Becoming a Master Bladesmith is a grueling process that takes many years.  As a result there are under 125 knifemakers who have passed the Master Bladesmith tests set out by the American Bladesmith Society (ABS).

The ABS was formed in the 1970s.  On their website they say “The American Bladesmith Society bladesmiths represent the cutting edge of forged blade performance and design on six continents. Our mission is preserving and promoting the ancient craft of forged knives through education, testing and certification.  Our passion is crafting knives featuring forged blades in the pursuit of the ultimate high performance cutting tool.” 

The ABS is the sanctioning body of the journeyman and master smith designations. There are three stages to becoming a Master Bladesmith: Apprentice, Journeyman, and then the Master Smith.


Bladesmiths join the ABS as Regular members and are rated as Apprentice Smiths. After a three-year period they may apply to take the Journeyman test.


Following the "Introduction to Bladesmithing Course," the applicant may take the test under the supervision of a Master Smith. The applicant must have personally forged and performed all work on the test blade, with no other person physically assisting.

The test knife must be a carbon steel forged blade with a maximum overall length of 15 inches, maximum width of 2 inches and blade length of 10 inches. Damascus blades or laminated blades are not allowed as test blades.

The testing involves a two stage process that includes a performance test and a judging panel.

For the performance test, the knife has to prove itself in three tests all performed in front of an ABS master bladesmith.

Sharpness test -  The blade has to cut through a one-inch, free-hanging rope in one swing.

 Edge toughness and retention test - The knife has to chop through two 2x4s and still be able to shave hair without resharpening. This shows the blade can put up with being slammed into something hard without deforming, chipping, or bending, while still holding a sharp edge.

 Heat treatment test - The blade has to survive being bent 90 degrees in a vise without breaking, though slight cracking is acceptable. This demonstrates whether the smith can make a blade that’s tough, but not so hard that it’s brittle and prone to breaking under stress.

If successful, the next test is the Judging Panel at the Altanta Blade Show. The applicant must submit 5 forged carbon steel knives to be judged on symmetry, balance, and aesthetics. The judges don’t require perfection at this stage, but they do expect a high level of execution that shows the maker’s ability to design and build a knife to a very high standard.

Knifemakers who have attained this title can use "JS" on their knives.

Master Smith

After being a journeyman for at least two years and having been tutored by a Master BladeSmith the bladesmith can apply to become a Master Bladesmith. The same performance tests and judging process are used but with different knife requirements.

For the performance portion the knife must be made with a Damascus steel blade of 300 layers or more.

For the judging panel, the maker presents five knives to Master Smiths at the Atlanta Blade Show. But this time, one of the blades must be a Quillon dagger with specific requirements. It must be fluted and twisted with a wire-wrapped handle in order to prove adherence to strict design guidelines.

The knives are judged very harshly; any small mistake results in failure. When the Master Smith rating is achieved —a steel M.S. stamp is awarded.

Photo Credit: Josh Smith, Master Bladesmith and Founder of Montana Knife Company. Josh become a Master Bladesmith at age 19. 

Share this post...

Previous post Next post


Leave a comment