Sunday, June 19, 2022

Viking Age tools for L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC

 Readers : Postings have been absent of late as I was involved in preparing, then delivering, an eight day training program for staff living history interpreters for Parks Canada's 'Viking Encampment' presentation. To accompany this, there was a large order of replicas, two sets of both blacksmithing and woodworking tools, plus four spear heads. 

The tools were ordered from a larger list of previous and potential objects, plus those requested. The primary artifact reference was the larger set of smithing and wood tools found within the Mastermyr Tool Chest (Gotland, estimated to about 1150 AD). Note the distinction between reproductions (generally within 10% of artifacts) and replicas (considered 'of a type' similar to samples).  One difference throughout (unless specifically noted) is the use of modern steels.

One of two forging hammers, reproduction of Mastermyr (final weight was just under 800 gms)

Raising hammer (again reproduction of Mastermyr) and a second similar head with more of a ball shaped head, as a riveting hammer.

Two rivet header tools, based on Mastermyr. The holes themselves a close match to the artifact sample, handles a bit longer and block a bit thinner than the original.

Two of the total of eight different tongs, only loosely based on Mastermyr. Two slightly different styles used for the jaws, as a large number of 'adjusted for stock sizes and shapes' were ordered.

In addition the following :

Leather apron with cast bronze buckle

Double chamber blacksmith's bellows

Two sledge hammers (1800 / 3200 gm)

Pair each of straight cut and round hole punches.

Hacksaws, replicas based on sample from Mastermyr. Modified modern blades for metal / antler (top), for wood (bottom).

Pair of 'flip' carving knives (based on sample from Cantebury), oak slabs. The blades on each were made intentionally to slightly differing profiles to provide for differing carving surfaces.

Two pairs of spoon bits, based on Mastermyr, with wooden breast driver (speculative). The driver was made with a removable collar held by a steel ring. With the top end of each bit as identical shape, this combination allows for changing out the individual bits (two different sizes specified).

Spoon bit mounted for bow driver, bits reproduction from Mastermyr, driver speculative. Bits sized for mounting ship rivets.

Bent neck chisels, replica based on Mastermyr. Made with two slightly different curves of the neck offset.

Group of carving chisels (total eight) Loosely based on Mastermyr samples. Both 2.5 and 1.5 cm sizes, both straight and curved blades.

Two large straight chisels, based on Mastermyr (before mounting wooden handles). Also seen above image at top (after mounting)

Pair of fine trimming adzes, replica based on Mastermyr. Slightly different curvatures to blades.

Knives, total of six : two 'male', two 'female', two carving. All different in shape details, all with antler handles. Top are 'male' / seax blades, uppermost antique wrought iron, second of mid carbon steel. Middle are 'female' / small tool blades, the first of bloomery iron, the second of high carbon steel. Bottom are two different carving shapes, both of high carbon steel.

Four spear heads, no specific prototypes. Top is longer 'fighting' style, remainder smaller 'hunting' types.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

About an AXE

 Our next door neighbour George, passed away late last summer. The farm block that he had owned (since about the late 70's) had originally included the small pieces severed off that then had the Wareham Church and the associated drive shed. The church was built in the late 1930's, and the shed structure likely the same time. The church was sold and converted into a private residence about 1985. The conversion of the drive shed to include a residence started about 1987, and was barely completed when I purchased that property in 1989. 

The house on George's farm is a red brick 'Victorian' the main construction some point about 1900. It has been added to and modified over the decades. The barn is a typical Ontario large working barn, hand squared timber frame set on rough field stone foundation walls, with plank covering, a more recent sheet steel roof. On a guess I would think that barn may pre-date the house.  

The land around Wareham was settled by mainly Scots and Irish, starting about 1850. Rail came into the area about 1855, and Wareham was a going concern by 1860, with three small mills running off the river that flows through the crossroads. (My lot, on the NW corner, is actually the location of the original general store. The original Wareham blacksmith shop had been located on the NE corner, in a triangle bounded on the long side by the river.)

So  - what is the point of all that?

After George passed, his surviving adult children (all roughly my own age now) started the task of cleaning and clearing a life time of possessions. Like most farmers (even what in truth was more an 'active hobby farm' like George's once group of about 30 beef cattle) the house, barn and sheds had a lot of stuff collected. There was room, and you never did know when that thing to saved might be needed - right? There was a fair sized pile of old tools in the barn, most rusting and needing handles at the very least. Kelly and I were asked if we wanted any of these, the family had taken those few they though would be useful in their largely urban lives. I had collected up about a milk crate worth of metal heads, a couple of axes, picks and maddocks, a few smaller logging / timber framing tools. 

George's son in law Lee had stuck this one in with the rest :

Direct scan, after light surface rust removed and edge sharpened

Weight = 2 lb 14 oz
Length = 8 inches
Blade width = 4 3/4 inches
Peen = 2 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches
Eye = pronounced tear drop, 2 3/4 long by 3/4 wide, the metal on the sides about 1/8 thick 

The construction is one piece of shaped, iron (?), folded and welded back onto itself. This is clear both from the shape of the eye, but you can also see the way the edges match up on the inside if the eye on the cutting edge side. 

There appears to be an inset steel edge, which would have been a separate wedge shaped piece placed between the body sides before the welding. This can be seen as a slight colour change to the metal close to the cutting edge, and also from a change in sparks generated as I re-sharpened the existing edge.

It is hard to tell, but I think the peen block is a separate piece forge welded on (a close to perfect job there). This mainly from the extreme difference in thickness between the sides of the eye and the thickness of the peen itself. The peen block is also actually not quite as tall as the eye is.

Importantly, there is a hot stamped maker's mark. The letters A L O W, placed on both sides. These are separate letter stamps (the alignment of individual letters is slightly different on the two sides). 

The only reference I have is 'Axe Making in Ontario' by Gary French. I did take a fast look through, but did not find a specific example. (admittedly, this book seems to concentrate a lot to broad axes)

There is an illustration repeated in that volume from an 1816 book on axes, showing Sheffield production types. This axe appears to conform to the 'Army Axe' depicted in that chart.

INow, I have only wire brushed the outside surfaces lightly to remove (most) the rust. Intentionally not enough to damage any of the existing patina (actually this appears to be the fire scale surface from the original forging. 

The edge as found was in pretty fair shape, I did re contour it a bit (removed about a 1/16th of an inch) to remove a couple of nicks. I then re sharpened to a working cutting edge on pretty much the original grind angle. I think you can see this on the image.

There were a few rough protruding edges on the inside surfaces of the eye that I did file clean - to allow me to mount to a new handle. 


The exact origin of this tool is quite unknown. Other than the thin surface rust and being dull, the axe head was in virtually perfect condition. I could not easily (no thanks to internet here) find out when production of this specific pattern stopped. Certainly the method indicates hand forging, and the historic illustration indicates the type was still in active production in England in 1816. 

This does pre-date settlement at Wareham however. A high quality tool like this one would have remained in working service for decades - the fact that with a replacement handle I could certainly effectively used this tool today for timber work certainly proves that. There is a chance that the axe could date back at Wareham from the original farm clearing circa 1850. 

But unfortunately, for any number of reasons, George is no longer with us to tell. After I had cleaned up the piece, and undertaken this small amount of research to suggest its history, I offered the axe back to Lee as a potential family heirloom. Knowing my interest in Wareham, the Settlement Period, working tools and blacksmithing in general, Lee felt the story was best carried forward in my hands.

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

... a handful of buckshot (10 Lines)


There is an old military axiom : ‘You can’t stiffen a bucket of spit with a hand full of buckshot’.

It had been a long war, so when technologies required young plastic brains, or the few remaining older soldiers just got too slow to keep up, they retired the veterans out to some backwater, pensioning them off with a plot of land.

Most of them never quite fit back into civilian life, the habits they had required out of necessity to simply stay alive in the hellish crucible of war marking them as different, untrustworthy, and potentially dangerous, among their new peaceful neighbours.

In a time of universal war, the young, able, and fit were all drawn away and into the conflict, leaving behind too many of the swaggering wannabes, boasting how much better they could do ‘If only They would let me into it!’.

These ‘worthies’ too often heaped scorn on the increasingly old men and women, so often huddled in darkened corners, seeking out the company of their own kind, as they sought numbness from their shared past with too much drink.  

As years slipped by, long hoarded equipment became homes for mice, while the skills faded and abilities eroded, even as the memories distilled into bright sharpness.

And eventually, to the blind shock of the civilians and the feared expectation of the veterans, war swept even into the backwaters, and it was those local populations who were all that was available to defend hearth and home. 

As expected, the alien enemy flooded like a tide, destroying all and any who stood before it, and as should have also been expected, the ‘bucket of spit’ ran before it, leaving only that ‘handful of shot’.

Maybe it was because they had been pushed just once too often, or had just become too tired to run any more, or because they knew death was close coming anyway and figured this ground was as good as any.

So the old, faded veterans stood, and fought, and died, in the end often making little difference on the cosmic scale, save where it really counted - within themselves.

Image : Snow Soldier Clandestino
by AlexanderBrox Published: Nov 14, 2011
(inserted here without permission)


I had more than the usual amount of trouble framing this one. The spark was the initial quote, which my memory (??) places from a US Civil War general. 

At first I was going to set up a scenario with a bright shiny officer school graduate, surveying a combat field with an old grizzled general. An alien hoard that normally ate all the dead, but for some reason had left these old soldiers bodies on that field as a kind of tribute. 

Maybe not so curiously, I had a lot of trouble finding a suitable illustration. Seems modern illustrators just don't deal with the concept of *old* soldiers inside a science fiction framework. The idea of veteran vs newbie, soldier vs civilian, is represented in science fiction - and has been for a long time. Heinlein's Starship Troopers / Haldeman's Forever War / Ringo's Posleen War 

and of course one of my other favourites (and influences) is John Scalzi's Old Man's War series. 

But in almost all of these, the 'old soldier' is seen inside the existing framework of a standing military. Both Ringo and Scalzi present a system where old minds are given rejuvenated bodies. Ringo actually uses the same 'handful of buckshot' quote to shape a main plot sequence in the second book in his series 'Gust Front'. 

Now, there are a number of reasons I have never attempted to go beyond a couple of 'prototype' short stories. One of the main reasons is 'new idea vs re-tread'. This is part of the reason I have latched on to this '10 line' framework (which believe me, has it's own special challenges). 

With thanks to the named authors, who have shaped by character (Heinlein), helped solidify ideas, or just plain provided an 'old friend' refuge in their tales.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

'Fury of Northmen' - Fakes via the Internet

 Anyone who has gone beyond the wild imaginings of recent video programs like 'Vikings' on what passes as the 'History' Channel has seen the 'quote' :

'From the Fury of the Northmen, oh Lord, deliver us!'

Such a great line.

You can imagine some whimpering Irish monk, huddled in a cold stone monastery built on a bleak and remote storm tossed island, muttering this in the early 800's. 

Only problem is that this statement is not actually recorded anywhere in surviving manuscripts.  


You see, gentle readers, I'm now working up the lectures required for my current project for Parks Canada, delivering an 8 day training program for interpretive staff at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC. This is intended to be a crash course in material culture of the Viking Age, living history presentation methods, basic working skills in iron and wood working and textiles. Two other well experienced members of DARC will be assisting.

Now my normal method when pulling together a lecture presentation is to work inside PowerPoint. Note that this is a lot different than writing an actual paper. (Or the 'stream of consciousness' babbling of these blog posts!). I will frame up major statements, then include 2 - 4 bullet points. Once the primary elements are written, I expand to a series of individual 'one point per slide, inserting suitable (attention nailing) images.

When you start building lectures to train working museum staff, you also start considering 'how do I know this?. A lot. 

This all came clear yesterday, as I was working up a lecture 'Resources and Prototypes' :

Look at available references, some suggestions for further knowledge. Aspects of artifact preservation. Consideration of ‘critical evaluation’ of sources. Discussion of Popular Culture depictions and public misconceptions.

I was considering how to frame up 'Problems with Historic Documents', with the bullet point 'beware bias of writer'. I had already used a quote from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle (sacking of Lindisfarne) in another (earlier in sequence) lecture. I was pretty sure I remembered that the 'Fury of the Northmen' quote was not actually contained in any historic documents. But after 40 years of studying the Viking Age - just where did I find that 'fact'?

Also attempting to find an image to place on the presentation slide, plugging the actual quote into my search engine got me this :


Now, I'm roughly familiar with the Bayeux Tapestry, commissioned roughly 1070 + to commemorate the Invasion of England by William of Normandy in 1066. (1). The text on the Tapestry is in Latin for one thing. 

Hmm - so where did this depiction come from? It certainly appeared to be a photograph of an actual embroidery (or an extremely careful illustration crafted to duplicate embroidery).

The image was placed on Pinterest by this person. 

Now I really HATE Pinterest. This is a perfect example. The image had NO source credit. 'Wild Eyed Southern Celt' had none of the supplied links actually functioning. (2)

Ok - add another 30 minutes of digging. 

Taking a look at the folio copy of the actual Bayeux Tapestry available from the museum that houses it :


 This is obviously the source reference used for the creation of the illustration seen above. (This is from section 3 of the Tapestry). 

After a LOT of dead ends, I was able to find a 2001 article by Shirley Ann Brown, The Bayeux Tapestry and the Viking Age. Here the image in question is specifically attributed to the opening sequence of the 1958 film 'The Vikings' with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis.

I found one suggestion that the quote comes from the English 'Book of Common Prayer'. But given that that volume dates to 1545 - this seems unlikely as the origin. 

I've got some individual requests out to some academic researchers I know...

PS - writing, formatting and importantly researching the various links for this short piece took me 2 hours and 45 minutes. (In case you might be wondering what a semi-retired artisan blacksmith with a heavy research arm does with 'free time')


1) Unlike many historic 'documents' the Tapestry was undertaken both shortly after, and by hands at least local to, the events depicted. 

For comparison, the raid in Lindisfarne was recorded roughly 100 years after the event, by an Saxon monk, who most certainly inserted both his (and his patron, Alfred of Wessex's) point of view.

2) In preparing this piece, I did search 'Wild Eyed Southern Celt'. A page on Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest plus a commerical shop via 'Cafepress'. NONE of these provide any indentification on who or even where (USA?) this individual is. Draw your own conclusions...


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

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