Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Holiday Treasures - Museum of Dufferin

Museum of Dufferin : Holiday Treasures Exhibit and Sale
December 1 - December 12

the work of 60 local artisan makers, 

this year including the Wareham Forge 

" 2020 marks the 16th year of the Holiday Treasures Arts and Crafts Sale! The warmth and beauty of the season is echoed throughout the Main Gallery of the MoD with beautiful displays of handmade treasures for sale. Find a gift for everyone on your list this holiday season! "

" Due to COVID-19, the MoD is implementing several new health and safety measures for this event:

    •    Shop a selection of items online at dufferinmuseum.shop (store opens December 1) with curb-side pick up, or local delivery to Shelburne, Orangeville, and Alliston!   
    •    Entry to the onsite show & sale will be by timed entry to promote physical distancing. Book your entry date and time online or by phone (https://www.eventbrite.ca/o/museum-of-dufferin-20042706681)
    ⁃    Masks are required when inside the facility
    ⁃    Each Visitor Pass admits up to FOUR people from the same family / ‘social bubble’
    ⁃    Passes timed for 15 minute separation

Museum of Dufferin

Airport Road at Highway 89

(just east of Shelburne)


Available Online from Holiday Treasures

Loom Light candle holder
Hand forged decorative candle holder, based on early Settlement Era 'pendant' candle holders. Includes a bright coloured candle. Each distinctive!
$ 25 ea
Viking Game
Modern interpretation of 'Kings Table', a 1000 year old 'move and capture' game suitable for two players, ages 8 and up.
$35 ea
Introduction to Blacksmithing - DVD
This three hour program contains a wealth of information, including what to look for in used tools, building a home shop, and demonstrations of a number of basic forming techniques.
$25 ea
Historic Bladesmithing - DVD
This two and three quarter hour program deals with the historic development of cutting edges and forging to heat treating of three different blades
$25 ea

Shopping in Person - Small gifts …

Cast Pewter Ornaments and Plaques
Each individually cast in hand cut soapstone holds
$17 and $25 ea

Tendril Hook - $17
Loom Light candle holder - $25
Dinner Triangle - $25
Fireplace Poker - $30
Each hand forged, with individual shaping and details

(seen above)

Viking Game - $35
as described above
(seen above)

Introduction to Blacksmithing DVD - $25
Historic Bladesmithing DVD - $25
‘Forged with Fire’ - perfect for the beginner to get them started on the right foot.

… to One of a Kind Objects

As part of Holiday Treasures find a collection of 10 larger forged objects created by the Wareham Forge :

Wall hanging, table mount and free standing

Glass Hangers
Ranging in scale and complexity, suitable for holding candles or cut flowers
Decorative Bowls
From the ‘Segmented’ and ‘Lines’ series, forged from heavy plate

all prices include required HST

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Samhain Iron Smelt

image by Kelly Probyn-Smith


Ore Total = 65 kg

Bloom Total = 15.9 kg

Yield = 24.5 %

Elapsed Time = 12 1/2 hours

Team = Neil Peterson / Bram Porter / Rey Cogswell / Richard Schwitzer (compaction)

Full report under preparation

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

65 at 65

An iron smelt event

October 31


I have been casting around for some direction to head with the long set of individual iron smelting experiments, now after the better part of 20 years of undertaking.

Start of the insanity : L'Anse aux Meadows - Summer, 2001

 Starting with that initial week long research workshop at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC for Parks Canada, the first years were spent just figuring out how to even get any iron at all (!) I dragged members of the Dark Ages Re-Creation Company into the madness. It would not be until my 6th attempt (# 4 with DARC) in Fall of 2004, that there would actually be a workable iron bloom produced.

I was lucky to fall in with Lee Sauder & Skip Williams, and Mike McCarthy. Mike would boldly start the original 'Early Iron' symposium series, the four of us forming the 'Gangue aux Fer'

Sauder / Williams / McCarthy (me in the back) - Early Iron 1, 2004

Lee would launch an annual series of workshops at his home base in Lexington, Virginia, running 10 - 14 days every March from 2005 through to 2011. At 'Smeltfest', furnaces were built and fired daily, investigating the individual variables which effected the success (or failure!) of bloomery iron production in small scale furnaces. Over those years there would be a number of additions, with Shelton Brower and Steve Mankowski (of Colonial Williamsburg) becoming other core members. Another significant accomplishment would be the development of the 'Aristotle' re-melting furnace, which we tested extensively in 2009.

Brower / Sauder / DIck Sargent / Williams / Mankowski - Smeltfest 2009

Here at Wareham, the experience and knowledge gained from all this trial and error experimentation would start to be applied 'backwards' towards specific historic historical prototypes, potential equipment, and possible methods - most specifically to those from Northern European / Viking Age archaeology.

The first specific archaeological series was with Kevin Smith, based on his excavations at Hals in Iceland, with experimental work starting in October of 2007. A total of 8 full smelts were undertaken in this series, extending through to October 2016. 

Neil Peterson, Icelandic grass sod furnace - Hals #8, 2016

Part of the reason that the Hals series ran so long is that the DARC team was approached by Parks Canada in 2009 about running a full scale re-creation of the iron smelt by the Norse at Vinland, as a public demonstration event in 2010. A total of five experimental smelts were ran in this initial series, to be followed up later by another demonstration event in 2017. Both these smelts at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC would use all circa 1000 type equipment, other than required safety equipment.

Mark Pilgrim (LAM) / Dave Cox (DARC) / me, Vinland #5 (at L'Anse aux Meadows), 2010
Other experimental series work has included two projects from early Scotland :

- Turf To Tools at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop (Lumsden, Aberdeenshire). This based on their local Pictish history (so post Roman / pre Viking). This included one test smelt here in Canada, then four at SSW, in 2014. The second segment of the project was in 2016 and was composed of another three smelts in Scotland. There was a third segment planned to complete this overall combination research and artistic project for September 2020, but COVID lead to postponement. 

- Work at the Scottish Crannogg Centre, based on Early Celtic Iron Age. This series has included one test at Wareham, staff training on site in Aberfeldy in 2016, then a demonstration smelt in 2017. 

Uist Corrigan / Eden Jolly (SSW), T2TA, 2016

Along the way :

- The development of an primary bog iron ore analog, based on the physical characteristics of the natural material found in excavations at L'Anse aux Meadows.

- A number of full scale tests of various historic human powered air systems. (experimentation possibly remains here.)

In total, to date I have personally mounted  over 85 individual iron smelts.  The majority have been intended to answer specific experimental questions, or to accumulate enough working experience to allow useful data to be gathered. There have been a significant number undertaken as public demonstrations, at international symposiums, or as training sessions for students.

'What's next?'

When my long time collaborator and smelting partner Neil Peterson was up to Wareham last week (for a day rendering bloom pieces into useful working bars), he asked what the plan was. The last experimental smelt was the 'Bones' test in June. Although there could be a continuation there, truthfully I don't feel there is much insight to be gained that would be worth the investment in materials, time and effort. I had started some background on early Irish bowl furnaces, but not enough at this point to realistically frame a working experimental series based on this. 

We considered the current test furnace, the stone block, built for a second Icelandic research project over 2019. This furnace has been fired four times at this point, and had suffered some structural damage on its last use (course over Thanksgiving).  Given the shift to colder late fall temperatures (below freezing at night, mid single digits daytime) and the general lack of a clear direction, I decided to repair this furnace for one use.

Condition of the stone block after Oct 11 smelt. The red line is where the original lintel stone (above the extraction arch) had broken out.  

I turn 65 just days after the already scheduled Samhain Iron Smelt, set for Saturday 31 October. 

With tongue in cheek, Neil said " 65 in 65. You could smelt 65 kg of ore. "

Now, the largest volume smelts I personally have ever done have been with 45 kg of ore ( Smeltfest 2005). These also resulted in some of the largest blooms, into the range of plus 20 kg. Attempting 65 kg could increase everything by 40 %, importantly the amount of charcoal and raw working time ( * ). Bloom yield also increases steeply with larger ore amounts. I'm not really sure the furnace on hand would contain what likely would be such a massive bloom!

Past use of this specific furnace has shown it will accept alternating 2 and 3 kg charges at the end (this against standard 1.8 kg charcoal amounts, burn rate averaging 14 minutes.) The stone mass has been found to take significantly longer to come up to working temperature (in the past about 2 + hours). With our normal roughly 30 kg ore amounts, the elapsed time of the main sequence has been in the range of 5 hours.That all suggests an attempt at a 65 kg smelt would add about another 3 - 3 1/2 hours to the main smelt sequence, suggesting a total experimental time (first pre-heat to final extraction) of 12 1/2 hours. ( ** ) 

Just recently, the metal bands on my cut wooden barrel slack tub failed. One of the 'mystic' things here is that tub has never been emptied since I set up the forge at Wareham, back in 1990. (This included some water gathered from the point where Black Duck Brook mixes with the ocean, just downstream from the Smelter Hut at L'Anse aux Meadows.) In the process of replacing the bands, 30 years of accumulated iron forge scale was collected. This material, 2.5 kg, had been added to the analog mix being made in preparation for Saturday's smelt. This material is still drying, but there should be at least 30 - 32 kg of analog.

As I have mentioned before, the region around Wareham does not contain any naturally occurring iron ore. This has meant over the years having to use a wide range of types (and quality!) of ores, perhaps more than any other long working team :

- primary bog iron ore - Newfoundland / Denmark

- 'Lexington Brown' limonite - Virginia

- industrial taconite - Ontario / Scotland

- hematite grit - Quebec

- red iron oxide as analog

- black iron oxide as analog

It has occurred to me that I do have plenty of the other ore types we have worked with here over past experiments. Right now I have a good large amount of variable quality Lexington limonite, including a 'smelt's worth' already roasted an partially broken for size. There is also about 40 kg of hematite grit remaining. 

This suggests starting with 6.5 kg of the limonite (pretty much were we started, and a tribute to Lee and Skip), followed by 6.5 kg of the hematite (which actually was the next ore body which we worked with, easily available in Ontario back at that point). The limonite, which I gathered, does tend to be on the lower iron content side. This should be balanced with the hematite, which if anything tends to be too rich (lacking in silica for slag formation). The balance will be the current analog mix.

This is an 'open invitational' event - with limits imposed by COVID.

What that means is that interested individuals may attend, but do need to contact me directly before attending, ideally by e-mail

Core working team is likely to be gathered from those with past experience. Although observers are welcome, this is not a 'teaching' styled event. (Ok - we all know it is hard to shut me up!)

- Masking will be required

- Distancing will be in effect

- Visitors will have no access to the residence. 

( * ) This not strictly true. At the later end of a smelt sequence, charges are typically large, 1 : 1 with charcoal, or even more. 

( ** ) The limiting factor may turn out to be charcoal. Between what I have on hand here, and what Neil has in store, the total looks to be 12 bags / 100 kg. A normal 30 kg smelt typically consumes about 60 kg. Hopefully this will be 'just enough'.

One problem right now is that with COVID, the normally used 'Maple Leaf' brand via Home Hardware is completely out of stock - and back ordered to at least Spring 2021. Recently Canadian Tire was able to secure a bulk order of Royal Oak out of the USA. Neil grabbed a large quantity, but stores quickly ran through that stock.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Rendering some Blooms


My smelting partner Neil Peterson was up again yesterday for another session forging bloom pieces down to working bars. For Neil this is skills development, for me it is nudging me into the forge.

Although hardly conclusive, I thought I would pull together some (very!) rough numbers on ore / bloom / bar. The purpose of these working sessions has been primarily to bring Neil's skill at forge welding and working with bloomery iron (and to further refine my own skills!). For that reason, we have been going through the considerable pile of mainly DARC experimental results. We have been selecting smaller, roughly fist sized fragments or sections, largely because these best fit into on hand forges for effective heating, and also under the dies of the two major power tools available here. Starting with pieces in the 500 gm range also leads to fairly effective hand hammering. (It should be also noted that all the forge work was via a modern coal forge!)

As it turns out, the two bloom pieces chosen are actually from one of the very first, and one of the very last, smelting efforts here.

One element that needs to be considered is that quite intentionally, almost all the smelts we undertake are deliberately on the smaller ore mass side. Our standard is using 25 - 30 kg of ore. As primarily our purpose is to test various variables related first functional furnaces, and later to specific historic prototypes, this has proven a large enough ore amount to certainly generate a viable bloom. These amounts have also tended to result in total bloom sizes in the 3 - 5 kg range. When quartered, you can see this means individual segments (depending on consistency) in the 700 - 1200 gm range - smaller pieces more easily rendered to bar by a single worker. 

As anyone who has made their own bloomery iron knows, it takes a certain addition of ore to 'prime' the system, in my experience typically about 8 kg to create a working slag bowl (1)


The piece Neil chose was a segment of the June 2020 'Bones' experiment. Of itself, this was not aimed at iron production, but actually testing the survival of bone as added at differing spots in the overall smelting sequence. In terms of iron production, this smelt was a disappointment, a low yield and resulting in a very crumbly textured bloom.

Bloom Pieces (6/20) Neil had chosen the bottom centre piece

This was the second working session for Neil using this bloom piece, which started as 407 gms. On his first session, he had collapsed what is obviously a quite fragmented and 'slaggy' piece into a rough 'brick'. This still had major flaws (cracks), especially to the two ends. Neil worked the small piece holding with tongs. A high number of welding steps were undertaken, certainly more than ideal. However Neil was quite new to forge welding as a process (and overall blacksmithing as a skill set). At that stage, the piece had been reduced to 240 gm.

Working Sequence - image by Neil Peterson

Working Thursday (Oct 23) Neil continued, first compressing and welding up the end flaws, then flattening to a 'book' shape. He then scored and folded, rewelding the two half sections (again all using tongs). This 'brick' shape was then drawn out under the air hammer into the bar seen above. Total 183 gm at roughly 3/4 x 5 1/4 x 1/4 inches. Spark test suggested the result was in the range of a mid carbon content (in the range of 50 points - 1/2%) (2)

I had chosen a grouping of small fragments which had previously been slightly compacted, and MIG welded on to mild steel flat bar handles. The selection was mainly because individually the pieces were roughly the same size, but individually really too small to expect much by way of useful size when compacted. As it turned out on examination, these pieces were all from our very first truly successful bloom creation, from Oct 2004. It should be noted that I did not have numbers on the weight of the starting bloom fragments leading to these pieces, which were at least partially compacted. ( 3 )

Bloom fragments : Oct 2004

I left the handle attached to the largest of these pieces, at 219 gm, then stacked the remaining two, at 95 and 165 gm, for a starting total of 480 gm. Although the starting shapes made for a poor fit, I lightly tack MIG welded the pieces together for ease of handling. 

starting fragments - before tack welding together

Honestly, I have hardly been in the forge at all since COVID lockdown started. So I was actually pretty surprised how easily these fragments worked up. Despite the considerable distance between the coal forge and the hydraulic press, I chanced making the first weld compression using the press. The result was a fully welded together flat plate, with the expected ragged edges. These actually welded in fairly nicely, with less lost fragments than I really expected. Early in this process the handy bar stick broke free, so the remainder of the work was done gripping with tongs. There was one large surface flaw that developed (largely the result of the layering of the central and smallest piece as seen above) It occurred that quick transfer on to the air hammer easily welded in this large diagonal crack. There was no second fold and weld (as Neil had done). The end result was a small bar at 391 gm, roughly 1 x 8 x 3/8 inches. This spark tested to a bit less carbon than the mild steel reference bar, so something about 15 points - 1/6 %

The two finished bars (Darrell top / Neil bottom)

As bloomery iron makers, we talk much about the ore to bloom phase yields. This is not really a fair comparison between individuals, or really between individual smelt events. Ore type, iron content will obviously have a major impact on even theoretical results.  Larger volume ore in a smelt seriously impacts expected yields, with minimum amounts needed to get anything, increasing amount also serving to increase not just bloom weight, but also per cent return. 

In this case, there are not good numbers for the initial ore to bloom phase :

Oct 2004 = (minimal) Notes indicate 2.0 kg bloom mass, but no record of the amount of 'Lexington Brown' limonite ore that was used. 

June 2020 = (better!) Notes indicate 2.6 bloom mass, from 24.75 DD2 analog. At 10% yield within a regularly used furnace build and proven method, clearly something else effected the result. The major difference was the addition of several KG of bone (some with meat attached) during the smelt.

Looking at just the starting bloom to working bar phase however, some allowance needs to be made for the skill of the individual workers :

Neil (novice) = 407 returns 183 gm @ 45 %

Darrell (experienced) = 480 returns 391@ 81 %

But honestly, the variable quality of the starting material is most certainly an important factor as well!


1) Certainly a variable dependent on the ore quality / content. (Since 2016) We have been using a method illustrated by Micheal Nissen of Denmark, where the first 3 - 5 kg charges are made of iron rich tap slag retained from an earlier smelt. This has proven to more quickly establish the working slag bowl, thus meaning the following additions of ore go straight into bloom creation. Overall this method will significantly improve overall yields.

2) It is important to note that this kind of 'Spark Test' is at best both relative, and based largely on personal experience. Known bars of known mild (20 point - 1/5%) / spring (45 point - 1/2%) / high carbon (95 point - 1%) are used for comparison. The bloomery bars are air annealed, with the central part of the bar used against the grinder. It is well understood that bloomery iron, by its very creation process, is quite inconsistent in carbon content (top to bottom / inside to outside of the same bloom can show quite different carbon contents. The number of welding heats taken during the bloom to bar operation can effect carbon content. The size of the starting piece, and the number of folds done in the bar creation, will also have an effect in the results.

3) This smelt was # 6 - so very early in our experience. Up to that point we had extremely poor results, we were still trying to figure out how to get much of anything to function correctly. Note taking had not evolved into any kind of standard. This smelt actually was undertaken almost on the spur of the moment (on a wet afternoon, beer was involved). It turned out to be the first attempt at what would develop into the 'Econo-Norse' test / teaching furnace design. Taken altogether, it is amazing we ended up with iron at all!


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

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