Saturday, November 16, 2019


Kelly took me to the Ripley's Aquarium in Toronto, Thursday.
Here is some of the take...

'Traffic' : A large cylindrical tank of Alewives (?), endlessly swimming in circles.
A large Atlantic Lobster (about 24 inches?), tucked back between rocks.
Lion Fish, head on view.
Jellyfish - dramatically lit.

I took a good series of reference images for the Lion Fish against an idea that struck me for kinetic sculpture.
Another series for Kelly of the Jellyfish, again for potential future sculpture.

We spent a good long time near the start of the long walk through (under) the huge topical reef tank. This pool has a snaking tunnel running through it, which lets you see the resident fish up close as they swim their lazy circles.
I did wonder how the cluster of sharks (looked to be a dozen, of various species), some up to a good 8 feet long, coped with the density of fish and spaces. These are sharks after all (not the brightest of creatures), but in the wild have a lot more roaming space most certainly.

It was charming to see the youngest children, obviously enthralled with how close they were to the animals. And honestly (given my recent experiences) encouraged by those parents who were enthusiastically giving their children what was certainly to be a formative experience.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Remembrance Day - 2019

I'm floundering a bit today.
Remembrance Day is always hard for me. I served in the Canadian Army Reserves, 1972 - 1976. I had signed up (underage by about two months), roughly the same week as the Fall of Saigon in Vietnam. My own family economics made television use both limited and spotty. So I personally do not remember seeing 'the War in the living room'. I did end up having instructors who had served in Vietnam, and most certainly a certain attitude towards combat, which I never have directly experienced, was instilled. Anyone who knows me is aware of how deeply those four years of evenings, weekends and summers effected my developing character as a young adult.

Of my two closest and ancient friends, both had experience on the sharp end. One first during peace keeping in Egypt, then later during drug interdiction in Mexico. The other through two tours with the 101 in Vietnam, and later peace keeping in Cyprus. Through these two, and other associated friends, I have met (often over drinks) a number of men (mainly) who were then, or had been, serving military, in a number of national uniforms. Often being the 'wannabe' at the table, I have tried to listen and learn from the experiences of others. 
One of those friends, although still close in spirit, now lives on the other end of the country. We swap the odd e-mail, keep in tough through Facebook notes. The other has faded back into himself, withdrawn from most all the world and attempts in communication have just failed. 'Radio Check, Over' gets nothing but a quiet static hiss...

For years and years on this day, the three of us would do our best to gather in some quiet corner, hauling out old rank badges and drinking a toast 'to absent friends'. Sometimes a propped up photo with its shot glass holding it up. Over the years, the circle had changed, other 'true spirits' dropping in, our out, as situation allowed. 

But this year, the darkness will only be held back by a single candle. 
And for myself, the last few months have seen the darkness certainly gathering strength.

Artist Unknown - Image stolen from 'Wear Your Poppy with Pride'
Observing students at Laurier in Waterloo last Thursday, two things were obvious.  
  • Remembrance Day is clearly a Western / European marking. 
  • And a modern generation, who have had such limited personal experience with a 'shooting war', don't much mark it either. 
 Now, in an abstract sense, I understand this. The World Wars were massive efforts, by both military and civilian. In WWI, about 10% of the entire Canadian population were serving military. Of those some 39% were casualties (dead or wounded). Because in many rural communities, the entire population of young men would enlist, train, fight (and often die) together, this impact was devastating.
In WW2, the percentage of serving military was again roughly 10%. The number of casualties was greatly lower, here closer to 10%.
In both cases, there was a general draft / conscription of soldiers, although a great many volunteered. Since WW2, Canadian combat troops have been drawn from the (volunteer) enlisted in either the full time Regular Forces or the part time Reserves.

The Korean War had roughly 26,000 Canadians involved (during the conflict, more after as peacekeepers)
In Vietnam, the total was roughly 30,000.

Since those days, Canadian soldiers have been involved (and sometimes casualties of) many peacekeeping missions worldwide. It is often said Canadians 'invented' peacekeeping. Croatia / Bosnia and Somolia most notably.
Then the Gulf War(s) and Afghanistan.
In truth, some number of Canadian soldiers have almost been in constant overseas combat roles, to some degree, for the last 70 years.

'Lest we Forget' is more than just honouring those who were maimed or slaughtered to create the free democracy we Canadians now enjoy.

It also is about remembering the Responsibility we, as citizens, hold to ensure the next generation also has these freedoms. To be willing to undertake the often violent measures that are need, and to endure the risks involved.

It certainly is about remembering the Cost of our high words and good intentions. The very real debt we all owe to those who have been willing to place their own fragile bodies between the civilian and danger.

Never forget that contract.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

'Archaic' First Nations Copper Tools

I had been contacted by Gino Ferri of Survival in the Bush a (long) while back about a project involving First Nations copper tools. His desire was for a socketed style adze and a triangular axe blade. It should be noted that only vague descriptions of final shapes were given, so considerable background research had to be undertaken (beyond any technical production aspects).

'Etowa Mounds' Copper Axes (note thickness!)
Gino had provided me with a large pile of copper wire, which had previously had the insulation burned off. The intent here was to melt this down into plates or ingots, then use that material to form the replicas.  I had mentioned I was in the process of working up a ‘medium’ scale, propane fired, furnace base for potential bronze casting use. In the end that project was long delayed (still not really not to the production level).
Ancient copper smelting (reduction from ore) was not so different than the furnaces I regularly use for bloomery iron making. If anything, the copper furnaces are smaller, although they do work in roughly the same temperature ranges (≠ 1100 C for copper) (1). So I remain fairly confident that a modified version of our standard clay cobb build (likely a shorter shaft) fuelled with charcoal will serve to melt the scrap into a rough ingot.
But this in itself will be its own learning sequence, and sure to consume almost as much in materials as the value of the scrap on hand (2)

Royal Ontario Museum
Medium: Copper
Geography: Bedford Park, Toronto, ON
Date: 4000-1000 CE
Period: Middle - Late Archaic period
Dimensions: (not given)
Object number: HD10407
Medium: Native copper
Geography: Ontario, Canada
Date: 3500-2500 BC
Period: Middle Archaic (6000-2500 BC)
Dimensions: 14.1 x 8.7 x 2.7 cm
Object number: NS3664

(Images and descriptions above taken from the ROM’S on line collections data)

Note the dating for the Archaic Period ranges from 8000 - 1000 BC. The objects are being only rough dated above, by style more than C-14.
Source copper is most likely from ‘Northern Great Lakes’, but you can see even the find locations are vague in these descriptions.

As (considerably) more digging on the internet was to show, hard information on early copper working by First Nations was to prove difficult to find…

Milwaukee Public Museum

“ The Old Copper Complex, also known as the Old Copper Culture, refers to the items made by early inhabitants of the Great Lakes region during a period that spans several thousand years and covers several thousand square miles. The most conclusive evidence suggests that native copper was utilized to produce a wide variety of tools beginning in the Middle Archaic period circa 4,000 BC. The vast majority of this evidence comes from dense concentrations of Old Copper finds in eastern Wisconsin. These copper tools cover a broad range of artifact types: axes, adzes, various forms of projectile points, knives, perforators, fishhooks, and harpoons. By about 1,500 BC, artifact forms began to shift from utilitarian objects to personal ornaments, which may reflect an increase in social stratification toward the Late Archaic and Early Woodland period (Pleger 2000). While copper continued to be used in North America up until European contact, it was only used in small amounts, primarily for symbolic ornaments.
To date, there is no convincing evidence that archaic populations of the Old Copper Complex smelted copper to pour into pre-made moulds (Martin 1999). Indeed, many copper artifacts show extreme uniformity and quality, indicating a high degree of technological specialization. This has led to speculation that Old Copper Complex artisans did in fact reach the level of smelting copper ore (Neiburger 1984). “

" The socketed spud is one of the more distinctive types of Old Copper artifacts. There is a large range in size and style of these artifacts, which may indicate both the time and place of their manufacture. They would have been hafted onto a wooden handle for increased accuracy and efficiency. Nevertheless, the function of these tools was primarily for woodcarving and possibly bark stripping.(Left to Right: 2144, 11616/1487, 11812/1571, 15728/4394, 15752/4947, 11622/1487, 2176, 11838/1571) "

" Axes and wedges are somewhat similar to chisels and celts in that they were probably often used for cutting wood and felling trees. Some of these artifacts show signs of being hammered on the butt end, perhaps for the purpose of splitting logs.(Left to Right: 11613/1487, 11614/1487, 11861/1571, 56432/22174, 11615/1487, 48414/15407, 2135, 11619/1487, 2234) "

Web page produced by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Anthropology and Museum Studies graduate student, Kevin M. Cullen in 2006

Copper Culture

“ There is disagreement among the archeological community as to the time period to ascribe to the Old Copper Complex. Dates range from over 7000 years BP to 3000 years BP. The greatest disagreement seems to be over the beginning age of the Old Copper Complex. Carbon-14 testing of organic materials found with Old Copper Complex artifacts has established a date of at least 6000+ years BP. Carbon testing of wood remains found in sockets of artifacts in our own collection has produced dates as old as 5900+ years BP. Copper continued to be used into proto-historic times, long after the demise of the Old Copper Complex. Many of the copper artifacts from the Old Copper Complex differ from those of later manufacture, with many of the later artifacts being smaller, less utilitarian and more ornamental. “

“ The presence of gas bubbles on the surface of a few Copper Complex artifacts has been taken by some as evidence that these artifacts were in fact cast from molten copper. I have yet to see empirical evidence to support this copper casting hypothesis, no molds, no furnaces, no copper drippings and no slag as found with ancient or historic foundry operations and no partially completed artifacts with a casting sprue still in place. What has been shown to be true through modern day experimentation is that gas bubbles are rountinely formed in the pound/anneal process. Gas bubbles have been shown to form when copper is heated to a red-hot state in the annealing process due to gas expanding and attempting to be released. The vaporization of impurities in the copper can account for these bubbles. There would actually be more surface gas bubbles observed if it were not for the highly oxidized condition of many copper artifacts which has obliterated them. This phenomenon has been observed numerous times in the process of copper tools being fashioned by modern day artisans using the pound/anneal process. “

David H. Peterson
Two Harbors, Minnesota
(Independent Researcher)

Pulling together a number of descriptions this is what I could determine :

- ‘Native Copper’ in this part of North America, appears to have its primary geographical source as modern day northern Michigan, Wisconsin, Ontario around Sault Set Marie.
- Natural copper is also found as random sedimentary deposited ‘nuggets’ over a wider range, most likely due to ancient glaciation effects.
- During the earlier phase of the NA Archaic period, larger ‘plates’ of natural copper were available, likely as surface finds. (3) As time progressed, deposits were worked through at least limited surface mining, plus using fire to crack open larger rocks to break free hard to recover plates.
- The larger size of these plates allowed for cold hammering into correspondingly large objects, allowing for the creation of tools like wedge axes and socketed adze forms. (4)
- As time progressed, creation of these kind of large working (?) tools fades, objects of copper become much smaller and more decorative types. Taken together (method and object size changes) this certainly suggests dwindling raw materials as the reason.
- There is no archeological evidence, either on objects or as related tools and importantly lack of furnaces / slag that would indicate smelting or casting methods were ever used.
- There is structural evidence seen on objects of the annealing process being used. (5)
- There is no specific structural evidence seen on objects for use of forging (hot working).

My first step, once I had gathered the basic data was to determine just which of the limited artifact samples I was going to use as prototypes. Looking over what was available, I decided to chose two objects from the Milwaukee Museum collection : 11616/1487 and 56432/22174
In both cases I only had ‘top down’ images, so details like thickness or possible curvatures could only be guessed at.
I have in the past found that the best method to get a clear idea the actual sizes and proportions of artifact objects is to attempt to modify the source images to ‘life size’. This was to prove a bit of a WAG in this case, as even though the images had scales, there were no units indicated. There was also a bit of image processing via Photoshop to reduce to black and white and increase contrast.

11616/1487 prototype to the left
56432/22174 prototype centre
My next problem was - just what materials did I actually have on hand? This would actually serve to modify the final sizes of the replicas, as much as scaling the images might.
As it turned out, I had one flat plate of copper, already partially forged, as well as a thick square block I considered about the correct size.

As discussed above, the original objects owe much of their shapes to their own starting materials, relatively thin plates. The artifacts would have been cold worked using hand held or possibly wood shafted stone hammers.
I most certainly ‘cheated’ in my own work! With access to a propane forge for easily controlled heating, I worked all my shaping working hot (6). Some of the initial profiling (especially taking the thick block to the blank for the adze) was done using my 75 lb air hammer. Also using a modern (c 1900) large, steel anvil, and modern steel hammers. I deliberately did my rough shaping using the slightly rounded surface of a crown hammer, finishing with my trusted round shaped main forging hammer. Both of these specifically chosen as I felt it unlikely square shaped hammers would have been used by the original copper workers here.

As the requirement was for an adze, a more specific design than the general ’spud’ shape seen in the artifacts, I curved the body of this tool more in keeping with later period iron woodworking tools I have made in the past. Each cutting edge was roughly drawn down to about 1/8 of an inch thick. I then (cheating again) used a belt sander to trim the mostly ragged edge to straight. The final edge (to about 1/16 inch) was then formed by cold hammering, which would also serve to at least slightly work harden this.
As a last step, the finished tools were cleaned to remove the dark oxide fire scale by socking in a salt + vinegar solution and scrubbing by hand.

All in all, I am extremely pleased with the final results.
The sizes are certainly within the range seen in the artifact samples, with the axe blade at about 3/8 inch thick. There might be some question on the curveture  used for the adze, with certainly is more based on past experience than knowledge of the artifacts.

Notes :

1)  “ The oldest (Old World) copper ornament dates back to around 8700 BC and it was found in the modern territories of Northern Iraq.
There is evidence for copper smelting and recovery through processing of malachite and azurite in different parts of the world dating back to 5000 BC. “

2) I had to dig around to get some numbers on the current value of scrap copper.
As industrial scrap, the current cost appears to be about $7.50 CDN per kilogram. Copper hit its peak cost about 8 years back, to about $12 per kg.
As a side note : Canadian pennies, before 1996, are 98% copper. It took about 420 pennies to make one kilogram weight.

3) The indication is that the natural copper being used here was formed as molten copper, formed and heated far underground, was forced into wide cracks in the surrounding rock matrix. Through the ages, natural processes (with a huge help via glaciers) forced up and eventually exposed or broke free these plate shapes.

4) The final weight of the two replicas seen here was 1700 gems, so about 850 gems each. These pieces are slightly smaller than the prototypes chosen, which themselves were on the larger end of the collected artifacts seen in reference images.

5) Copper, naturally quite soft, will ‘work harden’ as hammered. Eventually the metal will become hard and brittle enough that it can crack or break. For copper based materials, a worker can mitigate this effect by softening via annealing. In this case, the technique is heating the metal to a ‘blood red’ and quenching. The ideal practice is to finish a cutting edge by lightly hammering to thus work harden the final shape. Fine examination of the structural texture of objects shows this combination of methods having been used (thus understood by at least some artisans).

6) For any working smiths reading :
Copper is wonderful material to forge! Works in the orange ranges. As the melting point is in the 1100 C range, a propane forge is ideal. As the material cools, it merely becomes slightly (!) more rigid. (This unlike bronze, which depending on alloy, can become tragically brittle below forging temperature.)
Yes, as a material, is is roughly 10 x the cost of steel per lb. But on the other hand, experience has shown that an agressively forged copper object, despite the relative ease of the working, usually will command 10 x the finished selling price as well!
Re-cycled copper bus bar material is ideal.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Samhain Iron Smelt - Nov 2

Saturday November 2

the Wareham Forge

9 am work starts

5 - 6 pm for extraction

The general intent here is to have some numbers on different slag addition approaches within the use of the same furnace.
I propose using roughly the same ore mix and amount (so roughly 26 kg) as the two earlier smelts of 2019
This time clear out all the remaining inside slag, but not add any additional.

June - first use of the stone block
2.8 kg of iron slag added as the first three charges
actual ore addition = 24.2 kg (corrected for water)
bloom was 7.0 kg = 34% yield

October - second use of furnace
about 1/3 (??) of the slag bowl from June was left in place
no additional slag added
ore addition was 26.2 kg (not corrected for water, which is typically 10 %, so to match above = 24 kg)
bloom was 6.2 kg = 24% yield

This stone block furnace is based on the remains at Skogar, Iceland, and represents one possible interpretation based on some of the furnaces built there during, and after, the Viking Age. *

I suspect this will mean a reduced yield (ore into slag bowl)
The smelt is likely going to be a bit 'dry' as well, which may impact on bloom size / shape / density.
Past experience has pretty much shown adding slag at the start improves yield and quality.

* Note : I had been the process of preparing a very detailed report of my own interpretation based on three recently excavated 'Settlement Era' iron processing sites in Iceland. This work was halted with my sudden 'withdrawl' from the 'Firing Ancient Secrets' project - caused primarily due to differences over (lack of) information sharing and overall approach. 
At some point I will return to the considerable work I had undertaken, and publish my own observations as backed by the available published evidence. During my own involvement with 'Firing - Secrets' I had been expressly forbidden by the project leader from sharing ANY of the related information (!)

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

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