A&S judging

Mike Baker mbaker at rapp.com
Thu Oct 31 09:20:00 PST 1996

I'm going to address just one relatively small point (and a concluding 
remark) from Diarmuit, but hopefully in a way that serves to illustrate a 
point that adds to the judging discussion:

> I don't know that they weren't competant in many areas.  As a craftsman,
> I consider myself a leatherworker, which means that I need to know
> something about not ONLY working in leather, but how to get, make, and/or
> repair my tools and materials.  That means that I *ought* to know more
> about skinning and tanning, but also know a few things about metal 
> wood working, bone carving, horning, thread spinning, wax clarification,
> rendering tallows, and so on.  Certainly, in 1300, as a leatherworker, I
> could have purchased pre-tanned leather, as well as order my tools 
> made from people who do that for a living, but unless I know how to judge
> their work, I have no idea what I'm buying.

As one who dabbles in SCA merchant trade, I have a specialty that appears to 
be rare: blade sharpening. I also sell knives and related merchandise, but 
have at least as much *fun* and appear to be filling a gap in the education 
of many of our members. Blade sharpening. Most basic of the "repair my 
tools" skills, yet something that I don't recall ever being mentioned in A&S 
documentation except where a blade was the entry.

I freely admit that I have done little formal research into "period" 
methods. I learned this skill the old-fashioned way, from my father & 
grandfather as well as from making my own mistakes along the way. When 
working on-site, I choose to use modern abrasives for coarse and specialty 
work. Natural stone I must of necessity consider for only the final 
smoothing (I've nothing against good "Arkansas" stones, but I have not yet 
found any that is capable of doing the work of a modern Carborundum for an 
equivalent time expenditure). Certain odd blade shapes and curved edges I am 
limited in addressing by the available sharpeners: finally found a tapered 
diamond-grit hone that allows me to work kris and similar wavy-edged blades 

For axe edges, I resort to a file for several reasons. Most important for 
some observers may be relative speed, but there is a more important note to 
be made. A wood-chopping axe blade is ideally NOT as smooth-edged as a 
knife. In fact, reducing an axe edge to that degree of "sharpness" is 
self-defeating: it will dull more rapidly and create more danger for all 

Chisels are an entirely different class yet again. What is the material that 
the chisel will be used on? What technique of usage is expected? What is the 
material the chisel is made from, and how was it treated?

I do not ever expect to receive A&S notice for my sharpening ability. I 
create a serviceable edge, not some ultra-polished surface gleam that serves 
more as decoration than as function. But I know that I can dress that chisel 
edge for the woodcarver, or make that fancy blade useful for table purposes, 
or assist in preserving metal objects that have no "working" edges.

Small details such as the condition of the tools AFTER a work has been 
completed are going to catch at least some of my attention as a judge, if 
the artisan thinks to include them in the display / photographic 
documentation of the process.

Naturally, with exemplars the likes of Leonitas von Rhaenwold and Wayne of 
the Heights around, more people are aware of the tools used in creating a 
work. But do most of the judges consider the maintenance of those tools as 

Alright, I have extended this personal example to more detail than I 
originally intended. Yes, I have a point in doing so that is specific to the 
judging process. As the skills and abilities of SCA artisans improve, more 
and more attention seems to be paid to the creation process. This is almost 
certainly a Good Thing, but it is my contention that it should not be the 
primary thing *unless* it is being entered as such. The primary point of 
judging a finished item is the item itself. Not the documentation. Not the 
adherence to or deliberate substitution for some ancient technique of 
construction (although I agree that the artisan should be aware of such 
distinctions, if the result is the same - or even "better" - they are 
distinctions without a difference). Not the layout of the display or the 
breadth of the displayed skills (although that may be the final standard of 
the judging, IMO each of the individual items should / must be considered on 
its own merits). As an item created by modern hands, and entered in 
competition for SCA purposes, does it serve the same function and does it 
have an equivalent appearance to historical items of the same type?

Closing note on judging individual offerings: everything I have said in the 
previous paragraph has some analog in the consideration of performances or 
compositions (music, words, or both), although we cannot with certainty make 
the same comparison to "historical items of the same type" in every 

> Even so, you are not going to always have someone judging your work who 
> be able to *teach* you anything.  If you want to get a Master's opinion of 

> your work, you MAY have to look beyond the confines of the SCA.

Absolutely, if you are looking for a Master of the craft you are attempting 
to practice. I remember that at least for some past competitions, 
particularly those addressing a particular art / craft, SCA event organizers 
have been willing to look beyond our ranks to find competent judges. Is this 
something that should be encouraged or discouraged? I frankly don't know for 
certain, but believe that we should consider the practice for at least a few 
well-publicized-in-advance specialty competitions.

Amr ibn Majid al-Bakri al-Amra
     currently residing in Barony of the Steppes, Kingdom of Ansteorra
Mike C. Baker                      mbaker at rapp.com
Any opinions expressed are obviously my own unless explicitly stated 

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