Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hey - I * AM * one of those people...

WARNING - Sure to offend someone!

I laughed my self silly, what I needed in a stress filled couple of weeks.
Then I thought about how once again, museums will be getting screwed over. Lack of funding always directly results in staff cuts and reductions in programs and limits on access to collections.

Who VOTED for these clowns? Remember this when we get our once every four year chance to try to effect the machine coming up soon...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What ever happened to...

F.Braun McCash

Working on the upcoming Grave Goods exhibit, while at the same time having an old friend die on me has me taking a roll call. There are not as many empty files as I had feared, but frankly I feel like the mortar shells are incoming and starting to bracket my position.

Those who remember Braun from that same period of the late seventies and early eighties may have seen him in glimpses on film and TV. His largest body of work is the years of the Highlander TV series, where he worked as the fight master, along with a number of on camera appearances.
So it turns out that he will be showing at 'Indylander', a 'members only' Highlander fan convention coming up in Indianapolis, Indiana over the weekend of October 3 - 5, 2008. Not exactly a local event for us here in Ontario, but it does drag him over to this end of the continent from his home turf in BC.
The 'members only' thing may have something to due with local ordinances? Pre-registration only, limited to 300. Cost is $250 US for the full package (I assume includes the hotel), or $60 US per day admission. No tickets at the door.

For someone who despised even an electric typewriter, he now actually has a computer, e-mail and an honest to god web site:
(Of course, in keeping with the Luddite theme, the site is broken as I pen this...)

He recently wrote me:
... Makes you's useless old farts like (us) that just keep on going and going - the the Viagra Bunny - thump, thump, thump...
Take heart - there's a reason we're still around. We're here to serve as a good bad example.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ad Mail from the Conservatives

I normally try to keep these postings limited to subjects related to the Viking Age and iron working. Way back when, my good friend Steve Muhlberger advised me to keep a pretty tight focus for my readers.

Sometimes though, things just piss me off...

In the last three weeks, I have had five pieces of what is no more (in my opinion) than 'simple' ad mail from my local Conservative Member of Parliament. Each boils down some of the most complex issues confronting Canada to the simplest statements. The whole approach offends me, as a Citizen, tax payer and thinking individual.

The topic statements:
Do you support the Governments actions to lessen your tax burden?
Who do you think will best represent Canada on the world stage?
Who is on the right track on supporting our troops?
Who do you think is on the right track on crime?
Who do you think is on the right track on taxes?

Today I sent the following to my MP:

Over the last two or three weeks, our household has received several mailings from your office. Each is a one sheet, with a tear off return portion 'no postage required'.

I'm afraid I find these mailings little more than Party propaganda.
Each narrows complex issues down to a single Yes / No statement and asks to indicate my Party support. Not a question about the issue mind you - but the party platform.
It is extremely hard to see this as little more than pre - election positioning.

My question - just who is funding these mailings?
If the cost is coming from Conservative Party funds (and not from tax revenues), then you are absolutely free to spend the money as you wish. There is absolutely nothing on any of the five notices I have in front of me to indicate this. The only hint may be found in the return address - your House of Commons office in Ottawa.
If the cost of these mailings is being drawn from my tax dollars, I strongly object to this use of the money.

An election is certain, and the stage managing of the Conservatives is not fooling anyone with half a brain. It is hard to see these sudden broadsheets as nothing more than simple advertising against an election that your Party is delaying. (Suddenly there is a twice weekly interest in my opinion? Funny that this was not sought at any other time in the mandate.)

As has been reported in the press - its time to 'fish or cut bait'

But make sure the cost of the bait is not coming from my pocket please.

Friday, August 22, 2008

‘Vikings’ building boat on Northern Peninsula

The article below was poached from the The Western Star (Corner Brook NL) - 22/08/08 - The original author is not listed.
Wade Hillier, left, and Mike Sexton, Viking actors at L’Anse aux Meadows, work on building a small Norse boat called a “faering” from scratch. — Submitted Photo

L’ANSE AUX MEADOWS — It’s been 1,000 years in the making, but Vikings are once again engaged in boat building and repair on the tip of the Northern Peninsula.

Thanks to a new interpretive program at the Norse site L’Anse aux Meadows called From the Tree to the Sea, visitors can watch and learn, and maybe even lend a hand, as costumed interpreters build a faering — a small Norse boat with overlapping planks and boat nails — from scratch.

Armed with an array of traditional, hand-forged tools, Chief Bjorn the Beautiful (portrayed by Mike Sexton) and his team of Viking men will be handcrafting the faering.

They will carve out the stem and hand-shape the planks, close to how archaeological evidence indicates the Norse did in repairing their smaller vessels’ iron ship nails.

Evidence of wood-cutting activities indicate that major Norse activities at the L’Anse aux Meadows site concentrated on small boat repair.

The project is expected to run for two seasons, at the completion of which Bjorn plans to launch the boat. Not to be left out, the Chief’s wife Thora (played by Bonnie Blake-Hynes) and her team of women will be weaving a sail for the faering, while Ragnar the blacksmith (Mark Pilgrim) forges boat nails in the related program From the Fire to the Faering.

From the Tree to the Sea was developed as part of Parks Canada’s Explorer Quotient (EQ) initiative. In partnership with the Canadian Tourism Commission, Gros Morne National Park, Port aux Choix and L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Sites are introducing visitors to EQ, a new tool which matches visitors with experiences tailored to their specific needs.

As part of the EQ process, staff at each site conducted an inventory of the programs currently offered, looked at new ways of reaching visitor types that haven’t been reached in the past and developed many new programs with the ‘explorer’ type of visitor in mind.

From the Tree to the Sea is an example of this process, providing visitors with a chance to actively participate in one of the site’s traditional activities.

To discover their EQ type, visitors can take a short quiz online at or drop by any of the Parks Canada visitor centres at the sites. With the completion of the quiz, a computer program calculates responses and identifies visitors as one of nine “Explorer Types.”

They then receive tailored advice from Parks Canada staff about programs, services and activities identified especially for them.

Visitors can participate in the From the Tree to the Sea program every fine day this summer, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

For more information, please contact L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic site at (709)623-2608.

" They will carve out the stem and hand-shape the planks, close to how archaeological evidence indicates the Norse did in repairing their smaller vessels’ iron ship nails.

Evidence of wood-cutting activities indicate that major Norse activities at the L’Anse aux Meadows site concentrated on small boat repair."

This quote perhaps does not clearly state the range of activities proven by the archaeology at L'Anse aux Meadows.

Fragments representing about 50 wrought iron rivets and their roves (rectangular washers) were found scattered outside a kind of open ended workshop attached to one of the Norse houses. This certainly is the remains of a fairly major repair event to one of the ships, with the normal spacing between rivets about 15 cm or so.

The primary working tool for the project is the axe. The there were seven different axes produced, each hand forged using historic methods. The other tools employed are also exact replicas of those employed in the Viking Age. These tools, along with the lapstrake construction method (overlapping planks riveted to each other rather than to a rigid frame) make the whole project more 'ancient' than 'traditional' to Newfoundland boat building methods.

The current project to build a replica faering is extremely ambitious, likely to consume 1500 to 2000 labour hours. That the interpretive staff is limiting itself to all Viking Age tools and methods is even more exceptional. This level of historical detailing has never been attempted before anywhere in North America, with the closest parallel being the work at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde Denmark.

Further information on the web:
Official Parks Canada / L'Anse aux Meadows
Unofficial on the 'Norse Encampment' program
Check earlier postings for commentary on the creation of the tools

For readers of Hammered Out Bits:
The photo is obviously a posed for promotion one - rather than a serious attempt to record the work in progress. Mike (in the foreground) is pretty much wailing away on a piece of garbage timber. The quality and nature of the wood is completely unsuitable for ship construction. (Its barely suitable for fire wood!) The axe he has in his hands is intended as a light trimming axe - to be used for fine finish shaping of a prepared timber. It should not be used to hack away for heavy roughing out.

One of my largest reservations about the entire LAM project centres on the timber. The long thin planking needs to be spit out of clear and straight grained logs - ideally oak. For a faering hull in the range of 14 - 16 feet, the starting logs required need to be in the range of 20 feet long and roughly 18 inches in diameter. Not at all easy to come by (not to mention very expensive). Individual cross braces should be shaped from timber sections carefully selected for the correct underlaying grain patterns.

The estimate on construction time given is based on what I was told by A.G. Smith, who has actually built one of these same boats. (DARC had been considering construction of a faering as a group project). His advice:
1) Purchase a good set of commercial plans. He suggested the Shearwater or Elf Faering
2) Expect to build two boats, the first in plywood as a test bed before considering a second using 'real wood'.
3) Rough cost for the project would run something like $1500 - $2000
4) Expect something like 1000 to 1500 hours - thats using modern power tools!

Another serious concern of mine is how the tools will be used. I'm afraid that the interpretive staff of the Encampment program have proved in the past extremely 'hard on the tools' (to put it mildly). The complete line of tools I have created for this project have been made to closely duplicate the original artifacts. This does mean that they must be handled in a fashion different than modern types. Key to correct use will be maintaining the sharp edges they were originally provided with. Axes as used in the Viking Age are intended for shearing cuts. Accuracy rather than brute force. Each of the seven axes provided are intended for a specific task, from splitting logs through to final flat surfacing of the planks.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dianne Heron : 1945 - 2008

Dianne Heron died in her sleep on Monday August 11.

Known as Dea to all but her most ancient friends, I have known her since the early 1980's. Some of my regular readers may remember Dianne (as Deadra of Carlisle) inside the SCA. She was one of the people who made up the 'Golden Age of Septentria' in those days. She was one of the Consorts of Ealdormere from the time of the Troubles. Although largely absent from the SCA in recent years, many a new member was guided into the Society by her gentle hand. She was a textile worker of considerable skill, known mainly for counted stitch embroidery.

Dianne, a native of Rode Island USA, was truly a participant in the radical years of the late 1960's. Originally an American citizen, she was actually at Woodstock, and active in Democratic political campaigns. She came to Canada with her husband of the time when he dodged the draft for the Viet Nam war.

Her friends will remember her sharp intellect, wide ranging interests and dry sense of humour. Sadly, her life was often disordered. Her health had not been especially good over the last year. She had just undergone minor surgery last week, although signs are she was peacefully at sleep at the time of her death.

Over the years I had never been able to take a very good picture of her. This image of her and (then husband) Jordan Heron was taken at Pensic in 1984 (?). Dianne was striking in the mobility of her features, something that mere film can never capture.

The world has become less interesting...

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Acid Etching ??

This question came into the NORSEFOLK discussion group:

>I just recently picked up a couple or norseish handaxes (cold steel Viking
>throwing axes) and I was wondering what would have been considered
>decoration for a hand axe.
>I am considering carving runes in the handles and maybe trying my hand at
>acid etcing the sides of the blades but am looking for ideas.

If you want to get fussy about it, acid etching is not a technique used during the Viking Age. The stronger acids used in our modern age did not exist at this point in time. The first true acid etched pieces using a resist then chemical bath to create a surface decoration date to the mid 1300's.

This is setting aside the problem of pattern welding. Still significant discussion about if Dark Ages pattern welded blades where etched or not - and if so using what chemicals. Things like urine, salt water or vinegar all work to a certain extent, but those are more discolouring than truly creating a topographic etch.

That being said, depending on how you use the acid etch method, it can be a visual substitution for engraving - which definitely IS seen on VA metalwork. Engraving is a higher level of skill and requires specialized tools. You are carving the metal away with small chisels. During the VA a popular extension of engraving was to cut small channels in the base metal then hammer in thin strips of gold or silver into the grooves.

I had done a huge amount of decorative acid etching years back - both on steels and on copper alloys (even silver). Here is a very fast overview of the technique:

I would recommend using a liquid tar resist that you paint on. Grab some roofing tar and thin out with varsol (only) to thickness about like white glue. This lets you quickly cover surfaces, plus paint lines and leave clear areas. After it drys, you can use a probe to scratch in line breaks (for interlace) or fine details.
Any of the historic colouring books can be good reference. "Viking Design' by my friend A.G. Smith is especially good (as it remains extremely accurate to the artifact originals). If you do your layout lines on the metals using a fine water based marker, you can gently wash the surface and remove the lines before etching.
Any of the acids available at your hardware will work. All produce toxic fumes, so work on a windy day and out of doors. Speed of cut will depend on metal and the type and most important strength of acid mix. Nitric is no longer easily available, but Muriatic (hydrochloric) or battery acid (sulphuric) will work. At the lower strengths sold in hardware stores you likely will not need to dilute. You should make a test etch to check cutting rate first!
Absolutely wear safety eye wear (full face shield recommended )
An alternative is to use ferric chloride, used for etching circuit boards. Much safer, no fumes, but does cut much slower.
As the metal etches, use a bid feather to brush away the bubbles (flammable hydrogen) that form for a clean surface.
Generally carbon steels will cut MUCH faster than copper alloys. Depending on metal and acid, in the range of five minutes or less.
Neutralize the final etch using baking soda. I just mix up a paste and rub it on after the metal has been well flushed with water. (In fact, work with running water or a basin handy, its the easiest and safest way to prevent skin burns.)

This is a sample of the technique:

a commercial knife blade, re profiled and fitted with a german silver hilt and scabbard. The patterns flow from blade to hilt to scabbard.
(Anyone ancient of days and from the SCA Middle Kingdom may remember the 'Segmented Crowns'. The base level technique for ornamentation was acid etching. )

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

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