Sunday, July 05, 2020

a Visit to Fiddlehead

Fiddlehead Nursery is a permaculture plant nursery in the Beaver Valley, near Collingwood, Ontario.  We specialize in edible, perennial plants, and design low-maintenance, productive gardens. 

Here at Wareham, we have become friends with Ben up at Fiddlehead Nursery.

click to view the very large 300 degree panorama

His operation sits on County Road 13, which runs (more or less due) north of us down into the bottom of the Beaver Valley, about a 15 - 20 minute drive.

One of our original interests with Fiddlehead was that the plants available there are all very suitable for our own environmental conditions *

Kelly is extremely keen to explore (and create) sustainable, perennial, edible gardens (if only at a small scale). 

interior of the plant greenhouse (after a very busy sales period!)

Ben has offered us a lot of excellent advice about this all over the years we have known him. His garden plants are extremely good quality, and honestly, the prices extremely affordable. In better times, we had taken one of his day long garden workshops, and both learned a great deal as well as quite enjoyed it.

'native plants' section

* Pretty much. Wareham sits on top of the 'Dundalk Plateau'. The altitude at Wareham is about 500 m / at Fiddlehead it about 260 m. (Wareham sits at almost the highest point in all Ontario). Obviously the surrounding valley protects Fiddlehead, where Wareham is almost at the lip of a wide open flat table. We often see walls of cloud and rain running along the south, east and north sides of us at Wareham (without us getting a drop - especially this point in the year).

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Layin' About...

It was suggested to me, as an effort to re-kindle sagging creativity, to pull out and sort through past / uncompleted projects.

Bladesmithing Uncompleted (most of it)

So this from two 'boxes' of partially completed work. (1)

I bet at this point (already) any other long working blacksmiths are rolling their eyes - and thinking about their own similar piles...

In that overall layout, the stuff is loosely grouped by type / work progress.
Taking a closer look :

Pattern Welding

Left : Partially prepared single rods  / most with 9 or 11 layers (not marked)
You can see one has already been twisted, two as octagons ready to twist. The smallest is 1/4" square, the others more or less to 1/2" 'round'
Centre : Part of the (failed) 'Wedding Sword' project.
- one billet with two cores and spring steel edges (about 14" total / 10" to blade). This was part of the original billet created - could be forged into a large knife / spear.
- 26' long (sword length) bar set (two cores and spring steel) ready for the final welds to billet. You can see how one of the edge bars broke on me (what killed my enthusiasm for the 'Wedding Sword' project).
Right : Ragnar's Sword project / Gilling West (post 1 / post 2)
Total of eight potential core rods (six will be needed). Four are welded and drawn (about 5/8 square). Four as the starting stacks of 9 layers each.

Layered Steel Billets

Grouping of layered steel billets, many ready to forge into potential blades. There is a big spread on the dates these were created, not all are marked on layer count. (2)
Left to Right
- Two high count twisted plus flat stack with carbon core = 205 layers
    - 5 x 1 1/2 x 1/4"
    -  4 1/2 x 1 1/2 x 1/4"
Both left over from the 'Heavy Camp Knife' commission (2010)
- three twisted plus flat stack with carbon core ≠ 46 layers (?)
    5 x 1 1/4 x 1/4"
- four twisted ≠ 108 layers (?)
    6 x 3/4 x 3/16"
- two twisted with two outer flat stack ≠ 36 layers (?)
    4 x 1 x 1/8'
- two outer twisted with central flat stack ≠ 27 layers (?)
    6 x 1 x 3/16" (shows possible weld flaws)
- two flat stacks on a carbon core ≠ unknown high count (225 range?)
    10 1/2 x 1 1/4 x 1/4"
- flat stack ≠ unknown high count (225 range?)
    7 1/2 x 1 1/4 x 1/4"
Shows two different methods of producing the 'bulls eye' pattern. One side was punched then ground, the other side drilled then flattened.
- flat stack = 103 layers (in progress)
    5 x 3/4 x 5/16"

Any of these could proceed to a forged blade

Partially Forged

This next group all need differing levels of continued forging to go onwards.
From top to bottom (see note on measurements)
- Pattern Welded spear head, two twisted rods each side on a carbon core ≠ 28 layers.
    6 x 1 1/8 x 1/4 " (blade)
Socket complete, forged to rough point and distal taper. Requires edges forged out.
- Two Bloomery Iron slabs with alloy steel core, mate to 'Hector's Bane' (2012)
    10 x 1 3/4 x 5/16"
Massive failure just before final tempering (!) Stress fracture in what was almost a completed knife. Will require re-welding, resulting in complete re-forging of blade shape. (3)
-  'Welder Pattern' test 3, carbon steel with mild steel lines.
    5 x 1 x 1/8"
Needs a bit of straightening and perhaps re-shaping of (boring) profile.
- Two 'insert core' demonstration pieces, folded angle with carbon core.    
    3 1/ x 7/8 x 5/16"
    3 x 3/4 x 1/4"

Norse Replicas

Someplace here should also go a small number of Viking Age replica pieces.
- Three spear heads, mild steel. All rough forged to profile, welded sockets. Range from 8 to 5 inch blades. These were originally made for the 'History in the Making' episode #6 (which honestly, I have never seen the final video of).
- Curved draw knife (scorp), mild steel, rough forged to profile. Loosely based on the sample from the Mastermyr tool set.

Forged - Requires Polishing and Hilting

The last group are completely forged to shape (all annealed). They require various levels of grinding / shaping / polishing. Then remaining heat treating, hilting.
Top to bottom
- 'Celtic Short Sword', antique Wrought Iron / reading for hilting (??)
    19 overall / blade 14 1/2 x 2 x 3/16
My intent with this piece is to use a cast bronze hilt, based on La Tene artifacts. I've yet to have a real inspiration on that design. There has also been a significant equipment build (still in process) to allow for casting bronze in the needed size.
- 'Welder Pattern' test 4, alloy steel with mild steel lines / at profiling
    16 overall / blade 9 x 11/2 x 1/4
- 'Forged in Fire', high carbon steel (2015) / ready for grinding
    overall 14 / blade 9 x 1 7/8 x 3/16
- Iron Knives, antique Wrought Iron / partially profiled
    seax (blade) 5 x 1 3/16 x 1/4"
    tool (blade) 4 x 1 1/4 x 1/4"
- 'Wolfgar's Tool', mild steel slabs with carbon core / partially polished
    11 1/2 overall / blade 6 1/4 x 1 3/16 x 5/16"
Mate to 'Laugh Taker' (personal commission), with nickle/copper molkume guard
- Dagger, lower layer count flat stack ≠ 27 layers / ready for hilt (re-polish)
     10 overall / blade 6 x 1 x 3/16"
- Slim Seax, mild steel / ready for grinding
    9 overall / blade 4 1/4 x 1/2 x 3/16"

Not sure if any conclusions can be drawn here. Looking at the total pile, there is some work (early layered billets) that date back to the mid 1990's.
There are projects that 'got away from me', or things where Iost any of the original inspiration in the technical burden.

Honestly - the reasons why I have spent the time on this compiling of uncompleted work (and some outright failures) is a bigger question ??

Note on Measurements:
My standard is to not count the last half inch of any blade in length (basically not counting the point.

1) Add to this (just the bladesmithing):
- one tub of much older pieces, some rough forged. Includes a pile of commercial blade blanks (multiples of various profiles) remaining from the long past. During the early years I did a lot of hand painted, then etched, 'tool' knives, with slab handles.
- two sword blades :
    one carbon steel (needs last polish before hilting) - (2018)
    one pattern welded, ready for hilting (considered 'failed' quality) - (2014)
- huge pile of 'one piece' blades of mild steel, remaining from teaching demos
- about a half dozen axe heads of various sizes and types, mostly rough forged

2) A note on counting layers.
Traditional 'flat stack' / 'Damascus' is normally counted by multiplying starting stack + additional pieces x 'folds'.
When I count Pattern Weld ('interrupted twisted core' to some) I add starting stack for each bar x bars. I normally will make a separate piece that is two flat stacks on a carbon steel core.  Lengths given include the 'solid' part of each billet (often the ends have weld flaws, which would be forged into the tangs). I normally do keep notes on each layered billet I make, if I wanted to attempt to dive through past drawing books.

3) There is a long (painful) story here concerning cutting corners to speed work and the resulting disaster. This blade was about five minutes from going to the tempering stage at point of failure (which would have removed the stresses involved). Compare with Hector's Bane, for which the asking price is $1000.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

'Distancing' at the Wareham Forge

'Can I attend a blacksmithing course at the Wareham Forge?'

Benefit vs Risk

A) Exposure to Infection

First, please read and consider ‘The Risks - Know Them’ by Dr. E Bromage. (Originally posted May 3)
1) “ We know that at least 44% of all infections--and the majority of community-acquired transmissions--occur from people without any symptoms (asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people). You can be shedding the virus into the environment for up to 5 days before symptoms begin.”
2) “Some experts estimate that as few as 1000 SARS-CoV2 infectious viral particles are all that will be needed” (to get infected).
“ The principle is viral exposure over an extended period of time. In all (the illustrated) cases, people were exposed to the virus in the air for a prolonged period (hours). Even if they were 50 feet away … , even a low dose of the virus in the air reaching them, over a sustained period, was enough to cause infection “
3)" ... with general breathing, 20 viral particles minute into the environment, ... (worst case presented) ... you would need 1000 viral particles divided by 20 per minute = 50 minutes.
4) ”Speaking increases the release of respiratory droplets about 10 fold; ~200 virus particles per minute.”

5) Although not included directly in Dr. Bromage's commentary, physical activities will increase volume of breath, draw from the lower lungs, and frequency of breath - all increasing both number of virus particles expelled and their penetration into the surrounding air. (in the commentary, the case of a choir practice is used) 

The other important consideration is 'asymptomatic' individuals. 
Reference information taken from 'Coronavirus Incubation Period' by
1) " A new study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests that the median incubation period for SARS-CoV-2—the new coronavirus that causes the respiratory illness COVID-19—is 5.1 days. "
" The analysis suggests that about 97.5% of people who develop symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 infection will do so within 11.5 days of exposure. "

There is a third element. What I call 'who do you trust' ? At point of writing (June 6) the available information indicates that the bulk of Ontario COVID-19 cases have been in the general 905 area. (1)

B) Distancing

The 'standard' that has been well communicated is '6 foot distancing'

The image above is from the main (coal) forge room at the Wareham Forge. 
The stool is placed 6 feet away from the anvil. 
It would be also possible for an individual to stand in the open doorway into this room (which would be to the extreme left of this image). However, with the required air exhaust system active, air would be driven past anyone in that location, directly over the demonstrator. 

The second image is shot inside the main working floor, from the rear layout table towards the entrance. For courses, normally the propane forge is placed at the rear milk crate stack. The anvil to the right rear is fixed, the one to the left rear can be shifted. Each of the red arrows indicates exactly 6 feet.
You can see it would be just possible to create a six foot distance between the triangle between forge and those two working stations. 
A demonstrator could possibly work from a second propane forge placed on the layout table at front left, with another anvil placed at the front milk crates. (2)

C) Observation

Including peripheral vision - colour would be clear focus.
 This image is taken from the perspective of an observer in the main forge room, at the location illustrated in the first image.
The piece of work on the anvil is the largest object made during the standard 'Introduction to Blacksmithing' course. 

How effectively do you think you would be able to observe, understand, then duplicate physical techniques illustrated from this visual distance? 

It should also be noted that the propane forges available at the Wareham Forge are not capable of generating the temperatures required for forge welding. The normal practice has been to use the coal forge for individual instruction on this technique.The kind of close observation required to properly learn forge welding is not possible under distancing rules


1) Typical workshop courses run 16 - 18 hours. Individuals will be working in a confined area for that exposure time, even if attempting to maintain distancing.
2) The activity of blacksmithing is a physical one, increased lung activity is certainly to be expected.
3) The existing layout of the Wareham Forge makes it just possible to provide the required social distancing :
  a) One single student for use of coal forge
  b) Two students for use of propane forge
4) The requirements of distancing greatly reduce the value of instruction.

5) Students present an unknown risk, not only to each other, but in this case most significantly to the instructor. ( 3 )

Stated Policy

On June 3, the Government of Ontario extended its original 'declaration of emergency' instructions to June 30

i) At the point of writing (June 6) the Wareham Forge will be cancelling any existing workshop programs to June 30.

ii) Full refunds will be sent to any who had previously made bookings with deposits (before the start of the current pandemic).

iii) Evaluation of the situation as time proceeds will be made at the beginning of each month, concerning the possible activities for that month (about July 1 for July month)

iv) At this point, it is unlikely any previously announced programs will be mounted, at a minimum to September.

All students must completely self isolate for a minimum of SEVEN DAYS before attending any program at the Wareham Forge. This includes ALL FAMILY MEMBERS (no individual outside contact of any kind).

If you wish to proceed with blacksmithing training in the near future, I can recommend the following alternate instructors:
David Robertson / Hammer & Tongs / Walkerton /
Robb Martin / THAK Ironworks / Floridale /
Sandra Dunn / TwoSmiths / Kitchener /

1) For the purposes of this discussion, the ideal would be a simple map with cases indicated. Lots of government and official news sites provide raw numbers, but actual maps showing case locations have proved difficult to source.

2) It would be possible to increase protection for the demonstrator in the indicated layout by hanging a plexi screen between that work station and students standing no closer than the between the two workmates. 

3) I fit into TWO of the indicated three 'risk' groups for COVID-19 as indicated by Public Health Ontario.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

'Last to Sea' #10 : Explaining the Expansion?

 A comment on Communication and the Artist's Vision

image by Kelly Probyn-Smith

So there it is.
What do you see?

A big green net with some shadowy stuff inside.

Ok, go over and peak a bit closer.

Ok - that is obviously a shark!
And some dancing small fish shapes.
Hey, is that a horseshoe crab?
Some kind of weird plant like thing at the back. And a lumpy plate of come sort.
What is that strange shell like thing?
And no idea what the cluster of what looks like flowers is supposed to be?
Oh, yea, there is a pile of plastic bottles over the top.

Anything on that name plate?

Ah. 'Last to SEA', very funny, obviously a pun.

I don't get it...

As those who are regular readers may have glimpsed, that those that actually know me well understand : I have a love / hate relationship with 'the Arts'. Most specifically the tension between the 'practical' (Craft) and the 'conceptual' (Art).
There is a long discussion (read argument) about the difference between the useful and the symbolic, especially in the Modern Age.

It can be said that 'the Purpose of Art is to Communicate'.
Does that mean that for a work to be considered 'successful', it needs to clearly communicate the idea of the Artist?

On that scale, is 'Last to Sea' successful?
Is it enough, now that the work is presented to the viewing public, for me to just stand back? Take an attitude of 'Well, if you don't understand, that is just your failing!' ( 1)

I would be the very first to fully admit that some of my past offerings at the Elora Sculpture Project have been merely 'pretty', or just 'eye catching' (consider 'Spears of Summer' in 2014). On some, the under laying concepts have been simple (consider 'Barrel Turbine' in 2016). Or if more complex, may not have been easily apparent (consider 'Legacy' in 2018) ( 2 )

If any readers have been wondering why I have written a quite extensive set of commentaries on the thought behind, and technical production of, 'Last to Sea'? ( 3 )

Last year, for the first time since my initial contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project in 2013, I was able to attend the opening reception. Almost all the participating artists were there, and as we did a walk through of all the submitted sculptures, each of us gave a brief overview of our pieces. I personally found the whole process extremely interesting. As you might guess, some pieces were more technical than conceptual. Often I found the intended meanings not clear on first seeing the work. It was obvious to me that much would be lost to the viewing public without these background explanations.

To me, the obvious method to provide the public with these further insights was through use of the internet. ( 4 ) This year, with the threat of COVID-19 looming, the ESP people had specifically asked the contributing artists to make attempts to record their individual working process as each sculpture was created.

'Last to Sea' involved considerably more research in detail than past submissions. This a process that really started for me with the 2019 proposal 'Last to See', a work framed around the concept of past Mass Extinction events, leading to the current Holocene event. (In this, I had started applying the kind of research I normally undertake for artifact reproductions and experimental archaeology, both much detailed on this blog, to artistic works.)
Much of that research would remain totally invisible. The normal viewer of 'Last to Sea' is unlikely to be able to identify the individual species represented, beyond the two most obvious, 'Shark' and 'Horseshoe Crab'. Although 'Abalone' is a very faithful depiction and 'Tiny Fishes' are recognizably Capelin, I would not expect most people to recognize these lesser known species.
And for the reason these specific types have been illustrated?
Honestly, it was my own shock on finding out during the research phase these were all the Endangered List that made me pick these species in the first place (I mean - SHARKS! Who would have imagined?)

One final aspect, mentioned above, is the current evolution of COVID-19, with all the impacts from this pandemic on each of us right now. ( 5 )
The normal installation deadline for the ESP each year is around May 1st. As we moved from the jury notification (typically about February 15) into the production phase over March, the increasing closures effected many of the contributing artists. Many working in more complex materials needed access to other skilled trades to progress from initial stages to finished objects (think of those working in bronze, who normally would make a master pattern, but rely on foundries for the physical castings). With so many suppliers deemed 'non-essential' and thus closed, getting specific raw materials hampered others. ( 6 )
Because of these factors, the installation date for this year had been pushed back several times.

There of course was the over riding problem of pure economics. The individual situation here for participating artists I suspect varied considerably. Curiously, those who supported themselves full time from their artistic work might have been in the best possible situation, as most certainly I found myself qualifying for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. Those with 'regular day jobs' likely found their personal economic situations widely different under work reductions or outright closure, even complete job loss for some.
A factor to note here is that none of the participating artists involved in the ESP are actually paid at all for their work. Each of us must front the production costs, as well as provide the creation time required for our proposed contribution, as well as undertaking the installation and removal. Each of us in effect 'lends' the completed work to Elora for the length of the presentation (normally May 1 to October 31). It is true that the sculptures can be offered for sale (with delivery only after the full presentation period). Realistically, I don't think purchases of the works displayed actually are all that common. ( 7 )

So personally, I have considered the funds I have received (thankfully!) from the CERB have gone to support my ability to undertake the creation of this year's contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project. ( 8 )
For me undertaking this (extensive!) documentation of this specific project is also part of a responsibility I feel against those CERB funds.

The previous blog articles covering the research behind, design concepts and physical production of 'Last to Sea' :

Friday, January 10, 2020
‘Last to Sea’
Friday, April 10, 2020
(Part 2) CERB and ESP
Saturday, April 11, 2020
'Elkhorn' : ESP
Thursday, April 30, 2020
'Last to Sea' #2 - Abalone
Saturday, May 02, 2020
'Last to Sea' #3 - Horseshoe Crab
Saturday, May 09, 2020
'Last to Sea' #4 - Sea Turtle
Monday, May 18, 2020
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
'Last to Sea' # 6 : Tiny Fishes
Thursday, May 21, 2020
'Last to Sea' # 7 - Shark
Monday, May 25, 2020
'Last to Sea' # 9 : INSTALLED

It should also be noted that the typical blog posting in this series has taken between 2 - 4 hours to research, write and compose.

( 1 ) I always remember something my instructor had told us during one of my first year design courses at Ontario College of Art :
'Inspiration without Technique is masturbation'
I would suggest adding to this :
'Concept without Communication is meaningless self indulgence.'

( 2 ) Or in at least one case, an outright technical failure, 'Tipping Point' in 2019, where I certainly failed on the mechanical workings. There was a more complex set of symbolism with this work, which honestly I don't think was communicated at all to the viewer.
Embarrassingly, feel that piece failed in both the aspects given above!

( 3 ) In past years, I have always provided a version of the all the original submissions, usually expanded with extra comments. There is at least a second posting, showing the final piece as installed (allowing comparison to the initial concept drawing). Often there will be some 'work in progress' additions as well. Contributing artists are allowed to submit two different proposals every year, and most years I have published the description of a second (unused) sculpture.

( 4 ) Over the last several years, as my own proposals for the ESP have become more and more 'social commentaries', I have been suggesting that the general ESP web site be expanded to include just this kind of detailing. At the very least, each original submission the the jury had included both a 'Description of the Work' and an 'Artist's Statement'.

( 5 ) I am certain it will be recognized, looking back in years to come that the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will be seen to be Human Impact / Climate Change story. Too many of us, altering too much of the Natural World.

( 6 ) Here at the Wareham Forge, a combination of relatively simple materials (industrial steels of various forms) and core level equipment combined with habits born of a rural location and a lifetime pattern of stockpiling supplies. My normal situation here is to keep considerable steel stocks on hand, if for no other reason than I work best when I can let inspiration, not available materials, determine what I create. Blacksmithing at core uses the simplest of tools, the production of the individual components within 'Last to Sea', used mainly hand tools, with the exception of an oxy-propane torch and a MIG welder (themselves long standing equipments here).
The only material I did have to purchase this year was a sheet of 2 x 2 square wire grid.

( 7 ) I have been honoured to have had a design selected for each of the years from 2013 to the present. That is a total of 7 sculptures. There is time invested for design, remember that I typically submit two designs each year. Each has taken on average three weeks to build (sometimes more). At least for me, materials costs have never been large, again typically in the $100 - $200 range for each.
I have sold one sculpture of this seven ('Armoured Fish' in 2015)

( 8 ) For a longer discussion of CERB and the Artist, see two related blog postings :

Thursday, April 09, 2020
'Working' during a Pandemic ...
Friday, April 10, 2020
(Part 2) CERB and ESP



February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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