Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Terry Clark - Masters Class / Folly at the Forge

(This will be of interest to my Blacksmithing Readers in the Ontario Region)

Fellow Blacksmiths – Attention from Dan Nickles of Blackrock Forge

As you know I am hosting the “Folly at the Forge” February 20, 21,a nd 22, 2009..

I have invited Mr. Terrence Clark of Surrey, England to demonstrate.
Mr. Clark has been smithing since 1974. He has exhibited throughout
England and Europe. Mr. Clark’s work has been published in the
Anvil’s Ring, British Blacksmith Magazine, Toward a New Iron Age,
and The Contemporary Blacksmith, but to name a few.

He is listed in Debrett’s Peerage – Distinguished People of Today.
I suggest you visit his web site at for further information,
samples of his work, and the extent of his reputation.

Mr. Clark will be accompanied by his daughter Becca and Vincent Jack both
accomplished blacksmiths in their own right.

Following the Folly, Mr. Clark will be conducting a Masters Class. This would
be a superb opportunity for any individuals who wish to improve their
skills of the blacksmith craft under the watchful eyes of an
international Master. This class will involve design, pricing,
approach to clients and other interesting concepts. This class will
begin on Monday, February 23 and continue probably for another five
days. If you are interested, call for further information after the

Space is limited to 8 – 10 students.

With a world class instructor so near at hand it’s an opportunity that
should not be missed. Put your thoughts together and develop a
project that will expand your horizons.

Your registration at the “Folly at the Forge” will include Friday
night’s dinner, Saturday lunch and dinner.

Your donations at the Saturday night auction would be greatly appreciated to offset the cost of this event which I am presenting for you.

For further information
contact Dan Nickels at Blackrock Forge – 231-947-5636 or at

Folly at the Forge Registration - $45 (US) per person (please respond by February 7. Registration at the door is $50)

Master Class Registration - $450 (US) per person

Saturday, December 27, 2008

'Steel' - means what?

Without really intending to, I seem to have touched off a big go round on NORSEFOLK. My normal practise it to keep those general discussion pieces pretty general, as the readers on the list can vary a lot in terms of their experience and background knowledge in any given topic area. As I normally do, I try to send back measured responses, even to private e-mails. These take time, and I hate to just 'loose' the writing to a single recipient.

" I beg to differ about archeaologist being less detailed in description then a blacksmith. While I do not know how to forge a blade, I did have to learn different metals there corriosion rates their scientific names, how to preserve them etc. and that there is a difference in the irons and steels. Perhaps some archaeologist are very general but that is old school, not the program I went through."


You may notice in older publication texts that the term 'bronze' is still often used. In more recent publications, the less accurate term 'copper alloy' is often seen. I suspect this is because, with the VA especially, the actual alloy used for jewellery and cauldrons varies so much in terms of proportions of copper, lead, tin, zinc. At some point I be someone got 'nailed' for using the term bronze, when the object had next to no tin in the mix. And so we all suffer a vague language.

I am not referring (mainly) to primary descriptions, but the language used so often in secondary works. Many are the same authors, so the shift to a less accurate, more general language is not understood (by me).

The term 'steel' is used on objects that are made of metals which have an extremely wide, and quite different physical characters. The loose meaning appears to be 'any iron alloyed with some amount of carbon'. I have not noticed any shift towards a more precise definition (but admittedly, I am not an academic or have access to current journals).
If I end up with a bloom with .5 % carbon - it is not the same as if I took a modern commercial alloy at the same carbon content. Or had used a furnace to make a very high carbon metal, then burned out some of the carbon in a forge to lower it to that .5 %. Or taken wrought iron and baked it with carbon dust to get that .5 %. All of these materials would be given the name 'steel', even though their creation method (and most importantly) their working characteristics are quite different.

Yes - this is a 'thing' that gets under my skin. The more experience I accumulate with actually making metal from dirt, much less the more time I spend producing reproductions and replicas using historic tools and methods, the clearer these distinctions become to me. The more it bugs me that the language used is less than accurate.

All the bloomery created iron alloys have a pronounced and extremely significant grain structure. This fibrous texture, caused by slag inclusions is extremely important when it comes to how you actually forge these metals. It also will effect the application of the object.

An example - a Medieval breast plate is made of a billet of wrought iron, which is hammered to a sheet, then the final shape is baked in burned bone. This results in a 'case hardened' piece of metal. The description reads 'made of steel'. Right off the start, the carbon is not equally distributed through the cross section. Second, the initial wrought iron has a grain, and that grain has a line of weakness. An arrow striking along the grain line is sure to penetrate more easily than one running at 90 degrees to this structure. Inclusion of a surface layer of carbon does not change this. One possible solution would be to layer up two individual pieces of wrought iron, welded to each other so that grains crossed each other. However this greatly complicates the task of preparing that initial metal sheet. You can see that there are many implications : speed of production, skill required, cost, status...

Its almost like the difference between pine and oak.

DARC Fall Smelt on YouTube

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Knives from VA Lejre, Denmark

A group of Viking Age Knives in the collection of the Roskilde Museum (from 'Exploring the Viking Age in Denmark') The largest is about 10 cm blade length, all in the range of 3- 4 mm thick at the back. These were in a case labelled 'Lejre, 900 BC - 1000 AD, but are standard Viking Age types.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Blacksmithing Skills in the Viking Age

Abstract: How widespread were blacksmithing skills in the Viking Age? The popular view (supported by many authors who should know better) is that almost any man could work as a smith. Another look at the archaeology placed against a better understanding of the actual complexity of the skills may revise this opinion...

(Adapted from a post to NORSEFOLK)

One of the nine skills a man should aspire to is 'some understanding of the working of iron'.

I can play at tafl,
Nine skills I know,
Rarely forget I the runes,
I know of books and smithing,
I know how to slide on skis,
Shoot and row, well enough;
Each of two arts I know,
Harp-playing and speaking poetry.
-- Earl Rognvaldr Kali --

Introduction to Old Norse, Gordon (p.155)
(Reference kindly supplied by Neil Peterson)

Now I have seen that quote used as the starting point of the concept, held by many researchers, that the skills of blacksmithing were widely spread, understood, and in fact practised by most males in the Viking Age. This is point of view is then supported by reference to the number of small purpose built workshops containing some metalworking debris found on many farmsteads.

As a working blacksmith myself, with some experience with VA era equipment, I (strongly) disagree with this.

There certainly are many farm *complexes* that have *simple* structures that show *some evidence* of blacksmithing having taken place.
These are major extended family operations, with dozens of workers available. So right off the top, there certainly would be specialization in tasks. " We let Sven do most of the woodworking, as he has developed a certain skill at it. Bjorn, on the other hand, can cut himself just looking at an axe, so he milks the goats. " Inside these large groupings, there might be a few *individuals* who had acquired some *basic* level of skill with blacksmithing. By that I mean able to straighten a bent shaft, make nails or simple hooks - the kind of thing you could learn in an afternoon. Not surprisingly, this is exactly the level of 'maintenance' iron work that could be expected on a large farm operation on an intermittent basis. You can make a hook or rough straighten a bar over a rock anvil. Even for nail making you require specialized tools (a nail header).

Almost without exception, the amount of associated remains (in terms of forge bottom slag, hammer scale, metal fragments) around these 'smithy' buildings is at best minimal. Consider some of the volumes of debris created through my own forging operations. ( I do note that these measurements are based on the use of coal fuel, in a modern forge set up using post Industrial Age equipment.) This averages to higher working temperatures and significantly larger fires that VA forges. Balance this however by the massive quantities of simple ash that would be generated from the charcoal fuels used in the Viking Age, which leave their own distinctive traces. For each working session (about 2 - 3 hours) I will produce a plate of slag about the size of your two hands cupped together. There will be a volume of hammer scale that would comfortably fill a single cupped hand. (Note that this will depend on the nature of the work undertaken for both volumes. Higher temperatures, as for forge welding, or work on larger objects, as for axes, will create even more of both slag and hammer scale.)

The simple fact is that the archaeology of these farm smithy buildings does not find an amount of residue to indicate any more than *occasional* use. Less use means less practise for the workers, which in turn means less skill developed (just plain lack of experience).
The most likely pattern of use for these structures is in fact most likely to be occasional use by the residents for simple tasks, backed up by seasonal visits by a travelling professional smith. On some regular schedule, this working smith would come to each farmstead in turn and produce more elaborate objects as required by the individual operation.
Spending as much (likely more) time travelling does not suggest the highest skill levels. Working at a series of changing locations, never being entirely sure of what the situation may be, certainly develops flexibility, but I can tell you from personal experience its certainly very frustrating. Blacksmithing is an extremely time dependent type of work, even more so when using the smaller forge fires of the Viking Age. Having to fumble for a tool or an awkward equipment set up can rob you of precious working time, normally measured in a mere minute or two at best.
Then (as it is now) the very best smiths, the most skillful and those creating the highest quality objects, would be able to make the customer come to them. The creator of the original Ulfberht swords most certainly did not wander from farm to farm!

Remember that the 'average load' of iron per individual in the Viking Age is extremely low. On the order of 1.5 to 2 kg per person as an average. This has to include all the tools, domestic implements, any weapons, plus your share of the rivets and other metal fittings in the boat (if there is one). An single axe makes up your two kilograms. Of course a slave has no iron, and the farm 'head of household' takes up those amounts, but iron is heavy and just does not go all that far. Its fortunately extremely durable, so that axe can easily pass down several generations. This means *less* working forge time required, not more.

A reference to Victorian / Settlement Era was made.
I will use some Canadian references from the 1850's, mainly because I used to work at a 1850's living history museum here in Ontario.
The average rural blacksmith, here and then, supported something like 30 to 50 individual family farm operations. The manufacture and then fitting of the It was standard to find blacksmith's shops located roughly every 15 - 20 miles. A ten mile circle marked the distance a farmer could comfortably travel with a team of work horses to the shop, get the animals tended to, then get home before dark. This is all about the *horse shoes*, and its this situation that has warped many ideas modern people hold about the blacksmith and his role in a community.
Right off the top - the Norse did not work their horses, or shoe their horses. Until the development of the horse collar later into the Medieval period, horses were not practical for heavy pulling. Oxen were the standard, and would remain so for hundreds of years. With no heavy labour putting un-natural strain on hooves, there was no real requirement to reinforce these. (The exception would be for combat, but the Norse were not cavalry troops.)
The true role of the blacksmith is as 'iron worker' (what the term actually means). In the Viking Age, that would be the true function of the smith.

(End Note)
The situation for actual iron production, operating a bloomery smelter, is even more extreme. This is hardly the work of bumbling farm hands! Under the guidance of an experienced smelt master, a number of simple labourers can certainly assist in converting locally gathered and prepared materials into a metallic bloom. Personally, my own experiments in this area make me believe that even repeated seasonal smelts 'father to son' would not be addiquate to accumulate the required experience. It is my opinion that *effective* iron making was a specialized skill of its own, not held by the average working blacksmith. The evidence is that smiths would purchase their metal in the form of relatively standard 'currency bars' of prepared iron.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pattern Welding on VA Swords

ABSTRACT * - A discussion on pattern welding as used on Viking Age sword blades, considering why the elaborate technique may have been used, and how such objects may have been finished...

Adapted from a posting to NORSEFOLK

To quote : 'Charles from Oz'

>> Some of the examples of pattern welded blades may not have been designed
to be decorative, but pattern welding was a process that was simply used in their construction.

>> The assumption that all pattern welded blades were pretty is
conjectural, in that the pattern only shows after the blade has corroded. This is what exposing the pattern in a pattern welded blade is... controlled corrosion.

>> This process, of pattern welding, has been used by smiths for a very
long time, and as we know it's mainly for economic reasons. If pattern welding were simply for decoration, then there would be a "lot" of pretty Roman spathas out there ;-)

This brings up several points, which Charles obviously must be aware of, but did not detail in his original posting. For those who know about this topic already, sorry if some basic information is repeated. This * is * a rather arcane area of the 'art and mystery of the blacksmith'.

Just as some (deep) background, I have touched on the topic of Pattern Welding, and how it relates to the Viking Age, many times on my blog Hammered Out Bits. A lot of these short pieces have been worked over versions of answers to questions posed here on NORSEFOLK:

The earliest pattern welded swords that I have stumbled across are 'Late Roman' - from about 100 -200 AD or so. Sorry, I have not studied this time period in detail. I had forged a Gladius pattern as a simple pattern weld (two layered and twisted cores with spring steel edges) as an exercise in 'creative history'. I was surprised when a customer who is involved in Roman re-enacting was keen to purchase the sword. She said it was identical to some artifact samples from that period. Which at the time lead me to take at least a fast look over those artifacts.
(details on the blade 'Sword of Heroes' at )

One long standing "theory" behind the purpose of the North European pattern welded blade is this:
The centre core of the blade is made of two or more long rods, each themselves made from a stack of metal plates. These starting stacks alternate between a soft, flexible iron (no carbon) and a harder, more rigid 'iron with carbon' alloy. Both of these metals would be of course bloomery iron, so would also have a fibrous texture with slag inclusions. The intent of the layers is that the soft iron tends to bend to absorb shock, while the hard 'steel' tends to resist any deforming. When you take these layered bars and twist one clockwise and one counter clockwise and then fuse them together by forge welding, you in effect create a pair of 'coil springs' running down the centre of the sword. This allows the blade to absorb a certain amount of impact shock, yet making it snap back to straight again after. Now the smith can attach (again by forge welding) two medium hard 'steel' cutting edges, metal that normally might shatter under the stress of combat. The end result is a sword that is both more durable, but at the same time stays sharper, than a plain single bar of metal could be.
I deliberately say "theory" here. That is because as far as I know, no one has ever actually ** tested ** this in practical terms. The only way to prove the difference between pattern welded versus mono block blades would be to make up a number, then test them to destruction. A real hand forged pattern welded sword is an object that takes weeks for a highly skilled and specialized artisan to make. The cost reflects this, at several thousand dollars per sword blade. (Hey - if some Museum wants to fund this as a research project, I'd sure love to make the swords. I normally * start * prices at $200 per linear inch for swords!)

Some modern researchers have suggested that the reason for the pattern welding technique is in fact a bit different. Instead of a method to utilize high quality metal to make exceptional quality blades, it was intended as a means to take average quality metals to produce 'good' quality blades. Again, this might be possible to qualify through a series of destructive tests. Personally, I find this logic chain unlikely. The skills required to create a pattern welded blade using the available Viking Age tools are extreme at the least. The repeated forge welds in small charcoal fires, the small size of anvils available, the massive amount of time required for smoothing and polishing - all massively increase the 'labour cost' of such weapons. Always, the highest skilled smiths commanded (and demanded) the use of the best available materials. So as a working smith with experience with VA tools and techniques "I'm just not buying it". This viewpoint of 'poor materials through elaborate technique to average results' can be found in the literature, however.

Now Charles points out a rather important qualification. I do have to disagree a bit on the detail, but hold with the spirit:
" ...the pattern only shows after the blade has corroded. "

I think what he is referring to is that modern bladesmiths (myself included, see ) will use equally 'modern' acid solutions of various types and combinations to etch the finished smooth surfaces of a pattern welded blade to highlight the layers. What happens is that the various individual layers, composed of differing carbon contents and / or alloys, react differently to the chemicals. A plain high carbon steel for example, goes a dark black colour, while antique wrought iron takes a 'braided rope' like surface texture. He is absolutely correct that in essence this is nothing more that controlled corrosion. It is most important to remember that these acid solutions ** did not exist in the Viking Age **. So the changes in relief and colour so desired by modern artisans would just not be possible to ancient swordsmiths. (A side issue here is that those deep colour changes, typically produced by etching with ferric chloride, are only * surface * effects - they will quickly wear off under normal use of the blade as a working tool.) Modern smiths also highlight the layered effects by including nickel based alloys that (essentially) did not exist before the Modern Age.

In the Viking Age, controlled corrosion could be undertaken using natural based chemicals. The primary ones available would be vinegar (an acid), urine (a caustic base) or salt water (accelerates oxidation). I have done some simple tests with all three, and have found that the vinegars give the best effect, a subtle darkening of the component layers at differing rates. So right off the start, it was possible for VA smiths to increase the contrast between layers and so make visible the distinctive patterns on pattern welded blades.
Now there is another possibility. The differing carbon contents of these starting layers changes the relative hardness of the layers. So when you polish a layered object, the polishing material (be it stone or modern sand paper) cuts slightly faster and deeper into the softer metal layers. The end result is extremely subtle - you have to catch the light on the finished blade just right to see it. At just the correct angle, the pattern suddenly shimmers down the length of the blade. I mention this, as I have read (other commentators, not my own primary source research!) that some of the Sagas refer to things like 'a serpent was seen shimmering down the length of the sword'. Such a statement would not be fanciful - its pretty much an exact description of what is visible.

Truth is - we will never know.

No artifact blade remains in good enough shape to determine what degree of surface finish was used in the Viking Age. This refers just to amount of surface polish (which my own opinion is far less than what is normal to modern blade makers). As to some type of controlled corrosion effect applied to pattern welded artifacts, this also is unknowable. The only suggestion is an unprovable 'cultural' one. Creating a functional pattern welded sword in the Viking Age was the work of only the most skillful of master swordsmiths (sword makers themselves set above typical blacksmiths in skill level). These were 'royal status' objects, hugely expensive and unusual to rare, even in the eras of their greatest production. The blades are commonly set with elaborate guards and pommels, further enhancing their secondary (?) role as status objects. (The sword from Sutton Hoo is not only the most complex pattern welded object known from the period, it is also by far the most elaborately decorated, with gold and inset garnet work - as the classic example.)

(this has gotten long enough - I have something to say about pattern welding on knives, but will leave that for another posting)

* - Since I now am cross posting from here on to FACEBOOK, that system uses the first lines as its summary for describing postings.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Blade Construction in the Viking Age - PROBLEMS

A question from NORSEFOLK

I'm planning on doing a reproduction of a historic piece from
Canterbury, Kent, England. It's a folding knife with a carved bone
handle (pictured here:
... As construction goes, I'm primarily concerned with the nature of the
blade steel (Was it a composite blade with a hard steel edge welded
onto a softer iron back, a single piece of steel, pattern welded, or
some combination of methods, etc.).

A couple of things:

All that is listed in Viking Artifacts by Graham-Campbell (the source of the quoted image) is 'iron blade'
Not overly surprising, as he is an art critic, and is often very short on technical details. (The description runs four paragraphs - two of which are about the carving style on the handle!)

(You might also want to take a look at something I'm working up on VA knives at : )

From a general understanding of Norse knives (and tools in general) a couple of things you need to consider:

Most of the metals used in VA cutting tools are significantly softer metals than a modern maker would consider using! The largest percentage are forged from plain bloomery iron. This material can vary in carbon content, but generally will have very little to virtually no carbon content at all.
For that reason, the 'most accurate' raw material for a high end reconstruction would be antique wrought iron. (And no - you can not harden that stuff through heat treating.)
For general purposes, if you used a modern mild steel, then water harden it (no temper) and you would be creating a blade 'as good as the average' for the VA. (As a skilled smith, you realize that the texture is bit different, but in this item that is not likely significant.)

I mention this, primarily as many focus on the more unusual blade material techniques also used by the Norse. If you took a look at 100 knives, almost all of them would be plain, unaltered 'mono block' blades. There would be some attempt to pick slightly higher carbon portions of a source bloom / currency bar if that was possible.
Against this, there are *some* artifact blades that show a number of other billet creation methods (thats manipulating the starting block of metal, before you forge to the blade itself):
- Case hardening
- Lap welding (next most common to mono block)
- Block forming
- Carbon core
- Piled strips
- Full Pattern welding.
Pattern welding (layered rods, twisted, welded into billet for core of blade) is almost without exception used for extremely high status objects. On sword sized blades, it has a function - that of allowing the blade to flex out of true on impact and then spring back to straight without damage. On knife sized blades, pattern welding is for decoration effect only - and is more likely to *lower* the edge holding ability (compared to a plain high carbon mono-block edge).
(Image - detail of Pattern Welded sword from Denmark)
Bear in mind, for that same theoretical 100 blade sample, it would be surprising to find more than one or two that had been physically tested for specific carbon content. At least in the past, those tests are destructive ones, requiring sectioning the blades (cutting them appart!). Some construction methods, where differing carbon layers are combined, may show as visible changes in corrosion rates. This is especially true of pattern welded blades, where the twisted layers of the core will be quite obvious. (But believe me, determining the exact number of layers uses is often guess work!)

To make matters worse, the language used by archaeologists is not as precise as the skilled bladesmith would like! To the smith, 'iron' is a very specific metal material, as is 'steel'. Most certainly, when an archaeologist says 'steel', what they really mean is 'bloomery iron with some carbon included'. This historical material is just as different from modern alloy steels - as antique wrought iron is from industrial mild steel bars. So you have to take those material descriptions with a grain of salt. (And a pretty large one! Remember how archaeologists rarely use the term 'bronze' any more, but instead you see 'copper alloy'. The differences between VA bloomery iron and even late medieval iron is at least as significant.)

This does not directly answer the question of 'what is that folding knife made out of'. It does suggest that as a modern bladesmith, you will have to make some determination on how your available materials must be chosen against your intent for the finished reconstruction.

There is a reason why a small sharpening stone is such a basic personal item in the Viking Age. With blade metals generally quite soft - you would be sharpening knives almost every time you used them. This is born out by the extremely worn condition of so many of the artifact knives that have found.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

'Exploring the Viking Age in Demark' - OFFICIAL RELEASE

Exploring the Viking Age in Denmark
A Research Trip with focus on the Viking Age, Spring 2008
A data DVD disk - V:2 December 2008
ISBN : (Pending)


This disk contains a record of a recent research trip to Denmark in spring of 2008. The main reason for the trip was to attend 'the Iron Smelting Symposium in Thy' held at the Heltborg Museum from April 29 to May 4. The balance of the trip was spent in travel to Roskilde, Ribe and Copenhagen, with visits to the major museums at those locations. What was seen, in museums, the symposium, and on the streets, is presented in over 400 large format images (most 1600 x 1200 @ 200 dpi). Each image has descriptive notes recorded at the time. The publication also contains many commentaries on both the individual museums, but also travel around Denmark in general. The overall stress is on materials related to the Viking Age. The images are grouped not only by institution, but also sorted by general artifact type.


The best way to utilize this disk is via your computer DVD drive, opening the file START inside your normal web browser. From that point, you navigate inisde the disk as you would any web site. You can also view the images using a standard table top DVD player and TV combination using the 'slide show' method. This will allow you to view all the individual images on the disk. Note that viewing via your DVD player will NOT allow you to access the (considerable!) written materials presented in web site (html) format.


Ribe Viking Museum

Heltborg Museum / Iron Symposium

Introduction Special - FREE SHIPPING - 'till December 31, 2008


Friday, December 19, 2008

Current Project - Graham House Front Door

'Disks' - Front Door Security Panel

This is the project I am currently working on (baring other interruptions).
The piece is for Graham house in Guelph Ontario. The home is a classic 1960's bungalow style in the city's NE corner. The requirement was to create a security panel for the ripple glass insert that ran just beside the locks. (Canadians were so trusting back then!) The customer also wanted an art piece that would make a statement along what is otherwise a pretty standard and un-interesting building front.

I thought I would work with the last of the glass disks I had picked up in Virginia a couple of years back. The main line of the piece is a set of long sweeping curves, rather than the more straight line grill work that is more conventional. These main elements are forged from 1 inch diameter pipe, split on both ends, then flattened and curved. These elements pass through holes hot punched in flat bar (1 1/2 x 3/16). The support bars end in free form reversal curves. The whole piece is secured to the door using carriage bolts (only rounded heads on the exterior). I had suggested the use of colour for the coating, primarily to reduce the visual weight of the piece. The customer has decided on flat black, at least for now, as the exterior colours of the house have not been chosen at this date.

Stay tuned for an image of the piece when it is finished and installed.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Eastern Ontario Artist?


A “Best of” Juried Travelling Exhibition of Contemporary Eastern
Ontario Craft. This call is open to all makers living in a K or J
postal code who create outstanding works in any craft media (clay,
metal, fibre, glass, wood, stone, etc.)
Deadline January 30th.

This came in via the Metal Arts Guild discussion group. I know that many of my regular readers are from Peterborough through Ottawa. Remember that many of you involved in Living History are artisans!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Icelandic A - 10/08 - VIDEO

I am getting a bit behind on publishing some of the video materials that have been recorded over the last year. This shorter clip explains the smelt under process on Oct 8, 2007. The smelter has a clay slab black construction, with stone slabs making up the front (exposed portion).

This is the start of the currently ongoing series that is leading up to a full scale reconstruction of an Icelandic pattern smelter based on Kevin Smith's excavations at Hals.

Further information on this specific smelt:
on Wareham Iron Smelting
On this Blog

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hinge Straps for TenCate House

(What I have been doing...)

I had been contacted a couple of weeks back by an old customer. Several years back I had done a number of pieces for a custom built home just north of Wareham, near Eugenia Lake. The house is 3/4 the way up the north side of one of the several huge valleys that cut into the top edge of the Niagara Escarpment between our place (considered the edge of the 'Dundalk Plateau' and Georgian Bay. These valleys run roughly from Flesherton to the north west - between us and Meaford, Thornbury and Collingwood. The house has a spectacular setting - but frankly is not the easiest place to get over to this time of year. (Less said about todays installation trip the better!)
This image (shot from outside the house through the rear porch window) is of the stair grillwork I had done earlier for the couple. The 'loving doves' design was based on some hand antique hand painted tiles they had brought back from the Netherlands.

The current project was to make up a set of purely decorative hinge plates and handles for a new garage and workshop building under construction. I had advised that a modern commercial barrel hinge should be used for the heavy wooden vehicle doors (each over four feet wide). This primarily for both tight fit and for security. The plates do not actually carry any load, and are mounted directly over the structural hinges. Those had been painted the same colour as the wood of the garage to make them blend in. In the overall view you can see all the components.

Here, a close up of one of the plate elements. The forged straps and base plates started as 2 1/2 x 3/16 inch flat bar. For the main straps, one end of the bar was slit back down the middle with a 10 inch long cut on the band saw. Working one at a time, each strip was forged to a point, shouldered, then the material drawn to a long taper into that shoulder (to about 14 inches in total). Next the slit base was spread open to about 45 degrees. Each fork was then coiled up into a slightly overlapping sprial. (Although this was not the original intent of the design, I actually liked the resulting 3-D effect better.) To finish, the opposite end was also pointed, shouldered and then drawn into a long taper. The finished straps are about 32 inches long.
The base plates (to cover over the other side of the commercial hinge), are a double spiral. Each side of the bar was drawn to a long tapered point (from about 10 inches to closer to 20 inches, then curled up for the final shape.

The last part of this project is a pair of oversized door handles. Each is forged from 2 X 3/16 inch flat stock. Either end was again pointed, shouldered and drawn. Next the centre portion was worked over with decorative punches to create an incised pattern. In this case, a vine / flower / grape design around the customer's initials. Last the centre flat portion was slightly curved, then the overall D profile created.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Exploring the Vikings - Student Questions (Answered?)

Earlier in the year, I had been contacted by Amy West of Worcester State College in Massachusetts ( . She was interested in setting a special project for her first year students in the 'Exploring the Vikings' course. In the end she also approached a number of experienced re-enactors I had suggested. Included in the interview group was Neil Peterson and Meghan Roberts of DARC. The students worked in small groups, each group submitting a number of questions (via e-mail) to one of the re-enactors. These are the questions I was asked - and the answers given. They may prove of some interest to my readers.

Eric Gustafson was my interviewer

> Also, please feel free to elaborate beyond what the question
> initally asks, any more information you can include is very welcome.

Eric et All:

Ha! Careful what you wish for. I have the bad habit of many historic interpreters, trying to anticipate the core of a question and working through from the background. Makes many things into mini lectures...

The Answers (and issues)

> 1. How long have you been doing Viking (Age) re-enactment? How
> old were you when you began?

I started with historic re-enactment in about 1976. Originally I got involved with the Society for Creative Anachronism, where the persona / character I chose was 'loosely based' on the Viking Age. I say loosely, as the SCA back in those days (and still today) includes as much fantasy as history. I would have been about 21 at the time.
After art school, I got a job working at a Settlement Era (1850's) living history museum. This greatly changed my concepts about re-enacting. Over the next decade, I became more and more impatient with the lack of actual history inside the SCA. Into the late 1980's I started to organize informal discussions about applying methods and concepts from other historic re-enactment groups (of all time periods) plus aspects taken from actual museum programs, into a more historically accurate method of presenting the Viking Age particularly.
My involvement in direct museum work related to the Viking Age is covered in question 8. (I can claim to be a 'professional' in living history.)
In 2000 year, this work would result in my invitation (as the only Canadians) to participate in the Norstead 'Grand Encampment' program (A special event including amateur re-enactors, for which I had written the original concept paper.) Problem was, at the time I actually did not have a team! I contacted those who had been talking about increasing the level of historic accuracy inside the SCA, plus a number of people I knew who had done serious work inside a Viking Age framework. To this I specifically invited a small number of people from the roughly 1000 members of the SCA in Ontario, those who I knew to be excellent living history interpreters (mostly not centered on Viking Age). This group formed the core for the Dark Ages Re-creation Company. DARC would become my 'demonstration team' as I continued work on a number of the museum exhibits focused on the Viking Age Millennium (1000 years since Lief Eriksson explored Vinland / Canada).

> 2. Do you do any other re-enactment outside iron smelting?

See above.
I continue to participate in the SCA, but most often inside a DARC rules encampment placed inside a larger SCA camping style event.
DARC itself operates on a number of levels, outside of the ongoing iron smelting experimental archaeology series. We try to get together for at least one or two weekend workshops every year. These may be focused (like Neil Peterson's series of glass bead making experiments), or general 'come to the workshop and make stuff' sessions. These weekends sometimes include historic camps 'just for us'. On a normal year DARC will undertake at least one museum demonstration, which may range in scope from an afternoon in costume illustrating small hand skills to larger 'camps' which include 6 - 12 people and hundreds of replica objects.
Outside of early history, I also try to fit in at least one or two weekends of 'Black Powder' re-enactment. Here I typically work a museum's blacksmith shop, portraying characters ranging from 1760's through 1860's (depending on the museum requirements).
My wife and I had a loose association with the 'Ostvik' group out of Maryland.

> 3. Did your formal education pertain to the re-enacment you are
> doing now? Did you recieve degrees in history or any other
> related fields of study?

Likely in the way you frame that question, the answer would be no.
I undertook four years at a specialized art college. At that time I was intending on teaching at a high school level, so deliberately chose a wide range of subjects and media types to make my experience as wide based as possible. In a strange way, I had set myself up with an almost ideal background for my later museum work in the Viking Age. Using my exhibit 'World of the Norse' as an example, the hundreds of objects that had be be created for the exhibit ranged from forged weapons through to textiles, wood, leather, etc. So a wide exposure to many materials and traditional working methods has proved immensely valuable.
Technically, the only official certificate I have is my high school graduation. I have five years in total post secondary education (1 year in university level sciences), but no actual degrees. I have delivered four academic papers to date (one published and one pending).
In answer to a related unasked question - Yes, having at least a bachelors level degree would have been extremely useful. (I was almost denied entry into the USA on one occasion because it was decided I could not possibly be 'an expert' without holding a PhD!)

> 4. How did you learn the skills required to smelt Iron?

Understand that the process I am involved in represents a completely shattered traditional skill, one that was never recorded, and one for which the archaeology is extremely limited at best. The skills I have acquired so far are entirely learned through much error and repeated trials (something like 35 to date)
I owe a huge debt to Lee Sauder and Skip Williams, who had developed an interest several years earlier, and who where wonderful in sharing their own experiences. There had been some published information by a British experimental archaeologist, Peter Crew, but frankly, those papers proved more important as indications of what NOT to do. The entire field of historic iron smelting is almost brand new, no one had really undertaken any systematic attempts to determine these techniques before about the early 1990's. There has been a developing 'Iron Underground' in both Europe and North America, especially in the last five years. We all continue to work and pile up our successes and failures in an attempt to understand historic methods.

> 5. What brought about your initial interest in Viking (Age)
> re-enactment and specifically iron smelting?

Two Questions:
My very first awareness of the Viking Age can be pin-pointed to my seeing Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas in 'the Vikings' back in the early 60's, when I was just a kid. Water that seed with Robert E Howard's Conan, books by Poul Anderson (who co-founded the SCA in the late 60's) and of course Lord of the Rings. I was so 'ripe for the picking' when I first stumbled across an SCA event (entirely by accident). I had been already investigating Celtic art, which lead to the rich design tradition of Norse art and artifact. The fit was immediate and ideal.
Iron smelting grew out of my professional work as an artisan blacksmith, coupled with my work for Parks Canada at L'Anse aux Meadows (see question 7). One other element - I had read an article by David Harvey from Colonial Williamsburg who claimed to have reproduced 'the first iron smelting in North America' based on Jamestown Virginia circa 1615. I * knew * that the first iron smelt was in Canada circa 1000 AD. This obvious distortion of history frankly just pissed me off. Something needed to be done about that...

> 6. Why do you continue to experiment in the field of iron
> smelting today?

I'm Crazy
I find the whole process both interesting and exciting. From the stand point of available archaeology, the remains found of historic iron smelting furnaces are like going to see Star Wars, and missing everything but the end credits (then claiming you understand the story line!). Each smelt is a complex and changing process, for which all that (sometimes) remains is just a small part of a destroyed piece of equipment. The only way any true understanding of the process can ever be made is through the mechanism of experimental archaeology (despite all the problems of applying current experiment to a historic reality). Second, the whole field is brand new. This work, carefully documented, can add directly to our compiled understanding of the past. This is not working over things looked at a thousand times already.
Third, this area is accessible. Practical workers can contribute just as much through their direct experience as trained academics can via theoretical research (likely more so!).
I'm Crazy

> 7. What role does your iron smeling play at L'Anse aux Meadows?

See the reference in question 5.
One of the critical pieces of the historical puzzle at LAM was the discovery of the remains of some kind of iron smelting furnace. (Smelted iron was completely unknown to the First Nations, its presence on site proved European involvement.)
Now, there are some differences of opinion about just how the discovery of a smelter fits into the larger story of Vinland. I have developed a different impression of the whole undertaking that the one originally suggested by Anna Stine and Birgitta Wallace. This concept is largely based on my own developing appreciation of the specialized technical skills required to actually get metallic iron from a bog iron ore, plus an understanding of the raw physical logistics of ore, fuel and smelter dynamics.
Iron smelting at LAM is part of the story of the habitation which Parks Canada has decided to illustrate. In 2001 they secured a corporate grant which allowed them to produce a reconstruction of one possible version of what the 'smithy' structure uncovered a LAM might have looked like. I was part of a small team assembled to consider the archaeological, technical and practical aspects of how to present this story to the public. A part of the week long session, I built and operated my first iron smelter, based on the best guesses of the archaeology and technology. Well, just about every thing we could have done wrong, was done wrong! (As I was to learn via repeated failures later.) My attempts to re-learn the lost methods of the Norse iron masters starts from this event.
One of the staff interpreters at LAM (who I trained) is Mark Pilgrim. Parks Canada has sent Mark on two further experimental smelts with the DARC team, as observer and enthusiastic participant. (2004 in Wareham and 2005 at CANIRON in Annapolis Royal NS) So in that way, I continue direct work and consultation with the working staff.
DARC is just starting discussions with Parks / LAM about taking part in the upcoming 50 year anniversary of the discovery of the site in 2010. Our hope is to return to LAM for our third mounting of a major living history event. A full iron smelt, using all Viking Age equipment, is part of our planned presentation.

> 8. How did you become involved with L'Anse aux Meadows?

I had been contacted by a local town (Orangeville) in 1992 when they were putting together a Medieval themed weekend festival. I managed to talk them into mounting a living history styled presentation based on the 'first days at Vinland - circa 1000 AD' (for 1993). The Norse Encampment presentation proved very popular with the public, and we repeated the presentation in 1994. I had designed a whole package, with background documentation, educational package, mission statement and such. I boldly sent copies of this material off to L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC - completely on my own initiative. I was a bit surprised when I received back an official request for a detailed evaluation of the program results.
This lead to Parks (through the local Tourism board) contracting me to provide a 10 day long 'demonstration' of a living history program at L'Anse aux Meadows. Neil Peterson (one of the other interviews) was part of the team of four, I bundled up with about 150 replica objects and trucked out to Newfoundland.
Parks was obviously quite pleased with the results of this program. The next year they commissioned the creation of a full interpretive program for the site. I researched and built the required objects, then trained a number of local people as the working staff. I returned for a second training session in 1998.
Since that date, I remain a consultant to the continuing 'Viking Encampment' program. Any given year I may be supplying replica objects and occasionally return to LAM for staff training.

> 9. What do you plan to accomplish with the grant that you applied
> for?

The specific grant you mention was in relation to my research trip in April and May of this year. (I see you have been reading the blog.). The dynamics of grants in Canada is quite different than the situation in the USA. I find myself between a rock and a hard place - applying to for Culture or Arts funding, but not really fitting the criteria for either. Although clearly history is part of Culture (and this is demonstrated as part of early Canadian history above) these grants are awarded to institutions, not individuals. As an independent consultant, I do not qualify. The Canada Council for the Arts was generous to help me apply under an obscure part of 'research by visiting curators'. The grant was approved, but did not rank high enough to get a piece of the limited funding. (The approval itself is extremely important, as it makes it possible for me to apply into the future.)
So, the purpose of the applied for grant was to offset the cost of travel to 'the Iron Smelting Seminar at Thy', a gathering of mainly European experimental iron smelters. I knew most these people from e-mail correspondence, but this was the first time we had met face to face. For a week we made iron all day, then talked about common problems and insights all night (on about four hours sleep a night!)
The importance of the grant was to support the raw cost of the trip, about $2500 overall. I had some money saved up to replace my ageing truck. Maybe some other year...

> 10. What do you feel people can learn from iron smelting and
> Viking (Age) history in general?

Iron smelting is specialized, and the information gained from it will also best apply to a specialized audience.
As archaeologists can only examine weathered remains from the last stage of a multi-staged process:
- The first thing our current experiments can illustrate is all the other parts of that hours long sequence that end in the evidence they uncover.
- By carefully recording our work areas, we can help archaeologists determine just what the physical remains they uncover can imply.
- As we develop working experience with the process of smelting, we can provide information about required equipment and raw materials. This in turn can be related to things like production rates and social organization.
- We have been setting aside furnaces and allowing them to naturally age, recording this process photographically. This can provide a bench mark to understand excavated remains.

Viking Age / Norse history is important to all of us - as any of our history is important. 'Those who disregard their pasts are doomed to repeat its failures.' Also quite importantly, how the heck can you figure out where you are going if you don't know where you came from?
In Western European culture, thus North American culture, a surprising amount of our cultural framework is based on the Norse. Our days of the week: Tuesday through Friday are all name days of Norse gods. Our tradition of democracy owes as much to the Althing of Iceland as it does to the Greeks.
One extremely important element of Norse history is the root causes of the sudden explosion out of Scandinavia in the late 700's - and the collapse of the Greenland colony in the early 1400's. Both are at root effects of shifting climate, global (or at least regional) warming in the first case and the sudden reversal of the Greenland current in the second (which caused the 'mini-ice age' which had such an impact on all of the Western Hemisphere). The death of the Greenland colony is also a warning about a once adaptable people who refused to change when disaster came upon them. (Way too much like George Bush's America for anyone not to see the parallels.)
Besides, the Viking Age is so cool!

> 11. What types of things do you create when you smelt iron?

To date, I have been so focused on just making the iron blooms themselves. Your first good quality blooms are like children, you have laboured so hard to produce them and each one is special. I have taken a couple of fragments down through the next step - bloom to bar. This is also a considerable physical effort, with its own set of new problems to solve. In the fall I did make my first two art objects out of my own bloom metal. This was a knife blade (investigating the effect of carbon layering to generate patterns) and a small sculptural piece ('Offering Bowl'). I have plans for another, larger container, in this case a funeral urn. I have been given pieces of blooms from Mike McCarthy and Lee Sauder (with differing carbon contents). The plan for these is to forge up a demonstration piece that shows the process of bloom through to pattern welded sword. (Intended for a teaching tool for Neil Price at the University of Upsula.) I hope to be able to contribute both blooms and worked 'currency bars' for future museum displays.
Some of the new workers in the area of iron bloomery furnaces are knifemakers. They have been trading on the unique nature of the self made iron in the blades they sell. I personally consider this a bit of showmanship, and really not what the field is about.

> 12. What role would you have played in Viking (Age) society as an
> iron smelter?

Big Question!

Many archaeologists have been of the opinion that 'almost everyone' in the Viking Age was able to effectively smelt their own iron. I have found that those (few) who are following our experimental work have revised this (incorrect) opinion. Making iron from dirt is a highly specialized task that requires considerable experience to undertake to a positive result.
To my own opinion, the Iron Masters of the Viking Age would have been one of two types. There would have been those who travelled, being hired by individual extended family farm complexes to produce iron on a seasonal basis. The iron produced would have been used for the farm requirements, with any excess being sold for cash. I would expect the payment to the iron master to be silver and / or a share of the metal produced. (There is a PhD in the study of this for someone!) The second type is well documented in the remains of major iron smelting works, often that remain in production for generations. Here the iron masters are fixed, with the knowledge being passed down from father to son.
One important element to consider is that the iron master is not the blacksmith. The blacksmith in the Viking Age would purchase the required raw metal in the form of standardized currency bars.

Iron forms the core of the Viking Age. Although the 'personal load' of iron per individual is small by our modern standards, iron formed the rivets for the ships, the working tools supporting daily life, and of course the weapons so feared by the rest of Europe. In terms of the times, the Norse were relatively iron rich, and showed great skill in its working into objects. Without the iron master, this would not be possible. To balance this utility, iron was smelted almost always at the source of the ore, often remote from the rest of the population. The iron master held certain dark secrets, directly manipulating earth, fire and air to create the treasure of workable iron metal. Easy to see the connection to the legends of the Dwarves, tolling in secret under the mountains to create objects of magical power.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


I had a long and quite passionate discussion with Catherine Crowe at Goderich this summer. It rolled around Facebook, and its possible utility for information and networking. Frankly, I still hold to my original position : I have a large web site, which serves as a 'publication', plus this blog for shorter (?) and more timely articles. (I think of these as the 'book' and the 'magazine'.)

Two days ago (Thursday December 4) I took the plunge and registered on Facebook.

Now, after two days a couple of things have become obvious:
1) You can easily spend massive amounts of time
2) Huge amounts of traffic can be generated if your network is any size at all
3) Mostly the content is trivial at best
4) The system is both smart and stupid (very automatic to a certain point, then dead)

My 'Official Policy' for Facebook

The Darrell Markewitz / Wareham Forge Facebook 'wall' will be intended for the following:

- Primarily a Networking resource for the Wareham Forge, to generate a large contact list and broadcast timely information.
- There will be ongoing notifications of events, work in progress, other published information.
- Currently anything published here (on Hammered Out Bits) will be mirrored over, in the form of automatic 'notes'
- Notices will be made of major additions to the main web site (the Wareham Forge) and new video clips (YouTube)

The most difficult balance is how to manage the collecting of network contacts (Friends). Since my intent is to use Facebook as a kind of interactive mailing list, it makes best use of the service to expand that list as large as possible. To that end:
- Anyone who requests to be added to the 'friends' list will be so added.
- I will only directly searching for and recruiting people who I know well enough to have had past associations with (either in person or via e-mail conversations)
- I intend to make only limited use of recruiting from other people's lists. If I can not put the legal name to the photograph (thus proving a certain level of past association) I will not attempt to do so.

Part of the profile of any artist is based on personality. Good work is certainly key, but 'you have to sell the sizzle as well as the steak'. To that end, I will be making some more personal commentaries on Facebook, certainly more spontaneous and open ended topics than found on the Blog.

Facebook 'Friends' listings are a two step process. Someone has to ask, then the other has to approve. In this way there is a certain intent which has been expressed by both parties.

SHOULD YOU WISH TO BE REMOVED - Please just contact me via the Facebook system or directly via e-mail at :

Friday, December 05, 2008

Our Home and Native Land?

Or - What the HELL is going on!

read Stephanie the Yarn Harlot at: 2/03/what_is_happening_in_canada.html

Particularly if you are Canadian. Especially if your NOT Canadian and want to have a clue at what is going on here.

Remember that time a strike was threatened at work, and the management 'locked out' the workers?

Imagine a government doing that...

The more it changes...

Stolen from my old friend Susan Bridges, who stole it from...

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

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No duplication, in whole or in part, is permitted without the author's expressed written permission.
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