It is still quite vivid in my mind, as a youngster, being mesmerized by blacksmiths and farriers bending and shaping hot iron and steel with relative ease. Having grown up twenty miles south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I eventually learned to shoe horses. After my duty to service ended in 1971 I shoed horses at a standard bred race track, not far from Pittsburgh, until 1987. In the winter most of the horses would leave for racetracks in warmer climates like Florida and California and like many a horseshoer, I would tinker with forging knives, tomahawks, bear traps and any other iron or steel object that was of interest to me at the time. I sold a couple of knives and tomahawks that, as I look back, could only have been barely serviceable. Fortunately, the owners still liked them because they were hand forged. I continued to forge blades, because, as many can attest to, forging blades is habit forming. Throw damascus steel in the picture and it becomes outright addictive with absolutely no cure.
One day I ran into a fellow, two mountains and a river south, by the name of Hugh Bartrug. He was a blacksmith at a Westinghouse air break factory until it shut down. He then began forging at his home smithy, overlooking the Monogahela river. Mr. Bartrug introduced me to some of the fine points of damascus forging, mosaic construction and overall knife manufacture. Hugh, being a registered Mastersmith with the American Bladesmith Society, was a wealth of information. One of his primary goals was to win the coveted Best Damascus Award at the worlds largest cutlery exposition, the Blade Show and International Cutlery Exposition held each year in Atlanta, Georgia. He eventually did meet that goal. Unfortunately, his health no longer allows him to make knives. During the time I spent with him, Hugh introduced me to the American Bladesmith Society and schooled me in the criteria by which a standard is set for a forged blade.
The American Bladesmith Society is now recognized world wide as the standard for testing one's blade forging abilities. This is proven year after year by applicants from all over the globe coming to Atlanta to test for first, their registered and world recognized Journeyman stamp, and second, some years later, their Master Smith stamp. Applicants have come from as far away as South Africa and Australia. From England came the Queen's armorer to apply and did, over the years, acquire his Journeyman and Master Smith stamp.
Being quite enamoured by the results of the efforts of this U.S. born international organization, I put forth my best efforts to try and acquire the coveted Journeyman stamp. With the help of Hugh Bartrug, Steve Swartzer, Dr. James Badson and a hundred others, plus my Master Instructor, Jesus Christ, I managed to cut rope and timber, shave hair and bend that same blade 90 degrees at the smithy of Bill Moran in Maryland.
The following Spring I took the required five blades to Atlanta for testing and got my Journeyman stamp. A few years later, in 2001, I tested at a higher level and got my Master Smith stamp. In that same year, to a small degree, I was able to compensate those who gave so much of their time, information and initiative to help and encourage me by winning the Blade Art Knife Award of the Year at the annual Blade International Cutlery Fair in Atlanta.
In 2003 at the same annual event I won the Best Damascus Award. In 2004 I won the Best Damascus Award again. I feel quite privileged and rewarded, as should all of those who helped me along the way, to be a part of history in the world of fine cutlery.
As I mentioned earlier, the only problem with damascus is its very addictive properties. Once mosaics come into the arena the addiction is compounded. I often use mosaics to tell stories and, on occasion, to declare Biblical statements. Over the years, I have been tagged as a Bible banger who is into Bible blades. That is OK with me. My efforts tend to gravitate to blades that tell Bible stories, although, I still make simple hunters and skinners.