Wednesday, January 28, 2009

'Will you take an Apprentice?'

I wanted to make a general commentary on this whole situation, if for no other reason than to save me repeating the same general reply over and over. (I refer readers to an earlier related piece 'Career as an Artisan Blacksmith? )I have been getting an increasing number of letters like the following:

" I have always had an interest in blacksmithing ... and after having attended a basic course I have had a great desire to learn more about blacksmithing and gain some experience at it .... even though it would mean a drastic cut in pay I would rather learn more about blacksmithing if it is at all feasible.

I started researching blacksmiths online (including the OABA website) looking for a potential employer I felt I could learn from and enjoy working with...

I do understand that as an apprentice I would be required to do the simple, repetitive and labour intensive tasks as befitting my level of experience. I also realize that it must be done at a rate of pay that is profitable to you. If you have sufficient work for me, or can acquire such work (i.e. making handles, hooks or simple fireplace tools and more as I gain experience and skill) I would be more than happy to come into your employment."
(much edited from the original - name removed )

The simple answer is, well, no.
And here is why...

'Traditionally' (used in this case to refer to the Settlement Era) a young person (virtually always male) learned the 'art and mystery' of the blacksmith at the hands of an older, experienced smith, via the apprenticeship system. A typical arrangement started at age 9 to 11, and lasted anything from 5 - 7 years. A legal contract (indenture) defined the relationship. As with any contract, it cut both ways:
The Master was required to -
Supply food and housing
Supply clothing as required
Teach the student the trade
The Apprentice was required to -
Obey the Master
Work as instructed
Live with the Master
Refrain from specified behaviours (generally alcohol, gambling, women)
Depending on the time and place, there might be a 'signing fee' paid by the parents to the Master. In some cases there would be some limited 'pay' over the final years of the apprenticeship, typically paid to the parents, not the boy. The Master would be responsible (legally) for the conduct of the Apprentice, which included handing out discipline as he saw fit. The living conditions for the Apprentice varied considerably, anything from table scraps and sleeping in the forge to living like a member of the family. The Apprentice was bound, and subject to prison if he broke the contract.

The Master was trading off years of instruction against a possible assistant in the later years of the arrangement. A young apprentice was fit for not much more than sweeping up and simple labour at first. By the mid point of the indenture, the apprentice would be able to assume more and more complex tasks. It was expected by the last years he would be a hard working assistant, this labour 'paying back' the effect loss to the smith at the beginning.

At the end of the ideal indenture, the Apprentice left his former Master's shop, with a box of tools (made himself), a store of knowledge, and some store of direct experience. At this point he was considered a Journeyman - a trained blacksmith who moved to work for pay in other shops to accumulate experience and hopefully the funds to start his own business.

This traditional system rarely (if ever) can be applied to our modern world. Young people are in school until well into the age range that once was expected for journeymen (late teens). The only way the apprenticeship system works is with multi year commitments, trading labour against room and board.

So to be clear, what people have been asking me for is really a Journeyman position, but with no skills to bring to the arrangement. Undertaking repetitive tasks at a reduced wage for the opportunity of being gaining experience in more specialized skills as an assistant. I certainly see what advantage is in it for them. What advantage do I gain as the blacksmith? The only way I could envision such a relationship would be one framed much more like the traditional one: Straight out of high school, a multi year contract, room and board and no wages. Something you could arrange with a son or daughter, but not likely 'legal' in our modern world.

Right off the top, people forget that any working situation in our modern world is governed by strict provisions - the Labour Laws. Minimum Wages, Workman's Compensation Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, requirements for Occupational Health and Safety. These costs alone are going to amount to hundreds of dollars a month. As a 'sole proprietor' defined business, I can subject * myself * to extremes. Legally, I am not allowed to do this for any employee. (An example, there is no heat in the workshop, and its been -15 C most the last week, and why I'm inside writing this.)

A practical aspect is - just what kind of work goes on at the typical 'Artist Blacksmith' work shop? Can even a minimum wage level assistant fit into the pattern?

The honest truth is - this is a feast and famine lifestyle. And never confuse yourself that the artist blacksmith is an artist first, not a business man! Those who are interested in the business selling metal objects are not using the skilled labour intensive methods which these potential 'Apprentices' are so interested in learning. Certainly one can 'get by' supporting themselves as an artist, but you do this because you are compelled to the work, and chose the life that this creates. It absolutely is no comparison to working at GM - no weekly wages, no pension, no support if you can't work. If that is your hope, it is an empty dream.
Projects come and projects go. On a good year there will be large and interesting commissions, sometimes actually resulting in profits left over. A huge amount of time is spent in the raw mechanics of supporting the business. Forms, accounts, communication, promotion, design, maintenance, prototypes. If I manage one hour actually at the forge for every four hours spent on other stuff...

So for my own operation, and for most of the other Artist Blacksmiths I know, the only time I can * afford * to have an assistant is when a specific project requires specific help. This is almost always things like a couple of days painting, a couple of hours moving a large piece, a day helping install or deliver a finished piece. I no longer make 'handles, hooks or simple fireplace tools'. That is work too easily available off shore at slave wages, I leave that to the newcomers to compete over.

One last important consideration - Knowledge is hard won, and not casually given away. I personally are part of a generation of artisans who had to re-invent their skills from the ground up - working alone. I tell my (paid) students that they will learn more on a two day basic course than I did working two * years * on my own. I am amazed (and sometimes in awe of) the 'current generation' of artisan smiths coming up. They have had not had to spend years inventing simple skills, so they start working at such a higher level. How much knowledge should be given away to those who are fully intending on becoming my direct competition in an ever shrinking market place?
Skills can only be achieved through practice, the speed and fluidity that so many see in my own hands is only created through endless repetition. That skill has a high price that has been paid, if nothing else in mere years of practice with little money generated. There is also the cost in raw damage, for smithing is destructive to the body, and those endless hours take their toll.

So, in the end I must say, despite your honesty of intent, that I can not help you. You have much to gain, but the cost to me personally is much too high.

Advice, however, I am willing to give freely:
Get yourself even the most simple of forge and anvil. Practice. Learn slowly, but practice endlessly.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A known Meteor Iron Blade - from 1600!

Nathaniel had left a comment the post "Meteors in Forge and History" (edited):

While in D.C. at the freer we saw a meteoric iron knife from 13th century India where a meteorite was seen to hit, retrieved and made into a knife. So at least in India they got the sky metal connection.

quote from (Simthsonian's Freer Museum)

Early pre-Mughal Sultanate period (ca. 1206-1526) works on view include ...
* Several Mughal luxury objects, including a knife made for the Emperor Jahangir out of meteoric iron and decorated with gold inlay...

(from the on line catalog - artifact entry)

1621 - Mughal dynasty
Meteoric iron, with gold inlay
H: 26.1 cm
Purchase, F1955.27a-b

(Image from the Museum web site)
"At dawn a tremendous noise arose in the east. It was so terrifying that it nearly frightened the inhabitants out of their skins. Then, in the midst of tumultuous noise, something bright fell to the earth from above...."

From the Jahangirnama (1605-24)

Thus did Emperor Jahangir describe a meteor that landed within his kingdom in April 1621. His fascination with unusual natural events—and his power to harness their aura—is revealed by this dagger's blade, forged from the glittering meteorite. Jahangir further noted that the blade "cut beautifully, as well as the very best swords."

In the original commentary, I had finished up by saying : "I should note that the whole 'streaks in the sky to rocks on the ground' connection was actually NOT made until the middle 1800's. The whole concept of a 'sky stone' would have been completely unknown (and unthinkable) to the Medieval mind. This is a fiction created by modern fantasy writers."
I should have been slightly more specific, in that I was referring directly to Western Europe and the Medieval (pre 1500's) period. I had not known about this ** Arabic ** object, and thank Nathaniel to pointing it out to the rest of us!

(Much later!)

See Aron's comment below.
My big error, that should read ** Indian **

Its nice to see that people still read the older posts!
I stand well corrected for not paying better attention to the reference. However, I will mention that I (try to) never attribute religion to any object, although I should not have attributed a cultural set from a (mistaken) geographic description. My use of 'Arabic' here would be like saying 'European' or 'African' - a sweeping locating generality only.
(And any object from the 1600's in Europe would in fact be as default described as 'Christian'...)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Charcoal to Bar in Colonial Furnaces

This is a commentary edited from a posting to the 'Early Iron' discussion:

" ... Can anyone come up with a ballpark figure (SWAG) for how much charcoal it takes to make a ton of bar iron? There really aren't any good figures for the 17-18C, because they frequently measured by the basket-load, and very few of them wrote down consumption figures anyway..."

James is referring to Colonial Era (American) bloomery furnaces. These operate more or less the same way the Viking Age prototypes I have been working with. Most significantly, Colonial bloomeries are easily an order of magnitude larger, with bloom sizes into the multiple hundreds of pounds per smelt. Mike McCarthy has been especially interested in this type

This is my usual 'talk around the numbers' :

The raw machinery of the smelter takes a certain amount to operate in terms of heat budget. There is going to be a more or less fixed amount to get the furnace from cold to operating temperature. One of the biggest factors here is going to be raw volume and the furnace design. Numbers from small furnaces like we are using may not be the easiest to transpose, as there is a square to cube relationship between surface area (loss) and volume ( production space). My own furnaces tend to be pretty consistent, I think my smallest was 20 cm diameter and the largest about 35 cm. I'd bet most of those on Early Iron keep to the historic pattern of 'build one smelter, get it working, duplicate as required'.

With a small ore addition smelt, the ratio of fuel to iron is going to be the highest. I personally have found that (again in that standard 25 - 30 cm diameter by 65 cm tall furnace) that I need at least 8 kg ore (would vary by purity) to kick start the reaction. Looking back over my own notes, it looks like I'm using roughly 30 kg of charcoal to get the first 1 - 2 kg bloom. If the smelt keeps going, then at 60 kg the blooms produced are climbing up to the 10 kg range. At some point, the 'kick start' amounts would statistically disappear into the large bloom production numbers. (You want to find out from Lee and Mike what kind of raw material to iron production numbers they got from the huge bloom they worked on last Smeltfest.)

The size of the reaction volume in the furnace is dependent on air delivery. We have built furnaces up over 100 cm. Our usual air volumes are set by * diameter * (in the order 800 l/m +/-). What happens is that the reaction column (in our standard furnace) remains pretty consistent at about 40 cm or so above the tuyere. With a taller column, what seems to happen is that the exhaust gases in the upper area serve to preheat charcoal and ore. There can be no chemistry, as there is no free oxygen / carbon monoxide to drive it. What does seem to happen is that the burning efficiency improves, the furnace running hotter, so less fuel required to process the identical quantities of ore.

The dryness of the charcoal has shown to be a huge factor. Charcoal will absorb water from the air, and its amazing what even a little bit of dampness in the fuel can do to change consumption. We have been able to purchase fuel from a local fellow in Ontario who makes charcoal the same way we are making iron. This Black Diamond charcoal comes so fresh its almost still warm - and bone dry. It makes a big difference.

A couple of the others (on Early Iron) had mentioned a rough 1:1 ore to charcoal ratio.
In my own notes, I have recorded all the charcoal used, from first
addition (after wood pre-heat) through to initial compaction in the furnace. More typical is something closer to 2 : 1 (charcoal to ore) over the entire furnace cycle. Most of us over here are getting yields in the range of 25 % (ore to bloom) . For myself I have seen in our larger ore smelts (45 kg ore) giving returns closer to 40 percent. So taking the lower yield, that means 50 kg charcoal is being consumed for a 12.5 kg bloom (more or less). Of course the 'Colonial' era furnaces that you were referring too might be basically be 'kept hot' through a continuing working series, which would significantly reduce overall consumption.

The original question also specifically mentioned 'bar iron'. All of the above just applies to the ore to bloom phase. I think Lee Sauder has kept some notes on this second stage of the process, bloom to billet. Peter Crew had reported ore to working bar conversion at roughly 10 %. (And I've got to admit, that seems pretty low to a lot of us.) I personally have not worked enough raw blooms into bars to say much useful (those blooms are like our children!) I think Lee had figured that his own ore to billet conversion was on the order of 25 %. What about billet (block) to actual long rods? Most of us are undertaking the bloom to billet phase in coal (or in some cases propane) forges. I personally don't have enough time with charcoal forges to estimate the fuel requirements. (And my charcoal work has been with a much smaller Viking Age forge at that.) On a real, real rough guess, I would not be surprised to find that you might consume as much charcoal taking a bloom to rods as you did taking ore to bloom.

I would expect the overall requirement for charcoal - from lighting the smelter through to pulling off those final working rods, to be quite high.

Lee Sauder later made the following comment:
" For a long time we seemed to burn 8 to 10 lbs of charcoal to produce 1 lb of bloom. It's only over the last few years that we've gotten that down to 5:1, ... The best I found was 3.2 lbs charcoal per lb of bloom, for the second smelt in a furnace that was already hot.

Good blooms give us a bar that is 60% to 75% of the bloom weight."

PS - For those truly interested:
The Early Iron Experimental Group was formed after Mike organized the first Early Iron Symposium in 2004. This Yahoo based discussion is confined to "individuals who have a keen interest in the smelting of iron from ore". It is an invitational group, and I am the moderator. Any of my readers with a serious interest in experimental iron smelting who might wish to join and participate should contact me directly.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

2009 Course Dates Posted

Along with new details and revised pricing. Remember to Book Early for your choice of dates and programs!

Monday, January 19, 2009

From Mars to the Viking Age...

Some things are just too nutty not to share.

It's not really new, but it's new to me.... it's apparently finnicky as hell and not very reliable. *shrugs* just thought you might find it interesting really.

Microwave melting of metals
by David Ried
Research is nearing completion on a system that will allow the melting and casting of bronze, silver, gold, and even cast iron, using an unmodified domestic microwave oven as the energy source. A potential foundry in every kitchen !!

Well, DARCs Gus Gissing got started on our DARC Dirt 'bog ore analog' in a chain that includes Mars and microwaves....

Gus was always interested in Mars (ok - more like ape shit about Mars since he was a kid.) In all those books we dreamed over, lit by flashlights under the covers, were fantastic images of 'cities on Mars'. Often repeated was the line 'using microwaves, astronauts would turn the red iron oxide soil of Mars into iron for building materials.'
Well, it turns out no one had ever really figured out exactly how you might actually do this.
So armed with a microwave banished from the kitchen, Gus set out to see if it actually be done. Along the way he turned himself into the 'Marsian Dirt King', developing and marketing a Mars Dirt Analog to researchers testing landers and rovers.
And yes, working in fire brick crucibles, he actually has made marble sized nuggets of iron inside the kitchen microwave...

Regular readers will have been following our work on a bog iron ore analog - DARC Dirt. Working with commercial oxides prepared for ceramics, it should prove possible to custom blend an analog to match specific natural bog ore chemistries.
Search for 'DARC Dirt'
The most complete report here is 'Ore Analog Composition'

There have been three full test smelts of DARC Dirt One, the most complete report is of the June 2008 smelt.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Graham House - Front Door 'Grill'

This is the current project that I'm 'working' on (baring an evil cold and freezing shop temperatures!). I had hoped to have the piece finished and installed by the end of December, but have been out of the shop for two weeks (see above).

The customer has a late 50's / early 60's bungalow in Guelph. The front door has a large, narrow glass panel set into it, so the underlaying intent is to provide increased security. At the same time, the piece needs to make a dramatic impact on what is otherwise a pretty plain exterior.

I wanted to move away from any kind of standard grill work. The customer was quite taken with the 'Lilly Arbor' piece I had done a couple of years back. So, keeping with those general lines, the piece is composed of a spray of curved elements. These are made of roughly 1 inch diameter steel pipe. The curves are forged against my heavy layout table surface using a wooden mallet. The top end of each tube is split and forged back to a pair of irregular curves. A similar set of curved forms has been made for the bottom of each element. The main bars will be held in place by a pair of curved flat bars, 1 1/2 x 3/16 thick. These elements will have matching hot punched holes to accept the curved pipe. When assembled, the lower ends will be welded in place and these joints ground smooth. The upper ends of each of the curved elements are set with a pair of half circle pieces forged from 3/4 inch angle. These curves (not completed yet in the image) bracket and hold a large (10 inch) glass disk.
The overall effect is highly decorative, disguising the fact that the main elements are extremely strong and spaced to block any possible passage through the glass panel underneath.

I expect to get back into the workshop either today or tomorrow!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Revision with 2008 Smelting Overview

I have been working to get all the information from the 2008 iron smelting experiments formatted and posted. It was a busy year, with a total of eleven smelts. There were two major workshops, Smeltfest and Heltborg, plus the demonstration at Quad State. Serious work was started in applying what has been learned, with a new series directed at replicating the archeaological finds from Hals in Iceland.

The first is an illustrated overview of the individual smelts from 2008.
The second is a table of the main data from all 39 of the experiments to date.

The reason for this (besides a bad cold and deep winter temperatures!) is to prepare for re-writing my 2006 paper 'Adventures in Early Iron Production'. The 'Friends of the Medieval Studies Society of the Royal Ontario Museum' organization is hoping to publish a collection of papers from past symposiums. Most significantly, I need to compress the original 35 page paper down to a mere 10 pages - plus cover three times the experimental work! I figure it will be easier just to re-write the entire paper from scratch...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Squidoo - 'lens' on the Econo Norse Smelter

Construction and Operation of the 'Econo-Norse' Iron Smelting Furnace

Amateur blacksmiths and re-enactors can use experimental archaeology methods to explore lost historical methods used during the Viking Age to make wrought iron blooms. For knife makers, the bloomery furnace offers a chance to produce their starting metal 'from dirt'. Join the recently emerging 'Iron Underground' while adding directly to our understanding of the Dark Ages and Early Medieval period in Europe!
An exerpt from Experimental Iron Smelting from the Viking Age

Continue for the whole article
On the recommendation of my friend David RobertsonI have launched (yet another) portal into the internet. '' is a combination web site and 'refered sales' tool. Individuals post up articles (called lenses) which then have the usual 'sales links' posted automatically in the margins. Authors can select specific items, like the list of reference books from Amazon you will see on my first article. Should any viewer purchase from any of the indicated sales links, I get a (small) 'referral fee' paid to me from the merchant. There is no difference to the customer by the way, save the knowledge that their purchase does in fact contribute to the author.
Squidoo runs the site mechanics and stores the content. They make their money by also getting a small commission on any sales. Payments come in (once a set threshold is accumulated) direct to a paypal account.

I will be placing some selected articles up on Squidoo, along with selected reference materials available from Amazon. If you are going to purchase the books anyway, I ask you to use the link off Squidoo - you will be supporting all my educational and experimental work at the same time!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Tentative Course Dates - 2009

I'm already getting requests for the 2009 Course Schedule at the Wareham Forge. For details on these specific programs go to the main web site (

May 1 - 3 : Introduction to Blacksmithing

June 5 - 7 : Introduction to Blacksmithing

June 13 - 14 : Smelting Iron

July 11 - 12 : Special Course *

July 25 - 26 : Introduction to Blacksmithing

Sept 11 - 13 : Introduction to Blacksmithing

Oct 16 - 18 : Introduction to Blacksmithing

Sept 24 - 25 : Special Course *

* Special Course - This two day program will be determined by enrolment. It may be one of the following:
Intermediate Blacksmithing
Basic Bladesmithing
Introduction to Layered Steel Bladesmithing
Casting Metals

Friday, January 09, 2009

Applied Knowledge - Quenching

Abstract - The Ancient wisdom says you carry out the task 'just this way'. But how much of that is Science, and how much is smoke and mirrors? A discussion related to quenching of blades.

When I was just starting out in blacksmithing, I had managed to wrangle a job at an 1850's Canadian Settlement Era living history museum. You know the type, a collection of moved historic buildings (mainly out of river valleys after the infamous Hurricane Hazel in the late 1950's here). I had progressed past a trial period chopping wood, hauling water and giving lunch breaks. I found myself posted two days in the blacksmith's shop, then two days in the gunsmith's shop for my working 'week'. These were the days off for the primary craftsmen (who where actually skilled in their areas). Near the end of one day, getting on towards fall, an older fellow, a real codger, came into the blacksmith's shop. I had been forging out a small blade, a 'patch knife' out of a piece of old file. To that point I had made maybe a dozen knives, and felt I was slowing getting the hang of it. (Too little learning a dangerous thing?)
Anyway, I had got the rap down on what I was doing pretty well, as you are endlessly being asked what you are doing when working at a living history museum. He had come in just as I was taking the 'blood red' blade blank and quenching it for hardening (in motor oil).

'What you doin' there, boy?'
I replied some variation on the theme: old file forged to patch knife blade, just getting ready to harden, blah, blah...
'Whatcha usin'?'
Again some variation on 'high carbon, hard but not too hard, using oil, blah, blah... Followed up with 'It normally works for me...'
'Na! Ya should be usin' cow's urine. From a preg-ig-ant cow!'
The typical old fart scowl. I must have muttered something, and the old boy shuffled off.

At the time I thought he was just pulling my leg *. Later I get to thinking. Working on that integration of tool purpose, carbon content, and quenching, as applied to the suggested method .
Ok, urine is typically 5 % salts and nitrogen compounds. (Or some variation, but likely not too far off consistent - if you are collecting the stuff from your cows somehow and ending up with an average sample.) Do pregnant cows produce more consistent composition urine? Or different content? Of course the component chemicals in urine vary a lot depending on diet, but cows eat more or less the same thing every day. (Again not exactly true, but close enough for this tale.)
In theory (at least) there might be some ideal amount of nitrates or hormones present in pregnant cows than are not in not pregnant ones. Again in theory, there could be some chemical action possible between these traces and the metal itself during the quench. But face it, these could only be mere molecules thick, the metal is only at a reaction temperatures for mere fractions of a second as it cools. A single pass of polishing is going to wipe off any modified alloy that might result. (So forget any 'nitrate hardening' effects!)

But it did occur to me that this is just the kind of hoodoo that filled the world before science. How old was that piece of blacksmith 'wisdom'? Once a trade secret between father and son, master and apprentice?

There are a lot of these:
Urine from a redheaded girl (usually virgin).
Urine (stale) from pre pubescent boys.
Quenching in a still living human body (!!)
Aligning the point of the blade to north.

In a world where quality is based on repetition, rather than an understanding of base science, there is no way to separate the wheat from the chaff. You repeat an entire elaborate sequence 'because it worked last time'. There are sure to be some elements that are pure ritual, not technical at all.**
I do differentiate between Science and Accumulated Knowledge. Accumulated Knowledge comes from an endless series of trials and errors, repeating what is found to practically work. The Norse metalworkers were so obviously rich in Accumulated Knowledge. What we today recognize as the Science of Metallurgy is something that grows out of the Industrial Age and the Victorians. No Viking Age blacksmith would be able to talk about crystal structures and elemental content of alloys.

I have always been interested in the root source of legend. There is always some fact behind all these 'traditional methods' which seem strange to our eyes in the modern day.

So as a (fabricated) tale:

When the master swordsmith made a sword, he always did the following when preparing for the hardening quench:
Wait for a full moon night.
Make love to a red haired virgin girl.
He and his assistant drank 5 pints of dark strong ale.
Then they both pissed in the slack tub that would be used for quenching.

The Science is the amount of salt added to the fresh water from the urine. This remains pretty constant each time, due to the processing effect of the 5 ale. The salt content of the 'brine' effects the cooling rate of the metal, thus the resulting hardness. It results in the best balance for the metal used and the blade being created.
But the actual reason the beers were consumed the very first time was that the smith was nervous, and hell, the slack tub was right there. And hell, it worked last time.
It was a full moon the first time he made a sword, so what the hell, it worked last time.
The red haired virgin girl is completely incidental, but the patron pays, and the smith is ugly and generally doesn't get any otherwise.

I had to just look the exact numbers up here:
human blood has about 1% salt
human urine ranges up from there, but not more than just over 2%
natural salt water is roughly 3.5 %
(The things you can find on the internet!) Anyway, the water / urine / blood / sea water progression shows a roughly 1 % increase in salt content each step. Sure to have a noticeable effect on the quench rate. Of the four possibles, it is most likely that fresh water and blood will be the most consistent fluids.

Looking for that information, I also stumbled across a web site (Hong Kong Polytechnic University) that has a nice blend of the technical presented in a clear fashion:
'Heat Treatment of a Mold' by Chan Ka Man Carmen

The most useful part of the two graphs are the lines for 3 % Brine (red) and Tap Water (yellow). The other two suggested fluids, 1 % for Urine and 2 % for blood, will fall some place between those two. You can see clearly that the addition of even small amounts of salt effect both cooling time and very significantly, cooling rates. The second is important, because the rate will have an impact on thicker objects (for example axes).

But me, I generally use 'new' 10 W 30 motor oil (depending). Seems to work ...

* With a special note to a conversation I've been having with Sandy Sempel. He worked in a functioning blacksmith shop as a kid in the 1950's. He related that the apprentices would often make up the most outrageous tales in answer to the frequent 'dumb questions' that came out out of the mouths of people. He suggested that the 'preg-gin-ant cow' might have been one of those, and a test in its own way.
Sandy is behind the quite excellent Frojel Gotlandica Viking Re-Enactment Society web site. The site contains a large visual database of VA artifacts.

** A couple of examples:
I have been told by many Scandinavian smiths that they ALWAYS leave their hammers resting on the anvil after work. Why? The iron mass keeps the Elves from effecting the hammer. From English, tapping three times before starting, again when finishing. Why? To warn away the Devil / 'Wee Folk'. I have had both these tales told to me by many smiths from both areas, often after observing them doing the action and asking why.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Weapons VS Armour - an Ancient story...

Abstract: What are the effects of real weapons through real armour? An old story of a test from the dawn of the SCA. Repeated from my posting on NorseFolk.

Way back at the dawn of SCA time (when dinosaurs walked the earth) A fellow, AKA Sir Polidor Haroldson (sp?), was a major maker and teacher in the making of armours. (Now this was back when we used freon tanks for helmets, boys and girls. Yes, Really!) Polidor undertook a series of weapons effects testing against armour types.

Now the 'rules of the list' standard back in those simple days was 'Hard enough to effect a killing blow against a target armoured in chain maile' It was not 'as hard as possible'. It was expected that all blows would have the ability of reserve power sufficient to provide killing force - even if that force was not fully expressed against the target. Meaning use of the soft hand, 'I could have hit you harder but you were wide open (and I did not want to actually hurt you)'. And yes children, we really did think we were training to use real weapons on real targets. (Admittedly, the combat arts were new and we did not have much of a clue what we were doing - this *was* AS 10 after all!)

Back to Polidor.
He and his gang made up some replicas of Medieval weapons, and some armours. They 'recruited' a dead sheep. The one test I can remember being told about was chain maile (the standard) against a flanged mace. The maile was butt linked (just twisted, not welded or riveted) over a padded gameson. This was dressed on the body, which was hung from a tree. The mace was something like 5 lbs, a set of 1/4 inch wide triangle plates welded to the end of a 18 inch (or so) pipe shaft. Polidor stands to, assumes a stance as if wearing a shield, and throws down with what would have been considered at the time 'a good killing blow'. (Now I had actually been beaten by Polidor a bit later at a tourney, and I remember he hit on the higher end of the force scale for the times, but still quite reasonable.)
Anyway, they take the sheep down. Take off the armour. No mark at all under the impact point. Hmmm...
So they open up the body. The ribs under the impact point had been shattered and tore away from the rib cage. The splinters had been driven clear through the organ mass and were now laying against the opposite side of the rib cage. On the way through, the splinters had perforated every major organ. The general opinion of the testers that the victom would have 'bled out' in a minute or less.

Now thats an ancient story, and the details are sure to be fuzzy. I heard it second hand near the time. Me old memory aint that good...

Addition: A latter post by Folo suggested that this tale actually relates to Andrew of Seldom Rest. Now Andrew was the original 'heavy hitter', which changes the implications about force and early SCA fighting styles!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Images of Quad State Smelting Demo

Via Facebook, I was contacted by Renita Krahe Balent, who was part of the viewing audience at the iron smelting demonstration at Quad State in September. Although I was able to get some video (via friend David Robertson), I have hardly any still images recording the demonstration. Renita has a very complete overview of the smelter build, the display table and the bloom pulling sequence contained on an album posted HERE. Ken Cook is my assistant on this smelt (and seen doing a lot of the work!)

Thanks Renita!

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

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