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Nate C.

Location: Palo Alto, CA
Joined: 13 Jun 2004

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Posts: 301

PostPosted: Wed 21 Jul, 2004 7:18 pm    Post subject: How to start smithing?         Reply with quote

Greetings all,

I am curious about how to get into blade smithing/sword making(cutling, forging, etc.). I realize that in the past there was a system of apprenticeship that was used and the skills were passed from master to apprentice. Is this still the case? Also, what kind of tooling is required for doing this kind of thing? Is there some sort of formal process to follow? I've noticed several people mention some sort of journeyman test is this to do with sword making or just metalworking/smithing?

I look forward to hearing from all of you,

Nate C.

Sapere Aude
"If you are going to kill the man, at least give him a decent salute." - A. Blansitt

If they ever come up with a Swashbuckling School, I think one of the courses should be Laughing, then Jumping Off Something. --Jack Handy
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Allan Senefelder
Industry Professional

Location: Upstate NY
Joined: 18 Oct 2003

Posts: 1,563

PostPosted: Thu 22 Jul, 2004 7:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well Nate I can only tell you what i've watched our blacksmith Doug and Harlan do over the last couple of years (temper this with trips to albion ) . Doug started off a while back heating mild steel with a propane torch and using an old railroad rail anvil he'd bought at a flea market . Later on he built himself a crude coal forge ( lost in a house fire along with the rest of his gear ) . When we moved into Doug's barn we brought with us a coal forge we had bought and spare anvils so Doug tracked down coal and went back to experimenting with Harlan . November of 2002 Doug and Harlan built a propane gas forge and moved inside ( had been using coal out in the barn . Really sucky in the depths of febuary cold here ) . Last fall Harlan bought a Bader and this past January we took the electric blower off the old coal forge and hooked it up to the oxygen intake on the propane forge and can now forge weld and make pattern weld . Everything is still experimenting but thats the progession they went through . Theres alot of information to be had on line at place like Don
Fogg 's web site .
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Matthew Kelty

Joined: 22 Jun 2004
Reading list: 61 books

Posts: 164

PostPosted: Fri 23 Jul, 2004 9:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It sounds like you're hearing about the test for 'Journeyman' status with the American Bladesmith Society. The ABS's tests for Journeyman and Master Bladesmiths are rather intense, but they really test the mettle of a Smith. Here is their Journeyman's test, and the only difference is that the Master's test is the exact same criteria, but applied to Pattern Welded (Damascus) blades:

The applicant must have personally forged and performed all work on the test blade, with no other person physically assisting in its construction or heat-treating.

Only forged blades may be tested. Applicants for Journeyman Smith must test with a carbon steel knife. Damascus or laminated blades are not allowed as test blades for those seeking Journeyman Smith status.

Once the test begins, no work, not even light stropping, may be done to the test blade.

The applicant alone must conduct the test of the blade’s performance under the supervision of the Master Smith. No other person is to conduct any portion of the test, including the supervising Master Smith, except for the rope-cutting test as specifically provided in the rope cutting procedure. A special exception may be obtained for an applicant who has a disability that requires accommodation in order to perform the test. Such exception must have prior approval from the Chairman of the ABS.

- Overall Length of Knife: Maximum fifteen (15) inches.
- Blade Width: Maximum two (2) inches.
- Blade Length: Maximum ten (10) inches from point to the beginning of either the guard, bolster, or handle of the - blade.
- Handle Configuration: Any handle configuration is acceptable with or without guard, bolsters, ferrule, etc.
- Handle material is irrelevant and solely the choice of the applicant.
- Blade Material: The Journeyman Smith may test with any forged steel of his or her choice except Damascus.

The applicant may be required at the Master Smith’s discretion:
a. To forge a non-Damascus blade of any style.
b. To pass a verbal quiz.

The applicant must supply materials needed:
- The ABS test form application.
- All safety equipment including safety glasses, heavy shop apron, gloves, etc.
- A sufficient length of one (1) inch minimum diameter sisal or manila rope.
- A four foot (4)or longer length of 2x4 construction grade wood stud of the applicant’s choice.
- The applicant’s test knife. No special handle or finish is required. This is a test of performance, and the test knife will ultimately be destroyed in the testing process.
- While not a part of the formal test, the applicant is encouraged to bring several finished knives for the Master Smith to inspect for quality of workmanship, fit, finish, design, etc. The feedback from the Master Smith will help the applicant better evaluate if the quality of his/her work (design,detail, finish, etc.) is likely to meet the criteria of the ABS Judges panel at the annual show.

The test must be conducted in the following sequence:


Applicant is responsible for supplying the test rope and ensuring that it is a minimum of one (1) inch in diameter. If the applicant brings a larger rope, the applicant will be judged using the same criteria as though the rope was one-inch (1) in diameter. The rope is to be hung in a safe manner, so that the end of the rope to be cut hangs loose without touching the floor or any other object. As a safety precaution, the rope is not to be hand held by another person during the rope-cutting test. The hanging end of the rope is to be marked with tape or a marker to clearly indicate the area that is to be cut. The cut must be approximately six (6) inches from the end of the free hanging rope. A minimum of one (1) cut must be made. The applicant is to aim at the mark with a two (2) inch margin of high or low being acceptable. The applicant must sever the rope in two with one stroke. If the applicant fails on the first attempt, the Master Smith will allow two more attempts. However, if the Master Smith believes that the failure to sever the rope is due to the lack of skill or strength of the applicant, the Master Smith may attempt the rope cutting with the test knife. This is a test of the applicant’s ability to make a knife, not to cut with it. If neither the applicant nor the Master Smith successfully cuts the rope, the applicant fails.

The chopping test is to be conducted with 2x4 construction grade wood stud. The 2x4 may be either hand held or clamped into a vise or other safe devise. A chopping motion (no whittling) is to be used. The 2x4 must be chopped completely through a minimum of two (2) times. The applicant may choose the area of the 2x4 through which to chop. Following the chopping test, the Master Smith will inspect the edge to determine if there is any noticeable damage to the blade. Any nicks, chips, flat spots, rolled edges, or other deformations of the blade will result in failing the test.

After the Master Smith approves the quality of the edge, the blade will be returned to the applicant. The applicant must then shave hair using the section of the blade that was most frequently used in the cutting and chopping portions of the test. Enough hair must be shaved to demonstrate that the edge remains keen and shaving sharp.

The bending of the blade is the final test. Safety gear should be worn. At the discretion of the applicant or the Master Smith, the edge may be dulled prior to bending. The Master Smith will mark a line across the width of the blade approximately 1/3 distance from the tip of the blade. The blade will then be inserted into a vise, tip first, such that the blade is placed into the vise up to the mark on the blade. If the vise jaws are rough, smooth metal inserts shall be located on each side of the clamped portion of the blade to protect the blade, when bending the test knife. The blade shall be bent by force applied to the handle. A leverage device, such as a pipe may be used as long as it does not pose a safety risk. The use of such a device is at the sole risk of the applicant and at the discretion of the supervising Master Smith. The applicant will then bend the blade ninety (90) degrees. The supervising Master Smith will signal the applicant when the ninety (90) degree angle has been reached. The blade is allowed to crack at the edge on bending but not beyond approximately two thirds (2/3rds) the width of the blade. However, if any part of the blade chips or any part of the blade or tang breaks off, the applicant fails. Because of the many variables in the size, geometry, and temper line of the blade, the Master Smith using his/her judgment, shall determine if the extent or location of the fracture line is acceptable. The decision of the Master Smith is final.

After satisfactorily passing the test, the supervising Master Smith will sign and date the applicant’s test form.

The applicant is responsible for presenting the signed ABS test form and the test blade in person at the ABS Annual Show and Meeting. No modification of any sort is to be made to the test blade following the completion of the test. If the applicant cannot attend in person due to special circumstances, the applicant must contact the Chairman of the ABS for permission to have the knives presented for judging. The applicant must submit a minimum of five (5) completed forged knives for judging by a panel of ABS judges. The knives to be judged must be made of plain carbon steel (no Damascus) and may not include more than 2 folders among the 5 completed knives. Also not permissible are hatchets or tomahawks. The knives submitted must be the work of the applicant alone.

The applicant is advised to submit only completed knives that show the applicant's best work, as all knives submitted will be judged and the failure of any one knife may cause the applicant to fail this portion of the test. The applicant should carefully study the attached Judging Guidelines.

If the applicant does not pass the performance test, he or she may not present knives for judging at the ABS Annual Show and Meeting. The applicant is not permitted to retake the performance test until six (6) months have elapsed from the date of the failed performance test. An applicant has three (3) years from the date of the performance test to present his or her test blade and five completed knives at the ABS Annual Show and Meeting for final evaluation. If the applicant does not complete both phases of the test within a three (3) year time period, the applicant must reapply and complete the performance testing process again. The Master Smith is responsible for notifying the ABS Office of the Pass or Fail Status of the performance test. The Master Smith is encouraged to assist the applicant who has failed the performance test to gain the necessary skills or knowledge needed to satisfactorily meet the performance test criteria on his or her next testing. After six (6) months, the applicant may retest with the same Master Smith or any other Master Smith chosen by the applicant.

As far as how to get started in bladesmithing, I would recommend picking up a copy of Jim 'Atar' Hrisoulas'
"COMPLETE BLADESMITH: Forging Your Way to Perfection".

Jim was a Master Smith in the ABS, but when he published this book, the ABS decided he gave away too many trade secrets, and gave him the boot. Jim has since written "MASTER BLADESMITH: Advanced Studies in Steel", "PATTERN-WELDED BLADE: Artistry in Iron", and Book four is on the way, well, as soon as the National Guard lets him go, that is... Happy

At any rate, Jim provides a broad spectrum of information, from how to fabricate the tools you need, up to fit and finish techniques. He also has a forum on his website where you can get advice from him, although the Guard ups and yanks him on occasion (post 9/11 madness). His forum can be found at:[]=2

Good luck, and I'm on a similar path as you, trying to get my tools built and set up right now.
Being that Kevin Cashen reached his Master's status in four years, it certainly proves it's possible.. Happy

Good Luck,
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