Monday, December 31, 2012

Demonstrating Aristotle at CanIRON 9

I was quite honoured to be asked by Antoine Marcal * to be one of the feature demonstrators for CanIRON 9:

(note corrected dates!)

  Trois Rivieres, Quebec

Demonstration : The Aristotle Furnace 

The Aristotle is a small sized re-melting furnace based on historic descriptions and developed by the 'Early Iron' group. It is built of clay and about the size of a standard water pail. This furnace will covert almost any iron material into 500 - 750 gram 'puck' of carbon steel in roughly 30 minutes. This makes the system ideal for those wanting to work with a bloomery type metal, especially suited to blade making. This demonstration will cover the history of the furnace and how it is built, and illustrate several operation cycles. If time permits, at least one of the pucks will be forged to a working bar.

 Workshop : Build and Run the Aristotle Furnace

Participants in this full day hands on session will each build and then operate their own Aristotle furnace, which they then can take home.
 In the morning session, clay will be prepared, and the body of the furnace will be constructed. Into late morning to early afternoon, the furnace will be fire dried. In the afternoon session, each person will run their furnace through several cycles, each producing a carbon steel bloomery 'puck' of metal. If time and equipment permits, these can be forged down (under supervision) into working bars.

This workshop is limited to six participants (adults only please). There may be an additional materials cost. No specific blacksmithing experience is required to build and operate the furnace, but working a puck into bar requires the ability to forge weld. Participants are required to provide correct eye protection (including welding lenses), and should bring their personal forging tools. Those wanting to keep their furnaces should bring a milk crate or 5 gallon plastic pail for safe transport.

 Biography : Darrell Markewitz 

'Hector's Bane' : Bloom iron with spring steel core : 2012
The very first time Darrell picked up the blacksmith's hammer was a direct result of his interest in ancient artifact and process, while a student at Ontario College of Art in the late 1970's. Objects from the Celtic Iron Age and Scandinavian Early Medieval periods continue to influence his distinctive 'Rivendale' style.

'Celts at the Gate' : Mild Steel with decorative paint : 2008
During the 1980's he worked as an artisan interpreter at Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto, establishing the Wareham Forge in 1992. Along with replicas for major museum exhibits, custom designs for architectural, home and garden make the bulk of his work.

'Segmented Funeral Urn' : Wrought Iron and Copper plate : 2008'Bloom Bowl 2' : Bloomery iron : 2011

As well as decades of teaching workshops, Darrell was a feature demonstrator at CanIRON 5 and Quad State 2008. He was the organization team leader for the 2011 CanIRON 8 at Fergus Ontario. He writes extensively, through on-line blogs, web site, journal articles and formal papers.
His interest in bloomery iron smelting started in 2001, having undertaken 50 smelts since. All with a focus on experimental archaeology as a means to understand historic processes. Darrell continues as a founding and core member of the 'Early Iron' movement in North America.

* Antoine is the only other Canadian seriously undertaking bloomery iron smelting. His work tends primarily to be focused on bladesmithing


Lee Sauder, leader of the Early Iron movement, will be demonstrating with an bloomery iron smelt!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Metal Spindles?

 Or a parable about too little information - and working from photographs on the web

 The following from NORSEFOLK

1.1. Re: spindle hooks?

Posted by: "KAREN"
I have seen a photo of 3 spindles in the Dublin Museum that are from the Viking Era. They are VERY rare as the spindle shafts are made of metal, the whorls are also metal. They are so corroded I can't say if they were made by pounding or by being molded, nor can I tell if they were made in one piece or were made in 2 pieces and then fitted together.

Posted by: torran   Are these the spindles?
that was from The National Museum of Ireland.

Posted by: "KAREN"
My memory was a color photo, one of the spindles was green as if it was aged copper or bronze.

A couple of things: the image quoted is from a blog.
The blog is at :

 For the computer unskilled, if you search via google images, use the image name, you get a link over to the larger scale image - on the source blog.
If you check the profile of writer 'eimearee', you will see she lives in Dublin Ireland. I'd suggest that maybe one of you might just e-mail her via either her profile or as a direct comment on the piece. (odds are good that finding kindred souls might be of great interest to her!)

The image by eimearee
Right off the start, eimearee does not specifically say the spindles seen are metal:

 " The following photos are from the 'Viking' display, mostly found around the Wood Quay / Fishamble St area in Dublin. "
" These teeny tiny spindles are about the same length as a crochet hook; the whorls were tiny..."

 The Woods Quay site is one of those rare waterlogged locations. This results in the preservation of organics, especially at this site both wood and leather. The same conditions are extremely poor for metals preservation, especially iron.

The larger scaled image on the blog shows more details. All the images have been reduced to black and white (I suspect for file size). This may be critical for several reasons:
1) Size? You could speculate that the key numbers are the standard 1 cm tall plastic letters many museums use.
2) Material? Extremely important! If metal (at all) are they Bronze or Iron??
This will effect the overall weight of the spindles - which directly effects the thread diameter produced.
The speculation that they are metal is based on the hooks. (They might actually be wooden??) My WAG is that if these are metal at all, they are cast bronze, not iron (based on the state of preservation). The shape of #11 especially, suggests a cast, rather than forged, object. But without a wee bit more information, that is just blind speculation.

The truly serious could just contact the museum?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

5 for 'A Holding Place'

Holding Place: A Repository of Containers and Vessels by Metalsmiths Around the World

One of the axioms of mathematics is that the container must be greater than the contained. 

" The exhibition is open to all metalsmiths, professional and amateur, advanced and beginner, around the world. All metal containers and vessels are eligible for entry. Examples include, but are not limited to, pill boxes, vases, bowls, pitchers, lockets, prayer boxes and memento mori.
As this is an online exhibition the work will only be seen via the photographs metalsmiths submit. ...
The exhibition will be curated by Beth Wicker, Co-President of the North Carolina Society of Goldsmiths in the United States, and Adjunct Instructor at Northeastern Technical College in South Carolina. Director of the exhibition is Hanuman Aspler, owner and founder of the Ganoksin project, the world's largest internet jewelry site. "

Artist's Statement:
Since the late 1970's, I have been blending experience at the forge with research into the artifacts of the ancient Norse and Celts. The result is my signature 'Rivendale' design style. My work places a strong emphasis on hand forged techniques into distinctive designs, creating one of a kind objects that are both beautiful and yet functional.
For 'Holding Place', I have selected a series of bowls that use the widest possible range of iron materials, from modern steels, antique wrought iron to my own unique bloomery iron. Coupled with a range of hot forming techniques, ancient, traditional and modern, I believe this range of work may stand apart from other submitted objects.

1) Segmented Funeral Urn (2008)

38 cm x 23 (17 kg)

The body of the urn is composed of a number of individually hand forged strips of antique wrought iron. I saw samples of a related technique employed by the Japanese blacksmith Takayoshi Komine at a workshop / demonstration two summers past. (Taka uses the method to make subtle oil lamps employed in the Tea Ceremony.) Actual historic wrought iron has been chosen for the construction because of its excellent forging characteristics and special durability. Individual scrap bars were selected for their tendency to fragment under aggressive forging. The metal itself is already some 150 years old — and should easily endure for centuries more. A fitting resting place for the memories of one past beyond us.
(see more)

2) Segmented Bowl 2 (2011)

22 cm x 18 x 9 H

The individual segments are pieces left over from torch cutting 1/8 inch thick plate used for another sculptural form. Taking a clue from a method used by Japanese artisan Takayoshi Komine, the individual segments were MIG welded together on the back. One of these weld lines was reversed, folding forward to make the central rib.  The resulting flat form was then worked hot to dish it. To finish, the piece was sealed with a spray matte varathane.

3) Bloom Bowl 2 (2011)

(roughly) 25 cm x 15 x 15 H

Unique in Canada, this metal itself was made from raw ore smelted using a direct reduction furnace based on those from the Viking Age.
The original bloom mass was quartered by hot cutting. This section was flattened under the air hammer, working at welding temperature. Only one compaction series was undertaken, intentionally to allow cracks and fissures to develop along the margins of the plate. The roughly rectangular plate was then dished hot to create the bowl's shape. The inner surface was roughly polished with a flap sanding disk. The outer surface was given a fast wire brush to remove any loose scale. To finish, the piece was sealed with a spray matte varathane.

4) Offcut Bowl (2011)

25 cm x 25 x 15 T

Offcut Bowl was created for the 'Shadowbox' show to benefit the South Grey-Bruce Literacy Council.  The individual segments are in fact off cuts left over when I was cutting up some 1/8 inch thick plate I acquired as commercial scrap. The individual segments were MIG welded together on the back, then the weld beads ground smooth. The resulting flat form was then worked hot to dish it.

5) Segmented Bowl 3 (2011)

16 cm x 12 x 9

Here a set of individual strips of flat stock were forged out from heavier bar. This hand working process results in variations in thickness and width between the individual pieces. Once forged and cut, the strips are MIG welded along one side only, which is then ground smooth. The resulting plate is then dished hot to create the bowl form. The stretching of this dishing separates the lines between the individual strips, which are still held tightly by the welds.

Full descriptions of my past work on bowl forms : 
Can be found on the Wareham Forge

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

'Stretching Hammers' - Viking Age

On 21/11/12 6:54 PM, Richard Furrer wrote:

What are the dates on these tools?

number 21 in particular.

(Ric pulled the image off an earlier blog posting. There is a more detailed image, with a bit more information, on my disk 'Exploring the Viking Age in Denmark'.)

The labels at the Roskilde Museum were fragmentary at best. What was there was also in (surprise) Danish.

The case section was labelled 'Lejre 900 BC - 1000 AD'
My only notes on that group say 'Hammer head on left 3 x 3 cm by 10 cm long'
Lejre, by the way, is just to the west of Roskilde. There is a very excellent  archaeological research and living history site there.

One of the things to remember is that in Scandinavia, there is not the same definition of 'Viking Age' as is used in the English speaking side. To Danes, there is an 'Iron Age' - then 'Medieval', with the break at 1000 AD.

About life size - from "the Mastermyr Find' Arwidsson & Berg 

There is a similar hammer found in the Mastermyr Tool Box (Gotland)
Number 68, described as a 'stretching hammer' (and I would agree, having made and used a replica).
3.0 x 2.1 cm by 14.8 cm long - weight at 481 gms
Note that the Mastermyr set has been recently re-dated to closer to 1150 AD.

As this puts the two tools in roughly the same weight class - and that at the very bottom end weight for forging iron, I would suggest the Roskilde Museum sample is also intended as a tool for deep dishing - maybe for bronze cauldrons.

PS: Frequent Readers may notice the pattern here. I often try to respond to e-mails with rather long replies. These however often get modified and turned into blog postings. Just a word to the wise...

PPS: It has been a month since I prepared this piece, for some reason I have not been able to get it actually published to the blog (???)

Iron to Wire? Some considerations on materials.

 As frequent readers know - I do spend (too much?) time every day on detailed answers / comments to various questions that come into me via e-mail. These pieces would be 'lost' if only sent to one respondent, and so often are modified to become the meat for postings here....

On 17/12/12 1:00 PM, Stephen **** wrote:
My interest is in replicating historical wire - iron, steel, and brass - for musical instruments. The research is done as part of my work at (named University), but it's also practical in the sense of replicating it for a niche market. I'm already selling iron wire and investigating the other materials. As you can imagine, production economics is a nasty constraint. A big problem is getting from cast ingots to rod stock. Historically this would have been hot worked by powered tilt hammer, which is probably not economically viable nowadays even with access to appropriate equipment. The wire drawing operations push up the $/kg production cost of the finished wire so there isn't a lot of $ room in the heavy stage production of the rods. I came across your 'bloom 2 bar' project and wondered what practical solution you might have come up with for converting your bloom iron to bar.
A couple of things in your message:

"I'm already selling *iron* wire"
Since you are being specific, I take it what you really mean is a modern Bessemer produced low carbon content *steel* wire. 'Black Iron' fencing wire one possibility. Getting 'soft iron rivet' material is another. A third would be the use of 'Electric' or 'French' iron. (All these are NOT the same as historic wrought iron material.)
I drone on about this endlessly, but actual *bloomery* iron / *wrought* iron is no longer available in commercial production. I have seen some hints that smaller amounts might be under production in China - but only as a material for specialized blade replicas. Other than that, these ancient / historical methods are only employed in very small scale - by people like me
(demented wackos) .

"historically hot worked by tilt hammer"
Most modern day professional artisan blacksmiths will have some kind of power assisted hammer in their shop. These fall into mechanical or air driven types. This does allow for the working of more massive bars.
I have both a 30 ton hydraulic press, designed for initial bloom compaction, and a 50 lb throw air hammer in my own shop for example.
The problem is actually on the other side - small diameter bar into wire. Few have the special equipment (or specific skills or experience) for drawing wire. I certainly have never done this.

"selling iron, steel and brass wire"
Wire of various copper alloys (tin and zinc alloys) is certainly available. A problem might be getting small enough order quantities against your business volumes.
*Steel* - as in modern produced simple iron plus carbon alloys will also be available in almost any combination you might require. I expect there that the purchase sizes may be much smaller, although some hunting might be required to find just what modern business might sell small amounts of exactly the specific alloy you might want. (Auto repair for example)

As you certainly are aware, actual *bloomery / wrought* irons are distinctive in their physical composition (this separate from alloy composition). They will contain some level of hard glassy slag, if only at a microscopic level. This will effect their mechanical properties, I suspect in ways that might be critical to your application as drawn wire in musical instruments.
These materials are also not consistent through their volume - the way modern industrial steel alloys are. This likely presents a huge problem for your specific application.

This all represents a major terminology problem - one that is not dealt with effectively (to my observation) by museums and academic researchers. "Steel" is used generically for any iron plus carbon alloy - reguardless of its method of production or physical structure.
In working from a natural iron oxide source ore into a working metal bar, there are effectively *three*  different factors that might effect the characteristics of the end product.

1) How the iron oxide was physically reduced down to a metallic iron mass.
This is the type and individual design of the furnace, related to the method of production, modified by the specific ore itself. Experience and skill of the iron master comes into play here.

2) How that iron mass is physically manipulated in secondary processing after it has been created.

3) The actual alloy chemistry of the starting mass, as potentially modified by the secondary processing. Primarily the single largest variation comes through changes in the carbon component of the metal.

In short, depending on the starting iron ore, different furnaces may produce different products, both physically and chemically. How the iron master controls the iron smelting sequence can also modify both.
It is quite possible to get radically different carbon contents from the same ore (even in the same furnace).
The resulting mass can then be manipulated in different ways during the 'bloom to bar' process. This may change physical structure and carbon content.
Carbon can both be removed, but also added during secondary or tertiary forging processes.

Often historic bloomery iron materials were effectively impregnated with additional carbon through surface diffusion. You can see how this would produce a material with a layered texture, including some degree of slag filaments, which then varied in carbon content from a higher C exterior fading to a low C interior. Compressed into a wire, this might seriously effect the performance of that wire musically.

I refer you to Lee Sauder ( A close friend and fellow researcher - and easily the most skilled bloomery iron master in North America. Lee also does sell both raw bloom sections and blooms worked to billets.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

IS there Iron? - Part 3

As a refresher, this is a continuation of the series report on field walking in November. Generally not a bad time for this, the vegetation has died back, the bugs are gone, the water levels often lower. This year (despite claims by fools in America) the impact of global climate change (and Canadian warming) was clear. Mid November and still no snow!

IS there Iron - Part 1
IS there Iron - Part 2
North Erie Shore - Bog Iron

Take a look at the map of the region around Wareham again:

10 km range circles
Location 1, Bellfountain, was discussed in Part 2.

A couple of days later I had occasion to run up to Collingwood (look NE of Wareham, along Georgian Bay). On the way back I ran on a rough diagonal line back to Wareham, more or less along County Road 32. This lays along a valley cut into the edge of Blue Mountain. Note that Blue 'Mountain' is really the slope of the edge of the massive limestone block of the Niagara Escarpment - not a true 'mountain'. 
I did see at least one spot that looked like it was at least worth a closer examination when seen from the road. This was a very sharp cut of a stream bed that exposed the underlaying rock. Massive problem however - hunting season! It was late afternoon, and the road was dotted with trucks unloading men in orange jackets with rifles. (I was furious at this, the area was well sign posted as being provincial park land - 'No Hunting' signs all over.) I most certainly was NOT going to chance leaving the roadway!

Location 2 - Chepstow

A week later, I paid a visit to my close friend David Robertson, who had seen potential signs of iron south of his home / shop near Chepstow (look to the far west side of the map).

The spot was a rock cut into a shallow valley, which had a swampy bottom with a small stream running through it. David's thought was that this bottom land might contain bog iron ore, deposited from what he thought looked like iron contained in the surrounding rock.
On closer examination, the staining on the limestone was in fact a reddish yellow clay deposit, washing out of the stone. Although the colour was likely do to traces of iron oxide, there was only minimal amounts of iron present. Certainly not enough to constitute a useful ore.
(And truthfully, it was absolutely pissing down a hard cold rain - we were soaked to the skin in the five minutes at the rock cut alone. Retreat for hot wiskeys was called for!)

Location 3 - East Owen Sound.

Another place where the parent rock of the Escarpment is cut through is at Owen Sound, about 45 minutes drive north of Wareham. About mid November, I had to run up that way for steel supplies. I drove over to the east of town, where again the rock is exposed. I ended up not getting out of the truck for a closer look. The stone was very similar in appearance to that seen in the image above - a light yellow porous limestone.

Location 4 - East Markdale

On the way back home, I travelled down via a series of dirt roads more or less straight south from the Owen Sound area. The table of the Dundalk Plateau is cut by a number of deep river valleys (originally glaciers) through that area. The Beaver Valley is the one just to the north of Wareham, running SW to NE, from roughly Flesherton towards Thornbury on the map.

(Sorry about the image quality on these next)

Limestone at the edge of the valley cut
Tumbled blocks at the foot of the cliff
As you can see from the image, the stone here is a more solid, hard, dark to medium grey limestone. There was no evidence of iron staining at all. Although the heavily moss covered rocks were quite magical in appearance, there is no iron present.

Friday, December 07, 2012

December 7, 1941

Photo #: 80-G-19942

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941

USS Arizona (BB-39) sunk and burning furiously, 7 December 1941. Her forward magazines had exploded when she was hit by a Japanese bomb.
At left, men on the stern of USS Tennessee (BB-43) are playing fire hoses on the water to force burning oil away from their ship

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives collection
 Image loading from :

Pearl Harbor Raid, 7 December 1941
Overview and Special Image Selection

Sauder's Standard Test

The following was posted by Lee Sauder on to Facebook. As frequent readers here know, Lee is largely responsible for the Early Iron movement in the USA (and a close friend). I have stolen his posting to the 'Iron Smelters of the World' Facebook group to help spread his suggestion.
 Since Mark (Green) brought up the twist testing, I thought I'd you tell my way of doing it. I've been testing blooms this way for a couple of years- the nice thing about it is that you not only get the subjective feeling of the iron, (which is easily confused or forgotten), but there's an easily quantifiable record as well-- how many twists it takes before it fails. I've found this very helpful to understand what I've done without expensive chemical analysis, which isn't really as meaningful as how tough the iron really is. I like do do this with the bloom hot right out of the smelt, so the test is still connected with the memory of the smelt.
Sectioned bloom and ancony with twist test.
If we all did this in a similar way, we'd have a better way to compare and communicate our results. Here's my way- could I propose this as a standard to communicate with?

I originally did both hot twist tests and cold twist tests, but now I usually just do the cold twist test, which seems to tell us the most. I forge the bloom to a bar approximately 5/16 inch ( 8 mm) square, (with no folding). Let it air cool. I mark off 1.5 inches ( 38 or 40 mm), and twist it until it breaks, counting the quarter turns.
Close up of twist test
 My low-carbon, high phosphorus blooms break at zero to 1/2 twist, with a crystalline fracture. The low-C, low P blooms go 3/4 to 2 twists- the best we've done so far did 2 full twists, the one shown in the photos.
Ductile fracture at 2 complete twist.
Crystalline fracture at 1/4 twist.
 The hot twist tests I do by forging to 5/8 inch square, marking off 3 inches. heating to yellow. and twisting to failure. The higher P ones actually tend to twist farther hot than the low P ones. Usually in the neighborhood of 3 to 4 twists before it breaks.
I actually have never done this with high C bloom, so I don't know how it acts.

I think this is a great way to judge your iron in your own shop.

The images and text above all by Lee Sauder

Sunday, December 02, 2012

About Replica Silver Pennies

Preparing to strike a coin - at the Althing Event, 2011 (image by Tanya Imrie)

... I found your group through a mention in an
SCA event notice.  I see that you demonstrate
coin minting.  Are the coins copies/replicas of actual historical coins
or are they your own design made in the style of the era?

See :

There were four individual artifact coins selected. Three were used pretty much as the original source material designs. The fourth 'Knute the Great' was used as the source of the general layout, but the name was changed to my own.

This makes four individual dies. Note that these are four different coin artifacts - and were selected for their graphic quality.  I will often mix and match those dies to produce different combinations.
Artifact coin dies - York, England, early 900's

The dies are in two pairs. The first set (St Peter / Anlaf) are simple cylinders of tool steel. For the second set, I forged the die blanks to duplicate the shape and size of the pair found at York.
Dies shaped after the York artifacts on the left. First dies made of tool steel on the right.

The silver used are modern die cut disks - so extremely uniform. These are sterling silver. They are the same size, thickness and weight as the 'standard' silver penny.

Replica 'St Peter' / 'Anlaf'
Replica 'Knute' / 'Birka Grave'
The dies were acid etched to create the patterns - not engraved as the originals were.

Now, two major differences from the original source coins were made - and intentionally.
1) the main figure on each coin is mirror image from the artifact
2) the dies were made to make an impression into the surface - not create a raised line like the artifacts
Both of these methods were used to clearly indicate that these are NOT possibly forgeries. Combined with the obvious uniformity of the silver disk, that creates 'three points of difference'. As there are currently hundreds of these replicas out in the world, I wanted no chance they might be artificially aged - and passed off as original artifacts.

To my mind this makes the silver penny replicas I make ideal for hands on programming in museums, or use by living history re-enactors.

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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