“Playing with fire all day and pounding on steel made me feel connected to ancient man, the grain harvester, who needed tools to harvest grain and render animals,” Kramer says. “After that, my path was clear. The weekend after I came home, I built a forge in my garage and started pounding on leaf springs.”
The path to Master Smith awesomeness is painstaking and arduous. After passing a journeyman’s test, wannabes must wait two years before taking the first master-bladesmith exam. During that time, apprentices perfect their techniques and attend seminars Kramer calls “hammer-ins.” Then, an apprentice must hand-forge a Bowie-style knife with a maximum length of 15 inches that is made from more than 300 layers of steel. The exam that follows is a doozy — a gauntlet of strength and flexibility tests performed before a master bladesmith in the following order:
• With one swipe, cut a free-hanging, one-inch-diameter sisal rope no more than six inches from the end.
• Chop through a 2-by-4 twice without damaging the blade.
• Shave hair off an arm or leg with the same blade area that chopped through the 2-by-4s.
• Put the knife in a vise and bend it 90 degrees without breaking the blade.
• Fashion five knives — including a traditional quillon dagger, akin to the Mount Everest of knife making — and submit them to a panel of master bladesmiths who evaluate them for fit, finish and design.
• Collapse in a puddle of sweat (optional).