Sunday, December 31, 2006

'Outlander' - Fan SIte

If any of those reading this have any interest in the 'Outlander' movie still undergoing principle photography apparently:

Vandy was poking around the web yesterday, and has discovered a fan based website at:
This is obviously not an 'official' movie site, but the author has managed to paste together a fair number of bits and pieces into an information and rumor collection. Of interest may be the photos of both the sets under construction and various props.

A couple of other tid bits I can offer :

A close friend of mine - David Cox, also created a number of historically accurate objects for the background sets. Dave has worked with me both as a historic interpeter and assisting on construction of 'World of the Norse'. He was also contacted by Ian Greig, in this case to make a number of larger wooden objects. Dave built a number of Norse style 'warp weighted' looms, with the associated textile production tools. Again these were all close replicas of known historic artifacts from the period. His wife, Anne Crown, wove texiles on these same looms to they could be seen 'in use'.
Those wanting to see what these kind of looms look like (both detail and historic context) can check the web site of the 'Dark Ages Re-Creation Company' at:
Dave also has provided a bed, based on the one from the Oseburg ship burial. A little digging on any of the DARK web site should get you an image of that exact piece (look for 'Grimmi's Bed').

I also know the leatherwork for 'Outlander' was done by another Canadian craftsman with considerable film experience - Adam Smith. I'm sure Adam supports a web site, one clue I can give you to find him is that he is from Hamilton, Ontario.


Friday, December 29, 2006

On Copy - Who Holds the Rights

The genesis of this piece is a recent discussion that came up from my work as the webmaster for the Ontario Artist Blacksmith Association. For those not familure. OABA is a chapter club of a larger organization - Artist Blacksmith Association of North America (ABANA). With a new editor just coming on board for their newsletter (the Iron Trillium), the topic of sharing content between the various chapter club newsletters came to the front. In the past, ABANA had a tradition of freely swapping newsletters and reprinting articles from them between the various individual chapters.

Now those of you who know me are aware that theft of my past written materials has been a MAJOR problem with me. Original writings I had created in conjunction with training programs I was hired to undertake were flat out stolen by other individuals - in clear violation of the contracts that had been signed. Needless to say, the repeated theft of my materials, and the subsequent loss of opportunities this represented (when others signed their own names to the texts and claimed the contents as their own) was a very bitter experience. So its fair to say I'm a LOT more sensitive to the whole area of ownership of 'intellectual property' than most. As a result I have done more research into Copyright than many other artists do.

There has been a revision of Law in the area of Copyrights over the last decade in particular. This largely from development of new technologies and the massive growth of the internet. In the 'old days' it was relatively cumbersome to copy existing writings. The invention of the photocopier, and the eventual drop in price that resulted in easy access to this machinery for direct duplication, changed all that. I'm of an age when I remember that access to the new Xerox machines was strictly controlled, and bulk copying of existing works was just not permitted by those who operated them. Before those days, any attempt to plagiarize someone else's work required tediously hand copying or use of a manual typewriter for duplication. The slowness of the methods limited someone's ability to copy anything wholesale.

But that was then - and this is now. The widespread use of computers has resulted in a trivial amount of effort being required to copy existing works. With a scanner, entire books can be transfered to electronic files, washed through text recognition software, and stored, duplicated, or altered. Anyone reading this could easily 'cut and paste' the content to their own computer, or hit a simple 'save as' button to create a copy. Change the authors name... In the case with my troubles with the Viking Trails Tourism Association, this exactly what was done (without even changing the spelling mistakes - if you can believe it!).

The important thing to remember is this:

The initial creator of any original work retains FULL RIGHTS and ownership of that work - unless specific WRITTEN permission is given to re-assign those rights to another.

This is the DEFAULT legal situation. You do not have to do anything else to enshrine your rights to your own work. This absolutely applies to ANYTHING ON THE WEB. A common misconception is that if someone 'publishes' something (written or image) on the internet that it has automatically become 'public domain'. This is NOT THE CASE.

If any of the readers are interested in learning more about the issues of Copyright, I would suggest you take a look at the excellent article written by Brad Templeton "10 Big Myths About Copyright Explained".
Available on line :

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

2007 - TENTATIVE dates...

I have been getting requests for course dates in 2007 for some weeks now! I got out the calendar and worked up some TENTATIVE dates. These are the 'public' events (so far).

April 21 : Lecture(s) at Forward to the Past - Kitchener/Waterloo
April 27 - 29 : Introduction to Blacksmithing - the Wareham Forge

May 11 - 13 : Introduction to Blacksmithing - the Wareham Forge
May 19 - 20 : Blacksmithing Demo at 'Gathering of Friends' - Amealiasburg

June 1 - 2 : Introduction to Iron Smelting - the Wareham Forge
June 9 - 10 : DARK Iron Smelt (invitational) - the Wareham Forge
June 15 - 17 : Introduction to Blacksmithing - the Wareham Forge

June 30 - July 1 : (possible?) DARK demonstration camp at EWP - Scarborough
July 7 - 8 : one of - Basic Bladesmithing
Intermediate Blacksmithing
Introduction to Layered Steels - the Wareham Forge
July 21 - 22 : (NEW) Introduction to Metal Casting

August 6 - 9 : Basic Blacksmithing at the Celtic College - Goderich
August 11 - 12 : Blacksmithing Demo - the Celtic Festival - Goderich
August 17 -19 : (possible?) Summerfolk - Owen Sound

September 8 - 9 : Blacksmithing Demo - Walkworth Fall Fair
September 14 - 16 : DARC Presentation at Haffenreffer Museum - Bristol RI

October 5 - 8 : Early Iron 4 - Peters Valley RI
October 12 - 14 : Introduction to Blacksmithing - the Wareham Forge
October 20 - 21: one of - Basic Bladesmithing
Intermediate Blacksmithing
Introduction to Layered Steels - the Wareham Forge

November 3 - 4 : DARK Iron Smelt (invitational) - the Wareham Forge
November 9 - 11 : Introduction to Blacksmithing - the Wareham Forge

Looking this over you will see that there are TWO additional weekends for the Introduction to Blacksmithing course - April and November. Also a new program in July - Introduction to Cast Metals. This course will combine two popular classes from the Celtic College : pewter in soapstone and bronze in sand molds.

I will have details on the courses posted up on the Wareham Forge web site by mid January.

Friday, December 15, 2006

(Re:Comment) On Custom Work...

Posted by STAG to Hammered out bits at 12/15/2006.

" I don't mind creating new designs and creations, however my clients don't want to pay for development time. I dread those conversations that start out with "I went to the Anime convention and I saw this armour...."
... Normally it doesn't pay to do truly custom work...and when the client hates it and returns it, it doesn't even pay in satisfaction..."

I hope this reader doesn't mind me using his comments as a jump off point for an expansion on the last posting here.

Development time is always a problem in any hand intensive skill. An important truth about blacksmithing is that repetition produces speed and control, which is seen as fluidity of work to the observer. Each individual will develop skill with differing amounts of practice time - but EVERYONE needs to spend countless hours with the hammer. To often the novice smith does not appreciate this. You can of course substitute tools or machines for skill. Often this has another price tag - one measured in dollars rather than hours.

An illustration: One of my original 'best sellers' was a J shaped candle holder, the 'Loom Light'. This was a design I adapted from artifacts from various museum collections that date from the early 1800's and earlier. So right off the top, there was the time spend hunting through collections and examining the artifact samples. Then I had to convert the design of the artifacts to something that both made sense for modern buyers, and could be made quickly enough to keep the purchase price at a reasonable range. This involved making a number of potential prototypes. Once I had a workable product design, there was a learning curve to speed up the individual steps, and determine the best order of these for efficient production. This all happened before I sold a single one.
In the 1990's, I would normally sell as many of these as I had on hand, for a price of $10 each. I could make them at a rate of 6 per hour. This may seem like good money, but remember that I consider a productive workshop day contains 2 hours actually hammering - out of a normal 10 hour working day. (Lighting the forge correctly takes 45 minutes for example.)
I would also make these pieces as part of demonstrations. With the related explanations, it would take about 15 minutes to make one. Normally I would be asked by some member of the public if they could purchase the sample I had just made. Into the late part of the 1990's, I found increasingly that people would complain about this price. After all, they had just seen 'how easy' it was to make the piece. My own skill was seen not as valuable experience, but in fact a measure of LACK of perceived value. I stopped producing these as demonstration pieces.
Back in my own workshop, I had invested in a small air hammer. With the required compressor, the set up cost me about $3000. Now add installation time, plus a still ongoing learning process to work effectively with the new machinery. I'm also 15 years older, and at 50 + I just do not work as fast. So the net result is that if I use the air hammer for the tedious drawing out of the candle holder, I can make the pieces at about 8 per hour.
But another thing has happened. Back about 2000, I wanted to increase the cost of the loom light from that magic $10 to $12. My business had also grown to the point that I was forced (here in Canada) to charge the 7% GST federal tax. As you might suspect, all my own materials and shop costs had increased over the decade. I invested in a large wholesale order for very high quality decorative candles, which even at wholesale cost me $2.65 each (with a normal retail price of $6). With the expensive candles, I set the price at $15. The same object that sold extremely well at $10, just would not sell at a total of $17.25 each, despite a decade of inflation and those $6 candles included.

Certainly over the last 15 years, the potential scope of my work has increased dramatically. If you check the web site, you will have seen that I concentrate on one of a kind art pieces, mainly for gardens. These pieces average $800 - $1500 each. Just like STAG, I have an increasing number of finished pieces sitting around the workshop - or on consignment to local 'artist maker' gallery shops. These pieces sell slowly, but if they are good pieces, they do eventually sell. I decided about 2000 that I'd rather create one large piece per month and eventually sell it (at about that same rate) - than make 80 items at $10 and work craft shows for the same kind of income. Frankly, I put more strain on my body making so many repetitive pieces, and there is far more artistic satisfaction in creating larger 'more significant' pieces.

Now, I have more than one ore in the water. I teach hand skills, consult to museums, undertake private commissions, as well as sell these individual pieces. I've certainly found that in any given year the balance between these aspects of my business will ebb and flow, but generally my gross business income is relatively stable. Maybe not as much as I would like, but at least enough for me to get by on. (That is another whole topic of conversation however)

One last point I'd like to bring up from STAG's comment: At the Wareham Forge, my standard policies on custom orders are posted on the web site. In brief:
• A signed contract agreement for any project over $500
• A deposit of 50% before work starts - non refundable against work undertaken (which includes design and consultation time)
• For elaborate projects a sample piece is made, which defines the work quality
• FULL balance is paid BEFORE delivery of the finished work
Over the years, I have only had one customer complain about the quality of the finished work. I offered a full cash refund, but the fellow ended up keeping the piece. I put this down to effective communications with my customers.

I must admit that STAG makes reference to "Anime convention" - and I fully agree that FANS are often the most difficult customers. Few fully appreciate that what they see on film is the result of props and film magic - not REALITY. There is often no understanding for the cost of creating a one of kind object. (i mean, Aragorn's 'hero' sword in Lord of the Rings cost them $10,000. What do you EXPECT a real functioning copy is going to cost?) A steel sword will NOT handle like the aluminum ones - and metal armour does NOT function like painted plastic. A real maile shirt weighs 30 lbs - and you can't swim in one.

I feel for you man...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

'Career' as Artisan Blacksmith?

"... My son/daughter has become interested in blacksmithing. Would your recommend this as a good career choice ..."

I am getting an ever increasing number of requests like this one. In an attempt to provide one well reasoned commentary, I have drafted up this article.

IF you put that question inside the frame of reference that question outlines, the answer is : NO

Most typically, the use of terms like 'career choice', modified by works like 'good' or 'successful' carry a certain value weight. Usually what is really being asked here:
• Are the wages / monetary return high?
• Are the working hours standard?
• Are the working conditions safe / pleasant?
• Are there normal paid benefits / pensions?
(Right now, I can hear any Artisan Blacksmiths reading this killing themselves laughing...)

Now I want to be quite specific here, and divide the field into Fabrication Blacksmithing and the Artisan Blacksmith. I am obviously an Artisan Blacksmith.

If you approach blacksmithing as one of a range of methods applied to a Fabrication shop - then it MAY be possible to maintain a standard 'career', with all of the elements listed above. Considerable investment will be required in labour saving equipment. None of the machinery required for an successful fabrication shop is inexpensive. You will find it necessary to undertake specific technical training and apply for various certifications (like a registered Welder's Certification). The types of work you will undertake will tend to the industrial and the repetitive. To make back a suitable return on your investments in equipment and training, the projects will tend to be large -and duplicate standardized designs. True success, measured by the factors listed, will see you become a workshop MANAGER, not actually a hands on worker at all. This goal is certainly achievable, given hard work and sound business decisions.

The opposite side of the coin is that of the Artisan Blacksmith. Undertaking this path means adopting the life of an ARTIST, with all that entails:
• Working long, hard hours for very little money returned.
• Expecting to work almost every weekend, with no 'holidays' in the classic sense.
• Fully expecting the work undertaken to result in the slow accumulation of physical damage over the years.
• No benefits are likely, and certainly no possibly of paid retirement.
To support yourself as an Artisan Blacksmith, you must be designer, fabricator, salesman, and business manager. Four separate roles, all undertaken with some measure of effectiveness if you expect to produce any income.

Why on EARTH would anyone become an Artisan Blacksmith? Put simply - it is a LIFESTYLE, one to which you are driven to because of the work you enjoy. It can be immensely satisfying, but any financial rewards are entirely separate from exercising your urge to create. The objects you form using forged metals as the medium of expression have a durability that no other medium can match. The life span can potentially extend to centuries. The mark of your own hands will be borne by each and every object which leaves your workshop. Given time, good work will almost always find its level.

So in framing the question 'Is becoming a Blacksmith a good career choice', the answer must be considered in light of what your expectations for your life will be.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

on Runes...

from a recent discussion on Norsefolk:
" Wouldn't it beg the question of the Literate person? If (the runes) were an alphabet, did people actually use them to "write" or are they just symbols used by the local shamen only? I can see using a protective one or so as a pictorial symbol, but unless the average man (or woman) read them, would you have more than one or two on an (object)?"

The types of objects we find runes on - and what those runes actually say, certainly suggests a wide basic level of literacy. Is not 'knowledge or the runes' considered one of the 'nine basic skills' mentioned in the Havemal?

We find rune stones used as markers for property, and as memorial texts. Not very effective if the casual passerby can't read them! Also consider the numourous 'Thorfin was here' type markings found all over the known world. What about the wide range of everyday messages found on birch bark slips found at Viking Age Novgrod in Russia? All these suggest both males and females over a fairly wide range of social levels are both writing and reading runes as simple text - with no ritual implications at all. This tends to prove that at least a basic functional literacy existed in Norse culture. Perhaps not to the 'read a book' level that we employ today - but at least at a 'read the signs' level. (I compare that with exactly the way many of those reading this can actually read runes themselves- puzzling out each letter to gather the meaning of a text - not reading runes as you are reading this message!)

There is a tendency to cast a modern eye on past ritual practices and enshrine them as Religion, with the modern method of a professional being required (the Priest) to carry them out. I suggest instead that in Norse culture, the practices that involved communications to Powers existed on several layers. There were rituals that were part of the everyday - and could be carried out by almost any one. There were also 'more significant' ceremonials which were undertaken by specific individuals for a group (heads of households for example). Then there were certain rituals known only to dedicated practitioners (the 'wise women' of the sagas for example).

The magical use of runes is a particular problem. The completely modern concept of 'casting the runes' (use of markers as divination) is not supported by a single piece of archaeological evidence. There have been partially burned slips of wood bearing partial runic texts found, suggesting that communications to the gods may have been burned - to 'bare the text to heaven'. I have been told by a reliable university professor that the first description of 'casting the runes' was in fact written out of thin air by a friend of his in the mid 1950's who needed money while on sabbatical - as a complete fabrication. Over the years I have been absolutely amazed at the number of people who continue to insist that their set of carved stone or wood markers represents an accurate ancient practice. At the very least, in the absence of a single artifact sample, how could your possibly claim authenticity, much less knowledge of the actual use and meanings?

Years back, I was given a large set of 'runes of power' that were (honestly) stated to be ancient Icelandic magical symbols. The only problem is that in the interveining years I have NEVER seen a single one of these on actual Norse artifacts. On top of that - if these symbols actually represented lost arcane knowledge, how would anyone modern know the meanings?

The truth is that we can speculate all we want - but we are looking at practices that represent a completely dead tradition. Speculate all we want, but we can never really KNOW what was done during the Viking Age - by whom and to what purpose.


PS - Check the source! Virtually ALL references that clain to detail Norse ritual practice will start quoting each other - and come to a dead end sometime about 1880.

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

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