Some time ago i was asked by a certain someone to post up any advice i could think of that i might have picked up on going for my JS at this years Blade Show ..
well, finally i have gotten around to writing something down and here i submit it.
i dont have all the answers and i certainly do not claim to be any great font of information, but it might give some kind of general idea for those who are looking to test for their JS stamp.
i must apologise in that i am no writer.
but hopefully you will be able to make sense of it
and if there are any questions, please feel free to email me.
20 Hints and tips
1. Dont Panic!
Heed the words of Douglas Adams and live by this seemingly simple instruction!
Me testing for my JS stamp was something of a last minute decision and so the pressure was on for me to get all my blades done.
Regardless of how fast or slow you make blades, or how long you have given yourself to put your blades together... always remember to take your time and this includes time enough to step away from your projects.
The tests have been passed by many people before you .. and you too can pass them.
There is no hidden tricks, so, relax and just do the best work that you can do.
Just focus on the next thing that needs to be done and dont try to take it in all at once.
Its not a life or death situation here and its within your ability to test and pass.
Many a time I managed to work myself up into a frenzy because I kept seeing a deadline looming.
It was during these times that i managed to either mess up or injure myself, which brings me to:
2. please remember your SAFETY.
This is a no brainer for most of us or should be.
PLEASE wear the correct products to keep you safe.
Initially writing this article I did not mention anything about safety but here I sit with a horribly painful and bloodshot eye after having several slivers of metal pryed from it last night in the emergency room (and yes, i was wearing safety glasses)
I would hate to think what it would be like to have to press on and travel to the blade show with something like this.
Safety equipment might not save you each and every time .. but it sure will a lot of the time.
3. Get Help.
and I dont mean because you are a knifemaker and ergo you obviously 'need help'.
... that goes without saying.
What I mean is that there are more than enough people within the ABS who will be more than happy to help you through the test.
I dont have any MS's or JS's near me but with the wonder of the internet I was able to keep in constant pestering contact with people who were there to help me figure out any issue that came up.
When I had any questions, I could email the MS that was helping me and he would come back and let me know his thoughts etc.
If there was something that words could not express - I took a picture of the blade in question and sent that as well.
There were many more people who offered me help in one form or another.
Even those who were willing for me to post my blades to them so that they could pre-scrutinize them out for me.
Take advantage of this help, you can pay them back with chocolate cookies later.
For the meantime, show them everything you are in doubt about and ask them if they see anything wrong.
They dont need to be a MS, you can ask anyone who has the ability to see anything that might be an issue.
If your untrained neighbour can see the scratch on your blade, then the judges will as well.
No matter where you are, you will be able to find someone who will be willing to help. Im sure of that.
4. Know thy steel
For your performance blade, it doesnt matter so much as to what steel you use, so long as you know how to get the desired results from it.
Dont try to get all super fancy and use steels that you dont know anything about beacuse you heard everyone else was passing when using this steel etc.
If you can get the desired results from a blade forged from 1075, then use 1075.
If you can get the desired results from a blade forged from w2, then use w2.
The test is not what steel you know.. its whether you know how to use a steel to get these results.
5. Testing testing 1, 2, 3
Take the steel that you are most comfortable with and make several testing blades from that steel along with your actual performance blade.
Then - select the best one of that bunch for your performance blade and test your spares.
Dont cut any corners in your tests and dont worry about the expence of the materials.
Go out and buy some rope and buy some wood and try testing the blades you have made.
Put them in the vice and bend the suckers.
It will help you adjust your actual test blade as well as giving you a confidence boost that you know what you are doing.
..... also, it will give you something to take your frustrations out on as you need.
This is something that I found to be really helpful.
Not only did I have something to remind myself that I knew what I was doing, but I also learnt the techniques I needed to cut rope and not end up snagging half way through the cut.
You dont want to cut astraight across the rope, you want to come down on an angle and once you have tried it a few times, you will see why.
6. Measure twice .. and then measure again.
When making your performance blade, make sure that you stay within the requirements of the dimensions.
If your blade ends up an inch oversized, then its not going to be tested.
No matter how perfect it might be, it still wont be a pass and so just make extra sure that its within the range given.
This will still give you a good and hefty blade to work with.
Also, along similar lines- I know that the tests are scary - but you dont need to build a tank in order to pass them.
Everything is a trade off and if you build something horribly thick and bulky, yes you might survive the 2x4 chop, but you will have issues with the rope and possibly the bend test too.
Its quite surprising what a well heat treated piece of steel will manage to do in ways of performance.
Trust in the steel to do its job and if you know how to get the most out of the steel (hint #4) and you have seen it work time and time again (hint #5) then there is no reason why it wont come about for your actual performance test.
7. Performance Test.
Tie your Testing form to your test blade the night before your test so that you dont forget to bring it with you for the MS to sign.
During the performance test I found it helpful to keep in mind that this is YOUR test.
There is a whole lot of 'nerves' that might build up and there might be a whole mess of people watching you.
(or you might have a whole Blade Show worth of people waiting to hear if you pass it or not)
Whatever the case is- keep in mind that this is Your test and you can take all the time that you need.
Take a moment to calm down before you swing the blade at that nasty piece of rope.
Take your time hacking through the evil 2x4.
Heaven knows, I did.
If you rush, you might end up putting more abuse on your blade than you need to and it might not give you the result you want.
or, you might miss and hack your leg off for all I know... ?
But, by now, you will know that you can already pass the tests at home and so now you just need to show the MS that you can do it.
With your presentation blades, the best advice that was given to me was to think that you are making a bunch of blades for a very very picky customer.
A customer has come to you and asked for 5 straight forward blades that are clean and tidy.
This customer is one of those real pains in the behind and you want to get rid of them as quickly and easily as possible.
They arent after fancy.
They dont need a whole lot of bells and whistles - they just want them to be simple and clean and a great example of your work.
So, dont go overboard trying to impress this person.
Just do what you NEED to do and get the blades out.
I was warned time and time again - "keep it clean" "dont go fancy" "tidy .. remember tidy"
You arent here to impress or wow anyone.
Impress people by showing that you can make a blade to simple, clean and tidy specifications.
You have the rest of your career to impress in any other way you might wish.
9. Tricky areas.
Make sure that your blades are as good as you can make them.
Look them over time and time again and see if there are any bits that stand out to you.
You might find that as you make your blades, you will start to doubt them - this might be nerve getting to you.
Make sure that you have actual reason behind your fears.
If needs be, go back and pester your friendly neighbourhood MS and see what they think.
Double, triple and quadruple check the problem areas, but also the simple things too.
Yes, the plunge line of your bevel is a place of issue and you have to make sure that you pay close attention to that area, but its nothing if you leave an obvious scratch on the main part of the blade.
Check the blade in bright light, with the benefit of magnification if possible.
Check to make sure that the guard fits tightly against the ricasso.
Make sure that the lines of the plunge cut are even and match up.
Make sure that everything is symmetical where it is meant to be.
Leave no scratches or pits and for this regard, be advised to stay clear of a forged finished blade.
I was advised to steer clear of wrought iron.
and we all know to avoid using any damascus, even in the fittings, right?
The same goes for mokume gane, as beautiful as it can be - leave it off for these blades.
Dont start playing with acid techniques like mustard finishes etc - you want a nice, clean even finish. Remember - simple.
Make sure that everything is in line. You dont want a handle shooting off 20* from the blade. Keep it all in line and even.
Be aware of any areas where glues have been used. Make sure that they have been cleaned up and arent left in little crevices etc.
Make sure you polish and file work you have put on your blades. If you find that you cant polish the tiny little file cuts you have put in, then you shouldnt have used that pattern in the first place.
All of this is fairly routine stuff and I am sure that you all do it with all your blades before you send them out to their new owners.
Just remember to look at any problem areas and make sure that they are as neat and tidy as you can possibly get them.
Measure them with your calipers and make ultra sure and when its right - stop.
Dont fuss over a blade and end up messing it up due to nerves.
With a headset loupe on and a good light source, you should be able to pick up on anything and correct it before you go to get judged.
Once you have looked under the light source, take it outside and check it again in sunlight.... if its still ok - Great!
10. Be prepared ..
When you have passed your performance test, the MS will have signed your Testing form.
Remember to bring that form to the judging room along with your 5 presentation blades.
DONT, for example, leave it in your hotel room and have to run around trying to get it and get back before the judges close the doors on you.
that would be ... umm .. bad.
Remember to have all 5 of your presentation blades there and remember to have your form there along with your deformed performance blade.
If you forget to bring any of these items on the day, you will not be able to test and will end up feeling a right nit.
11. Wipe your blades down.
If you have put oil, wax or whatever onto your blades for transport, make sure that you wipe alllllll of that stuff off.
The judges will not be wiping your blades down to make sure that they are clean and nice for you.
So, if there is a gob of gunk that is stuck around the ricasso, they will more than likely just look at it as the mess that it is.
So give your blades a good wipe down and make sure they are as presentable as possible on the day.
12. Give yourself enough time for Oops.
Let me say this plainly ... Airlines are gits.
Now that that is out of the way:
As you are travelling to the show, make sure you give yourself enough time to allow for things going wrong.
Give yourself a couple days if needs be.
DONT expect to arrive there 2 hours before the judging doors close and expect all to be well.
You might be delayed in an airport, having missed a connecting flight ..
You might get caught in traffic ..
You might not find a parking spot..
YOU MIGHT HAVE YOUR SUITCASE LOST IN TRANSIT.
who knows ..
I gave myself 2 days extra and I still managed to have issues.
Give yourself as much time as you can.
Also, if you bring along a little travel repair kit, you will be able to do any little repairs that might be needed to patch up your travel weary blades.
Airlines are not careful with your blades - no matter how many large stickers you have on your luggage stating how fragile it is, they will still hurl it over their shoulders. IF you are unlucky enough to find one of your blades messed up in transport, this little travel kit of things might help you to get it in shape for judging.
Think of anything and everything that you might be able to bring with you to do any minor repairs to your blades while sitting in your hotel room.
This kit will be specific to your own blades, what you have put into them and how you work.
I managed to get: into my suitcase
a few clamps,
several grits of wet'n'dry,
a buffing block and cloth,
some light oil,
some super glue,
and a diamond hone.
If the airlines start to wonder why you have all these things in your bag, let them know that you are a craftsman or artist and that you might need to repair your work upon landing.
I would suggest avoiding words like knifemaker or bladesmith as these words seemed to always make the operator a little bit more twitchy.
13. Bubblewrap is your friend.
Just an addition to travelling woes - If you are flying to the show, make sure that you pack your blades IN YOUR CHECKED LUGGAGE.
Im pretty sure no one would be silly enough to try to bring their test blades onto an airplane... right?
When you pack your backs, make sure you put your blades in something secure, with lots of padding.
You dont want people going through your suitcase and being tempted to swipe something.
I wrapped my blades in a large bundle of bubble wrap so that it would literally bounce off if hurled at a wall.
This way you know it is safe from most dings and bump as well as being large enough that if someone tried to swipe it, it would be bulky and obvious.
14. 6 is the new 5.
The judges want 5 blades.
Make at least 6 .. I made 7 and did have to use one of my backup blades as it happens.
Spread out all the blades you have made for this endeavour and then pick the 5 best.
15. Guard your blades.
Before the judges shut the doors on the judging room, there is plenty of time to wander around and see all the blades that people have out on display.
THIS is the time for people to see your blades if they wanted to see them pre-testing.
Resist the urge to take your blades down to the pit the night before the judging to show them to people.
You are really tempting fate if you do go around showing them off
All it takes is someone bumping you or someone accidentally dropping one of your blades and it might leave you short a blade.
You will find that most JS's and MS's will be rather reluctant to grab a hold of your blades before the judges have had their chance to judge them.
When the MS's that I personally knew came and hovered around the table as I was getting my blades ready for judging, I asked if they wanted to take a look at them and I swear that they all took a single step back all in unison - dont take this as an offense, they are dying to pick up your blades, its just no one wants to be the person responsible for you not getting your JS via an accident.
16. Timing is everything.
Make aboslutely sure that you are in that judging room on time.
Set an alarm to get you up in more than enough time.
Set two if needs be.
(make sure that if you are sharing a room, that you inform your room mate of your alarms as early morning squabbles are never good)
The day before the judging, scout out where the room is and know how to get there from your hotel room.
Give yourself enough time to walk from your hotel room to the judging room, including several minutes to be stopped by people who will be wishing you luck.
Its not something you want to cut slim or press your luck on.
Get there with enough time that you can set your blades down and have them ready for viewing.
When you are asked to leave the room so that the judges can start their judging, stay around the judging room. DONT run off to go to the bathroom - make sure you have gone well in advance.
DONT run off to the pub to get something to calm your nerves either.
Sit with your fellow hopefuls and talk about how torturous all this is and what you are going to do to celebrate afterwards. This is part of the experience.
Whatever you do, just make sure that when the judges are ready to talk to you - you are there.
Its only courteous.
17. Keep in mind...
Everyone wants you to pass.
I am sure that the judges do not like to have to tell people that they have not managed to pass this time around ..
This is something to keep in mind.
But, if you dont happen to pass, listen to what is said.
Dont hide your blades away after that, in fact you should show them to more people and try to find out how you can do things differently so that when you come back next time, you DO pass.
Its all a learning experience and if you dont manage to get your stamp the first time over, learn from it and aim for it next time around.
Not passing does not mean that you do not know how to make blades.
It just means that you need to work on some part of what you are doing so that you meet with the very specific requirements of the society.
The more information you can gather on how to meet these requirements, the better prepared you will be for when you come back to try again.
18 -> 20. Good luck! and I personally wish you all the best in your testing!