As you look at some of the custom knife makers’ work on our website, you will notice that some have the designation “Journeyman Smith.” So often, I am asked what this means, so I thought I would write a brief synopsis.
In the later 1980s, I was introduced to forged blades. What drew my attention were the custom Damascus knives made by some of the ABS Master Smiths. The top makers were asking $100 an inch (including paying for the tang) for their knives, handle material, and a sheath. For example, Master Smiths would routinely price a 10″ Bowie with a 5″ handle at $1600 – $1800 (depending on handle material.) Remember, this was the 1988 price!
Looking for a less expensive forged knife option led me to carbon steel knives. Not knowing what I was looking for, I became an ABS Associate Member in 1988. Then I started to be educated on what the Journeyman Smith designation meant and why it was important to me.
Requirements for the performance test to become a Journeyman Smith (JS):
- 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 for at least three years before they can test for JS.
- Performance Test: The JS candidate can only test with carbon steel blades. There are guidelines for the knife to be used. This test is a 4-part event. The JS candidate must pass all four parts of this test to become eligible to test for JS.
- Rope Cutting: This aims to test the edge geometry and sharpness.
- Wood Chopping: Is required to demonstrate the edges’ toughness. A construction grade 2X4 is used for this test.
- Shaving Hair: This is to demonstrate the edge retention of the blade.
- Bending: Is done to show the applicant can heat treat a knife with a soft spine and hard edge. The differential heat treatment allows the blade to bend and not break. This type of heat treat could be an advantage on a hard-use knife.
Having met the time and performance test requirements, the JS candidate may now test for their JS Stamp (the JS in script you will see on their blades.)
The candidate will submit five knives with carbon steel blades for judging. This testing occurs at the Blade Show and several other locations during the year.
Makers will be awarded the JS stamp and certificate upon passing the judging portion of the requirements. For many, the next step is to become a Master Smith.
In addition to the performance test, most ABS makers will spend time learning this craft with other JS or MS makers. Some will attend the Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing at Texarkana College in Texarkana, Texas. Additionally, there are hammer-ins set up across the country. These are usually done over the weekend and further enhance the attendee’s skills and abilities in making forged blades.
As you can see, custom knife makers with the JS designation have put a lot of time and effort into becoming Journeyman Smith. The blade smith’s knowledge is evident 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.” In addition, I have attended classes on making and judging forged blades, and I have had the opportunity to evaluate finished knives at several shows 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. Both their current work, potential, and the price the makers charge for their knives are also essential to me. Too many JS makers are asking for too much money for their work.
What I look for is:
- Quality: Their fit, finish, and flow are commensurate with the rating in the ABS and their time-making knives. Example: Several JS makers are better knife makers than some MS makers.
- Position in the market: What is the makers’ current position in the custom knife market sector compared to the competitors?
- Price: This should be influenced by #2. Additionally, the materials used, the demand for their work, 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, and the materials used? Are they incorporating Stag, Premium woods, and Ivories as part of their handle material(s) options?
- Communication: Do they answer emails or return phone calls promptly? Do they make sure (to the best of their abilities) you are receiving the knife you want? Point: Communication is a two-way street. Both the customer and maker must communicate clearly and concisely.
When you see a knife maker with the JS designation on my website, you can be sure I have vetted them. Over thirty-five years, I have developed the skills on what to look for in all aspects of the knife. As a result, I feel I am working with some of the best Journeyman Smiths in the world. I would encourage you to look at their knives on my website and continually develop your knowledge of 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