Friday, June 15, 2018

Using up the Leftovers..

.. or Making Do in the 'Carefree Life' of the Independent Artisan

As regular readers know, and visitors to my web site can see - I run courses out of the Wareham Forge.
A lot of courses. (*)

I run just the 'Introduction to Blacksmithing' weekend course at least a dozen times any given year.
Every time, the first basic project is a simple S hook. I make one as a demonstration.
about life size - 1/4 inch square stock
I no longer sell small objects like these (in fact don't really undertake any direct retail shows any more).
So I end up with a 'few' left over.
A lot left over.

I was contacted at the beginning of June by the people who operate the 'Escape Quest' franchise in St John's Newfoundland. They had been in negotiations with Parks Canada about opening one of their 'Adventures' at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC. Their rough concept was to use the 'slave quarters' building at LAM for the activity.
'Slave Quarters / Storage Hut' is building to right (1996)
The interior of this sod wall construction building is roughly 2 x 3 metres. (Although it looks larger in the image above, remember that the walls are at least 1 metre thick!)

They wanted a lot of stuff.
Ideally delivered by the end of the month.

One of the things on their list was S hooks.
Thirty S hooks.
(Did I mention I end up with a lot of S hooks?)
I had a few left over.

Another thing on their list? Hand forged chain.
Request was for 10 feet, later increased to 15 feet.

Given this was 'Escape Room' - from the 'Slave Quarters', what came to mind was this:
Complete artifact chain
This object, from the Viking Age, is from Ireland. Now in the collection of the National Museum in Dublin. I had seen this in 2014 during two days spent there.
The construction is individual large circles made of square iron bar, forge welded closed, then pinched flat into a collapsed 8 shape. (This is one way to yield the most chain length out of the least amount of metal used.)
I have seen some other Norse era chains using simple 'closed S' shaped links.

Now making chain from starting straight bar is both time consuming and often tedious work. Time was most certainly at premium on this project (**).
I did mention I have a lot of S hooks left over?
This is what I came up with:
'Escape Chain' - detail with starting S hook
'Escape Chain' - complete length

I used another 24 on hand S hooks.(***)
Each had the one pointed end re-shaped to curl the tip into a small loop. Then both ends were collapsed inwards into a closed loop. These were then linked together in a four element set, each making about two feet.
I forged a series of large diameter rings out of 3/16 x 1 inch flat stock - to about 3 inch diameter. These then were used to attach each of the looped chain segments. An extra large ring was placed on either end.
The finished length was just over 13 feet total.

This use of the previously made S hooks massively reduced the 'just now' time involved to produce the finished chain.

From an artifact prototype standpoint, certainly the object created can only be considered loosely based on the original Norse chains. The individual link elements have reverse twisted central sections. This a bit of extra complexity in the forge work I would consider quite unlikely in a basic functional object like a slave chain.

(Did I mention the sea chest hinges for the same order? Total 30 individual hinges have been made.
There are 15 matching hasps to still make. And six Norse padlocks. And a cooking pot. I don't have another available forge work day open until June 25 at this point.)

(*) For those interested in the 'Business of the Artisan' :
For the last three years, about 90% of my income has been from teaching. This includes my twice yearly segments at the Haliburton College Artisan Blacksmith program, but most importantly from weekend training programs here at Wareham. 
(Another big chunk has been from educational and research programs. That 'income' is normally completely erased by the raw travel and related costs. Despite the large amounts involved, almost always I end up paying out more than came in.)

(**) I had my first contact with Escape Room Newfounland on May 30. Between determining exact requirements and producing a hard quote, the final confirmation of the order was not given until June 5.
June is already an extremely tight month for me. I had a major historic demo to mount on the other end of Ontario, one weekend course, two iron smelting events, a sculpture to mount for exhibition. From June 5 I counted only SEVEN available days not already committed to other projects. (Oh - that was eliminating entirely any possible 'day off' for that entire month!)

(**) And I still have at least six more...

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Steel Stocks (+ Tariffs?)

At the time of this commentary, Canada has decided to stand up to the USA imposed tariffs of 25% on imported steels into the USA, applied on June 1. Announced were import duties to be applied to American made steel coming into Canada, to come into effect July 1.
Both tariffs apply to the full range of iron alloys, from mild steel, alloy steels and cast iron, both as raw industrial bars and worked objects.

How will this effect the small scale Artisan Blacksmith?

Not much

First : What is the source of our raw bar material?

image from Kreuger Steel
In most cases, this can be difficult (if not outright impossible) to tell.
Industrial sourced mild steel comes typically as 20 foot lengths (1) . Where you might be in the 'supply chain' really (dramatically) impacts the 'cost per foot'.
As a full time professional shop, I normally purchase in anything from 2 or 3 full lengths, up to 200 - 400 worth of individual stocks (shapes and sizes). In the case of the Wareham Forge, this includes the usual square, round and flat mild steel bars, as well as pipe, tube (square), angle and channel structural steels.
For all this I use an 'intermediate' level supplier (2)

At the amounts any of us purchase, typically the creation source of the material is unknown. 
• One clear exception to this are the various structural shapes I get - which are clearly marked (made in) 'Canada'. I have to report that the quality of these materials is uniformly excellent.
• The other exception is 1/4 inch square bar. This material has been coming in from 'offshore' / not North American sources for about the last 20 + years. (see more on this below).

3/8 square - 1/4 square - 1/8 x 3/4 flat
Second : Are we really getting what we want?

The ideal material for most Artistic Blacksmithing work, reguardless of shape or size, would be hot rolled mild steel bar. (as seen on far left, above)
• The metal has a somewhat protective, dark grey 'fire scale' surface :
   - This slows the development of low temperature oxide / red rust.
   - This is roughly the same surface that is created when forging.
• Although the bar has slighly rounded corners and does not have precise measurements, it will be hammer forged anyway.
This is the cheapest way to produce the metal stock.

Increasingly however, many of the smaller stock sizes are not available as either North American produced - or as hot rolled materials:

SMALL FLATS - Almost all 1/8 thick materials, and increasingly some 3/16 thick, now come as 'sheared'. Here what is basically a giant cutter is used to sever off narrow strips from large plates of steel.
• The metal does NOT have protective (or uniform!) fire scale coatings. It rusts quickly in the shop environment. Parts of the bar not being forged now must be heated and hammer worked to create uniform appearance.
• The shearing process actually deforms the metal into a slightly cupped cross section.
• If the cutter blades are worn, there can be sharp edges to the lower edges. Sometimes sharp enough to act like knife blades (!)
(You can see both effects on the edges of the bar on right side of the image above.)
• Depending on source, sometimes the bars are twisted and distorted.

1/4 SQUARE - Starting in about 1995, this basic small stock was being supplied from various (unknown) 'off shore' sources. The material now comes as 'semi cold rolled. (seen at centre, above)
• The price drastically increased - about 4 - 6 times more expensive (see discussion below)
• The metal is supplied too hard - it literally shatters when attempting to cut. The required annealling step has been skipped (likely replaced by water cooling). This causes razor sharp edges on cutting - that need to be ground clean.
• The material is often of substandard quality, randomly. (Supplied in 12 foot bars, I have seen a crack running down an entire length.)
• The material is finished without the protective fire scale surface.
• To protect during ocean shipping, unknown, and sometimes toxic coatings will be applied to the bar surfaces.

SMALL ROUNDS - Occasionally, material is produced by 'extrusion', rather than 'rolling' (imagine squirting out tooth paste!).  I have seen this for both 1/4 and 3/8 sizes.
• 1/4 round is almost always 'semi cold rolled', at least in terms of lacking the fire scale coating. The metal still comes correctly annealed. This does increase rust formation and causes extra work to create a uniform surface colour and texture.
• 3/8 round is sometimes found to have surface flaw 'gouges', which can run down the entire length of the stock bar. (Not a common failure, this caused by debris caught in the extrusion die.)

Third : Pricing and possible increases?

Right now the price for new steel bars is roughly somewhere between $0.65 and $0.75 per pound.
Of course, typically at our purchase amounts, price per foot is of more interest.

I took delivery of several of my commonly used sizes / profiles on May 30 (ordered about May 20).
1/4 square = $0.75 per foot (ordered 200 feet) (3)
3/8 square = $0.60 per foot (ordered 200 feet)
1/8 x 3/4 flat = $0.54 per foot (ordered 60 feet)

Now I strongly suspect that the 1/4 is produced outside North America (so will not be effected by the increased tariffs).
I strongly suspect that at least the 3/8 is produced in Canada (so again will not be effected).

So - for sake of the commentary, run the increased tariff possibilities:
1/4 square = $0.94 per foot / + $0.19
3/8 square = $0.75 per foot / + $0.15
1/8 x 3/4 flat = $0.68 per foot / + $0.14

Now - use some very basic 'beginner blacksmith' type objects made with those same stocks, each uses about 2 feet of material:

1/4 square : Loom Light Candle Holder @ $15 / + $0.38
3/8 square : Fire Place Poker @ $20 /  + $0.30
1/8 x 3/4 flat : Towel Rail @ $20 / + $0.28

The key here - and a warning to Consumers :

For Artisan Blacksmith work, the primary cost component is SKILL and TIME.

Not materials.

(1) Imperial Units - used throughout.
Imperial is still the primary system used in measuring steel dimensions. 
Some Metric dimensional stock is starting to be available.
SUGGESTION : Use all Imperial OR all Metric / NOT some of both!
Metric uses different 'size breaks' between stocks. (You will find 12 mm or 14 mm, but not the 12.5 mm - which would be actual 1/ 2 inch in Imperial, for example.)

(2) - Actually Krueger Steel in Owen Sound.
I pay a little bit more here, instead of moving up one level up in the supply chain:
• I get exceptional service from the gang at Kueger.
• I am rarely in a hurry ('some time next week?'), So I get *free* delivery, when they make their normal weekly run down to Toronto.
• They are always willing to take my 'old time' measurements (imperial gauge sizes!) and convert to modern units.
• I have at this point an almost 30 year customer / supplier relationship with them!

(3) You may notice something there.
The 1/4 square is in effect over double the 'price per pound' as the 3/8 (with twice the actual volume per foot).

Monday, June 04, 2018


Original hammer / mounted in coal forge room
I have just taken delivery of a brand new build 'push / pull' style air hammer. Built by my long time friend David Robertson.

The concept behind these tools was introduced by ABANA's Ron Kinyon
An air cylinder with pressure on both top and bottom is controlled by a valving system. When air is released (via a foot switch) from the lower side, the block is dropped. At bottom of travel, air pressure is reversed, lifting the block. At the top of travel, the flow reverses again. If the bottom release is still open, the block drops again. This method cycles the head block up and down. Although the air cylinder does apply some downwards force, it is primarily the inertia of the head block that creates the impact effect between the dies. This style requires a stand alone (separate) large sized air compressor (needs 10 CFM at 90 psi).

David also built my original air hammer, a much earlier (and simpler) build based on the same principles. I had participated by funding the materials for TWO of the original pattern. David built the first prototype for himself. What he learned (with a few modifications I suggested) was used in the build of the second for my shop. This original hammer had :
• 50 lb head weight
• 1 1/2 x 4 inch die surfaces (set at 90 degrees)
• 3/4 inch cylinder shaft diameter
• 'rating' for up to 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 square stock (1)
• control via movable 'gas peddle'
• total weight of about 450 lbs
(a full description can be found on an earlier blog posting)
Now David has been tinkering, building (and selling) ever improved versions of that original light weight design for easily two decades now.  Safe to say the 'Mark 2018' is considerably improved !

New hammer / mounted on open shop floor
The new build specifications :
• 75 lb head weight
• 2 x 3 1/2 inch die surfaces (set at 45 degrees)
• 1 inch cylinder shaft diameter
• 'rating' for up to 2 x 2 square stock (2)
• control via fixed (front) lever
• total weight of about 1200 lbs (this build actually closer to 1400 lbs)

What is clear right from the specifications is that this is a much more robust machine. Frame weight alone is three times the old machine. The head weight is half again as much (with the corresponding increase in available force).

Some of the details (3) :

Close view of standard dies

One big functional improvement is the attachment of the dies at a 45 degree angle. 
This allows for long pieces of bar to be worked - able to extend the bar past the edge of the machine for both the spread and draw action. On the older machine, the dies were set at 90 degrees to the frame, which limited the spread action to only the last 12 inches of a bar. I have had David align the dies so the draw action will allow a bar to extend through the open door to the coal forge room. This effectively would allow me to extend the working end of a bar about 5 feet past the dies in that direction.
This alignment / attachment does result in the basic die blocks being a bit shorter ( reduction in length of 1/2 inch), but this is certainly balanced by the increase in width (plus 1/2 inch). I had always found attempting to use any accessory tools for punching difficult on the original hammer. A combination of the size (only 1 1/2 wide) and the action (you had to quickly insert the punch as the head moved on the upwards stroke).

Second of the other huge improvements to the new design is the construction of the lower die pillar - also clear in the image above. The original build used a pair of 2 x 2 heavy wall (1/4 inch) square tubes as the support for the lower die block plate. (I had filled those with lead shot to help increase machine weight and thus stability). You can clearly see the construction of the lower die pillar is a set of 1 x 6 inch *solid* flat bars, welded into a solid unit. This massive construction vastly improves stability / rigidity of the lower die pillar. The huge increase in overall weight is primarily here as well - which improves the overall stability of the machine.

Because of the overall construction and layout of the die mounting bolts, I am expecting to be able to construct an 'extension surface' that I can apply to both the top and bottom dies. This should allow me to increase the working surface to about 4 x 4 inches. The utility here would be for ease of texture punching and hopefully compaction of bloomery iron. (4)

Front - block guide
The third huge design improvement is the way the head block is supported.
On the original build, two flat plates extended off the sides of the head block. These plates ran down a channel formed by built up bars bolted together. The bearing surfaces were flush mounted brass plates. As these guides were open at both the top and down each hammer block side - there was a potential problem with fine particles accumulating along the moving surfaces. To avoid excessive wear and more importantly easy motion, considerable lubrication needed to be applied. This in turn certainly created a lot of oil mess - but increased accumulation itself.
The new build uses a 'block in a box' system, lined with replaceable nylon bearing surfaces. Although daily application of a light lube (like WD40) is indicated, this new construction is certainly both more stable and likely to prove more durable.

Upper right - showing adjustment levers
Fourth major improvement is the addition of a number adjustments to the working action.
On the older machine, there was not much you could adjust other than the relative striking height of the top block. (see also # 5 below)
There are three additional adjustments possible on the 2018 build, each easy and quick via levers:
a) Blue = Impact Force adjustment.
This allows you to quickly set for a maximum delivered force to each stroke. Although impact force can certainly be controlled by the speed (inertia) of the individual stroke on the foot control. This additional method of limiting input air (so maximum potential force) is likely to prove handy when working softer materials (copper based) or for detailed work (smaller stock sizes, decorative punching / stamping).
b) Red = Head Speed adjustment
This chokes off the total amount of air supplied into the hammer. The net effect is to slow down the cycle time between individual strokes. Although this does reduce inertia / impact force, this is not the prime intent. With the block moving slower, this allows for more setting time between individual strokes when using punches and stamps.
c) Yellow = Lock Up
This will make the hammer head lock upwards in the full open position. Essential for replacing modified dies or accessory tools. On the old build, you had to (attempt to) snap a suitable length bar into the die gap - as the hammer was cycling ! (5)

Lower 'air trip' valve
The fifth improvement is a better attachment for easy adjustment to the air trip valves. This improvement is a small one - but does correct something that was a major headache on the original. There is a lever type trip valve on either side of the head block. These control the switching of the high pressure air from top (drop) to bottom (lift) into the main cylinder. The air trip valves can be adjusted to set just where in the total up and down motion of the block the direction of travel is changed. The top setting is rarely modified (at least in my experience). The lower valve setting does control just where the hammer head will strike. This would normally be adjusted to conform for the 'resting' height of various accessory tools that might be in use.
The old hammer had a pair of small bars running down each side of the head block guides. The air trip valves were held in place by a pair of small bolts & nuts. As there is some sideways force (and a lot of vibration) resulting from every stroke, these often drifted out of alignment. (As well as up and down changes, shifting too far sideways kept the valve from operating correctly.)
You can see the new system uses the switch firmly bolted (4 x) to a heavy flat bar - which sets into a box attachment, keeping the valve from shifting out of alignment. A good sized 'wing nut' styled bar now is used to alter the position of the bottom height control.

Base, showing activation bar
The sixth improvement is the overall construction of the (exhaust) control lever. For this style of machine, bleeding air from the lower side of the cylinder activates the motion. The more air gets bled out, the faster the head motion cycles / the harder the impact stroke (and increase in strokes per minute as well).
On the original machine, the activation was via a separate 'gas peddle' styled control. I had it set up on a long hose - which sometimes proved valuable if I was working one end of a particularly long bar. (A feature that honestly was rarely necessary.) In the end the stability of the small foot peddle overpowered this possibility.
The new build uses a durable construction for a long bar extending along the whole front of the machine. The air exhaust is through the ball valve seen to the top right of the image. (6)

In this image you can also see the mounting for the hammer. It came supplied with a heavy rubber mat to cushion the base and reduce both vibration and possible floor damage. (Most shops have poured concrete floors.)
You can see that I have set the air hammer on to a raft made of four lengths of rail road tie - total is 36 wide by 48 inches long. These in turn rest on a dug out base of about 8 inches of sand pebble mix. I do expect some settling of the entire mount as the machine is used.

Overall First Assessment ? : 

A great improvement in construction detail, potential durability, ease of adjustment. 

As installed - image by David Robertson

(1) - I have seen up to 1 1/2 x 4 billets drawn out on that first air hammer. Slow - but it did manage it! 

(2) - This easily represents 'as big as I want to move around' !

(3) - At time of this writing, I freely admit that I have not actually * used * this new hammer yet for any forge work. (Expect a further commentary to come !)

(4) - I have built / altered a 30 ton hydraulic press specifically added for this task already.

(5) - Obviously a passive blocking bar should still be inserted between the dies before getting your hands any place near the die blocks!

(6) - I did find this a bit noisy in our settting up tests. Attaching a couple of feet of simple hose to the downstream side will allow the rushing air to vent further away. 

* With thanks to David Robertson for proofing and fact checking *

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

You want MY vote?

( a bit of a ramble - but follow the threads…)

There is an election underway in Ontario.
I strongly believe that a Citizen has Responsibility. One Duty is to exercise ‘the Right to Franchise’ - to make careful consideration, and vote wisely. This requires some research by the Citizen, some effort in actually attending to cast a ballot. 
The ideal would be supporting an individual candidate who could be depended on to accurately represent the overall wishes of the combined constituents who had elected that individual. Of course, within a Democracy, this means representing the majority view.
With the increasing dominance of a rigid ‘party’ system here in Canada, what actually happens is any candidate is constrained from actually representing the aggregate viewpoint of the riding population, but instead is virtually forced into expressing the platform view of the Party they are associated with. (1)

Now the modern world is considerably more complex today. Clearly gone are the days of ‘single issue’ candidates (if such even realistically ever existed). Obviously, any individual voter will end up having to prioritize their own personal opinions, against the many issues under consideration at a given election date.
Economy? Taxation? Environment? Education? Healthcare? Social Policy?
And especially, in the current Ontario Election - Leadership? (2)

This all a consideration that backgrounds the following:

I had reported on this blog earlier that I personally consider the looming Environmental Crisis of extreme importance. (3)
I personally consume fossil fuels (coal and propane) in my daily operations as an Artisan Blacksmith. The nature of my museum and education work involves considerable travel (so gasoline and aviation fuel).
(7/7/2008) Carbon and the Forge
(12/4/2015) Carbon Loading
(3/8/2018) Carbon Loading at Wareham

Given my own personal interest in environmental impact (and the related feeling of responsibility), I had made several attempts to question the major Canadian political Parties related *specifically* about Carbon Tax.
Again reported on an earlier blog post:
(3/12/2018) Don’t Call Us… 

As (more) background :
An initial open letter was send (via e-mail) to both Federal and Provincial levels of the four main Parties (Liberal / PC / NDP / Green) on February 26, 2018. Other than an 'auto reply' responses (ie: 'Thank you for your inquiry') back that same day from: National NDP / Ontario NDP / Ontario PC - there was no actual answer supplied.
The Ontario election is now formally underway (writ May 9 / vote June 7). I sent an additional copy out on May 15, one to the each of four Ontario Party offices, additionally to the four individual candidates listed for my own riding (Grey-Bruce).

The initial response to this was to start getting ‘junk’ mail notices from the Ontario Green Party (starting the following day).
On May 20, I received a reply from Karen Gventer, my local NDP candidate:

The real issues to do with carbon are from the large-scale use, such as larger factories and our dependence on gas-operated cars.  If all we had were artisan uses of fossil fuels, we wouldn't have such a big problem.

The Ontario NDP would keep the cap-and-trade system, but would dedicate at least 25% of the revenues to support communities and individuals with disproportionate burdens (such as rural Ontarians).

We don't have anything in our platform that indicates a higher carbon tax. My understanding is that such a tax would have to be through the roof to actually make a difference in people's habits - which is unfair when alternatives are not readily available. The NDP is founded on principles of fairness, so if any carbon tax were investigated in the future, it would only be implemented along with the ability to for people to make affordable, alternative choices.

We definitely need to make a significant change in our greenhouse gas emissions, as a society. However, we also need to keep in mind "Just Transition" - which to ensure that we are not harming the most vulnerable people during our change.

I don't think I specifically answered your question, but that is because I don't have a specific answer. Please feel free to email me again if you would like clarification or have further questions.

Karen Gventer
NDP Candidate, 2018 Provincial Election
Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound
226-664-2990 (Campaign Office)

(from personal e-mail, 5/20 & 5/21/2018 : quoted with kind permission)

A) The election would have been 18 days away. At point of writing, now 16 days.
Not one of the other 7 other e-mail letters have yet to be replied to.

B) Monday May 20. Victoria Day holiday. Normally a day that might have been spent with family (traditionally). I consider this ‘working overtime’.

C) Obviously a personal reply - NOT an ‘auto reply’.
Karen obviously read the entire (long) original letter I sent.
Further, Karen has specifically attempted to address my two, quite specific, questions, referring to the highly individual framework I presented.

D) I had sent a return to Karen’s first reply, asking permission to quote her reply with a commentary I was intending to reply. She responded to that second message promptly, asking for a slight addition / clarification - as quoted above (which did not change the message, just improved the context).

E) I note quite specifically that Karen is willing to freely admit to the limit of her knowledge. And goes further to offer further, personal, communications to better attempt to provide the best information she can.

So - I have to ask : Who is it that really wants my vote - and is willing to work for it?

Thanks Karen.
I think this alone might make my own personal choice with my individual vote clearer.

1) This was not always the case. Within my own lifetime of voting, I have seen the dramatic shift from ‘represent the population’ to ‘represent the Party’. My own first vote would have been the Canadian Federal election of 1974.

2) In the current Ontario election, I personally consider the personal character of the individual Party Leaders of critical importance.
For the sake of this commentary, I am specifically addressing (or even mentioning) the individual Leaders.

3) At this point, it is clearly impossible not to see the huge changes in the Earth’s climate. That human activity is responsible is also not realistically to be denied. I have been personally involved in levels of ‘environmental activism’ since I was in high school in the early 1970’s. The concern then was primarily pollution - water and air, and the impact of accumulating garbage. It was clearly obvious to many willing to observe, that human activity was impacting the environment of the planet.
Given my own birth date, I personally am unlikely to remain alive long enough to personnaly experience the worst effects of the current climate changes.
I do believe much of this climate shift has been caused by the actions of my own generation group (Baby Boomers) who have  been *knowingly blind*, and self absorbed, and self indulgent.
We most certainly DID know.
We most certainly did LITTLE.

Thursday, May 10, 2018


This years contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project, Legacy, has been installed.

Original Design
Initial Installation - view to NW
This first image shows how the sculpture appeared just after Kelly Probyn-Smith and I completed installing the metal pyramid framework, and attaching all the bottles - Friday May 4.
The location is at the SW end of the main bridge in Elora, across from the LCBO. (This location is where a number of my earlier contributions have been mounted.)

The completed (mark 1 version) sculpture used over 160 disposable water bottles. The gathering process, and observations from that, would influence the selection and attachment. (This described in some detail in an early commentary - 'Water, Water, Everywhere...)

1) 25 % of the bottles used were from Nestle 'Pure Life' brand.
These proved easy to spot, as Nestle uses a distinctive bottle shape, with a slight pinching in the centre. Of the bottles gathered, Nestle made a clear 25% of the total as well. One face of the pyramid was covered with just this type. This face is the one that faces the main viewing angle - towards the sidewalk (right side in the image above).

2) The remaining 75 % / three sides are covered with bottles that were found to be all from the Feversham source. Again this bottle shape proved distinctive (a corrugated cylinder).

3) Off all the bottles collected, only three were found of the 'Ice River Green' brand (also from Feversham). These were placed at the apex of those three faces of the pyramid.

There were a few more bottles collected than needed to fill the framework.
About three times as many.

Friday, May 4? Remember that massive wind storm?
Plastic bags full of almost weightless plastic bottles?
We ended up, several times, chasing bottles downwind, across the road and down the embankment at the base of the bridge.

While gathering up our wayward bottles, we found a few more strewn as garbage.
A good dozen.
Over an area about twice the size of our living room at Wareham.
One, Nestle brand, was still full, with the cap still sealed, when it was tossed.

Kelly's initial suggestion was to string up lines of the remaining bottles and loop them into the inside of the pyramid. (We had lots more, remember!)
I took the two aspects experienced above, and instead made up a total of six more long strings.
These were tied into the top, inside of the pyramid, but left to run free along the ground at the base. The length was random, but none can extend more than about 18 inches beyond the lower base diameter. (So none long enough to actually trail outwards on to the sidewalk.)
This will both 'fill' the inside of the pyramid, but also create a kind of visual 'mess' around the base of the sculpture :
Modified - view to SE

Modified - view towards NW
This also provides a motion dynamic to the sculpture.
The bottles hanging inside twist and turn with even a slight breeze.
More wind will push the longer strung lines around, shifting their overall position over time. Likely over the installation, these will become a bit of tangled mess, but again this contributes, rather than detracts, to the overall concept.

As it turns out, this also adds a sonic aspect to the piece, again as the strung bottles shift and knock against each other. 

I also liked the new format for the label plaque:

'Amy Corner & Burke Maidlow' - listed as sponsors

So - out of a little adversity can come Inspiration.
I think the final version is a stronger statement than the original concept.

The Elora Sculpture Project includes a total of a dozen individual works, set onto fixed bases around downtown. Individual artists / designs were chosen by competition. The contributing artists *loan* these works for the period of the ESP, May through end of October (although some may be offered for sale by the artists).
The concept has been picked up by nearby Fergus, and starting this year, Haliburton.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Water, Water, everywhere...

...But from where is it you drink?

Related to this year's Elora Sculpture Project contribution : 'Legacy'

Design Rough
For a fuller description of Legacy, see an earlier blog post.

As you can see above, Legacy consists of a light metal framework, shaped in a pyramid, with plastic water bottles attached over the outside.
Quite a few bottles as it turns out.
About 200.

Thanks to my local dump, I was allowed to pull clear plastic 500 ml bottles out of those deposited into the recycle bins. It took a number of weekly trips to accumulate enough.
Thanks also goes to Vandy Simpson, who gathered water bottles from the re-cycle at Theatre Orangeville.

The ideal to back up the original concept for Legacy would have been to gather all the bottles as trash. As you might guess, the large number needed over the relatively short time frame for the creation of the piece made this unlikely.

As it turned out, there was some interesting cultural indications that came out of my collection method:
1) 'Disposable' water bottles were most commonly found collected up with other re-cycleables inside those blue transparent bags. (rather than found loose, which would have been collected in a 'blue box'.
This shows something about the mind set of those most likely to either purchase or at least collect up, water bottles.
2) Almost without exception, any bag that had water bottles, had a dozen or more water bottles.
This indicates that those who purchased / collected water bottles bought them in case lots as regular practice.
3) Most commonly, those bags holding water bottles also held a considerable collection of either wine or craft beer bottles / cans.
This interesting because those individuals may have undertaking re-cycling, but not bothered with the more effective 'return for deposit' method on alcohol containers (long in force in Ontario!).

I had always intended to pull off the individual maker's labels from the bottles to be attached to the sculpture. As it turns out, Nestle uses a distinctive bottle shape, so even just as the clear plastic, it is easy to tell which are from that company - so also the water well source. Remember that Elora resident concern about Nestle's planned expansion with increased local extraction is part of the point to Legacy.

Just where did all those bottles, and more importantly the water contained in them, come from?
One of the problems is that most company brands are very cagey about exactly where the actual well pipe is physically located.

Of the roughly 250 bottles I have gathered, here are some indications:

In terms of raw numbers, the largest number were 'Real Canadian' followed by 'Compliments' and 'Great Value'.

'President's Choice' (two different labels), and 'Real Canadian' are both brands for Loblaw's.
'Compliments' is the brand for Sobeys.
'Great Value' is the brand for Walmart

All of the above indicate 'Feversham' as the source location.
The 'Selection' brand, of which there were a smaller sample, lists 'Grey Highlands' - which is where Feversham is physically located.
'Ice River Green' is one of the actual house brands for the Ice River Springs operation. Out of the roughly 250 bottles collected, these accounted for only three.
However : fully 75% of the bottles collected indicate 'Feversham' as the source. This is the Ice River Springs extraction / bottling operation. *

I made a brief and casual survey by a few friends located around Ontario. It appears that in their local stores, those same brands all still give Feversham as the source. 

Nestle's 'Pure Life' made up roughly 25% of the total.
The source is given as 'Aberfoyle'
The small sample of the 'Kirkland' brand (from Costco) is given as 'Wellington County'.
Note that Aberfoyle is in Wellington County

I've included 'Aquafina', although there were only a very small number of these - and all were included in the same bag of recycles.
I consider this almost amusing, since if you read the source information on that label, you find 'Aquafina' is actually municipal *tap water* that has been additionally filtered. 

The original intention of 'Legacy' is to illustrate the extreme longevity of plastic bottles in the environment. Those bottles so casually purchased - and thoughtlessly tossed away - will endure for 400 - 500 years.
This is longer than European settlement in North America.

Clearly however, just as an important a consideration is the actual water those bottles contained - the reason for their existence, at all.

The overall environmental impact - and cultural implications, of the 'fad' of bottled water, even a concept of 'needed water consumption', in current Ontario is almost staggering.

* 1) A look through the Ice River Springs web site contains much information about their use of re-cycled plastics.
I could find nothing at all about what volume of water they actually extract.
2) The extraction / bottling plant is located roughly 7.5 km from my home at Wareham. 
3) This summery was included on my original blog posting describing 'Legacy'
When the Ice River Springs industrial bottling plant was put into operations at near by Feversham in 2002, I started having heavy levels of clay silt in my own well water. A filled glass coffee pot, if left for 10 minutes, would have a deposit settle out which completely covered the bottom. This problem persisted for about six months. I have a deep well (about 150 - 175 feet), so drawing water out of the limestone of the Niagara Escarpment. This is well below a thick red clay layer about 20 - 30 feet thick laying about 30 feet down here. That effectively seals that ancient water from any surface effects (contamination) - or modern replacement of the aquifer. 
It is illustrative that on the Ice River Springs web site - there is no mention of exactly how much of this ancient water is being pulled out, bottled, and shipped away to consumers.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Blacksmithing - Race & Gender

Where are the *black* blacksmiths?
This came up in a general discussion here yesterday. The current population of Artisan Blacksmiths, certainly in Ontario, but also generally in North America, are almost totally 'white'.
Not even likely to be 'visible minority'?
It is most likely raw numbers and residence ?

If Wikipedia is at all accurate, in Canada (via 2016 statistics), 23% of the total population is defined as 'visible minority'. (Actually 26% for Ontario). Of those - only 3.5% are defined as 'black'.
Generally this would suggest that at the least, roughly one quarter of currently practicing artisan blacksmiths in Ontario should be 'visible minority'. I can certainly tell you that this is *not* the case.

Important is also that as of 2010, a total of 81% of the entire population was defined as 'urban' (certainly higher at this point.) This skews the demographics considerably :
1) Artistic Blacksmithing remains an activity most commonly located in rural or semi-rural locations. (Although I certainly see a higher and higher count of 'urban' people as initial students.)
2) Toronto perceptions most definitely distort observations. In Toronto, 'visible minority' are the *dominant* group, at 52% of the total. 'Black' makes up roughly 10% of the total population.
There are most likely other 'cultural' aspects involved. Artistic Blacksmithing tends to attract individuals interested in historic objects and traditional skills. Just who's history and traditions?

The *biggest* void is actually with women!
Females outnumber males overall in the Canadian population.
In Ontario, my observation of the number of women involved in artistic blacksmithing is roughly 15%.
Although it is very true women were almost excluded from blacksmithing *historically*, the environment has been seriously shifting over my own lifetime of involvement. (So consider this from late 1970's onward.) Still it is clear that women are not properly representative of their population.

PS - this is not intended to provoke racist comments, from either side. I refuse to rise to that provocation.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Use a Bigger Hammer…

... or maybe NOT

part 4 on the ‘Hammers & Hammering’ series (c)

One of the biggest mistakes I see with new (and not so new) blacksmiths is a tendency to ‘use the biggest hammer’. (a)
Unfortunately, is is often the result of completely incorrect cultural stereotypes, mixed with what is basically ‘macho BS’.

* It does not matter how hard you HIT - if you just MISS. *

I am going to attempt to interject some logic - and basic science, into this commentary.
As you will see, there are a large number of factors effecting the ‘most effective’ production of hammer force into a specific forging operation. *Biggest* may not be *best*.

1) Input Energy
Any given individual will be limited to how much physical muscle energy they can apply into moving a hammer. This will be determined by raw body size, muscle strength, physical fitness.
- Generally, the larger the person, the greater the potential amount of muscle energy available.
- However, mere *size* may not prove more important than *fitness*.
Critically important - *Energy input is effected by other variables beyond simple muscle size.*

2) Deforming Force
Any metal bar will require a certain amount of force applied to it (Energy) before it will start to deform. - The larger the diameter of the bar = the greater the resistance to changing shape.
R ~ d
- The higher the temperature of the metal, the lower the resistance to changing shape.
R ~ T
So remember you could apply more energy (hammer force) or just increase the temperature of the bar, especially important when working thick bars.
You also see that as a bar cools, its resistance will increase. At a certain temperature point (with the hammer force consistent) you will not be overcoming the resistance, effectively accomplishing nothing.
(We are avoiding the major problem of continuing to attempt to work a bar ‘below critical’, so no longer at its ‘plastic’ state.)

3) Work
Given above, how many individual hammer stokes are applied in one ‘heat cycle’ may prove as important (if not more) than the energy of any single stroke.
W = E x f ~ R
You can see that this also needs to be related back to overcoming the bar’s resistance.

4) Energy
How is Energy (force as applied to the bar) produced?
Energy is the mass (of hammer) times the velocity (speed of the hammer) *squared* all divided by a half
E = (m x v2) x 1/2
What this should be showing you is that you actually create *significantly* more energy by moving the hammer *faster* - than by using a heavier hammer, moving slow (!). Typically, a longer swing will increase the speed of any individual hammer stoke.

5) Control
Once a mass is in motion, it will require force applied to change that motion (overcoming inertia). Both increased hammer weight and increased hammer speed are factors.
F = m x (∆ v x t)
In practice, you will find it requires more energy to change a heavy hammer, moving slow, than a lighter hammer, moving fast. This because even a small shift at the start of a swing can make a large difference in strike position over the length of that swing.

6) ‘Penetration’
Now, from above you can see the factors that effect the creation of the raw energy applied to a bar for a forging step.
Beyond the resistance to changing shape at all, there is also an ‘impact effect’ - the penetration of force into the bar. (There may be math for this, but a casual search did not yield anything not terribly complex.) A lighter hammer, moving fast, will effect the metal differently than a heavy hammer, moving slow - even though the energy involved may be identical.
The bar has ‘inertia’, that ‘resistance to changing shape’.
Consider this analogy :
You have a choice between taking a fist strike from either Bruce Lee, or Muhammad Ali.
Bruce Lee gives you a light fist, but moving extremely fast. The result is that your jaw is shoved back faster than your head can move. Result is a shattered jaw, and down you go.
Muhammad Ali gives you a heavy blow, moving (relatively) slower. Result is your whole head rocks back, sloshing your brain unconscious, and down you go.
A light hammer, moving fast, will impact and move the *surface* of the bar. The net result is a T shaped distortion of the bar. This effect most pronounced working the edges of tall, thin bars.
A heavy hammer, moving slow, will impact and shift the entire mass of the bar. The net result is a squashed barrel shaped distortion. This effect most pronounced on square bars.


You may start to see there that there is a clear relationship between the choice of hammer (both weight and handle) and body type. Obviously, a heavy hammer is not always the ideal.

Most typically, those with ‘barrel’ body builds and heavy joints and short arms, may chose for purely mechanical reasons, to work with heavier hammers, using shorter strokes. in contrast, those with lighter builds, with thinner joints and longer arm linkages, are better suited to using lighter hammer weights and much longer strokes. (b)

You can see clearly that hammer *speed* is a greater energy producer than hammer *weight*. For this reason anyone ‘choking up’ on the hammer handle is not using the tool efficiently. (Short ‘club’ handles obviously a bad choice).

- The easiest way to increase effective hammer impact is merely to use the entire handle length.
- Simply raising the hammer higher on each stroke will significantly increase impact energy. This with less actual muscle force required than by using a heavier tool.
- Increasing the strokes per minute will also obviously both quickly and easily improve the amount accomplished per heat cycle.
- A lighter hammer is always easier to control. Do consider roughing out with a heavier tool, then switching over to a lighter tool for surface finishing.

Symbol Definitions

d     is ‘diameter’, here the measurement at right angles to direction of forming
E     is ‘energy’
f    is ‘frequency’, here the number of hammer stokes (per minute or heat cycle)
R     is ‘resistance to deforming’
T    is ‘temperature’
t     is ‘time’
v     is ‘velocity’, here the speed the hammer is moving
W    is ‘work’, here the amount accomplished (per minute or heat cycle)
~     is ‘varies with’ (note this not the correct symbol, not on my keyboard)
∆    is ‘change in’

(a) I have repeatedly heard any number of  feature demonstrators remark about ‘how much my elbow hurts’. At the same time observing them using not only hammers obviously too heavy for them to correctly control. Or using very poor technique. Usually both.

(b) One of the trends over the last decade particularly has been to ‘celebrity’ blacksmith demonstrators - with ‘named designed’ hammers. New blacksmiths have proven especially susceptible to mimicking these methods. In my experience often not understanding the clear relationship between not only effective, but actually *safe*, selection of tools and physical technique based on body type. There is a reason there are so many hammer styles - this must remain a purely personal choice!

(c) Others in this series
Earlier commentaries

Friday, March 30, 2018

Viking Age Ring Headed Pins

I have just finished a small order for a pair of replica Ring Headed Pins.
These are destined for Mystic Seaport, part of an upcoming special exhibit:

Science, Myth, and Mystery: The Vinland Map Saga
May 19, 2018-September 30, 2018
R.J. Schaefer Gallery

Replicas - click for expanded view
Replicas - Life Size (10cm)
(Resin Copy of) Vinland Pin : as seen for 'Full Circle - First Contact' (1)
Vinland Ring Pin (artifact)
Of interest may be this sample:

click for expanded view
Life sized = about 20 cm
This third object is an artifact on display at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh (photograph taken August 2017). It was described as 'Bronze Ring Pin, found in Christianized Viking Burial' (no date given)
In addition to the much greater size, the head is more of a flattened square, with the attachment loop at right angles to the thinner dimension. The difference between the upper cylindrical and lower tapered square cross sections is less pronounced than the Vinland artifact.

These ring headed pins are found widely through Norse Scotland, Ireland and in Iceland. The general dating is around 1000 AD.

This makes the finding of the single bronze pin at L'Anse aux Meadows significant. It is the single object that not only places the occupation to Norse, but also to the late Viking Age. This dating was already suggested by the chronology of the Sagas describing the voyages to Vinland - but also matched closely the carbon 14 dates provided from wood samples at the same layer.

Mystic Seaport will also be hosting  :

The Vikings Begin

Treasures from Uppsala University, Sweden

May 19 - September 30

1) Photo Credit = 'McArey' (via internet search)
Note that that web site contains an almost complete visual record of the objects from L'Anse aux Meadows seen in the 2000 exhibit 'Full Circle - First Contact'

Note : At time of writing, I remain uncertain if  'The Vikings Begin' is the next showing of an exhibit currently touring North America. Originally titled 'They Call Them VIKINGS', it was created by the Swedish History Museum. The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto was the most recent showing (November 4, 2017 - April 2, 2018).
I have had three occasions to view that specific exhibit (also working as a costumed interpreter at the ROM opening weekend). 
One of the major problems with the presentation is that there is none of the normal supporting documentation available. There is nothing on the SHM web site, there is no exhibit catalogue available.
A second problem is that this exhibit has changed its title at almost every hosting institution mounting it.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Seeking the 'Three Wise Men'...

Knowledge / Skill / Experience

This commentary is framed up against a number of similar first contact requests and questions I've had over the last month (especially).
"My 12 year old (son) has been watching 'Forged in Fire' and is keen to learn blacksmithing. Is there a one day course you teach?"
Or some variation on this theme.

No. No. No.

Right off:
Go and read 'Teens as Students'
then come back to the rest of this...

Knowledge can be had through study.

'Extensive research' is often suggested - this most commonly stated as 'hours spent on YouTube'. You watch 'Forged in Fire'? See my commentaries on that mess.
Problem there is complete lack of 'peer review' and commonly no attempt at all at to indicate the background of the presenter. Everyone is an 'expert', even if they don't actually have a clue! Status is indicated by 'click views' - not by actual achievement level.
(I went to YouTube, and did a general search using 'blacksmith knife' *)

See the title? FORGE a knife.
• The illustration of the forging process is only the first 5 minutes of a 25 minute video.
• The forging process illustrated are not so much wrong - as poorly carried out.
• The hammer technique used is horrible. Too heavy a hammer, grip choked up as a result. Thumb on top of the handle (will lead to tendon damage).
• The heat treating is effectively minimal, certainly not 'best practice'.

Ok, the presenter is attempting to simplify, de-mystify, encourage...
But :
• Briquettes are not the same as charcoal.
• Scrap wood will not produce effective forging temperatures
• Sure, you could use a small piece of scrap plate. Or a rock.
The core purpose of an anvil is *flat* and *stable*. None of the alternatives suggested are effective (even if that small plate had been bolted down to a wood stump - it would have been massively more effective!)
• A woodworking claw hammer? Seriously??
Sure, you *could*. (In Africa, I've seen video of using a fist sized rock as a hammer!)
There is a *reason* metalworking hammers are a different shape. ** 
• "I've only been forging for about 6 months"
Draw your own conclusion...

My overall recommendation:
• Do not start inside YouTube.
• Go to accomplished blacksmith's personal web sites.
See what kind of work they are able to create. How long they have been involved.
Find those with practical experience, proven ability : then look for those who may include tutorials.
• See recommendations on effective reference books for the novice blacksmith

Skill and Experience are somewhat linked.
But they are not exactly the same thing.

Skill is developed though simple repetition.
You have to do the thing, to become any good at the thing. Make 100 long points - and you will become effective at making long points.
Now just how fast a given individual will become effective at a physical task can vary a lot between individuals. Consider how long it took you to learn to ride a bike, or accurately throw a ball.

Experience is a wee bit different.
This is the 'well, that worked a lot better' factor. I can tell students that digging in the front of the hammer while making points will speed the process. How much to increase speed, but also not so much that you create creases you have trouble removing? Just exactly which hammer style and weight works best for you - for which forming step? An individual has to just get the feel for all this for themselves.

I normally suggest the most effective way for a new smith to progress is :
• take a basic course - by a well experienced instructor ***
(so you have some clue to what this is about and how to start)
• get simple working tools set up at home
• take another weekend course
• practice
• repeat, repeat

* Lest you think I am attempting to pick on specific individuals, these are the very first selections presented on the defined search.

** In the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto) is an early Egyptian hammer for metalworking gold or copper. It is a square face with a cross peen, about the same size as the hammers I have in my shop. Date is roughly 3000 BC (predates human iron by at least 1000 years!)

*** Inside Ontario, there are three individuals who each have been teaching since the mid 1980's - and who continue to offer a range of weekend courses:
Obviously myself (!) at the Wareham Forge
David Robertson (
Robb Martin (
Both the others are also excellent teachers, and will approaches their programs (and content) a bit differently. Also a differnent range of scheduled dates that will give more options.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018



I am upgrading my own air hammer to a heavier weight, both built by David Robertson of Hammer & Tongs Studio. (go here for description)

To that end, I (HAVE SOLD) my current air hammer (Imperial measurements) :

50 lb head weight
• built on ABANA 'lift / drop' system (by R. Kinyon)
• requires separate (larger) compressor

This video shows me working on railing elements using this air hammer

This hammer is 'rated' for working up 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 inch stock.
I have worked material as large as 1 1/2 x 4 (admittedly - slowly!)

click for larger views for all images

Side view
3/4 view
front view
• Base plate = 30 deep x 22 wide• Total frame height = 88
• Total weight (approximate) 450 lbs

Closer view of working area - plastic safety shield down
- working height = 33 1/2 (floor to top of lower die)
- throat clearance = 12  (back edge of die to frame gap)
- die size = 3 1/2 x 1 1/2
- total stroke height = 9 inches
(note effective working gap between the dies is really about 4 inches)

close up of the die set up
The dies are currently set up with the bottom die having the rear half with rounded edges (to act more effectively for drawing out) See the close up image.

- head block = 4 x 4 x 10 inches
- cylinder type = heavy duty hydraulic (replaced the original lighter duty air type)
- cylinder shaft diameter = 1
- cylinder interior diameter = 2
- supply hose length = 5 feet (as existing - from compressor)
- foot peddle type control, on roughly 4 foot hose (to allow for standing back when working longer bars)


- input air control (water trap, gauge, oiler)
- full air lines (compressor to hammer)

additional die blocks made to fit this machine:
- 'Hoffi' style bottom 1/2 crown die (for spreading, seen used above)
- centre mount 'hardie hole' die block for one inch (would allow use of existing anvil hardie tools)
- centre shaft bottom die to front hardie hole (fits above)
- bolt in place front hardie hole attachment

This machine is basically 'plug and play' - fully working and ready to go.

- Requires a larger (40 gallon / 2 HP) air compressor for input air
- Air flow required is 10 cu/ft/min @ 90 PSI

It may be possible to take some of the pieces apart. Originally the bottom die block section bolted into place. This has been re-enforced with some welding - which likely could be separated with an angle grinder / zip disk. This support is made of two pieces of square tube, which I had filled with lead shot to improve the stability of the machine.

I have the machine mounted on a raft made of 4 lengths of rail tie, each four foot long. This sitting on top of four inches of sand. (All dug in to ground level).


(posting retained for history!)

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.
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