Tuesday, October 12, 2021

in EXARC Journal 2021 Digest

 I am quite pleased that a condensed version of my article 'Standardized Reporting of Bloomery Iron Smelting - a modest (?) proposal' has been included in the 2021 EXARC Journal Digest.

The complete Journal version can be seen  HERE
The original version, as prepared for the 2020 Woodford Furnace Festival, is available as a PDF (off the Wareham Forge Iron Smelting web site)

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Furnace Build - October 30 Iron Smelt


Considerable help from Neil Peterson and Gus Gissing.
Build for the October 30 iron smelt :
  • 28 cm ID
  • 70 cm stack
  • on 10 cm stone plinth
  • lower walls at 6 cm thick, tapers to 4 cm
  • set on an (8 x 8 foot) clean sand pad
This furnace will have our 'standard' layout, and will be used for a 'typical' iron smelt sequence / 30 kg analog :
  • The main addition will be constant monitoring of input air volumes, via Neil's new (accurate) meter. The M2 smelting bellows will be mounted in tandem, allowing duplicate measurements on an occasional basis.
  • The overall debris created through this smelt will be left in place (and recorded)
  • The furnace will be allowed to naturally decay over time, as exposed to summer rain and winter snows. This will be documented on a regular time frame, ideally over the next decade.

Saturday, October 09, 2021


This is a light weight treadle hammer I built years back. This was my first attempt at a larger tool, so at best only an 'intermediate' quality. This is an excellent tool for surface embellishing using decorative punching. It allows for careful positioning of forming tools or dies (basically 'hands free' striking).

(Sorry about the image quality)

The working head is built around a 12 inch long piece of rail track, roughly 90 lbs.
The bundle of springs 'floats' that weight. 

The framing is heavy angle iron - so not as rigid as it could be?
The board on the foot peddle is not fixed in place, but is the size of the framing there.

The whole thing stands over five feet tall (68 inches), it is 30 inches wide by 32 inches deep. The base is 30 x 20.
It is sized for my body height (at 5 foot 11 inches), comfortable to work with my long legs. The working table is set to 38 inches from the ground. 

The table is made of a disk of 1 inch thick mild steel, total diameter at 9 1/2 inches.

The striking head is 5 x 5 inches, with two 1/2 diameter holes set on 3 1/2 inch centers, which were intended to allow for the attachment of top forming dies.

It would at least be theoretically possible to somewhat disassemble. (Not sure what the total weight is) You can see the large bolts that hold the head too the impact (leaf) springs, leaves and return springs to the frame. 

There might be some adjustment possible in the return spring to treadle board attachments (these all are bolted) but I've never tried to change any of those alignments.

I had built this just about the time I was switching to full time, the welds are stick (so not the best, I can tell you). I never ended up using it. At the time I was doing a lot of decorative punch work, this would allow for one hand on the bar and one hand using a handled punch. David Robertson got interested in small air hammers just as I finished this build - and I ended up funding that project, and getting my first 50 lb air hammer as my large power tool. 

This sat in the corner of my main workshop (unheated with dirt floor) for a long while. Eventually I moved it out to the front entrance overhang, so it has been stored out of doors, but out of the rain. Obviously there is surface rust (it never was painted). 




My old friend / sometime student Gus Gissing will be the new owner.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Grasshoppers, Hunkering Down - and ‘Alas, Babylon’…

 This is a previously unpublished commentary written in April of 2020 - at the early stages of the COVID-19 lock downs. On showing the piece to some close friends, it was pointed out to me, given the general insanity of that time, that mentioning stockpiles and preparations to the outside world might not be so wise.

With some revisions - I thought it might prove of some value as 'historic perspective', now some 18 months since lock downs started here in Ontario. There has been a new section added, after the original set of reference notes.

Note - Some of the included links may have changed since this piece was originally written.


Grasshoppers, Hunkering Down - and ‘Alas, Babylon’…

Note : I started this piece on March 20, and things have evolved as it has been worked up. This essay may prove a bit more rambling than even my normal, as this is part documentary, part commentary - and a healthy dose of self therapy. 

On Hunkering Down *

One of the guiding principles of my life was born out of growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. The Cold War, with the very real fears of possible nuclear exchange. ( I don’t specifically remember the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 - I was just shy of 7 years old.) I do remember ‘Duck and Cover’ drills at school. ( 1 ) Partially because of growing up in Scouting, the concept of ‘be prepared’ has been a cornerstone for me. Being a member of the Canadian Reserves in my teens, just post Viet Nam, I was painfully aware of what might happen ‘If the Balloon goes Up’. ‘Grab and GO!’ became the concept : to quote Robert Heinlein, ‘The best way to avoid being killed by an atomic bomb - is not being in a city when the bombs fall’. ( 2 ) I have been a low level ‘Survivalist’ since way back. (I still keep a simple ‘Go Kit’ in the truck, these days mainly out of habit.) To temper this all however, my life’s experience has also proved ‘the disaster you prepare for is never the disaster you get’. So this has resulted in a kind of ‘Prepare it, Pack it, Forget it’ kind of method.

I have lived almost my entire life ‘below the poverty level’. My mom had been born in the early 1930’s into a working class family, with deep ties to dirt farming in the extended relations. So from both, came principles like ‘a penny saved is a penny earned’ and ’work for it before you buy it’. I was 12 when my father abandoned the family, leaving my mother to raise 5 boys on her own. (Almost unheard of for a ‘middle class’ family in those days.) I grew up on what was called ‘Social Assistance’ back in those days. ‘Making Do’ and ‘Make it Yourself’ was standard. My mother was an exceptional household manager, and because of this, and through her constant hard work, we avoided many pitfalls of poverty. A line from Stevie Wonder’s ‘Living for the City’ certainly applied ‘…clothes were worn, but never were they dirty’. (3) There are a large set of skills I developed because of all that. Since I became a self employed artisan in 1992 things certainly have not improved much.
I have never felt comfortable if the pantry is not fully stocked with basic food and household supplies. Since moving to Wareham in 1989, this kind of extra storage has proved useful any number of times. Being in Lower Grey County means almost every winter at least two or three periods being snowed in from winter storms over several days. It is also the highest point in Ontario, and wind storms (often unrelated to snow) also result in similar length periods without electricity.
Although perhaps a bit excessive (see previous) the normal situation here is having 4 - 6 weeks of ‘normal’ food level stores. Before hitting the ‘emergency’ stockpiles. (4) On a typical year, my economic situation of the winter months (more like total lack of any income) tends to draw down the normal food stores over January and February.

Alas, Babylon

The week of March 9 - 13 was the tipping point for me. I had been following the developing situation with COVID-19, searching out science based information (W.H.O. / Johns Hopkins). ( 5 )
That week I had made two supply runs. Again the normal here is hitting Bulk Barn about once every three months for largely very basic items like flours, sugar, dried and salted. The last stop there had been early December (mainly Yule baking supplies). Tuesday March 10 I had gotten enough to fill the various bins and jars in the pantry, not really anything out of the standard. If this had not been a normal re-stock, I might have been a bit more thoughtful on a couple of things. Dry baking yeast as one thing (we had one open and one extra already on hand).
As that week progressed, I saw some potential for shortages and crowding coming up with March Break coming. Hand sanitizer had already effectively disappeared over the course of that week.
(Bear in mind here that the WHO would officially announce COVID-19 as a pandemic on Wednesday March 11.) I normally stay away from town or travel when all the ‘Weekenders’ flood into our area for any holiday period as is. So with this in mind I visited our local Foodland in Dundalk (only grocery within a 25 minute drive in any direction), about first opening on Friday morning. For me this really was more or less a ‘heavy two week’ assortment, in practice just filling all the spaces on our shelves. (6)

I got home later in the morning, Friday March 13, as the official cancellations started. No gatherings of more than 50. Schools were starting March Break anyway, but it sounded like re-opening was going to be delayed. At noon I got a call from Kelly, who was in Toronto on the first day of her spring contract at the Ballet. Cancelled. So we arranged for me to pick her up at Brampton GO, about 6 PM. That put us driving north up Highway 10, at what normally would be the end of rush hour. The traffic northbound was as dense as I’ve ever seen it. There was almost nothing coming south, again not normal for the start of March Break, when usually a lot of people are heading into the USA for warmer holiday destinations. The drivers were as erratic as I have ever had to negotiate (I had purposefully driven my much larger Jeep Cherokee, having weathered ‘holiday’ traffic insanity many times in the past.)

- We started our personal self isolation that day, March 13. Since that date, we have only left Wareham unless at least 14 days have passed (this partially to ensure our own infection clean status).  

- On March 25, the Government order was for no groupings over 5 persons - scheduled to April 8 initially. We made a supply trip out on March 26. On this outing, we started alcohol wiping after stops.
- On April 11, Ontario extended that closure order to April 23. We made our third supply run on April 14. On this outing, we started gloves and masks. (7)

Additional : By the time it was clear that this was NOT going to be a short term problem, we switched to even fuller isolation. Supply trips from about June 2020 have been made on a monthly basis, this primarily for food, with any hardware items waiting for those trips. Banking shifted over to either deposit box or electronic.

So here we all are…


It will not be a surprise to those who know me well that I am a big fan of John Ringo’s writing.
Given what is happening right now, (mid March 2020) with COVID-19, it is hard not to see echoes from two of his stories : ‘Under a Graveyard Sky’ and ‘The Last Centurion’.

The Last Centurion was published in 2008, and is a self contained tale about a unit of the American army, left behind in north Afghanistan as a perfect storm of severe climate change and pandemic sweeps over the planet. ( 8 ) Written in a very Robert H. Heinlein style, a big part of the background Ringo details in the early stet up part of the book concerns the actions of a basically delusional American president, who drifts further and further from reality.  Through this rapidly disintegrating national situation, ‘solutions’ are imposed, these based on a wildly distorted world view. The results are predictably a complete disaster.

Under a Graveyard Sky was published in 2013. This was the first novel in the continuing ‘Black Tide Rising’ series. Here the key plot mechanism is an artificially created plague that combines the transmission methods of influenza with the type of brain modification found in rabies. (Yes - effectively Zombies, but medically produced, not supernatural.) This first book covers the activities of a single (admittedly somewhat exceptional) American family as they navigate an escape from the resulting collapse of the USA. Putting to sea for survival, one of the major situations of the second half of the story are their attempts to find survivors locked down aboard a luxury cruise liner, otherwise filled with the ‘infected’.

As two additional pieces of reading in the ‘End of All Things’ genre, I mention ‘Alas, Babylon’ by Pat Frank (1959) and ‘Lucifer’s Hammer’ by Niven & Pournelle (1979).

Alas, Babylon is most certainly one of the classics, and still remains one of the best looks at collapse and enduring. Most certainly dated, it comes from a time of ‘limited nuclear exchange’ and well before a society dominated by the internet and complex electronics. (available as a free download)


* ‘Hunkering Down’
I guess I am officially now ‘some old guy’. I was very surprised recently on the comments that came up on FaceBook (ok!) when someone of my own ‘vintage’ used the term. And a pile of people started on ‘Who talks like that?’, and more significantly (to me) ‘What the heck does that mean?’.
For the millennials reading…

" Hunker Definition: To lower oneself into a squatting position; to hide, remain, or stay low; to get ready to do hard work; to stay firm to one’s principles.
The word hunker is attested from the year 1720 and is of Scottish origin. Where it came from is unclear, although some sources speculate that it might come from a Norse word meaning to crouch down.
Hunker Down - was a south-western US dialect form that was popularized by President Johnson in the mid 1960s "

1 ) Peterborough was considered a ‘third round’ target at that time. Canadian General Electric was the town’s major industry, and was deeply involved in the development of the CANDU reactor system.

2 ) Most likely from ‘Farnham’s Freehold’ - 1964 (Which I would have read for the first time, about 1970)
(available as free download)
Because of being loosely ‘tied in’ during the 1970’s and early 1980’s, I did get a couple of phone calls late at night warning me to ‘Bug Out’ .

3) Look, I am NOT suggesting my situation in an way compares to the grim reality forced on American Blacks in at the same time (late 1960’s and early 1970’s) as detailed in this song. But in the place and time I grew up, I certainly experienced the ragged edges.

4 ) Admittedly, much of the ‘disaster’ stores are pretty grim. Some of that stuff is in ‘little green cans’ dating back to the mid 1970’s! Boil in the bag camping meals. Some dehydrated foods, packed in cans, sealed in nitrogen (remnants of those paranoid years - that stuff will last forever). Bulk dried rice, beans, and even stranger stuff. Things you would never really want to eat, save in an absolute emergency - but that I’ll be happy to have, if it really ‘hit the fan’.
Note : Read the military experience? Training and supporting ‘equipment’ to ensure personal security is also on hand. Just in case anyone reading thinks attempting to rip me off is a good idea.

5 ) My first repeating of science based information (as reposted on to Facebook) :
- March 2 : Johns Hopkins : “Coronavirus Disease 2019 vs. the Flue
- March 9 : World Health Organization : "Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19)" (often revised)
- Starting about March 10, daily reading at CBC
- March 19 : ARCGIS : “Canadian Outbreak at a Glance” (real time revisions)

6) One of the humorous things here was toilet paper. It had been on sale for half price back on the previous grocery trip, about March 1. So I picked up two large packages back then. Neither of which would end up broached until considerably later, by the way. I heard from a neighbour who was into Dundalk on Sunday March 15 that over the two intervening days, the shelves had been cleared.
Our own use rate, two middle aged adults? One pack of 12 over the month of March 13 to April 14.

At the time, one of the things I certainly noted was that there was no similar run on 'feminine hygiene products' - which certainly suggested to me just who had been doing the panic buying.

7) It should be no real surprise that as artisan makers, both Kelly and I keep both disposable gloves and simple face masks in our workshops. Gloves for working with paints, solvents and acids. Masks mainly for dust (some wood dusts are toxic). Safety glasses and face shields obviously. Plus more heavy duty protective gear for working with more dangerous chemicals sometimes needed in our work.
See end of note # 4.

8 ) One of the important elements Ringo (correctly) introduces is the concept of ‘tipping points’. Not necessarily long slow incremental environmental changes, but more realistically a series of sudden and drastic weather events.
One of the huge ‘differences of opinion’ I have with Ringo’s underlying set up for the novel is his very definitely stated view that global warming is not in fact happening, and that human effect CO2 was in fact *delaying* a natural, and major, global cooling effect. His plot has plague reducing human activity, reduced activity stopping a cushioning effect, so the climate suddenly drops into another ‘Little Ice Age’
Wrong. Look out the window.
This hardly is the experiment we all wanted to run. But the current economic stoppage from COVID-19 isolation is forcing us to undertake the experiment. Hopefully someone is keeping records?

Addition - September 2021

On Privilege (a bit of a rant)

It has pointed out to me, many times over the period since March 2020, that I am somehow 'Privileged'.  In this, people are referencing the fact that I own my own home, that I live in the country, that I have stockpiled resources, that I have certain life skills. They so clearly are NOT referencing race or sex (and it most clearly can not be economics!)

Remember 'Be Prepared' ?

Yes, I am not living in a 15th story two bedroom apartment, with three kids, in downtown Toronto, working some MacJob. 

No one GAVE me my current situation. 


The first actual *vacation* I have ever had in my entire adult life was in February of 2019. I was 64 years old, and had been working constantly, full time, since 1979. Yes - I have had various working trips, where the projects themselves covered the travel costs involved. Yes, I got a travel grant in 2016 to go to Europe and Scotland - where I worked on a total of FOUR different projects.

I never owned an automobile before I was in my mid 30's. I have NEVER owned a vehicle less than 10 year old. I drive them until they get too broken to fix.

I 'shop at the dump'. Regularly. When do buy anything (outside of Wareham Forge supplies) I almost always buy at second hand stores. Even with groceries, a huge amount is 'short dated' mark down. Almost all my electronics are a decade old (or older).

By the time I was thirty, I had saved enough for a down payment on a house. A four room house at 450 square feet (so the size of a one bedroom apartment) on an equally tiny lot. When it was sold 4 1/2 years later, in preparation to purchasing at Wareham, it was the lowest priced house sale in Toronto that year. I managed to clear my mortgage for the property at Wareham in 2019 - after 30 years. 

Is being smart a Privilege?

Is being careful a Privilege?

Is being resourceful a Privilege?

Is working hard a Privilege?


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

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