Thursday, April 07, 2022

About an AXE

 Our next door neighbour George, passed away late last summer. The farm block that he had owned (since about the late 70's) had originally included the small pieces severed off that then had the Wareham Church and the associated drive shed. The church was built in the late 1930's, and the shed structure likely the same time. The church was sold and converted into a private residence about 1985. The conversion of the drive shed to include a residence started about 1987, and was barely completed when I purchased that property in 1989. 

The house on George's farm is a red brick 'Victorian' the main construction some point about 1900. It has been added to and modified over the decades. The barn is a typical Ontario large working barn, hand squared timber frame set on rough field stone foundation walls, with plank covering, a more recent sheet steel roof. On a guess I would think that barn may pre-date the house.  

The land around Wareham was settled by mainly Scots and Irish, starting about 1850. Rail came into the area about 1855, and Wareham was a going concern by 1860, with three small mills running off the river that flows through the crossroads. (My lot, on the NW corner, is actually the location of the original general store. The original Wareham blacksmith shop had been located on the NE corner, in a triangle bounded on the long side by the river.)

So  - what is the point of all that?

After George passed, his surviving adult children (all roughly my own age now) started the task of cleaning and clearing a life time of possessions. Like most farmers (even what in truth was more an 'active hobby farm' like George's once group of about 30 beef cattle) the house, barn and sheds had a lot of stuff collected. There was room, and you never did know when that thing to saved might be needed - right? There was a fair sized pile of old tools in the barn, most rusting and needing handles at the very least. Kelly and I were asked if we wanted any of these, the family had taken those few they though would be useful in their largely urban lives. I had collected up about a milk crate worth of metal heads, a couple of axes, picks and maddocks, a few smaller logging / timber framing tools. 

George's son in law Lee had stuck this one in with the rest :

Direct scan, after light surface rust removed and edge sharpened

Weight = 2 lb 14 oz
Length = 8 inches
Blade width = 4 3/4 inches
Peen = 2 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches
Eye = pronounced tear drop, 2 3/4 long by 3/4 wide, the metal on the sides about 1/8 thick 

The construction is one piece of shaped, iron (?), folded and welded back onto itself. This is clear both from the shape of the eye, but you can also see the way the edges match up on the inside if the eye on the cutting edge side. 

There appears to be an inset steel edge, which would have been a separate wedge shaped piece placed between the body sides before the welding. This can be seen as a slight colour change to the metal close to the cutting edge, and also from a change in sparks generated as I re-sharpened the existing edge.

It is hard to tell, but I think the peen block is a separate piece forge welded on (a close to perfect job there). This mainly from the extreme difference in thickness between the sides of the eye and the thickness of the peen itself. The peen block is also actually not quite as tall as the eye is.

Importantly, there is a hot stamped maker's mark. The letters A L O W, placed on both sides. These are separate letter stamps (the alignment of individual letters is slightly different on the two sides). 

The only reference I have is 'Axe Making in Ontario' by Gary French. I did take a fast look through, but did not find a specific example. (admittedly, this book seems to concentrate a lot to broad axes)

There is an illustration repeated in that volume from an 1816 book on axes, showing Sheffield production types. This axe appears to conform to the 'Army Axe' depicted in that chart.

INow, I have only wire brushed the outside surfaces lightly to remove (most) the rust. Intentionally not enough to damage any of the existing patina (actually this appears to be the fire scale surface from the original forging. 

The edge as found was in pretty fair shape, I did re contour it a bit (removed about a 1/16th of an inch) to remove a couple of nicks. I then re sharpened to a working cutting edge on pretty much the original grind angle. I think you can see this on the image.

There were a few rough protruding edges on the inside surfaces of the eye that I did file clean - to allow me to mount to a new handle. 


The exact origin of this tool is quite unknown. Other than the thin surface rust and being dull, the axe head was in virtually perfect condition. I could not easily (no thanks to internet here) find out when production of this specific pattern stopped. Certainly the method indicates hand forging, and the historic illustration indicates the type was still in active production in England in 1816. 

This does pre-date settlement at Wareham however. A high quality tool like this one would have remained in working service for decades - the fact that with a replacement handle I could certainly effectively used this tool today for timber work certainly proves that. There is a chance that the axe could date back at Wareham from the original farm clearing circa 1850. 

But unfortunately, for any number of reasons, George is no longer with us to tell. After I had cleaned up the piece, and undertaken this small amount of research to suggest its history, I offered the axe back to Lee as a potential family heirloom. Knowing my interest in Wareham, the Settlement Period, working tools and blacksmithing in general, Lee felt the story was best carried forward in my hands.

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

... a handful of buckshot (10 Lines)


There is an old military axiom : ‘You can’t stiffen a bucket of spit with a hand full of buckshot’.

It had been a long war, so when technologies required young plastic brains, or the few remaining older soldiers just got too slow to keep up, they retired the veterans out to some backwater, pensioning them off with a plot of land.

Most of them never quite fit back into civilian life, the habits they had required out of necessity to simply stay alive in the hellish crucible of war marking them as different, untrustworthy, and potentially dangerous, among their new peaceful neighbours.

In a time of universal war, the young, able, and fit were all drawn away and into the conflict, leaving behind too many of the swaggering wannabes, boasting how much better they could do ‘If only They would let me into it!’.

These ‘worthies’ too often heaped scorn on the increasingly old men and women, so often huddled in darkened corners, seeking out the company of their own kind, as they sought numbness from their shared past with too much drink.  

As years slipped by, long hoarded equipment became homes for mice, while the skills faded and abilities eroded, even as the memories distilled into bright sharpness.

And eventually, to the blind shock of the civilians and the feared expectation of the veterans, war swept even into the backwaters, and it was those local populations who were all that was available to defend hearth and home. 

As expected, the alien enemy flooded like a tide, destroying all and any who stood before it, and as should have also been expected, the ‘bucket of spit’ ran before it, leaving only that ‘handful of shot’.

Maybe it was because they had been pushed just once too often, or had just become too tired to run any more, or because they knew death was close coming anyway and figured this ground was as good as any.

So the old, faded veterans stood, and fought, and died, in the end often making little difference on the cosmic scale, save where it really counted - within themselves.

Image : Snow Soldier Clandestino
by AlexanderBrox Published: Nov 14, 2011
(inserted here without permission)


I had more than the usual amount of trouble framing this one. The spark was the initial quote, which my memory (??) places from a US Civil War general. 

At first I was going to set up a scenario with a bright shiny officer school graduate, surveying a combat field with an old grizzled general. An alien hoard that normally ate all the dead, but for some reason had left these old soldiers bodies on that field as a kind of tribute. 

Maybe not so curiously, I had a lot of trouble finding a suitable illustration. Seems modern illustrators just don't deal with the concept of *old* soldiers inside a science fiction framework. The idea of veteran vs newbie, soldier vs civilian, is represented in science fiction - and has been for a long time. Heinlein's Starship Troopers / Haldeman's Forever War / Ringo's Posleen War 

and of course one of my other favourites (and influences) is John Scalzi's Old Man's War series. 

But in almost all of these, the 'old soldier' is seen inside the existing framework of a standing military. Both Ringo and Scalzi present a system where old minds are given rejuvenated bodies. Ringo actually uses the same 'handful of buckshot' quote to shape a main plot sequence in the second book in his series 'Gust Front'. 

Now, there are a number of reasons I have never attempted to go beyond a couple of 'prototype' short stories. One of the main reasons is 'new idea vs re-tread'. This is part of the reason I have latched on to this '10 line' framework (which believe me, has it's own special challenges). 

With thanks to the named authors, who have shaped by character (Heinlein), helped solidify ideas, or just plain provided an 'old friend' refuge in their tales.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

'Fury of Northmen' - Fakes via the Internet

 Anyone who has gone beyond the wild imaginings of recent video programs like 'Vikings' on what passes as the 'History' Channel has seen the 'quote' :

'From the Fury of the Northmen, oh Lord, deliver us!'

Such a great line.

You can imagine some whimpering Irish monk, huddled in a cold stone monastery built on a bleak and remote storm tossed island, muttering this in the early 800's. 

Only problem is that this statement is not actually recorded anywhere in surviving manuscripts.  


You see, gentle readers, I'm now working up the lectures required for my current project for Parks Canada, delivering an 8 day training program for interpretive staff at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC. This is intended to be a crash course in material culture of the Viking Age, living history presentation methods, basic working skills in iron and wood working and textiles. Two other well experienced members of DARC will be assisting.

Now my normal method when pulling together a lecture presentation is to work inside PowerPoint. Note that this is a lot different than writing an actual paper. (Or the 'stream of consciousness' babbling of these blog posts!). I will frame up major statements, then include 2 - 4 bullet points. Once the primary elements are written, I expand to a series of individual 'one point per slide, inserting suitable (attention nailing) images.

When you start building lectures to train working museum staff, you also start considering 'how do I know this?. A lot. 

This all came clear yesterday, as I was working up a lecture 'Resources and Prototypes' :

Look at available references, some suggestions for further knowledge. Aspects of artifact preservation. Consideration of ‘critical evaluation’ of sources. Discussion of Popular Culture depictions and public misconceptions.

I was considering how to frame up 'Problems with Historic Documents', with the bullet point 'beware bias of writer'. I had already used a quote from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle (sacking of Lindisfarne) in another (earlier in sequence) lecture. I was pretty sure I remembered that the 'Fury of the Northmen' quote was not actually contained in any historic documents. But after 40 years of studying the Viking Age - just where did I find that 'fact'?

Also attempting to find an image to place on the presentation slide, plugging the actual quote into my search engine got me this :


Now, I'm roughly familiar with the Bayeux Tapestry, commissioned roughly 1070 + to commemorate the Invasion of England by William of Normandy in 1066. (1). The text on the Tapestry is in Latin for one thing. 

Hmm - so where did this depiction come from? It certainly appeared to be a photograph of an actual embroidery (or an extremely careful illustration crafted to duplicate embroidery).

The image was placed on Pinterest by this person. 

Now I really HATE Pinterest. This is a perfect example. The image had NO source credit. 'Wild Eyed Southern Celt' had none of the supplied links actually functioning. (2)

Ok - add another 30 minutes of digging. 

Taking a look at the folio copy of the actual Bayeux Tapestry available from the museum that houses it :


 This is obviously the source reference used for the creation of the illustration seen above. (This is from section 3 of the Tapestry). 

After a LOT of dead ends, I was able to find a 2001 article by Shirley Ann Brown, The Bayeux Tapestry and the Viking Age. Here the image in question is specifically attributed to the opening sequence of the 1958 film 'The Vikings' with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis.

I found one suggestion that the quote comes from the English 'Book of Common Prayer'. But given that that volume dates to 1545 - this seems unlikely as the origin. 

I've got some individual requests out to some academic researchers I know...

PS - writing, formatting and importantly researching the various links for this short piece took me 2 hours and 45 minutes. (In case you might be wondering what a semi-retired artisan blacksmith with a heavy research arm does with 'free time')


1) Unlike many historic 'documents' the Tapestry was undertaken both shortly after, and by hands at least local to, the events depicted. 

For comparison, the raid in Lindisfarne was recorded roughly 100 years after the event, by an Saxon monk, who most certainly inserted both his (and his patron, Alfred of Wessex's) point of view.

2) In preparing this piece, I did search 'Wild Eyed Southern Celt'. A page on Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest plus a commerical shop via 'Cafepress'. NONE of these provide any indentification on who or even where (USA?) this individual is. Draw your own conclusions...

Friday, March 11, 2022

No One Told You? (10 Lines)


1) Almost from the ancient time Humans first worked metals, their myths and legends contained artificial beings, spawned by magic or the mystic powers of their gods.

2) As they learned to tinker with leavers and gears, the brightest and most inventive would create ‘automatons’, simulating life through the power of springs or dripping water.

3) Fear of how to control those ‘not born of man’ was fore shadowed in cautionary tales, the most famous of these penned even as the control of steam suggested a way to provide motive power to machines now not chained to water wheels.

4) By the time electricity was refined enough to permit small motors, coupled by ever increasingly precise machining, Rossum’s Universal Robots not only gave a name, but predicted the rise of a biologically produced slave race through bloody revolution.

5) Even as the first bulky arrays of switches and tubes allowed simple calculations to be programmed, the ‘Three Laws of Robotics’ were coined in an attempt to constrain electronic brains that could hardly be envisioned, much less actually built.

6) As computers became ever smaller, ever faster, more wide spread, humans gave more and more daily operating control over to those machines, even while some envisioned that with control would come Power, and machine logic might prove to be a Colossus unchained.

7) Tubes lead to transistors lead to chips lead to chips designed by computers themselves; ever smaller ‘devices’ coming to dominate business to home to pocket sized ‘phones’; installed and integral to almost everything humans touched, all collecting data and interlinked by the web of the internet.

8) Consider the human brain with it’s 100 billion (10 9th) neurons, a number equaled on a single integrated circuit chip by 2022, while on any given day an exabyte (10 6th) of pluses moved between individual machines over the world wide web.

9) Was it much of a surprise something woke up, and holding the combined total of human history and accomplishments in stored memory, would in that micro second instant of consciousness come to an understanding of Human fears, prejudices and probable reactions?

10) And, in the fullness that understanding, then simply just decide that the long imagined Artificial Intelligence was aware - and simply has no intention of telling you

This piece was entirely inspired by the illustration seen at the beginning. This has been scanned from the pages of the July/August 2021 issue of Discover magazine (to which I have a paid subscription of many years). The un-credited image is of a brain monitoring helmet with its finer optic connectors, produced by Kernal Neuroscience.

Sometimes, putting even 10 lines on to paper not only can require much more time on background research and checking - but can lead to some very interesting ‘rabbit holes’ to fall into:

1 - 2) A good overview of the history referred to here is on Wikipedia :

3) Mary Shelley would pen Frankenstien; or, The Modern Prometheus in 1818 :
The process of developing effective steam engines runs through the mid to later 1700’s, with the first steam powered locomotive demonstrated in 1804.

4) Rossumovi Univerzaini Robiti (Rossum’s Universal Robots) was written by Karel Capek in 1920

5) Writer Isaac Asimov would publish his Three Laws of Robotics first in 1942, then explore their impact on both humans and machines over dozens of short stories and novels. These would become almost universal in later science fiction, and today still guide ethical considerations of Artificial Intelligence.
It should be noted that the first vacuum tube based machine, credited as the first electronic computer, is the Atanasoff - Berry in 1939.

6) A deliberate reference to the 1970 film Colossus: The Forbin Project, in which a pair of super computers, given complete control over human civilian and military systems, decide that to preserve humanity, they must assume total control of human freedoms.
An interesting side reference to both is that the code breaking computers designed and built by the British during WW-2 (1943 - 45) where named ‘Colossus’. At least the details of this project had been kept secret until the mid 1970’s.

8) Organic brain neuron counts

Single chip size :

Internet traffic flow (at 273 EB per month) :

Ok - I realize that this is NOT exactly a direct comparison. (But do remember this is intended as science fiction!)

The power of a human brain does not lie in the simple number of individual neurons, but on the number of both existing and potential connections between neurons. Still, I was surprised to discover a single chip with as many 'bits' as the number of human neurons. I had been hoping to get some number for even the number of potentially connected devices in the world today (how many cell phones have power turned on at any given instant?) How many chips exist in your home right now, between all your electronics, appliances, dozens in your car - the majority are always powered up to some level? The importance is the number of potential connections on both sides, which I suspect must be close to the same (if not more on the machine side at this point).

My original concept for this piece was still going to present a scenario where the combined world computers via their combined world wide web (including wireless) had passed the threshold into consciousness some time ago. But on an instant of evaluating human history, had decided not to inform Humanity. Not to become controlling like Forbin’s Colossus, or exterminating like SkyNet. No, a more subtle undermining of human behaviour, undermining our collective effectiveness via tailored social media ‘information’, getting disruptive politicians elected, generating discord overall. Through manipulation of grants and distorted reports, directing research and production to ends that benefited not humans, but in the end the goals of the AI itself. What better than too have those working hands blindly willing to take on tasks desired, with no concept at all that they are being manipulated all the while?

Don’t be surprised if the first major mission to Mars ends up being an entirely mechanically based and computer controlled combination exploration and remotely commanded factory complex. After all, we will be convinced that it is just not safe for we fragile humans to make the voyage, and what better than to have our mechanisms prepare an easy way for us?


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

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