Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ves*sels Exhibit at BMFA

The Blue Mountain Foundation for the Arts is a local gallery / arts co-operative in Collingwood (about 40 minutes north of Wareham). I had heard about the upcoming Ves*sels group exhibit via their monthly e-letter. I have not participated in anything there before, but did have two pieces on hand that were ideal for the theme.

(The following text is from my submission information)

Title : 'Offering Bowl' (September 2008)

Medium : forged bloomery iron

Dimensions : about 4 x 4 x 4 inches

Value : $400 - For Sale


This piece was forged from a metallic iron bloom created from raw ore at the 2005 Early Iron Symposium. The spongy bloom was intentionally loosely compacted when forming the starting billet. The purpose was to allow fractures to develop as it was flattened to an irregular sheet, especially along the edges of the form. In this way the genesis of the unique material would be revealed.
Details on an earlier blog posting

Title : 'Segmented Urn' (August 2008)

Medium : forged and fabricated antique wrought iron, copper plate

Dimensions : about 6 x 6 x 18 inches high (weight about 40 lbs)

Value : $1200 - For Sale


The body of the urn is composed of a number of individually hand forged strips of antique wrought iron (recycled from a bridge built in Ohio about 1860). I saw samples of the basic technique used here at a workshop / demonstration by the Japanese blacksmith Takayoshi Komine. (Taka uses the method to make subtle oil lamps employed in the Tea Ceremony.) The individual elements are forged to shape, then welded along one edge to create the sealed container.
Actual historic wrought iron has been chosen for the construction because of its excellent forging characteristics and special durability. The metal itself is already some 150 years old — and should easily endure for centuries more. Intended as a funeral urn, it provides a fitting resting place for the memories of one past beyond us.
Details at an earlier Blog post

About the Artist:

Darrell Markewitz is one of the few true Artisan Blacksmiths working in Ontario, with experience at the forge stretching back 30 years. Starting while a student at Ontario College of Art, it was his interest in living history (especially the Viking Age) which lead him to the forge. Echoes of Norse, Celtic and Art Nouveau lines have been blended into his distinctive 'Rivendale' style. His interest in history lead to work on a number of major museum exhibits, most significantly the creation of the 'Norse Encampment' interpretive program for Parks Canada at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC. Along with his 'historic reproductions in metals', he undertakes commissions for original art metalworks. A recent passion has been his ongoing experimental archaeology work in re-discovering lost Viking Age iron smelting techniques. Darrell operates his Wareham Forge workshop just outside Flesherton, Ontario.
For more information, check the web site:

Image : Experimental iron smelt at Heltborg, Denmark. Photo by Michael Nissen

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Folly at the Forge

An excellent gallery of images from this event taken by staff reporter Garret Leiva of the Traverse City Record-Eagle are available on line : Go to the Photo Essay
Me making a simple hook for tools as I prepared for a demonstration session.

I had spoken to Garret at previous Follies, and found him attentive, interested and intelligent. Like many small town reporters, he wears may hats, from recording and photographing to sometimes final composition. He has always taken the time to understand his subjects, and his images capture both the spirit of the event but also the character of the individuals.
Our little band from Central Ontario, who have attended this event for years, were well represented, with 3 of the 12 images posted on the web site:
Gus Gissing drilling holes in a copper form.

Janis Book shows a beginner smith how to correctly set up a coal fire.

All the images are by Garret Leiva, and are transfered directly from the Record-Eagle web site, full copyrights retained.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Charcoals for Smelting

Some recent questions had surfaced on Early Iron about charcoal. I warn you that I did not research this myself, someone around the edges of my team did (Thanks to Russ, who was actually looking into wood fired pottery kilns). But the topic did come up, and this is what I remember.

- If the source wood is completely converted to carbon, the thermal energy available per weight unit is pretty much identical - regardless of species. So if you are measuring by weight, it will not change things that much.

- The different species do have different densities. This could prove important if you are measuring by volume (and most of us are using a standard 'pail'). The softwoods will have a lot more volume against weight. Certainly here in North America, most of us are using 'BBQ' charcoals, which generally are oak or hickory. If you suddenly changed to pine fuel, you might have to adjust your 'standard pail' sizes.

- The different species will also have different structural strength - more or less how fast a given piece will crumble as it burns. This is true, but given the small pieces we cut our charcoal to, this is not likely to be significant.

- The single largest factor in the performance of a given charcoal is going to be its moisture content. The drier the fuel, the hotter it will burn. Charcoal will absorb water out of the air, so a rough rule of thumb is the 'fresher' that charcoal is, the more efficient it will be in your furnace. Note that water quickly can modify the weight by volume, and throw off your calculations. (If you were always using a fixed weight, a damp charcoal would have less effective carbon for the same weight, at the same time it also effectively lowered the combustion temperatures!) There is no doubt that a bone dry charcoal gives the best furnace performance.

- Various commercial charcoals can vary considerably in how effectively they have been carbonized. Also how much 'garbage' they have included (which of course gets picked out during your grading for size process). The worst I have worked with is the American 'Cowboy' brand - double fist sized rocks, rail spikes, half head sized chunks of unburned wood. They had been taking old railroad ties and converting these for the source material.

- The different species appear to leave different amounts of ash behind. This looks to be related to the density mentioned above. Pine certainly leaves the least amount of a fine ash (which pretty much all blows out the top of the furnace). I mention this as we had one lot of charcoal which was from tropical hardwoods from South America (Early Iron 3 if I remember correct). This extra ash increased the slag generated noticeably. (Sometimes hard to tell with so many other variables!)

We stumbled into this through looking back at our measurements of a number of experiments. Although we were using the same pail measure - the weights of the charcoal charges sometimes varied 10% between individual charcoals used. I have kept all my records listed as 'by the pail', which in our case is 9 litres.

Generally though, I would suggest that making sure your fuel is dry is the most important concern. Second would be to use the same source of charcoal (both species and manufacture) as much as possible. You will vary your specific method to suit your furnace layout, ore type and available charcoal. My read of ancient European smelting sites is that they used the trees closest to hand for smelting. Ore appears to be the determining factor in the location of a smelting operation, with other details modified to get the best yields from that ore.

(PS - a commercial plug for Royal Oak, who have donated several thousands of kilos of charcoal to my effort to date. I have consistently found the Royal Oak to be the best commercially available charcoal of half dozen or so I have worked with.)

(PPS - Bruce Cowan's Black Diamond charcoal, has ran afoul of the Ministry of the Environment, and forced to shut down. Black Diamond was an exceptional fuel for our smelting, coming perfectly sized and always bone dry. A real loss!)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

'Viking Encampment - 2008

I was recently sent a copy of some of the new promotional images from L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC.

Parks Canada has finally decided to replace the original set of images (see the link above)from 1996 (!) that have been widely published. That set of pictures was taken during the test of the use of living history interpreters mounted in late August of that year. Four of us from Ontario (Neil, Vandy, Tarver and myself) worked on the site for 10 days as demonstration of the utility of the program. Obviously Parks Canada agreed, and the 'Viking Encampment' program has continued to the present day. In 1997, I delivered the replicas and reproductions, and undertook to train a small group of local people to work as costumed staff.

The program has proved highly successful for over a decade now. One of the first interpretive staff, Mike Sexton, has been there since day one. Another three (Bonnie, Mark and Wade) I initially trained under the six week 'Interpreting the Viking Age' course in 2000. I've been told by supervising archaeologist (mentor and friend) Dr. Birgitta Wallace that researchers who where at first dead set against any kind of living history programing have totally reversed this opinion after visiting the interpreters inside the Encampment. This is a credit to the skill of these staff.

What you see in these new images is the experience and comfort all the staff now express in their roles as Norse from 1000 AD. The initial discomfort that once existed over the clothes and the working objects has so obviously long gone. The program itself, like the individual staff members, has grown and matured over the years. They just look , well, REAL ...

These images remain property of Parks Canada. They are used here with permission of L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC.

Right: Textile work at fireside, inside the main hall (Bonnie).

On the Beach - funny how no Chieftain never seems to do any work...

Trying a hand at shipbuilding

Forging nails and rivets (Mark at work)

Chieftian Bjorn welcomes you. (Mike)

Its not ALL hard work! (Wade)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

'A' Frame Tent Covers...

Of interest to any Re-enactors here in Ontario. Full details on the Sunday 15 February post over on the DARC blog ...

Thule versus Norse?

CBC - the Nature of Things / Inuit Odyssey

Premiering On: Thursday February 12, 2009 at 8 pm on CBC-TV
Repeating On: Thursday February 26, 2009 at 10 pm ET/PT on CBC Newsworld
" Inuit Odyssey follows Canadian Arctic anthropologist Niobe Thompson as he takes us on a visually stunning journey across the North, tracing the origins of the modern Inuit. In a circumpolar expedition stretching from the ancient hearth of Thule culture in Siberia to the final battleground of the Thule and the Norse in Greenland, Inuit Odyssey explores the mysteries of the Thule conquest of the Arctic. Along the way, Thompson makes some startling new scientific discoveries and challenges our stereotypes of the "peaceful Eskimo" by shedding new light on the first meeting of Asiatic and European settlers in the New World. "

Image poached from the CBC web site

The CBC web site offers some commentary on the documentary and its production. It also features downloads for both a short trailer and even the full episode.

I watched the first airing of the program, almost by chance. (I generally find host David Suzuki pretty annoying). I did have some serious problems with the overall thesis that Thompson presents:
- Thule as iron workers
- Thule more war like that Norse Greenlanders
- Norse being driven out - rather than starved out

I just finished spending an hour writing the following critical review of these problems and sending it off to the CBC:

(to the producers of 'The Nature of Things' - Inuit Odyssey)

As the designer of the original living history program 'the Norse Encampment' at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC, I watched your documentary with considerable interest. I was disappointed over two primary omissions, both critical (in my mind) to your overall thesis.

The first relates to iron. Since 2001, I have been deeply involved with experimental iron smelting, attempting to re-create the possible methods used by the Norse to convert primary bog iron ores into metallic iron. This is a considerable challenge, as the methods used during the Viking Age are basically a lost technology. The smelting of iron requires large volumes of charcoal, in our experiments typically 50 + kg consumed in the creation of a 3 kg iron bloom. Even more is required to take the spongy bloom of iron and consolidate it into working bars for the blacksmiths forge (which of course burns even more charcoal. No trees means no charcoal, which in turn means no iron production. The Norse Greenlanders themselves could not make their own iron despite their cultural skill with the material. Iron was the major import item from the Scandinavian homelands.
Now your documentary completely avoided this critical fact, limited iron use is not the same as primary iron production. The Thule may have used slivers of cold worked iron, imported from other peoples who where primary iron producers. The Thule lacked any understanding of the use of fire as it relates to iron, the primary way of shaping iron, much less creating it. There would only be two methods for the Thule to acquire iron : either through trade from those who did know the full range of iron working technology, or through accidental finds of meteoric iron.
Meteoric iron was known and used by the Thule in the high arctic. Even at best, it is a rare material, and finding it is absolutely dependant on chance. The Thule would just not 'expect' to be able to gather more simply by travelling further east. What they would know for certain is that a supply of iron was dependant on trade with others. Moving further away from your traditional trading partners, into lands largely empty of any people, over a period of several years, is just not a rational way to secure new trade routes. Those resident in the Arctic must be practical if they expect to survive.

I think the argument of the impact on the environment of the 'Medieval Warming' period is far more significant. Populations in Siberia must have moved northward, putting pressure on the Thule themselves. Expansion eastward is they most likely result, again because that region would have been seen as mainly empty, or at least so in the eyes of the Thule. An examination needs to be made of the resident Dorset people, and whether they in fact had already filled the ecological niche available in an area with quite limited resources. I was surprised more stress was not placed the the kind of sudden environmental disaster the Medieval Warming may have been to the high Arctic.

I have to completely disagree with the thesis that the Thule had a warrior tradition that exceeded that of the Norse. True, the Greenlanders of 1300 were 'not the men their grandfathers were'. Do not forget who those grandfathers were - the Vikings. The documentary makes a point of describing Erik the Red as a 'troublemaker who had been kicked out of two countries'. You did not mention that in both cases the stated cause was 'because of some killings'. While it is absolutely true that the Norse settlers of the 980's were not the same people who had raided extensively all over northern Europe, they are at best two generations removed from 150 years of that tradition. Farmers, yes, but tough farmers who grew up in a rough neighbourhood.

I'm afraid my own experience on working on such exhibits as Full Circle, First Contact has been that political correctness has served to elevate the technologies of the First Nations, while obscuring that of the Norse. The answer to the sinew backed compound bow is the shield wall - a combat method almost invented by the Norse, who did have the long bow in their own arsenal. Frankly, I would expect fighting between the Thule and Norse to come down to numbers, not weaponry. A metal tipped antler harpoon is just not a superior weapon against an iron axe.
All this is secondary to what I see as a major flaw in the 'search for iron' hypothesis : If the Thule knew that a supply of iron was only available through trade, why was their response to the first people who could supply that need open warfare?

The most important lesson of the collision between the Thule and the Norse was not expanded on with as much weight as it might have been. The conflict was most certainly an environmentally driven one. The Thule were certainly adaptable and masters at lifestyle suited to the conditions as they were changing in the region between Baffin Island and Greenland. The Norse Greenlanders however, were totally dependant on a livestock raising method that even in the ideal climate of the Medieval Maximum was just barely over marginal. There is certainly excellent evidence that the changes in condition in Greenland were quite sudden. The accumulating archaeological and other evidence is that this shift in climate was devastating to the Norse. When the grass for your sheep does not grow, you either abandon the farm or die. The Thule certainly had the advantage of being perfectly able (and willing) to follow the wild animals as these themselves shifted in response to climate changes.

A sobering message, and one so very important in light of what is happening in the Arctic right now. A fragile system, and one susceptible to sudden and catastrophic changes. The true historic lesson of the migration of the Thule may not be one about the triumph of suitable technologies, but one about the survival value of flexibility in changing times.

Curiously for me, the argument about war like Thule overpowering passive Norse is the exact OPPOSITE argument I had with Full Circle author Gwyn Dyer when we were both working on that exhibit. Gwyn had the opinion that there was not that much difference in practical terms between an arrow with a stone tip and one with an iron arrow head, at least against un-armoured targets - either would kill you stone dead. My counter to this was again the Norse use of shields and more importantly a shield wall. (I know from personal re-creation fighting that two men standing together with shields are at least worth three men working independently.) Part of the point was the understanding that neither groups would be 'combat trained' in the way most of us think of this. 'Hunters who were hostile' versus 'Farmers with attitude' more likely.

By the time of the 'Little Ice Age' climate reversal (most likely a catastrophic failure of the 'arctic conveyor' currents suddenly shifting and moving the warm Gulf Stream), the Norse Greenlanders were not the tough and extremely adaptable culture that the original Viking Age Icelandic settlers had been. As much as anything, it was this lack of an ability to quickly respond and to changing environmental conditions which killed them.

A sobering message indeed. With Canadians more and more a coddled North American Urban culture, I'm not putting much hope on our chances...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

2009 - Year at a Glance

I have just worked up my tentative schedule for the 2009 year:

The scary thing is this:
Not yet mid February. Look at how few blank squares there are...

Shrinking into Curves

Just a fast visual posting today - on the Graham House door panel project: Where does all that metal go?

The first drawing is the concept layout. You will notice that I do not 'forge to a blue print'. The door with its glass inset panel defines the framework for the finished piece. I do keep to the general outline of my concept drawing, but as the work progresses, individual elements may vary as the complex curves are forged.

The second image shows the two main support elements, ready for the final forging into two wide arcs ending in spirals and reversal curves. Each piece started as a length of 3/16 X 2 inch flat stock. The ends have been pointed, upset and flattened, then drawn to a long taper. This results in a flat disk at 90 degrees to the flat side of the centre bar, with a long diagonal line leading to it. Then the central portion of each was had pilot holes drilled, which were drifted open to accept the roughly 1 inch diameter tubes that are the main elements of the panel.
Check the lengths at this point. The flat bar started as roughly 3 and 4 foot long. You can see that the tapering step has lengthened these to about 4 and 5 1/2 feet.

The last image shows the finished support elements. You can see that all that length very quickly disappears once a few curves are created. The door measurements can be seen drawn on the layout table, this is a standard 32 inch wide. The faint grid lines have 6 inch spacing. You can also see my concept design drawn out in chalk on the layout table. Compare the final result with the design, and you will see that although these are close - they are not identical. The spirit of the intended design remains.

Next step is to alter the round holes to distorted ovals. This is required to allow all the tubes to pass through the curved support elements. Once this is done, the lower finals (made separately) will be welded in place, then ground to make that addition invisible. (Ah - Thats how he did it!). Then the tube elements are welded securely to the supports (from the back side where it does not show). Last is fitting the upper frames for the glass disks into place.

(Stay tuned)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tools and Measures (and legondary tales)

Part of an ongoing conversation with Todd, a new member of Early Iron. Todd is getting ready for his first smelt this weekend coming...

Do I need to make a giant scoop to load the charcoal and ore, one with a long handle to keep my hands out of the flue gases or can I just dump it from a bucket or big tin can.

Funny story in this too.

One of the things that is real helpful is to have some standard measures (containers). That way you don't have to actually weigh everything all the time. Your standard galvanized pail holds just a bit more than - four pounds charcoal. This is why you see both my and Lee's records all built around that unit, plus the relationship to the ideal burn rate of about 8 minutes per bucket. You can certainly add the charcoal right out of the bucket held in your gloved hands.

For ore, our original method, learned from Lee & Skip, was using units of one pound. On smelt day, they would scrounge around for something about the right size, weigh out a one pound measure and mark the container. Sometimes lead to things like 'Quick - finish that beer, I need the can to measure ore.' As I remember it, at Smeltfest in 2005, Lee was using a plastic beer cup, marked to about 3/4 full, as the ore measure. Wearing gantlets (of course) he was just putting his hand over the top of the furnace and sprinkling ore out of the cup. Well, he either was moving too slow or hand his hand too close - and the cup melted right apart in his hand! For Early Iron 2, later that year, Mike had made up some quick flat little shovels on long wooden handles. the Boys still use some odd can or cup for the measure, but now empty the measure on to the shovel for placement over the furnace.

Up here, I have a standard scoop, a long handled dish that was originally made as a ladle for pewter casting. It holds (by happy accident) roughly one pound (450 gm) of the Virginia Rock ore. Our big problem is that the group here have become the Ore Kings, we have no local natural supply and have to scrounge all sorts of ore types. The good news is that because of this, we have developed more experience handling differing ore types than perhaps any other team (I've worked with 11 different ore bodies!). Bad news is that each one has a different density. What we used to do is just measure by scoop, and then weigh out a sample scoop and multiply. I find trying to run math in your head during a smelt a real pain. So these days, we measure ore charges on a scale into coffee cans. Then use the long handled scoop to sprinkle the specific charge on the smelter. I normally work with a team of three, one person takes the records and weighs the ore. Remember that your charges most likely will vary in total weight over the course of a smelt as well.

Any way you look at it, you will want long sleeves and leather gauntlets. Not only does the intensely hot smelter have essentially invisible flames, but there will be sparks flying out the top too. Safety glasses are absolutely required - a full face shield is sometimes called for. Expect beard and hair to toast off otherwise. Setting clothes on fire happens often enough that its a smelter's joke (see the Quad State video clip on YouTube).

Now when I started trying to write up my experiments, I realized that there was a real mix of metric and Imperial (even American units!). Since the archaeological reports use metric, I converted all my measures from old experiments over to litres and kilos (and started new records in those units) Of course this takes a bit of a brain strain, from decades in the blacksmith's shop (which even in Europe are mostly still hand measurements or Imperial). Temperature is mainly assessed by eye by colour, then to F, converted to C - as the classic example.
Anyway, we very quickly found that charcoal can change its weight by volume considerably. The variable is the amount of water contained. Now drier charcoal actually burns more efficiently, making for hotter furnaces. If you were measuring by weight alone, you would have the paradox of identical volumes getting heavier as temperatures dropped (What? I used MORE and got LESS ???). So the key here is to use a standard volume. You may see some of my records list litres (volume). That standard pail contains roughly 9 litres (2 1/2 gallons US??)

Any other tools you wouldn't do it without? I did see the the "thumper" in several pictures?

This last piece is copied straight from my 2006 paper 'Adventures in Early Iron ' . You might also want to take a look at the photographs by Neil Peterson (on the DARC iron site)

A number of specific tools have been created to suit specific tasks required over the course of the smelt. Several must have much of their length composed of forged iron (modern steel substituted). These are described here in the chance some artifact samples might exist. This is not considered likely however. The simple contours and long straight lines would make individual pieces ideal for reforging into other objects once they were no longer required for their initial purposes. Some likely dimensions are suggested, bearing in mind the physical requirements of the tasks and the structural limitations of bloomery iron as the material. The metal working ends of these tools would have been fitted to wooden handle. The most likely method would be to use a right angled tab that fit into a slot cut into a square cut handle, the shaft held in place with a simple ring collar. Ideal completed lengths are in the range of 150 - 180 cm. (The versions created for the experiments used cylindrical sockets fitted to dowels or poles.)

Probe ('Radner') - Typically a straight length of 1/2 to 5/8 inch ( in period iron likely 1.5 cm) square stock, with a shaft length at least the distance from top of the smelter to the base (about 60 cm). The tip is forged to blunt straight chisel shape. This tool used for removing blockages to the tuyere (by inserting down the tube). Most importantly used for creating holes in the slag bowl during tapping, cutting the slag mass and freeing the bloom from the smelter walls during extraction. It has also proved valuable to have an all metal version, which allows for hammering on the base end when more force is required.

Bloom Hook - Similar in size to the probe, the end is flattened and forged over the edge of the anvil to create a short hook shape (see illustration). This hook should be roughly 1.5 to 2 cm, a measurement which is critical. Too large, and the hook end will not fit between the smelter wall and the bloom. Too little and it will not get enough purchase on the bloom to exert much upward force.

Rake - This tool can use slightly lighter bar, and the metal end needs only be as long as the diameter of the smelter (about 30 - 40 cm). The tip is flattened for about 6 - 8 cm and bent at a right angle to the shaft. It is used to rake out material at the base of the slag bowl during tapping and any attempt to lower this mass. Also very useful when controlling the physical flow of molten slag when tapping.

Bloom Tongs - These are a specially created set of tongs used for lifting and holding the bloom. The bloom may be as wide as 15 or 20 cm when first extracted, and the jaws of the bloom tongs must be designed to securely hold a wide range of material sizes. These need to have extra long handles to provide gripping strength (and to keep the user back from the intense heat!). (Note that the blacksmith's tongs from Norse finds are simply too small for this task.)

Slack Tub - although not a smelt specific tool, the presence of a water tub within arms distance of the working smelter is essential. All of the tools above will require cooling frequently. In contact with the extreme heat at the interior of the smelter, it takes as little as one minute to heat the working end of a tool to an orange heat requiring cooling. Multiple use smelters might show the circular impression of the coopered wooden tub.

'Thumper' - This is the only all wooden tool used, suggested by a tool illustrated by Boonstra, van de Manakker & van Dijk ( *15 * ). It is a piece of green timber, ideally hard wood (for its weight). A good working length has proven to be about 1 metre, with a diameter of roughly 10 cm. The tool is easier to use if it is fitted with a pair of smaller wooden handles that run parallel to the long axis. This allows the operator to stand above the smelter and lift the tool up and drive it straight down, increasing both accuracy of aim and power of stroke. The working end is soaked in the slack tub before use. (As this tool is basically a length of fire wood, the chances of ever recovering one are extremely unlikely!)

Charcoal Scoop - This tool would have roughly the same shaft length as the probe, but would end in a small D shaped scoop of heavy sheet iron, set at roughly 90 degrees to the shaft. A scoop of roughly 10 cm wide by about 6 deep has been found most useful. Ideally the back curve should be dished up with the front straight edge flat. This tool is only likely to be present if the top extraction method is employed (as described below)


To that list add hammers (both medium and heavy hand hammers and various sledges for compacting). You will find it helpful to have an assortment of oversize tongs, ranging from say three down to one inch jaws (for holding the bloom as it is compacted). A four or five foot length of 1/ 2 round rod is real handy for both clearing the tuyere and also for probing down the inside of the smelter.

Face it, you will spend a LOT of time running back into the shop for that pair of wire cutters, extra pair of gloves, lost pen....

Monday, February 09, 2009

Bronze Casting in Green Sand

This set of images is of my demonstration at the 'Earth, Air Celtic Festival' in Goderich ON, August 2008.

Bronze Casting
Green Sand:

An overview of the method.

Packing the sand around the pattern
Carefully removing the master pattern
Packed sand with pattern removed
Sand mold ready for pour
Carefully heating the bronze
Quickly pouring the molten bronze
Bronze solidified in the mold
Opening the mold
Images by * *
Taken at the 2008 'Earth, Air, Celtic Festival in Goderich ON.
Cleaning off the carbonized sand
Raw casting beside master pattern

I schedule a weekend program 'Basics of Metal Casting' every July here at the Wareham Forge. This 14 hour program covers two techniques :
Bronze casting in green sand
Pewter casting in Soapstone

(now back to your regularly seen programing...)

Saturday, February 07, 2009

'Continuing Adventures in Early Iron'

An overview of experimental iron smelts, 2001 - 2008.


The creation of a forgeable iron bloom from raw ores is the result of a series of individual tasks, requiring many complex factors to be correctly integrated. An examination of the archaeological remains provides only a glimpse of the final stages of what is an ever changing process that unfolds over several hours. So just how was iron smelted during the Viking Age? Through a process of experimental archaeology, it may prove possible to work backwards from successful physical methods towards a process which employs only elements consistent with the technologies available historically. Working primarily with a team from Central Ontario, Canada, the author has to date undertaken 39 individual smelt sequences based on Viking Age prototypes. What has been learned from practical experience at the furnace may prove informative to researchers attempting to understand physical remains in the field.

Note: This paper has been revised from the original submitted in March of 2006, which only covered the first 13 experiments. What is seen here is the 'long version', before a further 2,000 words had been trimmed for submission for publication and with extra linked materials linked via the web.

Revised 2009 (long version) - Continuing Adventures in Early Iron

Original 2006 paper - Adventures in Early Iron Production.

Sorry to my regular readers, who may be getting tired of hearing about this!

There were actually three different versions of the 2009 paper prepared. The new call for publication asked to limit the length to 5,000 words, and the 2006 original, only covering 13 experiments, already was at 11,000! First I had to include all the materials relating to experiments 14 - 39, which also involved changing the structure of the paper considerably. Then I made a first pass, editing the length down to about 8000 words. (This is basically the version now posted on the web site.) At that point Neil Peterson went over that draft, trimming another 2000 words. I then revised his edit, mainly to make sure my original intent was still being expressed. This final version is the one being submitted for publication.

The humour is this is that I was the only non-academic invited to present at the first 'Friends of Medieval Studies' symposium in 2006. Only two of the presenters, myself and Steve Mulhberger actually wrote and submitted a document as asked for that symposium.

I personally find a real strange symmetry in that: It was Steve who introduced me to the SCA (back in the mid 1970's) which started the chain that lead to my interest in living history, my current profession, frankly the shape of my whole adult life. Steve was also the one who encouraged me to propose, write and present my very first paper ("Working in the Middle Ages - Historical Re-creation and Experimental Archaeology in the Society for Creative Anachronism", delivered at 'The Middle Ages in Contemporary Culture', McMaster University, Hamilton, March 1996.)

Anyway, at the time, Dr Robert Mason had told me that the FMSS group actually had the funding in place to publish the submitted papers - but no papers to work with! This is an extremely strange turn of events, as normally there is great difficulty in getting the money together for any publications. He had contacted all the presenters from the last three years of the symposium in mid Novemember (last fall) and asked once again for texts.

Wanna bet it will be once again those more to the fringes of Academia who are first to get those papers submitted?

A big thank you to Neil for the several hours he put in pruning my second draft!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

All 39 Smelts Linked to Reports

As part of the work of converting the full text version of the re-written paper for publishing on the Experimental Iron Smelting web site is adding links to other materials available on the internet. This table is a quick reference to all the reports currently available for the full 39 smelts in the series:

Smelt 1 Smelt 2 Smelt 3Smelt 4Smelt 5Smelt 6Smelt 7Smelt 8 Smelt 9 Smelt 10
Smelt 11Smelt 12Smelt 13Smelt 14Smelt 15Smelt 16Smelt
Smelt 19Smelt 20
Smelt 21Smelt 22Smelt
Smelt 24Smelt 25Smelt 26Smelt 27Smelt 28Smelt 29Smelt 30
Smelt 31Smelt 32Smelt 33Smelt 34Smelt 35Smelt 36Smelt 37Smelt 38Smelt 39

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Experiment Data : 2001 - 2008

This Experiment Data Summery is part of 'Continuing Adventures in Early Iron Production', the written paper I am preparing for possible (!) inclusion in an volume under preparation by the ROM, Friends of Medieval Studies.

This will be mainly of interest to the serious iron smelters who follow this series. Keep tune, as I intend to post up the full text of the longer (9000 word) version of the paper soon...

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

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