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The Quest To Obtain Abs Journeyman Certification The Road to San Antonio by Lydia McGhee

#1 User is offline   Dan Cassidy 

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Posted 24 July 2011 - 03:36 PM

Lydia McGhee produced a multimedia project for a Gonzaga University graduate class in communications. Lydia chose to focus the project on her husband E. Scott McGhee and his quest to become an ABS Journeyman Smith. As part of the project Lydia produced video clips that include interviews with Haley and Adam DesRosiers, Shelly and Jason Knight, Kevin and Cheryl Evans, and herself about the ABS Journeyman Smith testing process.

Lydia contacted Sally and I for information on ABS statistics and rules and it is with her permission that her article is presented on the ABS Forum. This multimedia project is very well done and I know that it will give some insight into the process from several different member perspectives.

Great job Lydia and all the best to Scott in San Antonio!




The Road to San Antonio

One Knifemaker's Quest to Obtain ABS Journeyman Certification
by Lydia McGhee

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Powerful whacks resonate from the metal shop behind the house – repetitive machine-like poundings followed by a pause, then softer whacks, less consistent, more human. Suddenly, the hammering stops. Inside the shop a powerful man stands a few feet from a roaring gas forge. Flames flicker out of a small hole in the front, and one end of a long metal bar soaks in the fire. The man holds the cool end gently in his hand and watches intently as the far end, which looks like a knife, begins to glow. Completely indifferent to the bead of sweat that trickles down his nose and splashes on the concrete floor, E. Scott McGhee's motionless posture contradicts the sweaty shirt and dirty mule-skin apron that hug his body. . . but he isn’t still for long. As the knife blazes orange, he pulls the bar from the fire and the pounding begins anew.

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E. Scott McGhee is a bladesmith. He forges knives and other edged tools from high carbon steels. It is a primitive art born in antiquity and nearly lost in this country during the 20th century. Expert bladesmiths craft knives born of fire and artisan vision, beautiful beyond imagination, and functional beyond belief.

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In the mid-1970’s, the art of the forged blade was dying. At that time, factory produced knives wildly dominated the market and only a few bladesmiths and their loyal customers understood what was being lost. According to the American Bladesmith Society (ABS), only 12 American artisans publicly practiced traditional bladesmithing in 1976 when four devotees created the ABS to preserve the art. Bill Moran, one of the founding members, hoped to double the number of active bladesmiths, and he wasn't disappointed. There are currently 1084 ABS members, 160 ABS journeyman, and 115 ABS masters worldwide.

E. Scott McGhee is an ABS apprentice on a quest to become a journeyman. He played at a coal forge on and off for over 30 years making historic kitchen implements, but only recently built a gas forge, joined the ABS, and began bladesmithing. He would like to forge blades full-time.

But why forge when you can simply grind?

According to E. Scott McGhee, “I forge because it allows me to be creative. While those who grind are limited by the shape of the stock, those of us who forge are not. Forging allows me to craft designs that flow for beauty as well as function.”

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The American Bladesmith Society sponsors classes, hammer-ins, and shows to promote the art of the forged blade, and they certify journeyman and master bladesmiths. The process is intense. Journeyman candidates must be ABS members for three years (two years if they take an ABS class), pass a rigorous performance test, and survive a brutal peer review.

Scott passed his JS Performance Test in January of this year, but it wasn’t easy. Bladesmithing is more than just pounding metal into the shape of a knife. ABS-certified smiths heat-treat in house to produce products far superior to mass produced blades.

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According to Scott, “Proper heat treating allows me to turn a piece of art that looks like a knife into a high performance blade.”

JS Performance Test knives must 1) Cut through a free-hanging 1-inch manila rope in a single pass 2) Chop through a 2x4 twice without dulling and 3) Bend to 90 degrees without breaking. Every Journeyman performance knife is destroyed during testing, as are some dreams. Not everyone passes, but all who do say the performance test is the easy part.






The peer review is tougher. Twice a year at either the Blade Show in Atlanta or the Forged Knife Expo in San Antonio, journeyman candidates may present five knives to a panel of seven ABS masters. This year 17 candidates tested at Blade and 13 passed.

According to Haley DesRosiers, a new JS, “At 8am the door is locked and the judging begins. Then, after what feels like 6 or 7 years, they begin to call you in one by one. It’s like being on death row.”

If you fail, you can test again in a year. If you fail three times, the dream dies.

Masters are tough in the judging room but generous elsewhere. All ABS-certified smiths are expected to share knowledge and masters are expected to teach as preserving the art is the goal. Scott is apprenticing with ABS Master Jason Knight, but frequently communicates with other ABS-certified smiths and has been amazed by how generous all have been.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without them,” says Scott, “I stand on the shoulders of giants."

At the Blade Show in June, ABS Master Adam DesRosiers said it best, “It’s a great time to be a bladesmith. If it were twenty years ago, we'd all be alone at our coal forges reinventing the wheel every time."

Thanks to the American Bladesmith Society, that's no longer true.

They are an eccentric lot, the ABS bladesmiths. All love knives, most love guns, and many are good ole’ boys and gals, but all are metallurgists and artists at heart and shouldn’t be mistaken for anything else. They are kind, knowledgeable, and generous – a good group to have on your side.

Hot knives, cool people – this is the community E. Scott McGhee is quickly making his own. Watch for him. He is fiercely passionate about forging and his peers recently named him an up-and-coming bladesmith.

Scott will present five knives at the Forged Blade Expo in San Antonio in January of 2012 and hopefully come home with a JS stamp.

Stamp or no, the art of the forged blade will be preserved.

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Check out more of Scott's work at GuineaHogForge.com







Lydia’s original article is posted at http://absbladesmith.blogspot.com





Dan Cassidy
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#2 User is offline   paul savage 

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Posted 24 July 2011 - 07:03 PM

Good luck to Scott in his quest for the iron stamp. A very exhilerating experience if not totally excruciating at the same time.
Paul Savage
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#3 User is offline   Steve Culver 

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Posted 25 July 2011 - 07:06 AM

What an excellent article!! Very well written and informative! The videos are great too!!

The insight into the perspective of the wives is a great addition. Cheryl Evans comment about the spouses deserving an award for putting up with the bladesmith during that period says it all. As I waited for the judges to inspect my knives, I was keenly aware that it would be difficult for my family to put up with me if I didn't pass and had to build another set of test knives. I was a stressed out, grumpy old bear while I worked on my submission knives. I could have wound up divorced and disowned by the time I got five more test knives made. I am so very grateful and appreciative of Mary's patience and tolerance of me during that time. I can only imagine the stress level in Adam and Haley's home as they both worked on their submission knives! :D

Adam's comment about feeling the judges looking over your shoulder as you work is dead on. It felt as though the judges were right there in the shop with me, inspecting the knives and watching every move that I made. I could hear them urging me to make the knife better and cleaner; and I could hear them groan every time that I made a mistake. Making the test knives definitely changes the way that you analyze the quality of your work!

Thanks to Lydia for creating this great multimedia project. And, good luck to Scott!! I look forward to seeing you in San Antonio!
Steve Culver
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#4 User is offline   Dan Cassidy 

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Posted 26 July 2011 - 09:06 AM

I just received this month's Email Newsletter from Blade Magazine and the Online Editor has featured this article. I have the article posted on the ABS page on the Blade Magazine website.


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Videos: One 'Maker's Journey to ABS Certification

Knifemaker E. Scott McGhee's mission to get a journeyman certification from the American Bladesmith Society (ABS) is chronicled in this article.

Through photos and videos, you'll get a feel for what it takes to get high honors from one of the world's foremost knife organizations.

Click here to follow McGhee's journey.
Dan Cassidy
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#5 User is offline   BrionTomberlin 

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Posted 26 July 2011 - 08:15 PM

I have to say a great article and videos. Scott and Lydia, it was great to meet you all at Blade. Also thank you for explaining a guinea hog to us.

Getting your certification wether JS or MS is a major milestone for bladesmiths. It is hard to describe the feelings when you are laying your knives on that table and then having to wait outside that door for what seems like forever, or in Haley's words " like six or seven years". But when you pass the rest of the weekend goes by in a blur, but you remember every minute

From a judges point of view, it is also very hard. We are passing judgement on a persons sweat, hard work, and hopes. Not something to be taken lightly at all.

After you earn that rating you will find yourself trying to make each knife better than what you layed on that table, also being more critical of your work. It is amazing how nit picky you can get.

As for the spouses who support us. I would not be where I am without Diane's help and support. What they go through and put up with, they should get a rating for.

Scott I wish you luck and look forward to seeing you in San Antonio.

Brion
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Posted 05 August 2011 - 03:38 PM

Thanks to everyone for the kind comments on the project. I had a blast putting it together and, given some of the comments, I see a need for a video from the judges perspective. That's gotta be a hard job. I love Cheryl's comment too. She was great! And how Adam and Haley survived the past year, I do not know.

It was super great to meet everyone. Scott's real job is taking up all his time right now (thus I'm typing this) and he'd really like to kill me for publishing all this, but I think he'll rise to the occassion whether he thinks he's ready or not.

Pushing is what us wives do so well, right?

Lydia McGhee
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