Saturday, December 30, 2017

Layered Steel / Global Markets (2)

...continues from yesterday's commentary...

Competition from Offshore / 3rd World

"One-of-a-Kind 14" Custom Handmade Damascus Steel Bowie Hunting Knife"
Selling price $125 CDN
Coldlands Knives - via Amazon

I've had a web site since about 1994. It is a large site, so both because of longevity and content = external linkages, and a published e-mail address, I get a huge amount of even business related spam.

About two weeks ago, I got sent an (unrequested) e-mail along with a (huge x 39) pile of images, detailing products available from a company in India :
We would like to introduce ourselves as manufacturers and exporters of all kinds of handmade  Damascus Steel & Stainless Steel knives. ... We offer competitive prices and quickest worldwide delivery. We also invite you to visit our website and see our wide range of knives. We can also provide you any kind of knives in any materials you demand. You are also welcome to send us sketch or photo of your design for make. Quantity does not matter. ...
Salahuddin World Class Hunting & Sporting Knives Company.
Pak Town Wazirabad 52000 ,District Gujranwala Pakistan.

both images from - Salahuddin World Class Hunting & Sporting Knives Company.

So - Primarily as an exercise, I took the trouble to look over the company web site.
- Generally, I found the overall quality of the offerings quite good. Finishing certainly looks excellent.
- The layer counts seen are nicely balanced to yield dramatic patterns - 'medium' density / layer counts.
- They obviously have a bundle of standardized forging methods, but at the same time, there is evidence of individual production (pattern variation) on each. (Digging through the web site does show use of what looks like a fairly small mechanical hammer. Use of simple hand grinding.)
- They obviously have a set of standardized blade profiles. These are then expanded by applying a fairly wide range of hilting materials and details.

Now - We all need to be aware that there are families in India and Pakistan who have been making extremely high quality cutting edges of all kinds - in some cases for * centuries *. This has included an * unbroken * tradition of working with layered steels. (And do remember - where does Wootz come from originally!)
Quality has never been an issue here - those craftspeople can certainly produce good work.
Blade * shapes * certainly have been a problem in the past.
I had seen some of the first lots of 'India made' blade blanks, a table full offered at the SCA's Pennsic War event, some point about 1978 / 79. These were still a bit rough in technique, and out of about 100 samples, I only found three that I thought were close to actual European historic patterns.

But face it - People are People, folks in India are at core as smart as any place else. India as a nation has certainly jump started into the Information Age way, way faster than 'the West'. At least in terms of progression from ox carts to internet within a single generation.

So I was curious. Outside of that huge e-mail, Salahuddin had been polite and business like. I had a number of direct questions about the product and the ordering mechanics, so I wrote back:

1) Prices
2) Minimum Order amounts
3) Shipping Costs
4) Alloy content / layer counts
Yes we can also supply blank blades and blank billets as per your requirements ( sizes ,patterns ,) .

1 ) Regarding the prices ,may we ask is that possible to send us art number from our website of the knife or blank blade in which you are interested ? So we can quote you prices accordingly .It would be highly appreciated .Would you please ? You are also welcome to send us your own design for price and make .

2 ) You can order in any quantity ,there is no minimum quantity .

3) The shipping charges depend on the weight of your package ,because we pay by weight to DHL courier company and we always charge shipping charges after weight the package .Because our consistency not allow to charge extra shipping amount to our valuable client .We hope you can understand .However we would like to tell you that we have very low shipping charges for Canada especially on big order packages. (*)
A couple of days later, I got the promised description on 4) Alloys and Layers:
Our Damascus steel is forged out of the steel sheets of grade AISI 1075 and AISI 4340. AISI 1075 is a high carbon steel that contains around 0.75% carbon. It is widely used to produce various types of springs and cutting tools. AISI 4340 is a low carbon and high nickel steel alloy. It contains 1.65% – 2% Nickel, 0.7% - 0.9% Chromium and 0.3% to 0.4% Carbon. 
Number of Layers, Initially a stack of 11 sheets of AISI 1075 & AISI 4340 is formed. The stack is then heated and hammer forged. The heating and beating process is repeated 4 to 5 times to get over 176 layers of high quality Damascus steel. 
Heat Treatment, Each blade is carefully heated to 1560 degree Fahrenheit, where after; it is oil quenched and tempered to achieve hardness above 56 on rock well scale.
I did dig through the offerings on the web site, and reply with some specific items. I had asked about specific sizes and prices. In some cases I had asked if it would be possible to purchase just the blade blanks (not finished as illustrated).
The prices are obviously US funds (converted in brackets into CDN funds)
For reference, I have pulled the object images off their web site.
Following are the info & price of the bars you requested .
HK 330 ,

WIDTH    :  2   INCH
PATTERN : Feather
PRICE : $28.00 ($36 *)
HK 331 : 

WIDTH    :  1.5  INCH
PATTERN : Feather
PRICE : $21.00 ($27 *)
HK 332:

WIDTH    :  1.5  INCH
PRICE : $18.00 ($23 *)

You are welcome to send us your own required size for price and make.

Sword price and size are following ,
HK 269-2 :

PRICE : $90.00 ($113 *)
HK-143 :

PRICE : $40.00 ($51 *)

Leather Sheaths Included in prices .Yes we sell without hilts .Also we can supply you any bars,billets in any size you demand .

Blank blades sizes are following :

PRICE : $22.00 ($28 *)

Back up to yesterday's commentary:

First - Commercial Sales
Take a look at the offering from Coldlands Knives at $125 (plus tax, shipping)
Compare it to the (larger) blade HK-143 at $51 CDN *.
I did check to see if that blade is one of the standard offerings from Salahuddin:
Salahuddin HK-300
I remain almost certain Coldlands is either purchasing from Salahuddin, or a close competitor in India.

Second - Billets.
These could be considered roughly equivalent to at least the layer count on my circa 1990's work (Note that I normally use a more complex alloy assortment, and with pattern welding usually use three or more rods).
Takes me two days / against roughly $ 25 - 35 *.

Third - Blade Blanks.
Similar to my own one piece 'heavy kitchen knives', HK-244 shown as comparison. I As a finished one piece design, I would charge for 9 inches x $40. (Again, I normally include an extra step of complexity - welding in the carbon core).
Takes me roughly 5 days / against roughly $30.

So, here is the thing
(Those intending to become full time bladesmiths take special note.)
Go back and read part one.
Run the numbers.

This is not intended in any way a criticism of Salahuddin.
They are producing good quality objects, making use skilled workers. They have miserable safety standards, microscopic wages (compared to Canada) and no comparison in operational costs. They are brilliantly using the internet to massive advantage for both research and sales.

But we just can NOT compete with these folks - if PRICE is the only comparison being made by North American consumers.

* One important caution : Prices here are NOT including the shipping cost. Possible entry duties (??)
DHL uses an overly complex 'contact for estimate' system.
Canada Post (Ontario to India) used for reference, suggests adding roughly $20 for a single / double item sized package (slow air + tracking).

Friday, December 29, 2017

Layered Steel / Global Markets (1)

American bladesmith Bill Moran had pioneered techniques for creating layered steels, in the late 1960's. Working through trial and (much) error, Bill had recreated methods used historically to create dramatically patterned surfaces by stacking differing iron / steel alloys, welding to solid billets, then folding / twisting / distorting the stacks. During the early 1970's first his, then an number of other 'master' bladesmiths slowly introduced this work to the blacksmithing community. Those who had figured these techniques out, were most typically pretty vague about exactly how it was done.

I first picked up the hammer as a student at Ontario College of Art, about 1978. (Initially almost accidentally.) It was not until later in 1979 that I finally managed to learn how to successfully forge weld. In those days, one of the marks of 'knowing the craft' was to be able to reliably create layered steels. After a single year at Black Creek Pioneer Village (1979), my access to a forge was limited. It would not be until I returned to BCPV in the late 1980's and into the early 1990's that I would really start developing my own skills with the layered steel techniques.

Some early layered steel knives - about 1993.
Bottom is flat stack (Damascus), Far right is twisted stack (Pattern Weld).
Long blade is antique wrought iron.
I was always most interested in the distortions created in the stack lines caused by the effects of hand hammering. Initially all my work was done entirely by hand - and always working alone. In these early days of the Wareham Forge, (in my mid to late 30's), it would take me a single working session of 2 1/2 hours to prepare, weld, draw out a knife sized billet. I could physically manage three such work sessions over two days - having to rest up the final half day. Typically starting with a 9 - 11 layer stack, that would yield me a billet of roughly 250 layers - large enough to make the two smaller blades seen above for example.
I have forged a lot of blades over the years, 'one forge session' for two or three knife blade blanks (again depending on size and profile).
In the early days, I did not have much shop machinery. I was doing my shaping and polishing on a 6 x 48 'wood worker's' belt sander. It typically took me two days to polish, heat treat, finish for hilting.
I never had a lot of interest in decorative hilts (the 'male jewellery' aspect of high end custom knifemaking). For the simple kind of slab hilts seen above, add another hour or two.
So - taken altogether, the two knives seen the image above represent :
- Investment in a basic forge and shop tools
- Development of about five years (trial and error) experience
- Total of 7 days (specialized and often exhausting) work
- (support of workshop, 7 days + expended materials and sundries)
= Two roughly 5 inch long finished knives.

I was charging $40 per blade inch back then, so (assuming they sold) = $200 each / $ 400 total.
That's $ 57 (gross!) per day.*

Now, things have changed, both for me personally, and most certainly within the 'artist blacksmith' community over the last 20 years :

1) For bladesmiths, the use of power equipment has increased dramatically. Air hammers had been uncommon when I started. Either people had to rebuild (often cranky) antique mechanical hammers, or invest $40,000 for a German built air hammer.
- Small user built air hammers are common today, at a *tenth* of the cost above. (see David Robertson)
- First Turkish copies (@$10 - 15,000), now low end Chinese copies (below $10,000) of those self contained air hammers are available.
- High speed, long belt sanders (incorrectly called knife 'grinders') are widely available. Typically in the $1000 range. Plans for home builds easy to find.

2) Techniques, based on new equipment types, have both changed and become widespread. Primary is the use of hydraulic presses to replace the actual hammer.
- Because a press gives a perfectly even compression, it becomes simple to produce perfectly even, straight layers. This makes the creation of geometric patterns (classic Middle Eastern 'Damascus') much, much easier.
- Use of thin shim stock and metallic powder for the starting layers, coupled with the flat compression of a press, allows for extremely high layer counts to be created in a single heat / compress / weld step. (200 - 400 layers in one cycle!)
- One of the latest trends is the production of large die stamp plates for presses. This allows the creation of perfect geometric patterns into those same high layer blocks - in a single compression.

3) Within Industrial knifemaking?
Large hydraulic presses + large propane forges + 'sheet & powder' + die stamps = creation of huge 'bricks' of starting layered material. High layer plates are cut off like slices of bread from a loaf. Coupled with water jet cutting, hundreds of individual blade profile blanks, machine ground to blades, can be quickly produced by totally mechanized methods.

"One-of-a-Kind 14" Custom Handmade Damascus Steel Bowie Hunting Knife"
Selling price $125 CDN
Coldlands Knives - via Amazon

Now :
- I have invested in a small (50 lb) air hammer. One of David Robertson's very first builds. Plus the large sized air compressor to run it. This tool allows me to do the work that exhausted me as a younger man, working by hand, both much faster and with less effort. What took me a half day session in 1993 I can manage in about an hour today. (Balance that against 2 1/2 hours being about all I can manage in the actual forge for a 'productive' shop day)
- I have invested in an 'industrial build' high speed sander. I'm still learning to use this tool to its best advantage. Still, I can complete in about two hours the work that in 1993 took me two days to accomplish.

With better experience and equipment, working against slower (older!) working ability? I could make those same two 5 inch knives in about 5 days now (although I have never tracked it). So - again taken altogether, the two knives seen the image above represent :
- Investment in a basic forge and shop tools, specialized machine tools
- Over 30 years accumulated (and specialized) experience
- Total of 5 days (specialized and still exhausting) work
- (support of workshop, 5 days + expended materials and sundries)
= Two roughly 5 inch long finished knives.

I'm still quoting $40 per blade inch = $200 each / $ 400 total.
That's $ 80 (gross) per day.**

I don't make those kind of knives any more :
- My interest in simple commissions - 'making other people's stuff' has almost completely disappeared.
- I'm not at all interested in fighting with people who do not understand 'the Iron Triangle' (pick ONE of cheap / fast / good - and ONLY one!).
- I'm fed up with dealing with people who have 'Reality TV' and 'True Facts' as their understanding of the world.

'Ramsay Wedding Knife' - 2007 ***
Pattern welded with carbon core - bog oak handle.
One of my last commissions - the customer had realistic budget, generous design requirements
'Hector's Bane' - 2012 ***
Bloomery iron with carbon core
Extension of earlier work :
Highly decorative but functional cutting edges
One piece blade to full handle
use of bloomery iron

The upcoming increase to Ontario Minimum Wage was part of the incentive for this piece.

* Note that I'm just giving the 'in the forge' time here. More typically at that point, I was averaging 90 hours total business related work per 'week' (6 1/2 days work over each 7).
$400 / 90 = $4.45 per hour
In 1993 the Ontario minimum wage was $7.25
That 'shop wage' is also the GROSS - it does not take into account the actual cost of 'keeping the lights on' for the workshop. 

** Again - that is current 'in the forge' time here. I typically spend 10 hours 'work' per day (attempting to limit to 6 days work over each 7).
$400 / 60 = $8.00 per hour
On January 1, 2018 the Ontario minimum wage will be $14.25
The current 'shop cost' ('keep the lights on' - 2016 figures) works out to $4 per hour ($40 per day).

*** With work * I * want to make, pricing is a bit more 'realistic' (??)
- Ramsay Knife - took about 5 days to make. Made as single object. Bog oak specially ordered for this commission.
Total was $450
- Hector's - took about about 5 'days' to make. Uses half a bloom, which alone requires $300 raw materials, ideally assistant for one day. Made as one of pair (other had dramatic failure, never completed).
Asking Price = $1000

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Blast from the Past

... on several levels.

I  have slowly been working through scanning the better part of 20 years of colour slides into digital format. Most of these are reference - taken at museums, living history sites or workshop events.

Here are a few from a trip to Stirbridge Village, Mass. Should have been 1990.

Foot Powered Treadle Hammer

Overall View
Hammer & Die (diagonal bar seen is support when not in use)
Planks forming the 'spring'
This is a very simple construction, in use allowing the heavier leg muscles to provide the motion, and the inertia of the heavy head the striking force.

The major element is the heavy log (was hardwood about 16 x 16 inches) that provides the stable base for the hammer. It is also a fair size, I remember it as about 8 - 10 feet long.
The hammer head pivots on a simple bar driven between the pair of upright supports.
The hammer is held at rest by being attached, via a chain, to a set of thin planks. These need to be quarter split (dead straight grain). There were several of these, each about 1/2 inch thick, attached to the rear of the beam.
The hammer was attached to a foot lever, which extended down the right side of the beam, to a suitable position for the operator's right foot at the front. (not seen in these images unfortunately). The attachment I remember as having some combination of offset and split linkage (?) reducing the impact shock and spring effect from the hammer lifting.

How it works:
The operator balances back on the left foot.
Push down with the right, which pushes the hammer down against the spring of the planks.
On impact of the head on the metal being worked, the operator allows his driving foot to stop pushing.
The spring planks then lift the head back upwards.
Repeat as the spring pressure stops, driving the head back down for a second impact.
The operator and spring combination is actually just working to oscillate the head up and down - not force it. It is the inertia of the hammer head that creates the force.

I watched the blacksmith at Stirbridge work 1 x 1 stock on this - pretty much draw to a short point in one heat.

Circa 1830's design, if not earlier. Still effective...

This basic principle is the same that is used for the the original ABANA 'push / pull' small air hammer. I have an early version of this type in my own workshop:
50 lb air hammer (light blue) in the corner of the forge area
My air hammer was built by David Robertson, way back about 2000. It is rated for 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 stock - but has been used for as heavy as 1 1/2 x 4 (!). David's current versions (which he sells) are significantly better in design, operation, and stability. One limitation of the type is that it requires a large stand alone air compressor for working air.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

'Ypres - 2016' Finishing

If you have been following for a while, readers may remember a series of posts I made around my trip to Ypres Belgium in 2016. Although primarily to attend the international blacksmithing event in early September, I also wanted to visit the World War One sites in that area.

This can be considered the finishing up of a chain that started for me back in late December 2015 - into January 2016. This was background research into the shattered landscape of Ypres because of WW. I had made a number of postings through 2017 year related to the topic. Most useful here is likely 'Ypres 1916' on October 21, 2016.

While Ypres, I took time to walk battle fields. Later on that trip, I was able to take some workshop days in the ceramics department at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop. Part of the result of all this, taken together, were the group of pieces seen on that earlier post (above).

I considered for a good while exactly how to finish the work.
In the end I decided, mainly because of the small size, to mount the pieces. I chose a photograph, attributed to 'the Daily Mail', of the centre of Ypres after the long bombardments.

'Ypres 1916' ceramic (Tocco Ferro) / photograph (click for original 10 x 16 size)
I think the view is roughly from the current Menin Gate Memorial, looking west towards the shattered Cathedral.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

from England - 1989 (Wanna see some slides?)

Those of you old enough may remember that.
The meal dishes cleared, the coffee out. 
The host says 'Come and see my (vacation) slides!'

I can hear the groans back over the 40 + years...

Close friends know I'm still not over this. At least now I tend to just leave the computer set on a rotation, in the background corner (mainly, ok?).
Photography was the on consistent class I undertook during my 4 years at art school. I used to purchase black and white film in bulk, and wind my own cans. Developing chemicals were available in the film lab at no cost. We did have to purchase our photo paper. As a result I have thousands of negatives, maybe a dozen prints mounted and saved.
Colour Slides?
A few from first year OCA - which would be 1975.
Got serious on colour in 1976. Almost exclusively as slides.
Switched to Digital in 2008.*

the Horror...
On a fast guess - there must easily be 5000 slides

In terms of 'art' shots, my objective has always been to attempt 'one good out of five'. Sometimes I managed this (but there is a lot more junk than good image making).
As I got interested in History, I took increasingly large numbers of reference images. Bets are off on that stuff. I count at least 500 images just from specific museum collections. The trip to England referenced in the title here saw me shoot 20 rolls of 20 exposures (about 375 retained images).

So - that all being said :

Here are a few images from the 1989 'all museums' trip to London, York and Dublin. This set from the Yorkshire County Museum (roughly a block from the more famous Coppergate site.)
(by the way - I am going to be kind, and keep the images to the ongoing theme of Viking Age / Blacksmithing.) **

Yorkshire Museum - Roman period
Interesting because of the cut location. Possible strike from the right side, or more likely as a second blow in a series, the first a typical head shot blocked by the shield, the killing blow from a flip of the wrist, returning the sword across the head (left to right) just as the shield was lowered. (??)
(I can't remember if the damage to the right face was weapon or after deposit.)

Yorkshire Museum - Viking Age leather shoe
One of the features of the archaeology of York is the long occupation of the site (at least to Roman times). The occupation is along the river - so the excavations go down to waterlogged soil. This has permitted the excellent preservation of many organic materials; wood, leather, even textiles.

Yorkshire County Museum - Celtic Iron Age cast bronze mounts
What amazed me here was the D shaped mount to the lower left in this image. I had seen a virtually identical mount in the British Museum - only rendered in gold. Given the similarity in colour of the bronze mount seen here, is this a 'lower end' copy? (You can just imagine the artisan saying 'Look - just like the one the King has...')

More to come...

* I was pretty much forced into Digital.
My much loved, trusty, and almost industructible Yashica TL Electro, became unusable. The camera was fine. I could no longer find the battery required to run the light meter (despite frantic on line searches). Coupled with Kodak stopping making the Ectacrome 400 slide film (or almost anyone else). In Canada, only Carmen's Photo was still even processing slide film at that point. 

** Through this series, I will be generally posting the 'raw scans':
- From original 35 mm colour slides 
- Given the age of many of these, there may show excessive dust / scratching / etc
- Scanned using Epson C370 flatbed photo scanner
- Output image is at 150 dpi at 6 x 4 inch size
- The only correction has been to rotate as needed (unless noted)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

the Runes (part 5)

This commentary, in several parts, was sparked by a recent request to create a set of rune marked tiles as a custom order. 

The first time I wrote a commentary on the topic of 'Mystic Runes' was back at the very start of this blog (December 12, 2006).
The second part was seen recently 'the Norse Runes' (November 22, 2017)
The third part was seen recently 'the Historic Use of Runes' (November 23, 2017
The fourth part was seen recently 'Evidence of 'Mystic' Runes' (November 24, 2017)
NOTE: My intention with this series is to place the topic of Runes and Rune Lore into a purely archaeological context.

'Casting the Viking Runes'

Through this discussion, I have used two Wikipedia articles as a major reference (*).
For an informed overview, from the perspective of archaeology and history, I would recommend reading both of the articles (links below), which do have quite different points of view.

The 'Rune Magic' (2) article does attempt to trace the historic origins of the modern system of using rune marked tile sets as a divination method:
- Johannes Bureus / 1600's / 'based on visions'
- Guido von List / 1902 / 'revealed'
- Ralph Blum / 1982 / 'first book on runic divination' (**)

Comparing academic history to contemporary 'Rune Magic':

The Runes as used during the Viking Age
Modern 'Viking Runes' tile set - made / photo by Runologe
The Elder Futhark - screen capture from Wikipedia - Runes (1)
R. Blum's arrangement of Runes (scan from 'The Book of Runes'
So what is clear is that the letter forms used in modern Rune divination are in fact not the actual set of letters used during the Viking Age ( c 800 to 1000 AD).

Once again, I must stress that I am not attempting in any way to comment on the value of the modern practice of 'Casting the Runes'.

However, as can be seen through this series, there is no direct archaeology to support this modern practice as existing in the actual Viking Age itself.

(*) The 'Runes' article is primarily an academic form, describing the development and historic use of the Runes in Northern Europe. There is only a short reference to Runes as a divination tool.
The 'Rune Magic' article is primarily focused on the development of the Runes as a divination system.

(**) I have access to two versions of contemporary Rune Casting sets:
Ralph Blum / 'The Book of Runes' / 1982
Blum does include two bibliographies - one of more academic sources, a second he titles 'Guides to the Transformational Process'
Blum suggests variations of the 'three stone' system indicated by Tacitus.
Horik Svensson / 'the secret of the Runes' / 1995
Svensson does not indicate any references.
Svensson suggests far more elaborate casting system, including the use of a marked cloth target.

(1) Wikipedia - Runes
(2) Wikipedia - Rune Magic

Friday, November 24, 2017

the Runes (part 4)

This commentary, in several parts, was sparked by a recent request to create a set of rune marked tiles as a custom order. 

The first time I wrote a commentary on the topic of 'Mystic Runes' was back at the very start of this blog (December 12, 2006).
The second part was seen recently 'the Norse Runes' (November 22, 2017)
The third part was seen recently 'the Historic Use of Runes' (November 23, 2017)
NOTE: My intention with this series is to place the topic of Runes and Rune Lore into a purely archaeological context.

Evidence of 'Mystic Runes'

Again, what can we find in actual archaeological evidence?
• As stated several times : There are no existing objects - as tiles with single rune marks on them.

• There are a number of objects which have short runic letter groups on them. Typically scratched on the back of a decorated metal object (*). These tend to be from the early Migration Period (so not within the 'Viking Age' itself).
Migration period golden bracteate of Type C ... from Djupbrunns, Hogrän parish, Gotland, Sweden.
A bracteate (G 205) from approximately AD 400 that features the charm word alu with a depiction of a stylized male head, a horse, and a swastika, a common motif on bracteates. (1)
Some are just groups of letters, some single words. As most often the letter groupings don't translate into known language words, it is unclear exactly what they might have intended to mean. The grouping ALU (as above) is seen on more than one object, but again as a 'word' itself has no direct known meaning.
Many inscriptions also have apparently meaningless utterances interpreted as magical chants, such as tuwatuwa (Vadstena bracteate), aaduaaaliia (DR BR42) or g͡æg͡og͡æ (Undley bracteate), g͡ag͡ag͡a (Kragehul I).
Alu is a charm word appearing on numerous artifacts found in Central and Northern Europe dating from the Germanic Iron Age. The word is the most common of the early runic charm words and can appear either alone or as part of an apparent formula. (2)
There are however a very limited number of written references :

• The most significant reference is by the Roman historian Tacitus :
Tacitus (Germania 10) gives a detailed account (98AD):
They attach the highest importance to the taking of auspices and casting lots. Their usual procedure with the lot is simple. They cut off a branch from a nut-bearing tree and slice it into strips these they mark with different signs and throw them at random onto a white cloth. Then the state's priest, if it is an official consultation, or the father of the family, in a private one, offers prayer to the gods and looking up towards heaven picks up three strips, one at a time, and, according to which sign they have previously been marked with, makes his interpretation. If the lots forbid an undertaking, there is no deliberation that day about the matter in question. If they allow it, further confirmation is required by taking auspices.[1] (2)
 This does at least suggest the outline of a practice, with the objects employed at least briefly described. (*) It is unclear from the description if Tacitus is giving refers to a 'single use' object set, or a more permanent, retained collection.
• There are a number of historical written references to the use of 'runes' as charms or to enhance objects :
The most prolific source for runic magic in the Poetic Edda is the Sigrdrífumál, where the valkyrie Sigrdrífa (Brynhild) presents Sigurd with a memory-draught of ale that had been charmed with "gladness runes" (stanza 5),
Biór fori ec þer /brynþings apaldr!
magni blandinn / oc megintíri;
fullr er hann lioþa / oc licnstafa,
godra galdra / oc gamanruna.
"Beer I bring thee, tree of battle,
Mingled of strength and mighty fame;
Charms it holds and healing signs,
Spells full good, and gladness-runes."[6]
She goes on to give advice on the magical runes in seven further stanzas. In all instances, the runes are used for actual magic (apotropaic or ability-enhancing spells) rather than for divination:
  • "victory runes" to be carved on the sword hilt (stanza 6, presumably referring to the t rune named for Tyr[7]),
  • ølrunar "Ale-runes" (stanza 7, a protective spell against being bewitched by means of ale served by the hosts wife; naudiz is to be marked on one's fingernails, and laukaz on the cup),
  • biargrunar "birth-runes" (stanza 8, a spell to facilitate childbirth),
  • brimrunar "wave-runes" (stanza 9, a spell for the protection of ships, with runes to be carved on the stem and on the rudder),
  • limrunar "branch-runes" (stanza 10, a healing spell, the runes to be carved on trees "with boughs to the eastward bent"),[8]
  • malrunar "speech-runes" (stanza 11, the stanza is corrupt, but apparently referred to a spell to improve one's rhetorical ability at the thing),
  • hugrunar "thought-runes" (stanza 12, the stanza is incomplete, but clearly discussed a spell to improve one's wit).[9] (2)
It should be carefully noted that the source, the Poetic Edda, is known from its earliest written form, the Codex Regius, created about 1270 in Iceland. This is certainly a Medieval, post Christian, document. (**)
The Poetic Edda also recounts the story of O∂in acquiring his skill at foretellling the future / divination through the use of Runes.
The Poetic Edda also seems to corroborate the magical significance of the runes the Hávamál where Odin mentions runes in contexts of divination,[dubious ] of healing and of necromancy (trans. Bellows):
"Certain is that which is sought from runes / That the gods so great have made / And the Master-Poet painted" (79)
"Of runes heard I words, nor were counsels wanting / At the hall of Hor" (111)
"Grass cures the scab / and runes the sword-cut" (137)
"Runes shalt thou find / and fateful signs" (143)
" if high on a tree / I see a hanged man swing / So do I write and color the runes / That forth he fares / And to me talks." (158) (2)
Within a purely archaeological context, there remains the lack of supporting objects. In both in the texts quoted above, and scattered through other recorded Sagas, there are descriptions of runes or rune like symbols being marked on objects to alter their potency. The problem remains that the actual artifacts from the Viking Age do not show these marks. (***)

(*) The 'Accidents of Preservation' effect may be distorting our view here. 
• Objects of cast metals, commonly jewellery items, are both valuable and durable. For those reasons (and the related cultural practices - both historical and more modern), these type of objects tend to dominate as archaeological finds.
• Tacitus specifically gives 'nut tree branch' as the material. Typically medium density woods, there is of course the very real possibility that any such objects that did once exist have not physically survived. 

(**) All the problems of conversion of a much older, oral work into a written form do come to play here. Certainly it should be remembered that the oldest written form is some 300 years after the generally accepted end of the 'Viking Age' proper.

(***) I freely admit that this is a rather sweeping statement! 
It is based primarily on my own examination of literally thousands of objects from the Viking Age over a period of study going back to the later 1970's. This has included both academic and more popular books, and personal viewing of major exhibits (including actually working on several) and museum collections in both North America and Europe.
If any readers can contribute references to specific objects bearing 'power runes' I would be in their debt!

(1) Wikipedia - Runes
(2) Wikipedia - Rune Magic

Thursday, November 23, 2017

the Runes (part 3)

This commentary, in several parts, was sparked by a recent request to create a set of rune marked tiles as a custom order. 

The first time I wrote a commentary on the topic of 'Mystic Runes' was back at the very start of this blog (December 12, 2006).
The second part was seen recently 'the Norse Runes' (November 22, 2017)
NOTE: My intention with this series is to place the topic of Runes and Rune Lore into a purely archaeological context.

Historic use of Runes in the Viking Age

There is a very complete discussion of the development and use of Runic inscriptions available on the Wikipedia article 'Runes'
Generous use of Wikipedia references used here.

There are a progression of linked letter systems, listed loosely cultural and temporal:
Elder Futhark - Germanic / 100 - 700 AD / 24 letters
Anglo Saxon Futhorc - England / 400 - 900 AD / 29 - 33 letters
Younger Futhark - Scandinavia (Viking Age) / 800 - 1000+ AD / 16 letters
  further broken into long twig (Danish?) and short twig (Norwegian & Swedish?)
Medieval - Scandinavia / 1100 - 1400 AD / 27 letters (composite system)
Although there are hints that the Runes as a written system may extend to roughly 200 - 100 BC, the first actual artifact know bearing a Runic inscription is on a comb from the early AD period:
" The Vimose Comb from the island of Funen, Denmark, features the earliest known runic inscription (AD 150 to 200) and simply reads, ᚺᚨᚱᛃᚨ "Harja", a male name.[39] " (1)
Image from the National Museum of Denmark :
Obviously, the use seen, as a person's name (likely signifying ownership), indicates both widespread understanding, and everyday use, of a Runic letter system for language, even at this early date.
Generally, there are four well documented (supported by objects) Viking Age uses for Runes:
a) Memorial text - most typically carved on stones
b) Owners Names - may be just the name, or 'person owns me'
c) Makers Names - typically 'person made me'
d) Message text - records, personal notes

Memorial texts are often more complex than they first seem. The order of naming may be intended to represent inheritance sequence, the placement may indicate land boundaries. 
The best example of the last class - everyday notes, are the Brygeen Inscriptions, the collection of 670 found in Bergen, Norway. These include Christian themes (Latin language rendered in Runes), owners and makers, even pornography. (2)

As has been indicated earlier - what is completely missing from the artifact record is any kind of  'one rune' tile - in any material what so ever.

(1) Wikipedia - Runes

(2) Bryggen Inscriptions

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

the Runes (part 2)

This commentary, in several parts, was sparked by a recent request to create a set of rune marked tiles as a custom order. 
The first time I wrote a commentary on the topic of 'Mystic Runes' was back at the very start of this blog (December 12, 2006). 

NOTE: My intention with this series is to place the topic of Runes and Rune Lore into a purely archaeological context.

the Norse Runes

    In the main the Norse culture can be thought to be an oral one, with tales such as those known from the Sagas handed down in smoky halls for generations before they were ever written down. Archaeological evidence, as seen in the range and distribution of written fragments, suggests the Norse were a literate people as well.  The style of writing used by the Scandinavian peoples is called RUNIC, and is another distinctive feature of their shared culture.  The set of these letters is also referred to as the 'futhark', a name taken from the first six characters (just as is our 'alpha-betta').
    In their original form, the runes consist of a series of vertical strokes and diagonal lines. The form of the letters derives from the fact that they were originally designed to be carved into wood. For this reason there are no hard to carve curves or horizontal lines that would run with the grain. There is no clear evidence for exactly when and where the runes were first developed, but the forms show the influences of early Greek and Roman scripts. Certainly there is evidence that early versions of the the system were in use by the Germanic tribes before the birth of Christ. As with other sets of symbols which would become used for writing, these ‘proto runes’ each had a specific symbolic meaning. The given name for each symbol came to represent its sound in writing. (For example, the first rune was called ‘faihu’ to the Goths, ‘fe’’ to the Norse and originally symbolized ‘cattle’ and by extension ‘wealth’.)

     By the beginning of the Viking Age, this symbolic use has disappeared, the letters are just sounds. The Norse had developed their own distinctive system,  although this continues to change and evolve through the centuries. There are two primary versions of these Viking Age runes; the Danish or Common runes, and the Swedo-Norwegian or short twig runes. Each consists of only sixteen characters. The most widely used ‘Common’ runes are shown below:

    To save space, words are separated not by a gap, but most commonly by a dot, and there is no upper case form. To mark the division between sentences, usually a double dot is used (:).  With the reduced set of letters, spelling becomes dependent on the whim of the carver. Typically, d becomes t, g becomes k, p becomes b, and missing vowels are substituted for as best as possible. (For example the name Gormr is seen as 'kurmR’ and Svein as 'suin'.) In keeping with the limited size of the original writing material, the text of the messages are usually short and to the point. Memorial stones were commonly painted, with the runes often highlighted in red. Individual words were sometimes painted differing colour s, to make reading easier. Often the text of a stone will be found cut into  its edge, or in a serpent shaped band running around the central design.
    The selection of artifacts that remain today owe more to the random forces of preservation than any true reflection of period usages. There have been a few inscriptions found carved on sticks, far more are seen on memorial stones. Even still, the content of runic inscriptions gives a clue to the  spread of literacy amongst the Norse. Runic messages can be found almost everywhere the Norse traveled, from Greenland to Constantinople. Samples include such things as owner's or maker's names and marks. The iron pail handle on a bucket from Oseberg says 'asikrir' - "Sigrid owns".  Casual use of runes can be seen in what is basically graffiti, such as the name 'Halfdan' scratched on the church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Literacy among women is suggested by such finds a s birch bark note from Novogrod ("Come home your dinner is ready."). There are a number of finds that indicate that runes were used by the middle class in the form of tally sticks and similar business records. As has been mentioned, the greatest source of runic inscriptions that have survived are in the form of memorial stones. These range from simple markers carved for family members to elaborate monuments to great kings and heroes. The text may be short and direct, or consist of elaborate poetic verse. Carved stones also served to mark ownership of property or to commemorate deeds done.
    Although much as been made recently, especially in 'new age' culture, of the use of the runes as a magical tool, the actual evidence is sketchy at best. Despite the statements of those who consider the Victorian mystical revival "ancient knowledge", there is not a single piece of archaeological evidence for 'casting the runes'.  There are no surviving ‘rune tiles’ (of any type of mat erial) indicating that a hand full of markers was scattered and interpreted as a means of divination.  There is some evidence, in the form of artifacts, for the use of prayers and petitions to the gods written in runic type, but this is not proof that the runes themselves were considered magical. This connection has been made because in Norse mythology, the god O∂in derives his knowledge of the runes through the self sacrifice of hanging on the world tree for nine days. (see the section on Norse religion). Simple petitions for divine assistance have been found partially burnt, it is thus assumed that these simple prayers were placed in the fire to loft them to Asgard.

This article originally prepared for ’the Norse Encampment - Training Manual': 1997 - text © Darrell Markewitz

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

'We were so much older then...

... we are younger than that now."

From the 1997 Newfound Tourism campaign
From a 2000 Corporate Advertisement*

Both images shot in 1996 - at the test demonstration of the 'Norse Encampment' living history program at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC.
This program was for Parks Canada, but managed by the Viking Trails Tourism Association (a local business group).

* The photographer (Shane Kelly) was hired by Parks Canada, with model releases stating specifically that any images were ONLY to be used for Parks Canada / Tourism promotion. 
I was to find out later that the various images of me as 'the official Viking Poster Boy' would be used widely. This second image was used for advertising by a major Corporation - without notice and certainly without permission. 
In 2000, during DARC's involvement with the Norstead - 'Grand Encampment'**, I was to find my image placed on things like letterheads, coffee cups and T shirts. Again all without my knowledge or permission.

** I wrote the original outline for the 'Grand Encampment', and was later to find my document in the hands of Government and Norstead management. It was the actual hard copy I had created - with my letterhead replaced with someone else's!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Veteran's Day 2017"

Since the start of my own blog in 2006 I have always written a piece for Remembrance Day. My own enlistment was only a short 4+ years, in the Canadian Reserves. I was young (lied about my age), and it was 1972 (obviously a much different service).
I'm hard pressed after reading this excellent piece to even conceive of anything I could say myself that might contribute beyond what [Jim Wright has] written. I hope you don't mind that I will just be sending my (few) readers over to read [this] piece tomorrow.

I was deeply influenced by all Heinlein's work - I've read all of it. Troopers framed my concepts of military service, at a time when (even in Canada) wearing a uniform meant getting spat on (more than once).

I guess I'm rambling a bit - but thanks for [this] eloquence.
Tomorrow I will once again raise a glass 'for absent friends'.

Veteran’s Day 2017

Jim Wright = Stonekettle Station

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Imagined at the ROM

As part of my recent two week teaching gig at Haliburton College's Artist Blacksmith program, I supervised students on a two day field trip to Toronto. The major component of this was visiting the Royal Ontario Museum.

One of the assignments students were given was to document two objects seen at the ROM which interested them. They were to record via drawings (or possibly photographs) and notes what the object was, some indication of where it was located, and especially what aspect tweeked their attention.

I came home with a page of (too brief) notes and about 20 images.
A lot of those were intended as reference on just what historic iron objects the ROM currently has on display (not that many I must report).

In terms of 'imagination' - these are what caught my eye as I rushed about supervising the students :

Bone plated skull of an ancient armoured fish.
Dish shaped protective scales of an ocean living dinosaur.

Bundles of fossilized cartilage (?) along the spine of another.

Skull of an ichthyosaurus.
When you consider forged materials, I think you can see why I am drawn bones in general, and ancient fossils specifically.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Wareham Forge makes the News ...

... as in 'ThorNews'

ThorNews describes itself as 'a supplier of Norwegian Culture' - with a very heavy load of Viking Age topics represented.

Author Thor Lanesskog had chosen to use an image of a group of replica spears I had made to help illustrate today's blog post :

The Viking Age Spears – “The Ones Who Stare from a Long Distance”


" The majority of the spears are decorated with fish bone patterns, pattern forged along the middle of the blade " 

I sent back a bit of a clarification :

The 'forged pattern' is the result of welding layers of soft and hard iron metals together, then twisting and welding again, most typically to form the core part of a blade. There are some (unresolved) questions about why this method, called 'pattern welding' in archaeology, was undertaken originally. It can provide functional advantages, especially for long blades (so with swords). It may be as simple as building up a larger block when all the smith had were small pieces. The techniques were also clearly used for their decorative effects. Spears using pattern welding a very good example.
'Wolf's Tooth' actually refers to a specific effect caused by a specific method of working with the starting layered bars. I would refer you to the work of British blacksmith Owen Bush, who I know has investigated how to duplicate those specific patterns. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

DARC at Vinland - view through ExARC

Building the Iron Smelting Furnace

Neil Peterson, with additions from DARC members Marcus, Kate and Karen, has had a very complete summary of the group's July 2107 presentation at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC published in the journal ExARC.

To celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary and the 20th anniversary of the historical interpretation program at L’Anse aux Meadows, NHSC, Parks Canada invested to extend their regular staff with a 10 day special program. Darrell Markewitz, the designer of the original program, and the Dark Ages Recreation Company (DARC) returned once again to this UNESCO World Heritage site to interact with the staff and public and mount displays of various craft activities.

The article details the public presentations and experimental archaeology projects carried out over the 11 day stay by a total of 14 DARC members.
Mounting such a major display, 3000 km from home base in Ontario, represents a major effort for DARC.

Next up for the group? 

Participating in the Royal Ontario Museum's presentation of 'Vikings' - a traveling exhibit from the Swedish History Museum

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Art at SSW #3 - 'Legacy'

... a proposal for a public arts project
continuing my consideration of object as cultural history.

 Archaeology is the study of 'what is left behind - which still remains'. Trash is often the source material (and often the most illuminating).

While at Lumsden, I undertook a number of walks around the local area. Several of these were in part along the main access road that runs through the centre of Lumsden, from Rhynie (to 'north') or Alford (to 'south').
There is surprisingly less trash along the sides of the roads generally in rural Scotland, in comparison to along the back dirt roads around my own home in Wareham for example. I'd put part of this down to the fact almost all cars in Scotland are standard transmission - and the roads are both narrow and twisty, requiring frequent shifting of gears. So drivers rarely can have a coffee or drink to hand, I was told that actually this was not legally allowed (?).
I did notice, walking along route A97, was that what trash there was, most commonly was aluminum beer cans. (This may also be because, unlike in Ontario, there is no deposit / return system in place.) Perhaps not surprisingly, the most commonly recovered cans were from the cheapest brands - Tennent's primarily. (Draw your own conclusions there!)

Aluminum is extremely durable in the environment, with a 'decomposition life' measured in centuries (1).
Here in Canada, plastic beverage containers often outnumber aluminum cans found along the roadside. 

So what is it we will leave behind?

'Legacy' project proposal - at SSW : August 2017

'Legacy' is a proposal which would combine a number of elements.

- The structure is a simple pyramid shaped framework, measuring 4 x 4 feet at the base and standing about 6 feet tall. (2) This framework would be made up of structural angle on the outside edges, with a series of cross bars welded in place horizontally at about 6 inch spacing.
- Along the cross bars, set to about 4 inch spacing, would be welded a series of simple nails. The ideal would 1 1/2 long roofing nails, both in terms of ease of welding attachment (large heads) and short shafts for safety.
- Pushed on to the nails would be aluminum beverage cans and plastic drink bottles, collected as road side trash. On initial installation, only some of the attachment points would be covered with cans.
- A separate sign board would explain the concept and participation aspects of the project.

• The pyramid form references the Great Pyramids of Egypt. At roughly 4500 years old, these are some of the best known ancient human structures. (3)

• First level of public participation is continuing to 'build' the structure. Individuals will be encouraged, via the sign board to add additional trash cans and bottles to the remaining nail pegs. This would be accomplished by simply pushing objects on to the short points.

• A secondary benefit would be the continuing trash clean up of the area around the installation site - hopefully even beyond.

• It is hoped that the overall impact of the sculpture would be to raise awareness of both the problem of trash generation, and it's long term accumulation within the enviroment.

(1) Metallic aluminum, exposed to air in the natural environment, 'quickly' forms a dull, light coloured oxide film on its surface. This oxide is itself quite resilient to further corrosion, and harder than the metal underneath it. One estimate for the time it takes a standard aluminum beverage can to decompose is 200 - 500 years.

Plastic drink bottles have an estimated decomposition rate of roughly 450 years. (see same source).

(2) Because of the inherent stability of the shape, there would be no special mountings required. (The simplest support would be via four standard concrete 'deck blocks', set on the ground and roughly leveled.)

(3) Sourcing Wikipedia, Barnenez in France (a passage grave) is listed as the oldest human 'structure' (at 6850 years)

Artist Note : There may be a possibility to work this proposal into a format which would allow it to be submitted for the 2018 Elora Sculpture Project
I have had work chosen 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017

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

COPYRIGHT NOTICE - All posted text and images @ Darrell Markewitz.
No duplication, in whole or in part, is permitted without the author's expressed written permission.
For a detailed copyright statement : go HERE