Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Maile from Bloom Iron?

... I began looking at smelting in the early MA when I was trying work on mail armor. Actual examples of mail are few, and often (tho' not always) fragmentary. My idea was to understand the production of iron--a necessary commodity--for comparison reasons. Much of what I read does not go into exact production figures, but from descriptions of what I've read, the large smelting sites seemed to exist so enough iron could be made to be useful. Thus, mail armour was a luxury item owned by the few ...

Thats entirely my take on Early Medieval as well.
There are a number of sweeping changes in the technologies used in iron creation over the years so loosely grouped as 'the Middle Ages'.
My work has centred on the 'Migration Era', post Roman and pre Crusades. Primarily using Norse sources (so Scandinavia, 800 - 1000 as the prime reference). Roman systems tend to be passive air, after about 1100 furnaces use water powered machinery. Good news is that for the most part, Norse furnaces tend to be smaller and thus easier to duplicate.

One thing that people completely miss is the more or less random quality of the individual blooms created. There is a useful limit to the size as well. Although relatively large (10 - 20 kg) blooms are certain possible, it becomes increasingly difficult to manipulate such large masses with only hand tools. Artifact blooms are actually fairly rare, as each represents the expenditure of considerable skill and man power to create, and thus are valuable. In practice there would have been a lot of picking and choosing - individual blooms with quality suited to various objects.

For drawing to wire for mail, you would have to have the highest quality of metal. Here I'm referring to lack of slag inclusions in the starting mass. I'd think extra folding steps at the consolidation of bloom to working bar stage as well, again to reduce these inclusions. Its the slag remaining that causes wrought iron to crack as it is forged. This especially a problem with aggressive forming - and making mail wire is just about as aggressive as it gets!

So just from the problem of the raw material for making mail, you are looking at the 'best quality' metal. Add that factor into your estimates on costing as well. I think too many modern makers totally forget the raw cost in material, with modern wire so inexpensive.

The nature of the metal used is certainly going to have a huge effect on both the labour involved and the quality of the finished mail itself. Unlike modern steels, bloom iron certainly has a pronounced linear texture. Few modern blacksmiths even have any experience with antique wrought iron, and that material is more like later Medieval metals (post 1600) at best. I've worked with this stuff only a bit, and certainly have never attempted to forge it down as fine as would be required for mail making.

The more we learn about ancient methods, the more we realize what a huge undertaking making *anything* actually is.

(Sorry - this is a re-cycled response to an e-mail. With Goderich Celtic starting in 4 days, then the massive DARC at LAM 2010 immediately following, blog posts may be thin over the next five weeks!)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

DARC at LAM - 2010

the Viking Age comes to LIFE
August 15 - 25, L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC

In case any readers missed it (??) the Dark Ages Re-creation Company has been asked by Parks Canada to mount a major presentation at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC. The 10 days of living history is to help mark the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the archaeological site in Vinland.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

(old) Computers to Kwartzlab

As any one who knows me could tell you, I'm a hopeless scrounger! I also hate to see perfectly good things tossed aside for the 'latest and greatest'. Imagine how I feel about North American's horrible habit of throwing out working computers, mainly so they can purchase something smaller and faster (mainly just so they can play the latest games.) Truth is that a 20 year old computer can still handle all your business records and all your writing tasks.
For a number of years, my wife Vandy had worked at a major advertising agency in Toronto. About every six months, they replaced all their Macintosh computers with new ones. (Ok, in this case, maybe called for to handle the increasing complexity of graphic work.) She was able to purchase these 'surplus' machine at trivial prices (even for our tight budgets). They most often came with all the software loaded, sometimes with periferals and even program manuals. Over the years I had collected up a huge pile of perfectly working machines.
It got to be a pretty big pile.
Now, I had made a serious effort to try to donate these machines to ANYONE. Families on reduced incomes. Kids living in remote areas. Relief programs in disaster areas. Third World start ups. Absolutely no one was interested. Only the very newest machines, with the latest operating systems, would do. This left me pretty frustrated. (And wondering if some kid in Africa was using a bettter machine than I'm writting this on right now?)

Enter my friend 'Gus' Gissing and Kwartslab:

Boehmer Box Factory
First Floor
283 Duke St. W., Unit 106
Kitchener, ON
Canada N2H 3X7
43° 27' 18.2376" N, 80° 29' 46.9068" W

Admittedly, Gus might not have realized quite how much stuff I was bringing. Like pretty much the entire history of MAC for the 1980's and 1990's. Even an original 'all in one' Mac 512 (yes, boys and girls, thats 512K!). Two thirds my Chev Astro full.

Kwartzlab meets Tuesdays at 7 PM - but members have access to the large production space with equipped workshops 24 hours a day. There was clearly a vast creative energy and sharing of viewpoints, inspirations and skills. Very Kool...

(oh, have fun sorting all that stuff - most of it does work if you can find the right cables. They are in one of those boxes...)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

IRON Norse Cook Pot

This specific object is the last major piece I am making for the DARC presentation at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC in August.

In this case, materials were the starting point. I had a small piece of antique wrought iron sheet on hand. I had gotten this as a sample from Master Thomas, some years ago. He had gotten the salvage from a late Victorian water tower, constructed some time about 1900. The material was double layer wrought iron, two layers of material with the grain lines set at 90 degrees to each other. At the time he had about a ton of this stuff, torch cut up into roughly 2 x 2 foot pieces. The thickness often varied over the sheets, the piece I had was about 1/4 thick. (I'm now kicking myself I did not invest in a quantity of this material.) I had *just* enough material to form the three pieces required for a cylindrical cooking pot with a 9" starting circle joined to 5 inch tall sides.

Although I have made a good number of replica Viking Age cooking pots, these all suffer from one important inaccuracy - the thickness of the metal. Typically modern replicas all use modern sheet steel, in the range of 1/16 to 1/8 inch thick (so closer to 1 - 2 mm). The actual artifact samples are much thicker, more on the order of 4 - 6 mm (although this thickness is not generally given in secondary sources, or most exhibit descriptions).
The reason the artifact iron pots are so thick is because of the raw dynamics of hand production of sheet from bars. Its just too difficult to make thin sheet with hand hammers from bloomery iron currency bars.
The artifact pot is described at 22 cm diameter and 13 - 14 cm tall. (Though the proportions seen in the image seem to suggest this may not be accurate?)

Iron Cauldron - Bengstarvet, Dalarna, Sweden.
In the collection of the Statens Museum, Stockholm.
Image scanned from Viking Artifacts, Graham Campbell - pg 200, no. 45

Now, I was generally familure with this object, but in fact started work by cutting the largest possible pieces from the wrought iron sheet on hand. My replica is made of three pieces, two long rectangles form a very slightly conical upper body, with a dished circle the bottom bowl. This did result in a slightly larger pot than the artifact sample. The 23 cm diameter is fairly accurate, but my replica is deeper, at 17 cm total. I did use standard round head rivets larger 1/4 diameter), which does make these more obvious than the short rods used for this purpose on the artifact.

Finished replica wrought iron pot.

I have seen two different published images of the reference artifact. The Graham Campbell one does leave some question to exactly the shape of the attachment lugs. The other image (seen in 'the Vikings' , Graham Campbell & Kid) must be from the other side.

Bengstarvet, Dalarna, Sweden / 'Late Viking Age'
The Vikings / Graham-Capbell & Kidd
page 81 / number 41

You can see there that the lug is a more standard 'punched tab' style, set with two rivets.
Working from (faulty!) memory, I used an interpretation from the larger image seen at the top of the page (Viking Artifact) and made the lugs up as a simple hook shape.

The handle itself is forged from modern mild steel. I did take the trouble to start from 1/4 x 3/4 flat stock, forged down to roughly 3/16 x 1 inch. This does break up the obviously modern lines of the starting bar.
The finished pot may be slightly over riveted. It is generally water tight - it is of course next to impossible to get a simple riveted seam completely water proof. Next step is to cook some thick oatmeal up to 'burn seal' the outer seams.

I am extremely happy with the results!

If readers are wondering why postings have been thin of late, I am under extreme time pressure with both the Goderich Celtic week and the DARC at LAM 2010 trips in less than two weeks!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Reade/Maxwell - Trees and Sky

As regular readers know, I have been working over the last year on a major project for a custom home on Manitoulin Island. Over the first week of July, I installed the last two major elements in the overall package:

The first two images are of the 'Trees' elements (design detailed in an earlier posting )

As viewed from the basement stairs, looking up
As viewed from the upper landing

This element consisted of two panels, which run along the open side of the upper landing. They are composed of individual 'branch' uprights, forged from various diameters of solid round and pipe. The handrails are sweeping curves, which extend out past the edges of the regular frames. The whole has a very organic look. The paint is the same dark brown used for the heavy tube supports in the basement. One nice result of the use of this colour is that the railings tend to fade into the dark painted walls in this area. This keeps these railings from having too heavy a visual impact.

The second set of panels was the 'Sky' element.

A view as you climb the stairs
From the 2nd floor, looking down.

The Sky element consists of a total of four individual panels of tempered architectural glass. The customers chose a pattern of embossed leaves, representing the hardwoods outside their windows. The framing is somewhat complex in construction, with an inner frame supporting the glass, then a second structural frame which was welded and bolted together. Overall the effect of the metalwork is quite simple, with minimal forge work, allowing the glass to be the main visual element. The concept was to allow the maximum available light down into the stair area. The textured glass at the same time obscures vision, as the area at the top of the stairs serves as occasional extra sleeping space. The paint was the same dark blue used for the 'Undertow' elements further down the staircase.

An overall view of the various elements -
looking up from the basement through to the second floor.

Readers interested are invited to search here under 'Reade Maxwell'. I have kept a working record of this project as it has progressed here, which includes design notes and video segments of the work in progress.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Mini-Lithic at Wareham

View from the path end - looking to the east

View towards the west

As many know, for many years a select group of close friends gather to 'burn a boat' in late January. This is a custom now many decades old.
Early in the spring, our next door neighbour decided to sell his home, the converted church here in Wareham. In preparation, he pulled out a number of large stones around his yard. He told me I could have these for the effort of hauling them away. The largest was about 1 x 1 x 2.5 feet - about all I could manage even on my heavy two wheeled cart.
I had always wanted some 'ancient stone work' around the property. The pile of roughly oval stones now on hand gave me a chance to build something like the ship profile grave markers I had seen in Denmark (dated to the Viking Age.
The result marks the space where year after year, the small boat is placed to burn. This is a double use, as Vandy's father had died about 18 months back, and some of his ashes had been placed on the boat last January. Not quite the grand Viking Funeral that Murry might have wished, but a fitting marker none the less...

Thursday, July 01, 2010

HST - Nothing but a RIP OFF

As of midnight last night, the Ontario Government has imposed a change on the way retail sales taxes are applied. Although the *amount* of the total sales tax remains the same, at 13%, just *what* that tax applies to has increased significantly.

As a small business (really a 'micro business' - employing a single person), the Wareham Forge has been made responsible for implementing, collecting, and returning this tax to the Government. Information on just what the exact provisions of this new tax structure by the Ontario Government have proved extremely difficult to determine. I was told to attend a *two day* seminar in Barrie (thats an hour's drive away). Although this seminar itself was free, the related costs of travel, lodging, food - much less two days lost production time - ALL would have come out of my pocket. Needless to say, I did not bother.

So far I have spent many hours on the (poorly designed) Government web site, followed up with more frustrating hours on the phone with badly trained operators. Again, I am expected to absorb all that lost time as well.

Last night I spent 3 1/2 hours re-working the Wareham Forge web site, implementing the changes required to add the new tax.

The Ontario Government has been informing the general public that this new tax structure will produce no significant changes in the overall costs to consumers. They talk about reduced costs to business, which they expect will be passed down to customers.

1) See Above. Multiply hours by the standard shop rate of $50. Who do you think should pay for that?

2) A number of things that were NOT SUBJECT to the old 8% Ontario PST are NOW SUBJECT to a full 13% HST. Before June 30, 2010, these things only had 5% GST applied. At the Wareham Forge this includes:
- Any object I personally installed (so all architectural works)
- All educational related products, which means all courses and DVD/CDROM

3) Under the old Ontario PST system, a small amount of the value of the taxes collected was returned to the business for the trouble and effort of maintaining those records on behalf of the Government. Under the new HST - this rebate has ended. So someone (guess who?) will now have to cover the hours spent on that record keeping.

The logic provided by the Ontario Government is that businesses will now be able to rebate ALL the sales taxes paid out as HST. Before June 30, this was the case for all 5 % GST amounts. Ontario 8 % PST was only rebated for certain types of purchases, primarily raw materials.
Now I just ran a very fast estimate on how much PST I paid out via the Wareham Forge for the first six months of 2010. Under the new regime, I would have been able to rebate an extra $123.

For the Wareham Forge, 'educational' related products and services are a major income component. The most significant change is the new requirement to apply the higher rate of the HST to ALL these. This will include training programs here at the workshop, educational programs at schools, demonstrations at museums and festivals.
A very significant change is the new addition of the HST to any work I personally install. These large value custom projects were considered 'capital investment' under the old system, and thus were only subject to 5% GST. After June 30, under HST, in effect an additional 8% must now be applied. And you can bet most people budget for the AFTER tax total when considering custom art metalworks.
Applied to the income of the Wareham Forge over the first half of 2010, the addition of an HST to all these areas would have resulted in an overall INCREASE to the customers of $431.

Compare the hard numbers:
Business cost reduction = $123
Overall increase in tax = $421
Net increase to consumer - $298


Now, there is another side to this. My own personal living costs. THOSE are not subject to any rebates. As EVERYTHING is now subject to 13% HST, there are a number of major monthly expenses which now cost us more. These are my estimates for the balance of 2010:
Gasoline - $100 per month (personal use portion) = $80
Electricity - (guesstimate) $1260 = $100
Satellite TV - $55 per month = $26
Fortunately, we pay our house insurance ($1000) as a yearly amount, in January. So for this year at least we beat the additional $80 added there.
Total increase to year end on 'fixed' costs = $ 206

'Transition Rebate' from the Ontario Government? Not a dam thing in MY mail box...

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

COPYRIGHT NOTICE - All posted text and images @ Darrell Markewitz.
No duplication, in whole or in part, is permitted without the author's expressed written permission.
For a detailed copyright statement : go HERE