How I Became A Master Bladesmith | Jonas Blade

How I Became A Master Bladesmith

I earned the title of Master Bladesmith, usually shortened to Master Smith, in 2019, joining a short list of top rated makers. Though the chef knife is my most popular knife, as a Master Bladesmith I am equipped with the skills to tackle just about any project. The American Bladesmith Society has only awarded the rank to 144 individuals since its inception. 

How did I become a Master Bladesmith? A smith must pass two tests to earn the title, a performance test and a presentation test. These two tests together demonstrate that the smith has both the technical know-how and the artistic ability to produce a top-rated knife. Whether a chef knife or any other type, in order to bear the MS mark reserved for Master Smiths, the maker must possess these skills.

The performance test always comes first. It sounds difficult, but it is by far the easier of the two tests. To demonstrate that the applicant possesses the technical know-how necessary to become a Master Bladesmith, he or she must make a damascus knife with a 10” blade bearing a minimum of 300 layers of folded steel. This knife does not have to be elegant or pretty, as this is a destructive test. First, the applicant must slice through a slack 1” diameter hemp rope with a single stroke. This demonstrates that the blade is thin enough to make such a cut, and that the edge has been sharpened properly. Next, the applicant must hack through a pine 2×4 twice without incurring any damage to the edge. This demonstrates that the blade is thick enough and the edge is tough enough to survive such a task. The next test is to shave a little bit of hair from one’s arm, demonstrating that the edge has remained sharp through difficult and demanding work. Finally, the blade is clamped in a vise and bent to ninety degrees, demonstrating that while the steel is hard enough to take and keep an edge, it is also flexible enough to bend without breaking. 

In order to make a knife that will perform all of these tasks and pass this first test to become a master bladesmith, I had to have a very firm grasp of not only the physical skills of knife making, but also of the metallurgical science behind those techniques. To cut the rope, the edge must be fine and very keen. To take such an edge, the steel must be quite hard. But a fine edge in hard steel will also be prone to chipping or cracking during the 2×4 chop, and to pass that test the edge must be sturdy, and the steel must be tough and flexible. The need for flexibility is even more pronounced in the bend test. Steel doesn’t just naturally perform this range of tasks—it has to be worked properly in order to get through them all. It is exactly this knowledge that enables me to make a top-rated chef knife and more.

Though the performance test sounds (and is) difficult, it is by far the easier of the two tests to become a master bladesmith. The presentation test the true challenge. The structure is simple: the applicant must craft a set of five knives, including one specific and complex dagger, and present them to a panel of Master Smith judges. The applicant must strive for artistry and perfection, and the judges evaluate the set to determine whether the applicant possess. Though the judges are explicitly not looking for absolute perfection, the presentation set must be as close to perfect as can realistically be achieved by the human hand and eye. Most smiths spend several months (at a minimum) making their presentation sets, and a single tiny error can be enough to fail this test. I myself actually failed the first time I tested, falling short by a single vote. I returned the following year and passed unanimously. If an applicant fails three times, he is forever barred from testing again. Becoming a master bladesmith is one of my proudest achievements.

About The Author

Zack Jonas was born and raised in Massachusetts in the 1980’s and is still a New Englander today. With his growing love for art over the years, he took an introductory bladesmithing class at MASSart. It was there that he learned one of his most valuable lessons, which is that everyone has some insight worth learning. Today, he is a full-time bladesmith and feels incredibly fortunate to have found his calling.