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Viewpoints Of New Journeyman On Preparing For Testing And Judging

#1 User is offline   Dan Cassidy 

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 01:14 PM

Viewpoints of New Journeyman on Preparing for Testing and Judging


I answer many questions asked by our Apprentice Smiths every week who are preparing to take the JS Performance Test or are preparing to have their presentation knives judged in Atlanta or San Antonio about the ABS rules. I am familiar with the rules and can answer those questions. From a practical point of view I thought that it would beneficial to have a discussion about how our newest Journeyman Smiths from San Antonio prepared for their JS Performance Tests and the Judging Panels.

What experiences did they have? What advice would they give to prospective Journeyman candidates? How long did it take to build their presentation knives? What advice did they receive from Master Smiths or Journeyman that they found valuable? Did they ever attend any of the seminars at an ABS Hammer-In on JS/MS testing standards?

This is a discussion that all of us can participate in and learn from. We can help each other.




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#2 User is offline   Ed Caffrey 

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 02:34 PM

Having gone through both the JS and MS testing process, as well as judging at both levels since 2001, the very first thing I can offer is that until an individual actually goes through the process, it is difficult for them to grasp what the experience is like.
First and foremost, if you are serious about the testing process, it is going to take effort, time, and dedication. The "effort" is not only in producing the knives one intends to present, but extends into what many of use term "doing your homework". That means getting out there to some major shows to see, and understand the level of craftsmanship that is expected for the level you are seeking to achieve. That might also mean making phone calls to ask questions of Mastersmiths, and/or taking the time/effort to visit other makers, hammer-ins, or anywhere else knifemakers congregate. I suppose the "time" and "dedication" will fall right in with the effort portions....most importantly...If you are serious about testing, whether it be for JS or MS, it is essential to get your presentation knives done early, and get them to as many Mastersmiths as possible for a hard critique.

One of the very first questions that I always ask anyone who fails is...."How many Mastersmiths critiqued your knives prior to judging?" Almost without exception, the response from someone who failed is that there were either no Mastersmiths closely available, or they were not going to take the time/effort to travel in order to have their knives critiqued. There you go....fail to prepare...prepare to fail.

While there are individuals who do pass without having their knives critiqued by Mastersmiths, the percentage is extremely low, and undoubtedly, they have received instruction/knowledge from some of those Mastersmiths along the way. My thought pattern is this.....why would anyone be willing to spent all the money to get to either San Antonio, or Atlanta to put their knives in for judging, and not prepare themselves as much as possible?

Every year, starting around the March time frame, I get many phone calls from folks who are planning on testing at the Blade show. These range from those who are deadly serious, to those who call, questioning the rules, and in many cases it seems they are seeking ways "around" those rules. Honestly, the rules say what they mean, and mean what they say. For example, the JS rule clearly state "No Damascus"....that means absolutely nothing on a JS presentation knife can be Damascus...or for that matter even LOOK like damascus. But still I have individuals who want to "stretch" the rules with things like "etch wrought iron" guards and/or butt caps. Here's the thing...when judging at either the JS or MS level, there are not tools, other than our eyes and our experience used to judge the knives submitted. Whatever it LOOKS like, is what it is, and it will be judged as such.

The rules separate the JS and MS levels by stating: JS knives must exhibit EXCELLENT quality/workmanship. That means that a certain level of "mistakes" are expected and accepted. The job of the judges is to determine IF a given error is enough to cause a failure. The MS level is where things get really easy for judges. MS knives must exhibit OUTSTANDING to SUPERLATIVE quality/craftsman ship. Bluntly stated, that means on any MS presentation knife, if it looks like a mistake, it is a mistake, and the knife fails.

Something I always ask myself when I'm judging....Are these knives good enough that I would be proud to have them sitting on a table next to mine? Do they exemplify the qualities/craftsmanship of the ABS in their given category? (JS or MS) If I have to answer "No" to either of those questions, it's difficult for me to give them a passing grade.
When I tested for and passed my MS, I can remember thinking..."Boy! Now I've got it made!" That lasted about a day, then I realized that I had set a personal standard for my knives. That being from that point on, every knife I let out the shop door either had to meet, or exceed the standard of my MS test knives.

Finally, I've said this before, but it's worth repeating. Often times I hear "The ABS keeps raising the standards!" The ABS hasn't raised any standards...WE,the knifemakers/bladesmiths are the ones who have. Having judged for nearly a decade, I can tell you that with the availability of information, and the willingness to share, knives presented for judging just keep getting better and better. And rightly so. The ABS rating of JS carries with it a level of excellence, and the MS rating carries an even higher standard.... neither is easy, but both are achievable with the right attitude, and some elbow grease.
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#3 User is offline   ZackJonas 

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 03:25 PM

Hi Everybody,

Zack Jonas here, brand new JS. I was awarded my mark down in San Antonio last weekend along with seven other excellent makers. It was a great experience.

First I’d like to give credit where credit is due: Dan, this thread was a great idea. I’m very glad to participate in it and share my experience with other aspiring makers. So thanks! Now, down to business:

Performance test:
I’m the type of guy who does not like to leave important things to chance. At some point, you have to let go—you never know whether there might be some flaw in a piece of steel, or something—but in an endeavor like this, my objective was to be as close to certain as I could be that I was going to pass the test.

I made six performance blades, as similar as I could manage in terms of overall dimensions, thickness/taper, and profile. I made them all out of 1084. I heat treated three pairs three different ways: 1) full quench 1x, 2) full quench 2x, and 3) edge quench 2x. I tempered them all identically. I drew the spine on all six back to a spring temper twice. (I made very sure to give the ricasso areas just a touch extra—this is where you are most likely to have a stress riser.) Then I ran through the complete performance test on my own with one from each pair and everything but the bend on each of the others. I took the mate of the one I thought performed the best to the actual test with JD Smith.

(Note: I marked the tang at the butt with a file, giving each knife a number and a mark or series of marks indicating the quenching process used. I also used visibly different woods for each pair, just so that I could see at a glance which was which.) I bent some with the edge still sharp and some with the edge dulled off. I did not observe any difference at all.

All of my knives passed the test. The one I ended up bringing to JD was a 2x full quench. After the bend, the blade came back perfectly straight. The handle has a 7-8 degree set in the ricasso area. The edge is straight and still razor sharp.

Here’s my advice on design:
1) Chopper-style blade—take advantage of the 2” width, and you’ll cut better
2) Pronounced distal taper—improved distribution of elastic forces in the bend test
3) Round your spine—helps prevent a crimp at the bend which could lead to failure
4) Blade/handle in-line—this will make the mechanics of the bend easier on you and eliminate weird torque on unnecessary vectors.


Presentation set:
I wanted to demonstrate two things with my presentation set. First, I wanted to show that I could design and execute a solid knife. Second, I wanted to demonstrate that I could employ variety: I used three different materials for the hardware (German silver, brass, and stainless), six different woods, three distinct hamon styles, and four very different blade shapes. (I’ll post a photo when I get it from Point7.) I chose to make knives that would be familiar to the judges in terms of overall form; I thought of it as though I was saying to them “I believe I am worthy of a JS mark,” and I figured it would be the most convincing if I said it in their native tongue (ABS style knives, in other words). To my mind, that’s what JS is all about—when I go for my MS, I’ll show a set that are very uniquely my own.

(I’m not suggesting that you neuter your own style and produce bland knives just to get through. I didn’t just make “a bowie,” I made a Zack Jonas bowie. But I did keep my imagination somewhat in check.)

A note on “extras:” If you are reading this, chances are good that you’ve been advised not to do any filework or other embellishments on your presentation set. This is probably good advice. Four of my blades had hamons, which I chose to reveal. One of those had some very unusual activity—two parallel hamons roughly following the edge, and then a third up near the ricasso, with some “floating jewels” of martensite in between. I got greedy on this one; it looked so cool to me that I just had to bring it out for the judging, even though I wasn’t totally comfortable with the technique. I probably should have left well enough alone; more than one of the judges had “some questions” about the finish on that one. So my advice to you is to add embellishments ONLY if a) you are completely, completely comfortable with the technique and quite assured that you can achieve a flawless result and B) you want to try for one of the awards.

I spent a couple of months working on the knives, although I also turned out several commissions during that time. The shortest I spent on any one piece was three days, the longest was about three weeks. Go at your own pace, and leave yourself plenty of time. Most JS’s and MS’s will suggest that you bring an extra knife to the judging in case something goes wrong with one of your knives in transit. I myself erred on the cautious side and had a couple more knives in the works while I made the five just in case I messed something up while I was finishing any of the intended set. I am a good knifemaker, but we all make mistakes, and I didn’t want to pigeonhole with time running out. As it turns out, I actually did lay one of my original intended set aside about ¾ of the way through because I just didn’t like the direction it was going. So I just switched to another and was much happier. I also felt that it eased the pressure in general.

Once I had the knives finished and ready to go, I brought them before three MS’s, JD Smith, Rob Hudson, and Joe Szilaski. If you have the option to get your knives in front of an MS (or a JS for that matter), do it. Be clear that you intend to present these knives for judging and that you want serious, rigorous critique. Leave your feelings at the door. Unless you are already going MS quality work, they WILL find features that could be improved. In my opinion, it is OK at this point to have a discussion with them about what you “need” to fix before you bring the knives to the judging panel. You’re not asking “can I get away with this,” but rather trying to get better acquainted with exactly what is expected of a JS. That being said, fix everything you possibly can; you will only improve your odds of passing. I left myself about a month before the event to make any minor changes and refinish the work—SOME OF THAT TIME WAS NEEDED.

Look at your knives under as many different types of light as possible. Different light will show you different things. I also find it extremely useful, if time allows, to set a finished knife aside for a week or so without looking at it even once. That way when you get back to it, you’re snapped out of the semi-myopia induced by staring at the same object for weeks on end. Show your work to as many people as you can, even if they are not very familiar with knives. Above all, be honest with yourself. If you ever find yourself look at something that seems a little off, correct it. If you hear yourself say, “nah, I don’t need to fix that,” FIX IT. Until the moment you put your knives in the judging room, everything you do should be about improving the odds.

Anyway folks, I could go on much longer, but I’m thinking I should wrap it up. I'm happy to answer any follow up questions you might have, and I’ll say that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. So go ahead.

Hope this has been useful. GOOD LUCK!


-Zack
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#4 User is offline   Scott McGhee 

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 06:00 PM

Scott McGhee here. I also just tested in San Antonio. It's a great town, and I highly recommend visiting. As for preparing your five JS presentation knives, here's my two cents.

1. Do not allow your wife to publicly post that you will be testing in six months. Mine did (as part of a graduate school project), and the pressure was brutal.

2. If she does so anyway . . . test your knives on her first. Fortunately no testing was required because she did a good job with #3.

3. Find a significant other who can handle the stress of this process. You will question yourself on a very regular basis (sometimes hourly) and you will need an open sounding board.

4. I agree with Ed and Zack, you should have mastersmiths review your work before putting them on the table. Ask them to be brutal and listen to what they say. If an MS tells you not to put a knife on the table, do not put it on the table. Jason Knight reviewed mine before I left and told me not to use one, and Adam DesRosiers reviewed them the night before the test (which was gut wrenching, but extremely valuable).

5. Allow yourself enough time to produce your five knives. I made 8 total, and completed the final 5 in the span of a month. I do not recommend this and will probably be rightfully chastised for it. I did not have enough time to prepare as I would have liked and might not have made the trip, but (because of my wife's postings) I felt I had little choice. I took substantial time away from my regular job to complete the knives, and it was a hectic month.

6. As Zack noted, viewing the knives in various lights is critical - outdoors, indoors, florescent vs. halogen - try it all, as you never know what you may find.

7. Bring a survival kit to the show. The guard on one of my knives was scratched in transit, and the only thing I had to address the problem the night before the show was toothpaste and newspaper. A scotch-bright pad or 3m sandpaper would have been appreciated.

8. Bring extra knives so #7 isn't such an issue. I had extras and did make a change at the last minute.

9. This may go against the grain, but I feel strongly that you have to follow your heart when you make your test knives. If you're not moved by the design, you won't do your best. My knives were out of the norm but they were the best knives I've made to date because they were all me. You have to be vested. It's you on that table, really, not just five knives.

JS Performance Test - Okay, so maybe I'm going backwards here, but I found the peer review far more stressful than the performance test. Make several knives and test them to destruction several times. Read a lot; experiment a lot. This is the science part and if you're not confident going into this one with the science you've learned, you're not ready. Remember, there's a long wait before you can try this again.

Lastly, find a mastersmith that you can trust and trust them. Jason Knight has been a beacon and an invaluable source of knowledge to me. Over the last year and a half he has found errors in my knives and explained how to correct them as I progressed, never giving me more information than I could handle. I tested because he said I was ready. I met him at the hammer-in in Clyde, NC and later took the ABS Intro to Bladesmithing class with Jason, Adam, and Burt Forster. I highly recommend this class.

Thanks. If you want to see pictures of my test knives go to The Final Cut.

I'm post Eric's pictures once I have them. Thanks.

Scott
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#5 User is offline   Josh Fisher 

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Posted 02 February 2012 - 07:36 PM

This is Josh Fisher, I just passed my JS test last week in San Antonio, it was by far one of the more stressful things I have done. I think it is a stressful thing to do, no matter how prepared you are.

I started my knives, in June of 2011 with the plan to build a knife a month, and have a little time left over for final finish and an extra knife, just in case. As far as advice in the knife making process, I would tell a prospective JS to draw out knives that they feel fairly comfortable in building, and as my mentor Tommy Gann would always tell me “keep it simple and clean”.

Always fix any mistakes no matter how small, don’t get lazy!

Make sure you know and follow JS testing guidelines

Get in contact with a MS and have them look your knives over, and if they see any problems LISTEN TO THEM!!!

If you have the opportunity, go to a show, or if you are still some time out before your JS test, I would recommend going, and talking to as many knife makers as you can. The knife community is so generous in helping and sharing the process with others. That will give you the opportunity to see what knives passed the JS test, talk to other makers, and get critiqued.
Good luck to all future JS applicants, I hope this was helpful, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask.
-Josh Fisher

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#6 User is offline   Steve Culver 

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 07:10 AM

Dan,
Excellent topic!!! The posts here will be very helpful to anyone preparing for testing; IF they follow the advice given here.

Ed,
Great advice from you, as always! One can find no better advice than from a Master Smith who has not only been through the testing themselves, but is also a Judge.

Zack, Scott, Josh
Thank you for your fantastic responses to this topic!
Not taking anything away from others who have not yet posted to this thread; as they may not have seen it yet. The fact that each of you so quickly composed insightful and helpful responses speaks volumes about your personal character. This is what makes the ABS great. Makers willing to share information and help other makers is the backbone of this organization. I commend you for being compelled to share your experiences for the benefit of others.

Thanks again to all,
Steve Culver
ABS Master Bladesmith
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#7 User is offline   Allen Newberry 

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 07:48 AM

Thanks for the great topic and responses!
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#8 User is offline   Bill Kirkes 

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Posted 03 February 2012 - 10:01 PM

Hi to everyone! I'm Bill Kirkes. Went to San Antonio and tested with the guys that have already posted here. Betty and I, having never been there, arrived in San Antonio early in the week so we could see the sights. Most were in the downtown area. We spent about three hours at the Alamo! It raised goose bumps and sent shivers down my spine. Had to buy a t-shirt! There was some knives in a glassed-in case displayed inside the Alamo itself. There was a sign outside saying you couldn't take pictures inside, but when no one was looking, I took some anyway. Honestly, I can't think of anything to add to what the other guys have posted. If anyone asks me, I'll just say, "Yeah-what they said!" Seriously, I would like to thank some folks that were extremely helpful in my quest for J.S. J.R. Cook-M.S., Jerry Fisk-M.S., Lin Rhea-M.S., John Perry-M.S., Mike Ruth-J.S.,Mike Ruth Jr.-J.S., Al Laurence-J.S.,Ron Foster M.S.(floresent lighting). Dad gum,there are so many others, but I type slow! Congradulations to all of you that passed. I'll say one thing about testing-IF YOU CAN SEE IT, THEY CAN SEE IT!-Bill Kirkes
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#9 User is offline   Lin Rhea 

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 07:56 PM

There is some real "meat and potatoes" in the JS posts so far. Zack your approach is exemplary. I can concur with what Ed said in his post. In fact, his council helped me through some tough moments of my test. In the end, I took , more or less, Zack's approach as well. I think I made as many test knives as about anybody. Two at a time.

The JS and MS judging Standard classes that are held at the various ABS Hammer Ins were invaluable to me. I still attend after the fact, just to pick up pointers and add my perspective if called upon.

You guys are really stepping up with your posts. Rest assured that what you have shared will be helping others for years to come. If they will listen.
Lin Rhea, ABS Mastersmith
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#10 User is offline   BrionTomberlin 

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Posted 04 February 2012 - 09:07 PM

Great posts guys and a wealth of information for prospective JS and MS. Thank you all for posting. I agree with everything. One other thing, if there is a Master Smith near you, become good friends with them and ask many questions. Mike Williams helped me more than he will know with my JS and MS testing.

This can not be said enough in my opinion, have a Master Smith look at your knives before hand. I know it sounds like a stuck record, but it will save you a lot of trouble. Also as Lin says, attend the Judging standards class at the hammer ins. There is a lot of good information in these classes.
Also read and re-read Ed's reply above. Very good information.

Brion
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#11 User is offline   Jonathan wick 

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Posted 05 February 2012 - 01:20 PM

Hi all,
Jonathan wick here,This is my first time on the forum so a small introduction is in order. My journey came from a life long creative interest. Much of my childhood was spent in the forests of southern AZ hiking and hunting ,so a knife was a no-brainer and more than anything it was used for whittling . Later in life I used the coordination obtained for a career in jewelry! For that I attended a trade school and a one year apprenticeship, when returning to knives after twenty years it took me some time to understand what a knife really is, what it looks like , what it consists of. The point is ,I had to ask to learn. The best thing I did was to attend the ABS school in Washington AK. Master smiths Jim Crowell, Timothy Potier, Steve Dunn, Dickey Robinson, and Joe Keeslar provide students with the professional techniques and guidance necessary to reach Journeyman.
I spent a lot of time after that alone in my workshop practicing what I learned, I tried to incorporate my own style as much as possible ,but found that to be problematic ,when presenting my work to M.S. For cretique. So when I decided to go for journeyman I forced myself to spend a lot of time on the basics and not to get fancy. Putting aside my ego was the hardest part , and never feeling satisfied with where my skills are.
So when in doubt go back to the basics and ask a MS. Do your home work make lots of knives and learn from every one , in order to be great!!
And I will try to do the same.
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#12 User is offline   ZackJonas 

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Posted 09 February 2012 - 04:59 PM

UPDATE: I've gotten all of my photos from Point Seven Studios and Sharp by Coop. To see them all, click on my username (to the left of this post) and then select gallery.

Here's a taste:

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#13 User is offline   Steve Culver 

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Posted 11 February 2012 - 07:01 AM

Thanks to all of you guys for posting your experiances and advice. Great stuff here!!!
Steve Culver
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#14 User is offline   Scott Maccaughtry 

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Posted 19 February 2012 - 11:58 AM

Scott MacCaughtry here, You guys have covered just about everything, The only thing I can think of to add is allow more time than you think you will need to complete your knives, Things tend to get in the way, work, family, health ect. Also if the MS's you have looking at your work find a problem you need time to fix it. Over all this has bin a great experience and I am proud to mark my blades with the JS stamp! Here are my 5 Thanks! Scott

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#15 User is offline   JD Smith 

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 05:01 PM

Great topic! When you start to ask yourself for any reason, "Can I get by with that?" the answer should be a resounding "NO!!!" If it could've been fixed, it should've been fixed.
JD Smith
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#16 User is offline   Dan Hockensmith 

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 06:56 AM

Congratulations to the new Journeymen!
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