Master Smith Testing
In order for a Journeyman Smith to earn the rating of Master 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 Master Smith Rating
ABS Judging Guidelines
Master Smith Applicant Performance Test Certification Form
Master Smith Testing
Assuming that the candidate has held the rating of Journeyman Smith for a period of two years or more, he or she is now eligible to enter the testing phase for Master Smith. The first step, of course, is the physical performance test, probably more commonly known as the "cutting and bending" test.
On this occasion, however, the test blade must be made by the applicant of pattern-welded Damascus steel of the applicant's making. The same maximum size requirements are in force - 10 inches maximum blade length from guard to tip, a maximum width of not more than 2 inches, and 15 inches maximum overall length of the knife.
There are a couple of new twists added. The Damascus blade must consist of a minimum of 300 layers. The blade should be lightly etched, just enough so that the Master testing the applicant can see the layers and make a good estimate as to the layer count. The test blade also must be of hidden tang design. If the tang bends over during this test, the applicant does not pass, so I heartily recommend that a rudimentary handle and guard be firmly affixed to the blade, and held in place by at least one metal pin through the handle and tang. This should give enough support and mechanical advantage to prevent the bending of the tang area.
Finish is not important at this stage. The Master may ask you several questions to get a better picture of your knowledge, and he may, if he wishes, point you toward his forge and require you to either forge a blade or weld up a Damascus billet.
Given that the blade passes the performance test, the applicant must provide the testing Master a copy of the ABS form so that he can affix his signature, certifying that the applicant tested and passed on that date. Keep the form and the bent blade in a safe place until you appear in Atlanta and bring both with you to the Board review. You must bring both or you will not be allowed to pass the review! A successful test is good for a period of three years.
The smart applicant will also bring some of his finished knives with him or her to show the testing Master. Once the Master sees your finished work, he or she can advise you as to where you are and what, if anything, you need to improve on your work before you submit your knives for the Board review in Atlanta. For this, you want a Master with a very critical eye, so that you get some benefit from his inspection. If he says, "Those are very nice," press him further for improvements you might make.
Most Masters will readily tell you if he likes the overall look of a knife if you ask him to "look at" your knives. The situation changes when you ask for a "critique" of your work. The critique is what you want if you really need to know where you are and what you need to improve. The Master doing a critique isn't doing you any favors if he doesn't point out each and every flaw that he spots. This is a learning experience, not personal criticism. Please accept it as such, as he's only doing his job and showing you where all the "land mines" are. Take his or her advice seriously, and if need be, ask the Master how to go about improving. That's also his job.
A few things change during the Board review for Master Smith. For one, you may now use Damascus for any or all parts of the knives you bring for review; however, only one of these knives is required to be made of Damascus. The one required knife in this review is as follows:
Art Dagger (Required piece)
1. The applicant must provide for review a knife in the form of a European Quillon Dagger. The guard of the dagger must be a quillon guard, similar to those found on European daggers in the middle to late middle ages. Quillons are lugs or extensions which extend outward from the center of the knife, and may be forged or turned. They must be even, symmetrical, and pleasing in appearance. Flat round guards or oval guards do not qualify.
2. The blade of this dagger must be forged of pattern-welded Damascus steel of the applicant's making. It must also be:
A. Of at least 300 layers in construction. Should the applicant make a mosaic or geometrically patterned blade, at least one area should readily be identified as having 300 layers.
B. A minimum of 10 inches in length, guard to tip.
C. Ground in either a double flat grind (diamond cross-section) or double hollow-ground.
Naturally, the blade must be straight, symmetrical, and contain no flaws or cold shuts. After all, this literally is your masterpiece! Twists, ladder patterns and mosaic patterns are all encouraged, but be sure that there is at least one section visible which the judges can ascertain that the blade meets the 300-layer minimum.
3. The handle also has some requirements. Its length should be appropriate for the blade, and I recommend that you make it of the very best materials you can afford. A word of advice: do not use synthetic materials on the handle of this knife or cut corners in materials. The use of brass furniture and/or copper electrical wire on this handle will get a lot of frowns from the judges. The more salient requirements are as follows:
The handle must be inlaid with a twisted wire wrap, set to a depth of one half its (the twisted wire's) diameter. The handle must also be fluted for most of its length between the strands of twisted wire. The strands of twisted wire must show the same degree of twist for all. Flutes should be crisp, distinct, and well-finished. The spacing and depth for wires and flutes must also be even and uniform.
Most people spiral the flutes and wire around the handle. This was commonly done in the "old days" and it helped with the grip and it also helped hold the wire in place tightly. The wire is not to be glued to the handle and must stay firmly in place, though the hidden ends of the wire can certainly be anchored in any appropriate manner. Although the wires will necessarily terminate beneath the metal furniture at either end of the handle, be sure the flutes stop short of the ends, and do not leave a sharp metal overhang where the flutes meet the guard, pommel, or spacers.
The rules currently do not specify that the wire and flutes must be spiraled around the handle and we do see some with the wire/flutes running parallel with the handle. If you do opt for the straight design for your wire and flutes, it will help if the handle has some swell in the center and tapers to the ends. Wire is difficult to keep in place, otherwise, and the use of something shaped like a mop handle won't meet with much approval. With either method, I recommend a minimum of four strands of twisted wire, with appropriate flutes between.
Your "sword-hilted dagger" as they are sometimes called, must be symmetrical, straight, and of solid construction. One term I have heard and adopted to describe a good solid dagger design is "weapons grade." This doesn't mean it needs to be a real heavyweight; it just needs to be a well-executed design which would have been suitable for practical use during the period they were carried. Engraving, bluing, browning, filework, etc. is allowed, but not required. It is required that any and all work done on your knives be done by you and only you. Remember also that any embellishments must be of Master quality. The byword here is clean.
Now this all sounds a lot scarier than it is. Again, this is the only Damascus steel knife the Master applicant is required to provide for Board review. Any of the remaining four knives may have any or all parts made of Damascus steel. Speaking of Damascus steel, remember that any Damascus presented for review must contain no flaws or cold shuts. The etch should be crisp and well-finished.
The remainder of the applicant's knives may be of different design, but no more than two of the remaining four knives may be of the same design. Two bowies, two camp knives- you get the idea. There is, however, a pending discussion on the agenda to further diversify the designs of the knives submitted at the Master level so as to demonstrate the applicant's versatility. Therefore, it may well be a good idea not to submit any knives for the judging which might be seen as "same blade, different handle material". Be diverse and show a variety of knives to the judges. A Master applicant may also submit up to two folding knives, as long as at least the blades are of pattern-welded Damascus steel. In the case of folders, the judges will check them for proper construction, blade alignment (open and closed) and operation. No drag marks on the blade or liners, no gaps, and certainly no "rough spots" in operation. Detents should be fully functional, if used and lockups secure, if they exist on the knife.
Please do not submit swords, axes, tomahawks, war hammers, etc. for review. Knives and knives only will be accepted for judging. As with the Journeyman review, any sheaths or accessories will be judged if placed on the table, so we recommend that since they are not required, don't place them on the judging table.
Hopefully, by following these guidelines the applicant will attain the rating of Master Smith within the American Bladesmith Society, Inc. and be counted among the very finest bladesmiths in the world. The best of luck to you!
Greg Neely, Master Smith
Past Chairman, Board of Directors
American Bladesmith Society, Inc.
Thirty (30) day Notice of Intent Requirements for
Master Smith Candidates
ABS bladesmiths who plan to be juried for their Master Smith rating at the annual Blade Show in Atlanta, Georgia need to contact the American Bladesmith Society through our Chairman at least thirty (30) days prior to the scheduled Judging date to advise us that you will be presenting your knives to the Judging Panel. We need to check the ABS membership records in advance and to verify your ABS join date, school attendance date if applicable, dues payment record, and obtain a copy of your Performance Test Certification Form. We will then prepare and certify a list of eligible candidates for the Judging Panels.
To notify the ABS of your intent to present your knives to a Judging Panel in Atlanta or San Antonio please contact our current ABS Chairman.
Examples of Previous Master Smith Candidate Knives
The attached photos are posted in response to requests by ABS members for a posting of available photos of some of the knives submitted to the ABS Judging Panel by previous successful candidates for the Master Smith rating in Atlanta.
Click below to view the available photos:
Video Example of Master Smith Performance Test
The ABS YouTube Channel displays a video clip of an actual Master Smith Performance Test to give an idea of the steps involved in a successful performance test.
*Change to Master Smith Testing Rules*
The ABS Board of Directors voted at the June 2009 Board Meeting in Atlanta to exclude the "random pattern" as a Damascus pattern used for the Master Smith dagger blade.
ABS Board of Directors