good for a period of three (3) years. Should the smith not receive his or her rating by this time, he or she must retest before having knives juried at either event.
By the way, the original signed application form and the successfully bent blade must be presented with the bladesmith's knives at the time of the judging review in Atlanta, so keep both in a safe place...and for heaven's sake, don't do anything to that bent blade after the test. Don't straighten, grind, or otherwise alter that blade. Bring it just as it was after you completed the test.
Should the test be unsuccessful, the smith must wait six months before testing again, so it's important to time the test early enough to allow a second test prior to the Blade Show, should things not go as planned the first time.
We are an educational entity and our responsibility is to inform and educate the public and preserve and perpetuate the art of the forged blade. The free flow of information encouraged by the ABS is our most visible characteristic, as well as the most paramount. Without this, we would cease to be who and what we are.
This has resulted in the constant "raising of the bar," as it were in the quality and complexity of the forged knives being made today. This is a natural evolution, and is a good thing, to say the least. The integrity and the willingness of our members to follow this path is the most important single element and the core value which has improved the forged blade and brought it to today's standard of excellence.
Testing is an important part of what we do. Occasionally, new rules and standards come about by ABS Board review, and I will try and list some of them here. Some of the less-publicized rules, for example, have to do with the physical properties of the knives submitted for board review. At the Journeyman level, the following should be noted:
All knives submitted for review should be forged of carbon steel. NO DAMASCUS is allowed in blades or hardware for the Journeyman review.
No etched or "primitive" finishes are desired. You are being tested for your ability to satisfactorily finish the surfaces of your knives. Hand-rubbed or correctly buffed finishes are satisfactory.
No tomahawks, swords, war hammers, etc. may be submitted. Knives and only knives will be eligible for judging. It is not recommended that you submit sheaths with your knives, as they will be judged as an accessory to the knives if placed on the judging table.
Knives shall be of sole authorship; therefore, any engraving, bluing, or other embellishments must be your work. If this work is not at the same level as your knives, it could result in failure.
No folders are to be submitted at the Journeyman level. Carbon steel folders are normally not made of forged materials.
No more than two of any one style knife may be submitted. This means, for example, you may submit two Bowies, two hunters, etc. as part of your group of knives.
A total of five (5) knives are to be submitted to the judges. It's highly recommended that you bring six knives to the show, on the theory that should you find one damaged in shipment or transport, you will still have five knives to submit for review. Don't give in to the temptation to pass your knives around to your friends on the night prior to the judging...if one or more of them gets dropped, scuffed, stained, etc., you're pretty much out of the running, unless you brought a portable shop with you.
Each of your knives should be stamped or etched with a logo or touchmark indicating that they are of your making. These marks should be neat and uniform.
Please don't anticipate "wowing" the judges with something completely out of the ordinary. With the quality of the judges employed (Dean, Dunn, Keeslar, Fisk, etc.) it is highly doubtful that you will accomplish this. Your knives need not be ornate; they must be well-conceived and executed. The best bet is to stick with traditional or established designs...remember, this is only a test and a one-time requirement. You are free to carry on as you will, once the test is finished.
The by-word here is CLEAN! By that, I mean all of the lines should flow properly, blades should be straight, and your finishes should be as impeccable as you can make them. No tool marks, file marks, gaps, or excess solder should be in evidence. No filled and re-drilled pin holes, and your grind lines should be even and symmetrical. Pay particular attention to the "shoulders) where your blade flats join the ricasso. This is the first place the judges will look. Please - make your blades straight and make sure the guard, handle, etc. line up properly with the blade. Ovals should be symmetrical, and guards should be centered.
Materials - use the best materials you can. Plastic and polyester handle material might be good for a scuba knife of stainless steel, but I'd go with natural materials all the way for this test. Brass, nickel silver, and stainless guard materials are fine.
Sharpen your blades. All knives submitted should be fully sharpened and ready for use when submitted. Naturally, each knife should be properly heat treated, as well. No wall-hangers here.
So there's a good start for aspiring Journeymen. By the way, many Journeymen are also award-winners. At the blade show, the Best Handmade awards are open to bladesmiths and knifemakers at all levels. Some awards are restricted by classification, such as the awards presented by the Antique Bowie Knife Association at the Blade Show. There are awards given to both Masters and Journeymen.
My point is that your potential isn't limited to knife-related organizations, shows, or your rating, so good luck and get in there!
Greg Neely, Master Smith
Past Chairman, Board of Directors
American Bladesmith Society, Inc.
April 1, 2011
Notices of JS Testing Rule Changes
"Effective immediately, applicants for the JS stamp must have a minimum of two knives among the five submitted with at least 6 inch blades, and all of the knives submitted must have guards/bolsters."
James Batson, ABS Chairman
August 28, 2012
Changes to Testing Locations
The ABS Board of Directors conducted a meeting in San Antonio, Texas on August 20, 2010 and voted to have JS and MS testing at the San Antonio show in January 2012 in addition to the annual June testing at the Blade Show in Atlanta. The Peck and Hughes awards, however, will still only be issued at the Atlanta show.
Candidates that test at either location and do not pass will still be required to wait one calendar year before testing again. Candidates will have to apply a minimum of thirty (30) days prior to the date of the test to be eligible to test.