Saturday, July 25, 2020

Small Forged Pots in History

At an upcoming 'hammer in' style event involving the Ontario Artist Blacksmith Association, one suggestion offered was having participating blacksmiths work with pre-cut 8 inch steel circles.

Here are some historical objects - using roughly the same starting shape:

One interesting factor related to Viking Age objects - is that 20 cm / 8 inches marks about the largest size individual measurement of any object forged out of what then was small scale bloomery / wrought iron.
There are two reasons for this :
- The scale of the working forges most commonly used provided a 'ball of heat' about the size of a grapefruit (at best). So just large enough to permit a forge weld on an axe.
- Because of the fibrous texture of the bloomery iron material, it is physically very difficult to work out a thin, large, piece of plate. Those with experience with wrought iron know that as you push it during forging, it can start to de-laminate, requiring re-welding to solidify. Often these fractures tend to diagonal lines - which as you can imagine create a special problem re-welding as the material gets thinner.
So when you examine iron artifacts from the earlier period, you see larger forms are made up of a number of smaller pieces, riveted together. Cauldrons are the perfect example of this. Even helmets are typically either a right and left half - or a top skull with additional pieces for the sides.

is a flat disk cooking tool on a long handle (underneath showing pair of rivets attaching). The disk has slightly upturned edges.

There are a number of samples of this flat disk cooking tool on a long handle (underneath showing pair of rivets attaching). The disk has slightly upturned edges.

A small cooking pot. A dished lower bowl surrounded by a set of plates curved into a cylinder. The handle made of a piece of flat bar.

As I have detailed in articles in OABA's Iron Trillium, Cast Iron is not common in Europe until more or less the end of the 1500's into the early 1600's. This matches the effective start of the Settlement Era here in North America.
Looking to objects at Jamestown (Virginia, c 1610), you see some small cast iron cauldrons, in the range of 1 - 2 gallons, but only in the hands of the wealthy. The more common people are still using pots of bronze / brass - or importantly, forged wrought iron plate.

Replica at Jamestown Settlement - Taken from the underneath side, you can see how pieces of flat bar have been riveted to the deeply dished bowl. Again, this cooking pot is about 8 inches in diameter.

As you look into what most of us would consider the Canadian Settlement Period (1750 - 1850) you will see increasing use of cast iron, specifically as much larger cauldrons. There are still many cooking pots and flat pans made of forged plate. Most first cabins had open fire places, and a common design was a deep fry pan with and extremely long handle. The bowls are typically now a flat bottom with slanted sides. Most of these are considerably larger, but again working with the 8 inch size would create a distinctive object

Replicas at Fortress Lewisburg (c 1745) - A collection of long handled fry pans. (again replicas)

As a commercial note :
I have made a great number of replicas of cooking tools from all these time periods - and these objects specifically.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

'Time Lord's Sundial'

I've got to thank an old friend, David Wentz, for that title...

About a week ago, I posted up an image of an older piece of mine on to Facebook. I try to temper my frustration with how social media is reflecting social concerns (badly!) with regularly posting up old images from my attempts as a photographer and 'promotional' images of past work.

'Celts at the Gates - Shield and Spears' 2008

Now, I am quite proud of that piece. And also extremely happy with this image of that piece. The echo of the curves as shadows.

There was some back and forth comments from folks who caught the posting on Facebook : (1)

Something started cooking, spawned from the back and forth from Kathryn Chiasson and David.
(stick with me here)

Way back in 2017, I attended a design workshop by Adrian Legge of the UK. (2)

As part of the process, we each selected two or three images out of a group of '25 images that inspire you' to work with.
This was one of the images I chose to develop further ideas from :

False colour image of trails in a cloud chamber (poached from Discover magazine)

Those who are familiar with my personal 'Rivendale' style, can certainly see the connection here.
In the workshop, part of the design task was first selecting elements from the source image to develop further:

From my drawing book at the workshop

You can clearly see that my years as a working blacksmith lead me to get ahead of the intended exercise. I had jumped straight to 'how to make it', rather than simply 'playing with the lines' as had been intended. (Actually to the third step in the exercise)

What Adrian had actually wanted us to do was go from 'inspired lines' to 'outline an object':

'Star-Dial' concept drawing

So I had to pull back - seen above is one of three (quite) different possible objects we were tasked to draft, working from our earlier selected element roughs. (The other two objects I proposed were a desk lamp and a wall fixture.) This was certainly the most divergent concept from my normal work for me, both in terms of type, and scale.

You can get the general intent here. Two fairly massive spars, each pierced with aligned holes, holding up a constructed arch, also pierced. There is a more elaborate central construction, holding in place a glass disk. Below this all is a set of carefully placed stone slabs. You can see the intended scale, the arch extending 15 - 20 feet, set 8 - 10 overhead.
The combination of central disk and markings / variations in the stones would act as either a seasonal marker, or alternately as a sun dial. There was the possibility that holes punched in the uprights could be aligned to work as a night-time star finder (as another seasonal marker).
Part of the inspiration here was the juxtaposition of the the lines from that ultra modern cloud chamber instrument, pushed backwards to our most ancient of measuring devices like Stonehenge.

I think you can see the connection between Kathryn's idea and David's title.
The initial 'Star-Dial' concept is unlikely to ever go past these roughs. To develop it further, considerable research into sun and stars would be required. The scale of the object means actually making it would only prove feasible as a major public sculpture commission. The details of design would most certainly be very site specific.

The more recent suggestion by Kathryn and David might also be explored. This might prove both reduced in scale, and a bit simpler to lay out and install. The potential of marking shadows over a surface with irregular shapes or curves would be interesting.
Something based on Victorian clock mechanisms crossed with Celtic la Tene comes to mind...

In case any of you were wondering 'Where do Ideas come from'?

1) In the past, I have been at times extremely open in terms of my linkages on Facebook. I was originally extremely skeptical about the value of Facebook. Some people I know have had extremely good results, in terms of promoting their work, even generating commissions or sales. I started both personal and work related (Wareham Forge and Norse Encampment) pages on this platform as a means of illustrating what I do. I regularly cross link the postings from this blog back to FB entries.
As it stands right now, my 'friends' list sits at just over 600, my 'followed' total at about 130. The majority of these are at best folks I may have some loose shared connection to (Blacksmiths, Re-enactors). Most are not actual friends, meaning people I know well or even in passing.

2) For an overview of my participation in that workshop - see the earlier blog posting:

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Hype or History? the Mammen Axe

I recently was asked if I would be interested in accepting a commission to make a working replica of the Mammen Axe:

Image ? - sourced off Pinterest (1)

Most of the images you see of the actual artifact (and those in my own reference materials) show the one or both the faces of the axe in this orientation. This is to best display the decorative patterns - which define the Viking Age 'Mammen' artistic style.
I spent some time this morning going through my own reference books, and also trying to get some better details off the internet (good luck there). I was able to get some better images of the artifact from the Danish National Museum (DNM) web site. (2)

The Mammen Axe appears to be a 'Peterson type H' as close as I can judge.
One wrinkle there is that the type is described as being a bit early for the actual date of the Mammen find, which is given as 'later half of the 10th century'. (3)

The artifact is clearly a weapon type, with a long thin slicing blade profile. Although this also would have some use as a fine woodworking axe (detail shaping of timbers), the narrow profile is not suited to splitting firewood or felling trees. (4)

click to view at about life sized (NMD)

In one of my favorite 'go to' references, From Viking to Crusader, I was able to get at least one physical dimension : total length of 17.5 cm (5)

My standard method when considering an artifact replica - is to get the best detailed image I can find - then convert that via Photoshop into life size.

This scales the blade to 10 cm. This is about what I would expect from other VA axes I had seen. This would place the total weight into the range of about 1000 - 1200 gm. (6) This estimated weight would place it comparable to a modern general purpose axe (roughly a fairly standard 2 1/4 lbs). It will 'fly' a bit differently, with less of the weight at the cutting edge, more placed back towards the handle. This will result in the 'angle of attack' a bit harder to control.

click to view at about life sized (altered from NMD)

This second image (also available from the NMD description) shows both sides, plus the normally never seen back peen side. The lower image is actually more of a 3/4 view, which allows some general idea (and potentially rough measurements) of the cross section. Again almost never seen and rarely considered. The heavy peen thickness, coupled with the relatively thin side walls to the eye, certainly suggests a 'sculpted then wrapped' forming method. (7)


So here is the thing (rant mode on)
To undertake correctly hand forging to make an accurate replica of this kind of object is requires knowledge, skill, experience, special tooling - and considerably hard work. This should suggest expensive.

Go out on the internet.
Search 'Mammen Axe'

So - you (should) see the much referenced Danish National Museum first.

That first link is to a 'review' by Alexi Goranov of the same object - sold (next link) by Museum Replicas.
Take a look at the Museum Replicas sales description first:
Replica created by CAS Iberia / Hanwei of China.
" The Mammen Axe, one of the best-known and best-decorated examples of the small Viking throwing axe, is a perfect example of the Viking’s blend of art and war. Excavated from a famous 10th century barrow near Mammen Denmark, the original is decorated with silver inlaid engraving in a typical Celtic manner. Hanwei's recreation of this beautiful piece is a tribute to the creative as well as the martial side of this dynamic, influential culture. "
  • Overall length: 17-1/2"
  • Blade length: 4
  • Handle Length: 17-3/4"
  • Weight: 1 lb / 3 oz
That is the entire description ( 8 )
Note that the axe head itself has only two variables : weight and blade width

My underlines are especially troubling :
" Weight: 1 lb / 3 oz " ?
With the word 'recreation' loosely applied, how does 500 gms match the artifact, as discussed, more likely to have been closer to 1200 gms when new?
" Small Viking throwing axe " ?
Ok - I will give you that the object being sold, which is only half the correct weight, most certainly would qualify as a light weight hatchet or possible throwing axe. Describing the artifact as such, certainly indicates a massive distortion of the actual prototype object.
" typical Celtic manner " ??
Sorry - I really lost it when I read that. This statement shows a complete lack of any understanding of Cultures or History. Do we need to be reminded that the Mammen Axe actually is the core example of a recognized Viking Age - NORSE - artistic style. To the point of providing the NAME for that style.

Of clear concern :
- What is the actual metal that the head, especially cutting edge, made of?
- How are the actual designs applied?

Now that first offered link:

" The purpose of this review is to examine the reproduction of the Mammen axe offered by Hanwei (Item #2041-GT)."
Image poached from

Now that you see an image of this 'reproduction' - what do you notice?

The head is upside down.
Because this object has been made as a light weight 'tomahawk' style, the eye is designed with an obvious taper, larger at the 'top' and smaller to the 'bottom'. This so the handle, which is tapered to match, can only fit in to lock as shown.
If you attempted to actually USE this object (for it's indicated 'throwing axe' purpose), the thin tip of that upswept blade would strike first, putting excessive impact shock into the weakest part of the cutting edge.
Oh - I guess that dramatic upsweap to the edge looks way cool...

Note the complete lack of any peen - at all. Completely the wrong shape, completely distorts the handling balance. The eye is deliberately made to suggest the (incorrect) 'one piece folded' construction method. That technique is not a Viking Age method (more typical of later Medieval and Settlement Era axe making). It has been distorted to a flat oval shape - not the flattened D shape of the artifact.

This is clearly a mass production cast steel object.
The review states that those nice designs? Are painted on.

I also see that this 'review' includes THREE hot links back to the CAS Ibera web site.
Can you say 'click bait' ??

Ok - the Suggested Retail on this version was $90 US.
It looks pretty.
Made in China
(as if more needs to be said - right there)

A 'replica' or a 'reproduction' ?

Not even close

1) I should mention that I really HATE Pinterest as a source. Images are grabbed from almost anywhere, there is little to no descriptions or credit given for the original source.

2) The artifact images have been transferred here as file copies (to ensure proper loading, a problem with past use of now absent internet sources). The indicated images (NMD) were sourced (as linked) from the National Museum of Denmark.

3) This raises another whole ball of wax about 'date of creation' against 'date of deposit'. Peterson indicates for the closest displayed profile of type H  " The type seems to originate around 900 AD, and belongmostly to the fist half of the 10th century. "
The National Museum of Denmark indicates :
" The axe is decorated in the so-called Mammen style, which is named after this particular find. The style arose in the 900s and it survived until around 1000."
"The grave from Mammen can be dated to the winter of 970/971 AD ..."
(Based on dendrochronology)

4) For a discussion of axe profiles against functional uses, see an earlier commentary : July 16, 2008 - Norse Woodworking Axes

Unfortunately, almost impossible to find a copy (only a limited number from this traveling exhibit were ever printed) Considered by most Viking Age re-encators as the single best exhibit catalogue ever produced.

6) Admittedly a bit of a WAG. Based on a fast comparison to research and creation of a replica of the 'Rhynie Man Axe' I did in 2014 as part of the Turf 2 Tools project.
(This was a replica of a circa 600 - 800 AD, Pictish, profile. Wth the narrower edge, the weight was about 900 gm)

7) Details on just how this works is best seen in the work and documentation by James Austin. I was lucky enough to attend a workshop / demonstration weekend featuring Jim some years back and found him skilled, knowledgeable - and most certainly extremely willing to share both.

8) There were two images available. I was unable to either copy - or directly link back to, these.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Installed at Wareham...

'Old soldiers never die
They just fade away.'

'Celts at the Gates - Spears and Shield'
Mounted at Styl gallery in Elora - 2008

Over the years I have made many larger objects, most often as display samples. In the decades I was actively doing retail craft shows, I always tried to have one or two 'show' pieces. Any individual object had a fairly short exhibit life, generally about twice at a given annual event. This primarily to keep 'new work' on exhibit, but also a progression of quality and marking changes in evolving design and increasing scope.
As display pieces, many of these works never were sold, most especially as the individual objects became more complex, hence more expensive. I certainly found there was a 'break' point there, over a certain value, people wanted an original, one of a kind design, with input from their own taste - not so much 'off the floor' work.

'Spears and Shield' at Wareham

The raw size of many of these larger objects, gates, grills, fountains and arbors, also meant that the raw mechanics of repeated loading and unloading, hauling around and setting up, with long storage in the (unheated!) workshop took it's toll. Those pieces loaned out for possible commission sales were mostly mounted out of doors. As strong (if heavy) as forged steel is, the main damage was to painted surfaces. The enamel paint which is my basic finish is durable, but over time any paint will start to show its age when exposed to the elements.

'Celts at the Gates - Spears and Shield' is a much older work, originally designed and made in 2000.  At the time I had been considering a series of larger garden gates, with designs derived from ancient Celtic Iron Age / La Tene artifacts. The central spiral lines here were suggested by the 'Battersea Shield'. This was also one of my early uses of brightly coloured paint - instead of the 'flat black' so commonly used as a protective finish. You can see that in the gate's original configuration, it had a cut brass panel, which in turn held a large glass disk. I was never completely happy with the relatively thin brass, compared to the solidity of the wide forged curves.

The gate was re-worked and a second narrower matching panel created to fit the display space at Styl when it was loaned there in 2008. I was extremely pleased with the expanded version of the gate. So much so I submitted a number of images of it to the survey volume 'Ironwork Today 2' - where it was featured in a double page spread.
(There detailed descriptions of both versions this gate on the web site.)

Styl was closed in 2018 (the building in Elora was sold, the space converted into a pub restaurant). I made sure that the ownership of not only 'Spears and Shield', but also the two panels of 'Paris Metro' also on loan there were not to be considered part of the 'building and fixtures' to be included in that sale.

After a decade outside in the weather, both pieces were well past 'new'. As I had pretty much stopped any retail shows by 2016, I most certainly had no place to exhibit them. Their fate was to join a growing pile of larger pieces, pushed into corners around the Wareham Forge workshop or where space could be found for them.

Added to this were the very large sculptures made for the Elora Sculpture Project, one each year since 2013. (1) Of these happily one was purchased (Armoured Fish from 2015). This leaves me with a lot of large sculptures now being dotted around the front yard!

The final stages of the new replacement and large expansion to the second story deck off the residence at Wareham does give me someplace better to mount these older works - than some dusty and dark corner of the workshop.

South side of the Residence, with the new stairs

Seen in the image above, working clockwise from the top:

A) Man's Inhumanity to Man - 2020 (description pending)

B) Paris Metro (two panels) - 2006 (on the web site)

C) Green Grass / Autumn Grass Arbor - 2005 / 2015 (on the web site)

D) Shield and Spears - 2000 / 2008 (links above)

E) Sample for Riverdale House - 2007 (on the web site)

Green Grass Arbor was the re-painting of the older version (Autumn Grass, originally dark brown with yellows) done in 2018. It had been stored inside and wrapped up until this current mounting about two months back. I still have some hopes I can display this at a local garden plant operation against a possible commission sale.

My normal practice on large architectural commissions is to make a small sample piece. (The reasons why related to ensuring the customer sees how drawings convert to real life - and to illustrate detailing and quality.) (2) This roughly three foot long panel was such a sample. (Although as it turned out, the customer chose an entirely different design!)
Right now I have also mounted another smaller sample panel at the other end of the upper deck (awaiting work on a second stair case and a possible cantilevered additional deck level).

Overall - it just seemed stupid to have all these pieces, some of of which I am quite proud of, just wasting away in storage.

1) All detailed other places on this blog : search 'Elora Sculpture Project' for many detailed descriptions of both the design and making of each.

2) See a fuller description of how I normally work on a major commission in the section 'On Design'

Sunday, July 05, 2020

a Visit to Fiddlehead

Fiddlehead Nursery is a permaculture plant nursery in the Beaver Valley, near Collingwood, Ontario.  We specialize in edible, perennial plants, and design low-maintenance, productive gardens. 

Here at Wareham, we have become friends with Ben up at Fiddlehead Nursery.

click to view the very large 300 degree panorama

His operation sits on County Road 13, which runs (more or less due) north of us down into the bottom of the Beaver Valley, about a 15 - 20 minute drive.

One of our original interests with Fiddlehead was that the plants available there are all very suitable for our own environmental conditions *

Kelly is extremely keen to explore (and create) sustainable, perennial, edible gardens (if only at a small scale). 

interior of the plant greenhouse (after a very busy sales period!)

Ben has offered us a lot of excellent advice about this all over the years we have known him. His garden plants are extremely good quality, and honestly, the prices extremely affordable. In better times, we had taken one of his day long garden workshops, and both learned a great deal as well as quite enjoyed it.

'native plants' section

* Pretty much. Wareham sits on top of the 'Dundalk Plateau'. The altitude at Wareham is about 500 m / at Fiddlehead it about 260 m. (Wareham sits at almost the highest point in all Ontario). Obviously the surrounding valley protects Fiddlehead, where Wareham is almost at the lip of a wide open flat table. We often see walls of cloud and rain running along the south, east and north sides of us at Wareham (without us getting a drop - especially this point in the year).

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Layin' About...

It was suggested to me, as an effort to re-kindle sagging creativity, to pull out and sort through past / uncompleted projects.

Bladesmithing Uncompleted (most of it)

So this from two 'boxes' of partially completed work. (1)

I bet at this point (already) any other long working blacksmiths are rolling their eyes - and thinking about their own similar piles...

In that overall layout, the stuff is loosely grouped by type / work progress.
Taking a closer look :

Pattern Welding

Left : Partially prepared single rods  / most with 9 or 11 layers (not marked)
You can see one has already been twisted, two as octagons ready to twist. The smallest is 1/4" square, the others more or less to 1/2" 'round'
Centre : Part of the (failed) 'Wedding Sword' project.
- one billet with two cores and spring steel edges (about 14" total / 10" to blade). This was part of the original billet created - could be forged into a large knife / spear.
- 26' long (sword length) bar set (two cores and spring steel) ready for the final welds to billet. You can see how one of the edge bars broke on me (what killed my enthusiasm for the 'Wedding Sword' project).
Right : Ragnar's Sword project / Gilling West (post 1 / post 2)
Total of eight potential core rods (six will be needed). Four are welded and drawn (about 5/8 square). Four as the starting stacks of 9 layers each.

Layered Steel Billets

Grouping of layered steel billets, many ready to forge into potential blades. There is a big spread on the dates these were created, not all are marked on layer count. (2)
Left to Right
- Two high count twisted plus flat stack with carbon core = 205 layers
    - 5 x 1 1/2 x 1/4"
    -  4 1/2 x 1 1/2 x 1/4"
Both left over from the 'Heavy Camp Knife' commission (2010)
- three twisted plus flat stack with carbon core ≠ 46 layers (?)
    5 x 1 1/4 x 1/4"
- four twisted ≠ 108 layers (?)
    6 x 3/4 x 3/16"
- two twisted with two outer flat stack ≠ 36 layers (?)
    4 x 1 x 1/8'
- two outer twisted with central flat stack ≠ 27 layers (?)
    6 x 1 x 3/16" (shows possible weld flaws)
- two flat stacks on a carbon core ≠ unknown high count (225 range?)
    10 1/2 x 1 1/4 x 1/4"
- flat stack ≠ unknown high count (225 range?)
    7 1/2 x 1 1/4 x 1/4"
Shows two different methods of producing the 'bulls eye' pattern. One side was punched then ground, the other side drilled then flattened.
- flat stack = 103 layers (in progress)
    5 x 3/4 x 5/16"

Any of these could proceed to a forged blade

Partially Forged

This next group all need differing levels of continued forging to go onwards.
From top to bottom (see note on measurements)
- Pattern Welded spear head, two twisted rods each side on a carbon core ≠ 28 layers.
    6 x 1 1/8 x 1/4 " (blade)
Socket complete, forged to rough point and distal taper. Requires edges forged out.
- Two Bloomery Iron slabs with alloy steel core, mate to 'Hector's Bane' (2012)
    10 x 1 3/4 x 5/16"
Massive failure just before final tempering (!) Stress fracture in what was almost a completed knife. Will require re-welding, resulting in complete re-forging of blade shape. (3)
-  'Welder Pattern' test 3, carbon steel with mild steel lines.
    5 x 1 x 1/8"
Needs a bit of straightening and perhaps re-shaping of (boring) profile.
- Two 'insert core' demonstration pieces, folded angle with carbon core.    
    3 1/ x 7/8 x 5/16"
    3 x 3/4 x 1/4"

Norse Replicas

Someplace here should also go a small number of Viking Age replica pieces.
- Three spear heads, mild steel. All rough forged to profile, welded sockets. Range from 8 to 5 inch blades. These were originally made for the 'History in the Making' episode #6 (which honestly, I have never seen the final video of).
- Curved draw knife (scorp), mild steel, rough forged to profile. Loosely based on the sample from the Mastermyr tool set.

Forged - Requires Polishing and Hilting

The last group are completely forged to shape (all annealed). They require various levels of grinding / shaping / polishing. Then remaining heat treating, hilting.
Top to bottom
- 'Celtic Short Sword', antique Wrought Iron / reading for hilting (??)
    19 overall / blade 14 1/2 x 2 x 3/16
My intent with this piece is to use a cast bronze hilt, based on La Tene artifacts. I've yet to have a real inspiration on that design. There has also been a significant equipment build (still in process) to allow for casting bronze in the needed size.
- 'Welder Pattern' test 4, alloy steel with mild steel lines / at profiling
    16 overall / blade 9 x 11/2 x 1/4
- 'Forged in Fire', high carbon steel (2015) / ready for grinding
    overall 14 / blade 9 x 1 7/8 x 3/16
- Iron Knives, antique Wrought Iron / partially profiled
    seax (blade) 5 x 1 3/16 x 1/4"
    tool (blade) 4 x 1 1/4 x 1/4"
- 'Wolfgar's Tool', mild steel slabs with carbon core / partially polished
    11 1/2 overall / blade 6 1/4 x 1 3/16 x 5/16"
Mate to 'Laugh Taker' (personal commission), with nickle/copper molkume guard
- Dagger, lower layer count flat stack ≠ 27 layers / ready for hilt (re-polish)
     10 overall / blade 6 x 1 x 3/16"
- Slim Seax, mild steel / ready for grinding
    9 overall / blade 4 1/4 x 1/2 x 3/16"

Not sure if any conclusions can be drawn here. Looking at the total pile, there is some work (early layered billets) that date back to the mid 1990's.
There are projects that 'got away from me', or things where Iost any of the original inspiration in the technical burden.

Honestly - the reasons why I have spent the time on this compiling of uncompleted work (and some outright failures) is a bigger question ??

Note on Measurements:
My standard is to not count the last half inch of any blade in length (basically not counting the point.

1) Add to this (just the bladesmithing):
- one tub of much older pieces, some rough forged. Includes a pile of commercial blade blanks (multiples of various profiles) remaining from the long past. During the early years I did a lot of hand painted, then etched, 'tool' knives, with slab handles.
- two sword blades :
    one carbon steel (needs last polish before hilting) - (2018)
    one pattern welded, ready for hilting (considered 'failed' quality) - (2014)
- huge pile of 'one piece' blades of mild steel, remaining from teaching demos
- about a half dozen axe heads of various sizes and types, mostly rough forged

2) A note on counting layers.
Traditional 'flat stack' / 'Damascus' is normally counted by multiplying starting stack + additional pieces x 'folds'.
When I count Pattern Weld ('interrupted twisted core' to some) I add starting stack for each bar x bars. I normally will make a separate piece that is two flat stacks on a carbon steel core.  Lengths given include the 'solid' part of each billet (often the ends have weld flaws, which would be forged into the tangs). I normally do keep notes on each layered billet I make, if I wanted to attempt to dive through past drawing books.

3) There is a long (painful) story here concerning cutting corners to speed work and the resulting disaster. This blade was about five minutes from going to the tempering stage at point of failure (which would have removed the stresses involved). Compare with Hector's Bane, for which the asking price is $1000.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

'Distancing' at the Wareham Forge

'Can I attend a blacksmithing course at the Wareham Forge?'

Benefit vs Risk

A) Exposure to Infection

First, please read and consider ‘The Risks - Know Them’ by Dr. E Bromage. (Originally posted May 3)
1) “ We know that at least 44% of all infections--and the majority of community-acquired transmissions--occur from people without any symptoms (asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people). You can be shedding the virus into the environment for up to 5 days before symptoms begin.”
2) “Some experts estimate that as few as 1000 SARS-CoV2 infectious viral particles are all that will be needed” (to get infected).
“ The principle is viral exposure over an extended period of time. In all (the illustrated) cases, people were exposed to the virus in the air for a prolonged period (hours). Even if they were 50 feet away … , even a low dose of the virus in the air reaching them, over a sustained period, was enough to cause infection “
3)" ... with general breathing, 20 viral particles minute into the environment, ... (worst case presented) ... you would need 1000 viral particles divided by 20 per minute = 50 minutes.
4) ”Speaking increases the release of respiratory droplets about 10 fold; ~200 virus particles per minute.”

5) Although not included directly in Dr. Bromage's commentary, physical activities will increase volume of breath, draw from the lower lungs, and frequency of breath - all increasing both number of virus particles expelled and their penetration into the surrounding air. (in the commentary, the case of a choir practice is used) 

The other important consideration is 'asymptomatic' individuals. 
Reference information taken from 'Coronavirus Incubation Period' by
1) " A new study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests that the median incubation period for SARS-CoV-2—the new coronavirus that causes the respiratory illness COVID-19—is 5.1 days. "
" The analysis suggests that about 97.5% of people who develop symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 infection will do so within 11.5 days of exposure. "

There is a third element. What I call 'who do you trust' ? At point of writing (June 6) the available information indicates that the bulk of Ontario COVID-19 cases have been in the general 905 area. (1)

B) Distancing

The 'standard' that has been well communicated is '6 foot distancing'

The image above is from the main (coal) forge room at the Wareham Forge. 
The stool is placed 6 feet away from the anvil. 
It would be also possible for an individual to stand in the open doorway into this room (which would be to the extreme left of this image). However, with the required air exhaust system active, air would be driven past anyone in that location, directly over the demonstrator. 

The second image is shot inside the main working floor, from the rear layout table towards the entrance. For courses, normally the propane forge is placed at the rear milk crate stack. The anvil to the right rear is fixed, the one to the left rear can be shifted. Each of the red arrows indicates exactly 6 feet.
You can see it would be just possible to create a six foot distance between the triangle between forge and those two working stations. 
A demonstrator could possibly work from a second propane forge placed on the layout table at front left, with another anvil placed at the front milk crates. (2)

C) Observation

Including peripheral vision - colour would be clear focus.
 This image is taken from the perspective of an observer in the main forge room, at the location illustrated in the first image.
The piece of work on the anvil is the largest object made during the standard 'Introduction to Blacksmithing' course. 

How effectively do you think you would be able to observe, understand, then duplicate physical techniques illustrated from this visual distance? 

It should also be noted that the propane forges available at the Wareham Forge are not capable of generating the temperatures required for forge welding. The normal practice has been to use the coal forge for individual instruction on this technique.The kind of close observation required to properly learn forge welding is not possible under distancing rules


1) Typical workshop courses run 16 - 18 hours. Individuals will be working in a confined area for that exposure time, even if attempting to maintain distancing.
2) The activity of blacksmithing is a physical one, increased lung activity is certainly to be expected.
3) The existing layout of the Wareham Forge makes it just possible to provide the required social distancing :
  a) One single student for use of coal forge
  b) Two students for use of propane forge
4) The requirements of distancing greatly reduce the value of instruction.

5) Students present an unknown risk, not only to each other, but in this case most significantly to the instructor. ( 3 )

Stated Policy

On June 3, the Government of Ontario extended its original 'declaration of emergency' instructions to June 30

i) At the point of writing (June 6) the Wareham Forge will be cancelling any existing workshop programs to June 30.

ii) Full refunds will be sent to any who had previously made bookings with deposits (before the start of the current pandemic).

iii) Evaluation of the situation as time proceeds will be made at the beginning of each month, concerning the possible activities for that month (about July 1 for July month)

iv) At this point, it is unlikely any previously announced programs will be mounted, at a minimum to September.

All students must completely self isolate for a minimum of SEVEN DAYS before attending any program at the Wareham Forge. This includes ALL FAMILY MEMBERS (no individual outside contact of any kind).

If you wish to proceed with blacksmithing training in the near future, I can recommend the following alternate instructors:
David Robertson / Hammer & Tongs / Walkerton /
Robb Martin / THAK Ironworks / Floridale /
Sandra Dunn / TwoSmiths / Kitchener /

1) For the purposes of this discussion, the ideal would be a simple map with cases indicated. Lots of government and official news sites provide raw numbers, but actual maps showing case locations have proved difficult to source.

2) It would be possible to increase protection for the demonstrator in the indicated layout by hanging a plexi screen between that work station and students standing no closer than the between the two workmates. 

3) I fit into TWO of the indicated three 'risk' groups for COVID-19 as indicated by Public Health Ontario.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

'Last to Sea' #10 : Explaining the Expansion?

 A comment on Communication and the Artist's Vision

image by Kelly Probyn-Smith

So there it is.
What do you see?

A big green net with some shadowy stuff inside.

Ok, go over and peak a bit closer.

Ok - that is obviously a shark!
And some dancing small fish shapes.
Hey, is that a horseshoe crab?
Some kind of weird plant like thing at the back. And a lumpy plate of come sort.
What is that strange shell like thing?
And no idea what the cluster of what looks like flowers is supposed to be?
Oh, yea, there is a pile of plastic bottles over the top.

Anything on that name plate?

Ah. 'Last to SEA', very funny, obviously a pun.

I don't get it...

As those who are regular readers may have glimpsed, that those that actually know me well understand : I have a love / hate relationship with 'the Arts'. Most specifically the tension between the 'practical' (Craft) and the 'conceptual' (Art).
There is a long discussion (read argument) about the difference between the useful and the symbolic, especially in the Modern Age.

It can be said that 'the Purpose of Art is to Communicate'.
Does that mean that for a work to be considered 'successful', it needs to clearly communicate the idea of the Artist?

On that scale, is 'Last to Sea' successful?
Is it enough, now that the work is presented to the viewing public, for me to just stand back? Take an attitude of 'Well, if you don't understand, that is just your failing!' ( 1)

I would be the very first to fully admit that some of my past offerings at the Elora Sculpture Project have been merely 'pretty', or just 'eye catching' (consider 'Spears of Summer' in 2014). On some, the under laying concepts have been simple (consider 'Barrel Turbine' in 2016). Or if more complex, may not have been easily apparent (consider 'Legacy' in 2018) ( 2 )

If any readers have been wondering why I have written a quite extensive set of commentaries on the thought behind, and technical production of, 'Last to Sea'? ( 3 )

Last year, for the first time since my initial contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project in 2013, I was able to attend the opening reception. Almost all the participating artists were there, and as we did a walk through of all the submitted sculptures, each of us gave a brief overview of our pieces. I personally found the whole process extremely interesting. As you might guess, some pieces were more technical than conceptual. Often I found the intended meanings not clear on first seeing the work. It was obvious to me that much would be lost to the viewing public without these background explanations.

To me, the obvious method to provide the public with these further insights was through use of the internet. ( 4 ) This year, with the threat of COVID-19 looming, the ESP people had specifically asked the contributing artists to make attempts to record their individual working process as each sculpture was created.

'Last to Sea' involved considerably more research in detail than past submissions. This a process that really started for me with the 2019 proposal 'Last to See', a work framed around the concept of past Mass Extinction events, leading to the current Holocene event. (In this, I had started applying the kind of research I normally undertake for artifact reproductions and experimental archaeology, both much detailed on this blog, to artistic works.)
Much of that research would remain totally invisible. The normal viewer of 'Last to Sea' is unlikely to be able to identify the individual species represented, beyond the two most obvious, 'Shark' and 'Horseshoe Crab'. Although 'Abalone' is a very faithful depiction and 'Tiny Fishes' are recognizably Capelin, I would not expect most people to recognize these lesser known species.
And for the reason these specific types have been illustrated?
Honestly, it was my own shock on finding out during the research phase these were all the Endangered List that made me pick these species in the first place (I mean - SHARKS! Who would have imagined?)

One final aspect, mentioned above, is the current evolution of COVID-19, with all the impacts from this pandemic on each of us right now. ( 5 )
The normal installation deadline for the ESP each year is around May 1st. As we moved from the jury notification (typically about February 15) into the production phase over March, the increasing closures effected many of the contributing artists. Many working in more complex materials needed access to other skilled trades to progress from initial stages to finished objects (think of those working in bronze, who normally would make a master pattern, but rely on foundries for the physical castings). With so many suppliers deemed 'non-essential' and thus closed, getting specific raw materials hampered others. ( 6 )
Because of these factors, the installation date for this year had been pushed back several times.

There of course was the over riding problem of pure economics. The individual situation here for participating artists I suspect varied considerably. Curiously, those who supported themselves full time from their artistic work might have been in the best possible situation, as most certainly I found myself qualifying for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. Those with 'regular day jobs' likely found their personal economic situations widely different under work reductions or outright closure, even complete job loss for some.
A factor to note here is that none of the participating artists involved in the ESP are actually paid at all for their work. Each of us must front the production costs, as well as provide the creation time required for our proposed contribution, as well as undertaking the installation and removal. Each of us in effect 'lends' the completed work to Elora for the length of the presentation (normally May 1 to October 31). It is true that the sculptures can be offered for sale (with delivery only after the full presentation period). Realistically, I don't think purchases of the works displayed actually are all that common. ( 7 )

So personally, I have considered the funds I have received (thankfully!) from the CERB have gone to support my ability to undertake the creation of this year's contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project. ( 8 )
For me undertaking this (extensive!) documentation of this specific project is also part of a responsibility I feel against those CERB funds.

The previous blog articles covering the research behind, design concepts and physical production of 'Last to Sea' :

Friday, January 10, 2020
‘Last to Sea’
Friday, April 10, 2020
(Part 2) CERB and ESP
Saturday, April 11, 2020
'Elkhorn' : ESP
Thursday, April 30, 2020
'Last to Sea' #2 - Abalone
Saturday, May 02, 2020
'Last to Sea' #3 - Horseshoe Crab
Saturday, May 09, 2020
'Last to Sea' #4 - Sea Turtle
Monday, May 18, 2020
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
'Last to Sea' # 6 : Tiny Fishes
Thursday, May 21, 2020
'Last to Sea' # 7 - Shark
Monday, May 25, 2020
'Last to Sea' # 9 : INSTALLED

It should also be noted that the typical blog posting in this series has taken between 2 - 4 hours to research, write and compose.

( 1 ) I always remember something my instructor had told us during one of my first year design courses at Ontario College of Art :
'Inspiration without Technique is masturbation'
I would suggest adding to this :
'Concept without Communication is meaningless self indulgence.'

( 2 ) Or in at least one case, an outright technical failure, 'Tipping Point' in 2019, where I certainly failed on the mechanical workings. There was a more complex set of symbolism with this work, which honestly I don't think was communicated at all to the viewer.
Embarrassingly, feel that piece failed in both the aspects given above!

( 3 ) In past years, I have always provided a version of the all the original submissions, usually expanded with extra comments. There is at least a second posting, showing the final piece as installed (allowing comparison to the initial concept drawing). Often there will be some 'work in progress' additions as well. Contributing artists are allowed to submit two different proposals every year, and most years I have published the description of a second (unused) sculpture.

( 4 ) Over the last several years, as my own proposals for the ESP have become more and more 'social commentaries', I have been suggesting that the general ESP web site be expanded to include just this kind of detailing. At the very least, each original submission the the jury had included both a 'Description of the Work' and an 'Artist's Statement'.

( 5 ) I am certain it will be recognized, looking back in years to come that the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will be seen to be Human Impact / Climate Change story. Too many of us, altering too much of the Natural World.

( 6 ) Here at the Wareham Forge, a combination of relatively simple materials (industrial steels of various forms) and core level equipment combined with habits born of a rural location and a lifetime pattern of stockpiling supplies. My normal situation here is to keep considerable steel stocks on hand, if for no other reason than I work best when I can let inspiration, not available materials, determine what I create. Blacksmithing at core uses the simplest of tools, the production of the individual components within 'Last to Sea', used mainly hand tools, with the exception of an oxy-propane torch and a MIG welder (themselves long standing equipments here).
The only material I did have to purchase this year was a sheet of 2 x 2 square wire grid.

( 7 ) I have been honoured to have had a design selected for each of the years from 2013 to the present. That is a total of 7 sculptures. There is time invested for design, remember that I typically submit two designs each year. Each has taken on average three weeks to build (sometimes more). At least for me, materials costs have never been large, again typically in the $100 - $200 range for each.
I have sold one sculpture of this seven ('Armoured Fish' in 2015)

( 8 ) For a longer discussion of CERB and the Artist, see two related blog postings :

Thursday, April 09, 2020
'Working' during a Pandemic ...
Friday, April 10, 2020
(Part 2) CERB and ESP


Monday, May 25, 2020

'Last to Sea' # 9 : INSTALLED

Work continues on this year's contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project : 'Last to Sea'
Overall installation rough
On Thursday, May 21, I was assisted by Kelly Probyn-Smith of Elfworks Studios in the final installation of 'Last to Sea' at Elora. The site is to the East side of the small park in the heart of Elora, at the corner of Mill and the bridge. ( 1 )

Social Distancing measures not withstanding, my normal practice over the years has been to undertake the installation early on a weekday morning, which allows me to get a parking space close to the mounting point for ease of unloading. This year the weather was perfect, bright and sunny and at the start of our first really warm temperatures of this season.

Placing the base (KPS)
I was bit concerned at first with the base position, which was right on the edge of the pathway around the east side of the park. The diameter of the overall piece was four feet, and so it was certain to project somewhat on the admittedly very wide pathway. In terms of viewing however, this would allow for close observation into the collection - which will be seen to be important.

Placing the base stone slabs (KPS)
I had taken a reference image of the stone slabs that form the 'ocean floor' part of the piece. The 'Elkhorn' unit was by far the heaviest, and as I had when initially working out the pattern, this unit was laid first, then the other stones around this. You can see 'Abalone' and 'Unknown in the Depths' positioned here as well. These individual sculptures are fixed to their respective stone bases.

Bottom stones placed (KPS)
The last two elements that sat on the slabs, 'Sea Turtle' and 'Horseshoe Crab', were designed with a cord to allow them to be tied down to the steel gridwork underneath. You can see how the rough limestone slabs cover the majority of the base grid. I had brought a few unusual pot-marked stones that I had gathered from South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island. These worked nicely into the overall pattern, covering some of the larger gaps between the irregular shaped slabs.

Top grid with plastic and all sculptural elements in place (KPS)
The next step was to mount the upper grid, which already had the bottles and foam trays attached for the 'Sea of Plastic' element. This structure was secured with tightened nuts through the four upright rods seen here.
Last was hanging the remaining two sculptural elements 'Shark' and 'Tiny Fishes'.
These last two were the most fiddly, partially because Tiny Fishes is a moving element, and it was important to make sure there would be a range of motion possible without potential tangling. (I actually expect at some point over the long installation period, these tiny fish will in fact become 'caught' into the netting!)

Applying the netting (KPS)
I had previously cut to length the nylon fish netting that surrounds the piece. In fact this net was about 15 feet top to bottom (in normal use), so I had simply cut off a four foot wide strip. Since I needed about 13 feet minimum to encircle the four foot diameter, I had already stitched the net into a tube. (You can see this line of yellow cord running down next to my body in the image.) This all means that the fishing net is actually running sideways to its normal direction in use. ( 2 )
Although not difficult, with the net secured at both top and bottom, there were a lot of knots to be tied. This part of the overall installation certainly took the longest.

Completed installation
Overall installation rough
The steps between initial inspiration even to first production layout can have a lot of twists and turns. In the case of 'Last to Sea', I think the design I originally submitted to the ESP jury was faithfully rendered in the finished work.
The main difference I note is in the proportions, the illustration shows the total height to be less, closer to three feet, where the final piece is actually 4 feet tall.
Another difference is the detailing on the 'Shark' element, where the original proposal was for a rigid, 3D construction.
You will see in the layout there had originally been two coral types, the second was replaced by the 'Unknown in the Depths' element in the final work.

with the artist (KPS)
Standing back - showing the placement
One thing that became clear, once the work was done and we had a chance to stand back.
'Last to Sea' is a large piece. From a distance, the bright green of the fishing net dominates the view, with the individual creature sculptures within mere shadows.

Through the net (KPS)
As you come closer, peering through the net allows you to see the creatures in detail.

Just what are those shapes?
Why are they included?

Next up : Commentary on the Artist's Vision

( KPS ) Images by Kelly Probyn-Smith - used with permission

( 1 ) If you plan to visit Elora, be warned that the bridge crossing the Grand at the centre of of town is closed and under construction. For access from the south Guelph or Kitchener from the south-west, you will have to loop up on County Road 7, then turn east down David Street to get to the downtown area where all the sculptures are located.

( 2 ) Hopefully any real fishers seeing the completed installation will not scoff too much at this. And most especially at the (amateurish!) knot work. As it turned out, with both of us working on the tying up, two quite different methods (neither of them likely to be correct) were in use.

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

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