As you look at some of the custom knife makers’ work on our website you will notice that some have the designation “Journeyman Smith.” I am often asked what this means so I thought I would write a brief synopsis.
I was introduced to forged blades in the late 1980’s. What drew my attention were the custom Damascus knives being made by some of the ABS Master Smiths. The top makers were asking $100 an inch (this included paying for the tang) for their knives, plus handle material and a sheath. A 10” Bowie with a 5” handle would routinely be priced at $1600 – $1800 (depending on handle material.) Remember this was the 1988 price!
This lead me to look for less expensive options, which at that time primarily meant carbon steel. Not knowing what I was looking for, I became an ABS Associate Member in 1988. It was then I started to be educated on what the Journeyman Smith designation meant and why it was important to me.
To become a Journeyman Smith (JS) some basic requirements have to be met:
- Eligibility: The candidate for JS must be an Apprentice Smith member for at least two years. At this point, they can take their performance test with an ABS Master Smith. However, they must have been an Apprentice Smith at least 3 years before they can test for JS.
- Performance Test: JS candidate can only test with carbon steel blades. There are guidelines for the knife to be used. The test is a 4-part event. All 4 parts have to be passed in order for the JS candidate to become eligible to test for JS.
- Rope Cutting: The purpose of this is to test the edge geometry and sharpness.
- Wood Chopping: This is done to demonstrate the edges toughness. A construction grade 2X4 is used for this test.
- Shaving Hair: The is to demonstrate the edge retention of the blade.
- Bending: This test is done to show the applicant is able to heat treat a knife with a soft spine and hard edge. This is known as “differential heat treat.” On a hard use knife, this type of heat treat could be an advantage.
Once the time requirement and performance test have been met. The JS candidate may now test for their JS Stamp (that is the JS in script you will see on their blades.)
The candidate will submit five knives, all having carbon steel blades for judging. This usually takes place at the Blade Show in Atlanta, GA, the first of June. Recently the ICCE Show in Kansas City has been added as an additional testing venue.
Upon successful completion, the maker will be awarded the JS stamp and certificate. For many, the next step is to become a Master Smith.
In addition to the performance test, most ABS makers will spend time with other JS or MS makers learning this craft. Some will attend the Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing at the Texarkana College in Texarkana, Texas. Additionally, there are hammer-ins set up across the country. These are usually done over the weekend and will further enhance the attendee’s skills and abilities with regards to making forged blades.
As you can see, custom knife makers with the JS designation have put a lot of time and effort into becoming a Journeyman Smith. The knowledge they have gained can be readily seen in the custom knives they produce. As with any endeavor some JS makers will be better than others.
Over the past 28 years, I have had the opportunity to visit several custom knife makers’ shops. It is always interesting to watch their “process.” I have attended classes on making and judging forged blades, and I have had the opportunity to judge finished knives at several shows both in the US and Canada.
At this point I have developed a pretty good eye for quality work at all three levels: AS, JS and MS custom knives. In addition to the current work and/or potential, the price the makers charge for their knives is also very important to me. Right now, too many JS makers are asking too much money for their work. Given what prices were being asked by some of the tactical folder makers, it should come as no surprise.
What I look for is:
- Quality: Their fit, finish and flow commensurate with the rating in the ABS and their time making knives. Example: There are several JS makers who are better knife makers than some of the MS makers.
- Position in the market: Where is the maker compared to their competitors in the current market?
- Price: This should be influenced by #2. Additionally, materials used, demand and how their retail prices hold up in the aftermarket. Right now, too many makers prices are not commensurate with the position in the market.
- Improving Skill Set: Are JS makers improving their fit, finish and flow? Are they moving towards making Damascus, San Mai, blades with Hamons, materials being used? Are they incorporating Stag, Premium woods and/or Ivories as part of their options for handle material?
- Communication: Do they answer emails or return phone calls in a timely manner? Do they make sure (to the best of their abilities) you are receiving the knife you want? Point: Communication is a two-way street. It is essential that both the customer and maker communicate in a clear and concise manner.
When you see a knife maker with the JS designation on my website, you can be sure they have been vetted by me personally. I spent a lot of time developing the skills on what to look for. I feel I am working with some of the best Journeyman Smiths in the world. I would encourage you to spend time looking at their knives on my website and continually develop your own knowledge base when it comes to forged blades. For additional information on what it takes to become a Journeyman Smith, I would recommend you follow this link the ABS website: http://www.americanbladesmith.com/index.php?section=pages&id=172