To become great in the bladesmithing world, what does one need to work to? What rank can one gain to show that he is good with his blades?
The Apprentice rank is obtained when one first attends the ABS (American Bladesmith Society) school of bladesmithing. One must be an apprentice for at least three years before testing for Journeyman.
The second rank, Journeyman Smith, is obtained when the smith has been a member of the ABS society for three years. Before this, though, he must pass a test. His (or her) knife must be made only by the applicant, with no other having made or worked on any part of the blade. The first test is to be able to cut through a rope hanging from the ceiling, the second to chop through two pieces of two-by-fours. After these tests, the blade must still be able to shave the hair off the judges arm, and not have been dulled through the previous tests. As a third test, the blade must be clamped in a vise and slightly flexed, and return to it’s original form, and still be fully functional. If the knife passes all these tests, then he/she must submit five other knives, which are judged according to balance, form, and “how good it feels in the hand”. If all these tests are passed, the smith becomes a Journeyman Smith.
One can obtain Master Smith ranking once he or she has passed these following tests, which are similar to the journeyman tests: The applicant must forge a Damascus steel blade with at least 300 layers (remember, every fold of the steel doubles the layers). The knife is to be a stick-tang; which is the opposite of a full tang. The first test is to chop through an inch-long hemp rope (I wonder where they get those) hanging from the wall with one stroke. Needless to say, the applicant must know how to handle his knife well, so as not to fail that stroke. Then, he or she must hack through two pieces of two-by-four lumber, and after these tests still be able to shave hair off the judge’s arm. You can be sure that these judges lose their hair quite quickly. The last test is to be put in a vise, like the journeyman test, and flexed, though unlike the journeyman test it must be flexed to ninety degrees angle, and not snap. After this five other knives are submitted to the judges, and are judged, in a much “stricter” rate than in the journeyman tests. If the applicant passes, he/she becomes a Master Bladesmith. One of these “look” knives must be a dagger, with a twisted wire style handle.
Recently I went to a tour of Aaron Wilburn’s workshop (who just passed his master smith test), and he said that when he had tested for Journeyman ranking, there were a couple other smiths testing as well. Those who did not pass the test, grown men, had tears in their eyes when they left the testing area, as it puts one under quite a lot of stress as well as work, trying to create a blade that will stand up to these performance tests.