On becoming the wife of a Journeyman Smith

In the past year of building the knife business, there have been more than a few tough decisions to make. Dietrich and I take these decisions on as a team, as a partnership. As one would expect, tough decisions bring tension and doubt into our marriage.

Only once has the tension built to a single, public moment. This is my story of that moment, when Dietrich submitted his test knives for judging for his American Bladesmith Society Journeyman Smith rating.

Friday, June 8th, 7:10am, I walked with Dietrich from the hotel to the conference center. By 7:25, we were in the judging room, where nervous men and their supportive others were already waiting. Of the 11 candidates expected, three candidates were already in the room.

More candidates trickled in. Knifemaker smalltalk ensued, complete with shipping strategies and steel choices, handle attachment methods, their horror stories of hand-finishing, and comparisons of Mastersmith mentors.

The room changed when one man arrived; I guessed that he was one of the Mastersmiths because of his enormous cowboy hat and nerveless gait. Another arrived, set apart by his grave countenance and engraved nametag. The room was getting full and warm.

At the Mastersmith’s direction, nine men unpacked 63 knives and laid them out on the white conference tables.

I walked around, nakedly spying on the others’ displays. All the other candidates had knives that looked like American Bladesmith Society knives. They were big knives, masculine knives, Old West knives, knives with heft and tradition and aggression.

I had read the criteria for judging several times, and had re-read them as recently as Thursday night. I knew it was about fit and finish, symmetry and quality—not about design. But I also knew what others had told us, and what all the journeyman smith knives looked like: big hunters, bowies, the occasional skinner or bird-and-trout knife, usually with guards, ricassos, and plunge cuts.

Before we walked in, I knew Dietrich’s knives might be too odd for the American Bladesmith Society. He compromised to include more than one ricasso and plunge cut, but he hadn’t brought a single hunter or bowie knife. His knives had no protruding guards. None of Dietrich’s blades were as long as the shortest knife on any other table.

By now, my heart had fallen and was dragging against the carpet, but I kept firm hold of it, kept it resolutely attached.

The Mastersmiths chased us out of the room so they could start their judging.

We stood in nervous groups in the foyer, sweating the uncertainty and the pre-conference lack of air conditioning.  When the door opened again, a Mastersmith called out, looking for one of the other candidates – some oil needed to be wiped from a blade. The door shut again.

Eventually, another candidate was called into the room. Then another. They started to come out again—and eventually their faces caught up with their feet: they smiled. Backs were slapped, hands shook, and wives embraced.

We drifted closer to the door. It seemed like most candidates had already been called before a Mastersmith finally beckoned Dietrich into the room.

Dietrich could have been talking to the Mastersmith for about three months, or hours, or minutes. In any case, I had time to pick up my heart and dust it off again, sternly reshape it and put it back on its shelf, prepared for any response.

He emerged like the others, his face a cipher of emotion. I hugged him. When I asked him how it went, he looked confused.

“I passed,” he said. “I think I passed.”

I hugged him again. “Are you sure?” I asked.

“He said congratulations. He said it twice.” He shook his head and grinned. “I don’t think I’ll believe it ‘till I see it in writing.”

That afternoon, collectors, knifemakers, and enthusiasts came to the table to talk with him, to shake his hand, and to examine the knives in detail. I might have gushed a little excessively about him, his knives, the testing—I’m so glad his artistry and craftsmanship was recognized. It’s a relief and a vindication of the expense, the hours, and the stress of the experience.

That night, he held his certificate as he posed with the others in the back of the banquet room. The certificate had his name, in writing, spelled correctly: Dietrich Podmajersky, Journeyman Smith.

I may have blinked back tears. I know that I was grinning from ear to ear.

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