Monday, January 31, 2011

NEW DVD Edits!

Starting today, new versions of my educational DVD programs will be available:

Introduction to BlacksmithingHistoric BladesmithingForging the Viking Age

Revised edits of these three training DVD's, (plus the research volumes Experimental Iron Smelting in the Viking Age and Exploring the Viking Age in Denmark), are available on the Wareham Forge web site.

The new edited versions are specially formated for use in modern issue DVD table top players, and more importantly in computer DVD drives. This last was a failing with the original versions, most especially with Introduction.

The stress on all these productions remains INFORMATION CONTENT, not 'flash'. Those seeking slick Hollywood productions will not find it here. Those wanting to get a large amount of information and close up views of actual working methods will be pleased! These are the changes to the new edits:

All now include a title menu with separate chapter headings, making it simple to zero in on a specific topic or physical demonstration. These programs range from 150 to 165 minutes long, virtually DOUBLE the length of most other available training DVDs. (So having chapter headings is a very useful addition!)

I have re-ordered the sequences on Introduction to Smithing. This has placed all the information on tools at the beginning, next the sequence on starting a coal fire, followed by all the physical technique demonstrations. I think this gives a better flow to the information.

I have added some new 'Bonus' footage to Forging Viking Age. These are shorter QuickTime movie clips, showing work on a wider range of Norse objects. On your computer, open the disk file and look for the 'Bonus' folder.

The core video remains the same. It is important for viewers to understand that these programs were recorded in the early 1990's. Some of the footage was actually shot on BETA tape, the remainder on VHS video! Obviously, the quality of these recordings, both audio and video, will not compare to modern digital media.
Although I did port over the VHS to DVD disk format in 2004, changes in the technology of players has continued. Most importantly, new DVD table top players have a burried 'anti copy' system incorporated (mandated by our 'friends' in the America Media Monopoly). Although these measures were intended to prevent commerical movie piracy, one side effect is that they also can effect 'home' produced DVD disks. These new edits should solve that increasing problem.

I consider the best way to teach someone Blacksmithing techniques, if you can not actually be in the workshop, is via VIDEO. I have specifically zeroed in on a close view of hammer and anvil for the demonstration sequences to make what is happening as clear as possible. I also think the ambient sound of striking the metal is critical to your understanding of the process. ( I figure that you hardly are interested in seeing my smiling face - or are looking to purchase some kind of dramatic music video!)

The price remains the same! The three educational disks are $25 CDN, the two research disks at $20. Discounts for multiple purchases (reduced shipping / Buy 3 - get one FREE!)

NEW DVD Edits!

Starting today, new versions of my educational DVD programs will be available

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I wanted this AXE

(so I took it from a dead Saxon! No, wait a minute THAT'S a different situation...)

" Could you give me a price quote on a bearded axe the head weighting 2-3lbs,blade 4".I have included a picture of how i would like it to look but off course you can give you suggestions. "

What is in your image is a mass produced commercial 'hatchet' weight axe. ( I think I may actually have one around here some place. ) It is an investment cast head, lower carbon content steel. This means inexpensive, but not such a great tool. The edge bevel is also set for splitting, not for fine slicing. This size and shape is supposed to be for fine woodworking, not chopping kindling.

I did some fast Google searching using that image as the reference. What I found pretty matched my memory. The axe seen above sells for something around $50. (Admittedly, the description at Axminster Tools in the UK does state 'laminated steel blade' : cost 35 GBP / $55 CDN)

You are also asking to have the weight increased considerably - and with that I would expect the size of the handle. So actually a full sized axe - originally intended for timber finishing (ship building / house construction).

Now, I made up a set of replica working tools for L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC two years back. There are commentaries here :
Norse Woodworking Axes
VA Ship Tools - Adze & Broadaxe

The *correct* way to make the tool you are asking for is to take a heavy piece of metal, which is then cut back and spread, then folded over and welded to make the peen. (See the excellent set of tutorials by Jim Austin & Jeff Pringle.) On the blade side, it should have a carbon steel edge welded on, either cut and inserted (better) or lap welded. Note that the pictured axe has neither!

In the excellent Gransfors 'Ancient' line, the closest available is the 'Bearded Axe with Eye-Socket' (Note that your sample is a stripped down and reduced size, mass produced version of the Gransfors, which itself is just one interpretation of the original object prototype samples). This full sized version has a punched eye however. Remember that even Gransfors is tooled up to use shaped dies on power hammers to allow for mass production.
Cost of the Gransfors runs about $365 US +

For me to hand forge & weld up a proper working tool axe, based on the artifact profile, and in the 2 - 3 lb range you ask for, the cost is going to be about the same. Quote is $350 CDN.

50% non refundable deposit secures the order (into the work cycle here) Balance due before shipping. Does not include shipping costs, taxes inside Canada. Should be duty free under NAFTA.

Some notes to potential customers:
- I always run a fast Google search on any 'can you make one like this' request.
- First, outside of obvious historic objects, I will not duplicate some other artist's original designs.
- Second, Don't bother to price shop. I'm not at all likely to be cheaper. In most cases, anything mass produced is likely to have lower quality, and I do not have the 'economy of scale' available that comes from specialized tooling and set ups that allow fast bulk manufacture.
- Third, I may not be any faster than anyone else. Speed of completion of a specific order depends on just what else is already in the schedule. Normally larger, higher $$ value projects take precedence over small orders. The fastest turn overs are Spring and Fall. (Winter its too damn cold - Summer I'm on the road.)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

2011 - Year at a Glance

So - its about this time every year that I get a bunch of 'When are the courses going to be'.
Fast version - same weekend choices as last year.

I've just spent most of this cold Saturday on the computer (again!). Not only actually figuring out what I'll be doing almost every weekend for the next 11 months but also transferring that data back on to a dozen changes through the main body of the Wareham Forge web site.

If you think YOUR life is packed, check the 'Year at a Glance' table

If you want a weekend lunch date, you'd better book it now...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

QUALITY Replica Anvils (VA iron & economy)

Modified from a series of posts to NORSEFOLK. The starting topic was 'where can I get a Norse style anvil':

This is a bit more rambling than my normal postings here. It illustrates what I spend at least an hour a day doing (maybe way more?). How one thing leads to another - and I'm too pig headed to stop...
Keep with the progression - there is some meat here

(ONE - original posting to NORSEFOLK)

I got a call a couple of weeks back by John Newman. John is a professional tool and die (pattern maker) and blacksmith here in Ontario. He is well respected for the high quality of his work. John produces and sells a number of specialized tools for blacksmiths, and has been expanding into tools for silversmithing.
His web site
Checking his silversmithing tools on offer will give you some idea of the quality involved.

Anyway, he had called to ask me if I thought there would be any market for *serious* working anvils in the Norse / Early period style. He was considering making up some forged from a middle carbon tool steel, correctly heat treated into working tools. (I mention that, as everything else I have ever seen offered is pretty primitive, and forged from softer mild steel with no hardening involved)

He was looking at a roughly 10 x 10 cm (4 x 4 inch) 'cube' with the bottom surface drawn out to a short square taper for mounting in a wood stump. Now, quality has a cost - his estimate for the use of the tool steel, forged to shape and properly heat treated, would be around $200 CDN.


Now there was a response to that. The kind of thing I expected. In part (name withheld deliberately) :
I think it would be a hard sell at that price. I can buy a similar sized block
of 4140 at the local metal supplier for about $80 US. This steel will work
harden nicely and take on the slight mushroom shape that I have seen on the
originals. Then there are guys like me who just posted a quick and easy method
for making Viking style post anvils. There is a tinsmith stake that is similar
and sold on e-bay for less money.
Part of my reply to THAT:

John has a 200 lb mechanical hammer, which is why he can undertake such a project. And *correctly* heat treat the resulting forgings. It might be reasonable to say that if the raw stock alone costs you $80 (thats in the US as well) that charging double for a finished product is hardly out of line.

I've taken a look at those toy stakes offered on E-bay. They really are bick irons, not anvils. Out of 1 inch diameter mild steel, they would only be useful for forging nails or the very lightest of S hooks. You get exactly what you pay for.

Those wanting to be truly cheap could purchase a block of 4 x 4 mild steel stock as an off cut and water harden it. That would give you something like a realistic working size at least.
I had my own replica Norse anvil custom cast using the extremely large, (and unusual for the VA) sample from Novgrod as the prototype. Created for Parks Canada, these were considerably more expensive!

These are about 4 inches wide, maybe 12 - 14 inches long and weigh about 30 lbs.


Carl said:
"...Even on the farms where they smelted
their own iron. Darrell's work in VA smelting has clearly shown the enormous
cost in time and labor of not only smelting but the preparation work in
acquiring the ore and charcoal. I suspect that if we apply modern costs to the
VA labor and materials the cost of the small anvil we are discussing would be
around $1000+. So a small farm that couldn't afford the cost yet still had the
need for the basic farm tools was in a bind...."
My response to that (trying to open up the topic - back to the Viking Age).

There is something important here that Carl points up.
What is the actual availability, and 'cost' of iron objects within the Viking Age?

Far from being an abstract, it is of importance to all of those considering equipping a VA camp or presentation of it. The question is on the same interpretive level as discussions over hand sew vs machine stitching on clothing.

In our modern age, metal is CHEAP and easily available. A prime example would be the use of stamped metal wall studding - in place of wooden 2 x 4's. When did metal beams get cheaper and easier than pieces of trees? This is most certainly NOT the case for the Viking Age! 'When in doubt, use WOOD' should be a basic premise.

Getting raw information on 'metal load per person' is not easy - or simple to calculate. (I think we have tossed this around before.) *To my observation* the better way to think of 'personal load' is to also remember the percentage that an individual shares of the household total. How many tens of kilos of iron are tied up in the rivets in even a small ship as one example. One boat per household? Cauldron hangers and iron cauldrons are heavy - but again these are household, not personal, items.

Balanced against this are measurements of slag heaps at VA 'industrial' iron smelting sites. (evidence from Gotland had been mentioned in the past.) Here other aspects need to be considered:
- Slag is virtually indestructable, iron objects are not.
- Those piles represent decades, sometimes centuries of activity. Iron objects have a much shorter working life - at best a generation or two. This is depending on the object type as well, a (soft) iron knife may wear through sharpening in a dozen years, a chain hanger is not really effected by use.
- Theoretical estimates comparing slag remains to iron production are mostly completely wrong. This relationship is often reported as 1 to 1 - Of the dozens of actual iron smelters I know, the best any of us get as yields is maybe 45 %, more typical is 25 - 30%. And the actual weight of slag is considerably more than 'ore in = slag + iron out'(the academics always seem to forget the addition of melted clay furnace walls).

I'm not sure ANYONE has taken a realistic look at the OVERALL process, in terms of labour, skills, and materials - comparing total resources in against objects out. (How much *food* do you need to provide for the work team?) I know any information I have seen on iron production does not consider raw bloom to bar, or bar to finished object. Peter Crew reported 10% bloom to working bar conversion, but that is not the experience of Sauder& Williams, or my own (admittedly limited) experience.

Anyway, as you have heard me say before, large amounts of personal metal objects are not going to be accurate for the Norse. We all should be considering this when equipping our presentations. Massive individual objects are also even more problematic, because of the extreme physical problems creating them.

Just like our original discussion starting point, there is a huge difference between an isolated farm stead, and making some simple hooks, against a professional metalsmith in an urban setting (much less a swordsmith!) You *can* make a hook on a rock using a cooking fire. You can NOT make swords or any of those finished objects (cauldrons, hangers, helmets, axes) unless you have skills - with equipment to back it up.

Getting back to John Newman, and his proposal to create actual 'tool' quality Early Period anvils :

This from Pieh Tools, one of the major North American suppliers of Blacksmithing tools. This is the closest I think you will find in a *new* anvil / stake to the VA artifact samples. Admittedly 'top of the line'
(about half way down the list)

" Peddinghaus Tinkers Anvil, 7500gm 215x100 mm (Flat face, 2 round and 2 sharp corners fine polished) "

$341.39 US

"These stakes are gorgeous blemish-free polished surfaces; stakes are forged and tempered for excellent performance and longevity. They are carefully engineered to reduce strain-the softer inner body absorbs impact through the hardened surface. Made in Germany."

Item #: 0028010100

Maybe John's offering for pretty much the same thing - at $200 CDN, is not such a bad deal after all??

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Makita Comes Through

We so often find reasons to complain, but rarely pass along complements for things done right. I thought I'd mention something done recently by Makita Power Tools which I was quite happy with.

Most of my hand power tools in the Wareham Forge are made by Makita. The majority of these are in the 'very good home' quality level, individual tools in the $75 - $150 range. I have always been impressed by the overall desgin and eronomics of the tools. I have relatively small hands, so have often found the standard 'America' tools a bit too large to comfortably grip - and thus harder to control. Maybe because Makita came out of Japan, I have found they just plain fit my hands better. There was a noticable quality difference for the price as well. For working tools, I always to purchase based on design and quality - not mere price. Over the years I have found Makita has proven excellent value and durability.

Quite a few years back I purchased a model 9527PB, 4 1/2 inch angle grinder. As an intermediate level tool, the cost was about $100 (but I do think I got it on sale for about $75). 6.4 Amp, 10,000 Rpm, Weight 3.9 lbs.

The reason I purchased that model was that unlike everything else available at the time, it had a long paddle type on off switch. Once a central trigger was depressed and the unit was on, gripping the body any place around the slim housing kept the tool running. This proved of great utility when grinding the wierd angles and possitions needed when cleaning up welded artistic smithing work, especially on larger architectural projects. This grinder was also the lightest of all the units available in its power class (most small grinders are 5 amp).
The unit did sterling work in my shop for over a decade. I was extremely happy with its performance, and really did love its ease of use.

No tool lasts forever, especially in a blacksmith's shop. Eventually the bearings gave out, and I needed a replacement. Trying to put my years of experience to work (??) I decided not to consider price - but shop for features and ease of use. I looked at everying available in general retail stores, shopping in Owen Sound. So that meant Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Home Hardware, TSC... I spent a whole afternoon, making the circuit and then returning to finally make a purchase.

Right off the start, I found out the 9527 was no longer in production. Damn! I did look at the DeWalt, but it had a strange kind of flip up small trigger that sure looked like it would be prone to break. I also was *attempting* not to purchase anything made in China. (Another possible rant?) Anyway, that was to prove impossible, as now ALL the manufacturers (except maybe Milwalkee) have their products built in China.
6.0 Amp, 11,000 Rpm, Weight 3.1 lbs.

What I ended getting was a Makita combo pack with a model GA4530K 'slimline' grinder and a 5/8 hammer drill. I paid just under $100 for the package. Obviously the package was intended to promote the DRILL, not the grinder. (I had been considering replacing my 20 year old Makita 3/8 electric drill anyway, so thus the combination purchase. As an aside, I have been extremely happy with the handling and performance of the drill - model HP1621K.) The 4530 had the smallest diameter housing of all the available grinders in its class, which is why I chose it. It is also slightly more powerful, at 6 amps (over the standard 5 amps).

Now the negative. The GA4530 was certainly NOT a good replacement for my 9527. Right off the get go, it lists at half the price, and of course that difference in cost needed to be reflected some place. It has the standard arrangement of thumb switch on top of the housing used for most of the smaller angle grinders. The diameter of the housing was actually larger than the older model (so much for slim line).
Most importantly, the tool proved just NOT to be durable. Ten months after the purchase, with regular shop use, the unit failed. Failed big time. The windings shorted out, melted the interior plastic mounts, which in turn shattered. All in about five seconds. Kind of like blew up.

Given the care I had taken in selecting this tool in the first place, I was NOT happy. I was also under time pressure on a major commission, so had to make a special trip down to Orangeville (75 km each way) to purchase a replacement. This time I spent an hour on the internet, taking a look at what was on offer at my possible retail choices. I decided that money was NOT going to be a factor, but durability and hand feel the only determination points.

7 Amps, 10,000 RPM, Weight: 4.7 lbs.

What I ended up purchasing was this one, the Rigid model R1005 'Slimline' Now, I have to admit that I really don't like Home Depot. Note that I did check all the other retail outlets first, starting with Home Hardware, which as my local McDonald's Home Hardware in Dundalk, I could not LIVE without. I decided to purchase the Rigid for two reasons. First, it was by far the most comfortable in my hand, despite the 25 % increase in weight over my earlier tools. This is because of an innovative design, which extends the drive shaft to place the motor behind your hand. You grip the much smaller diameter drive shaft, with the grinding head assembly balanced by the weight of the motor. This does make the tool considerably longer. I have yet to use the grinder for a long work session, or on a complex assembly, but it does seem comfortable to use so far. The second point was the warrenty. Three years total replacement, lifetime repair on parts. All the other manufacturers offer one year. We shall see.

But this is a story about Makita.
With nothing to loose, I figured I might as well attempt a warrenty challenge. As per the instructions, I copied off my original reciept (kept thanks to business tax records), boxed up the failed grinder, added an explination note, and mailed the lot off to the address in Mississauga. Cost me $12, figured the worst would be the loss of the money. I decided from the start that I might cover return shipping, but certainly would not apply any funds to repair of that unit. I mailed the package off about the 10th of December
About five weeks later (and this WAS over the holidays) I got a phone call from Makita Canada. A bit of a gruff voice, which threw me a bit a first:
"I've got good news and bad news, what do you want first."
"err - What about the bad news?"
"I've got your damaged grinder here, I can't send you a replacement of that model."
"Ok, whats the good news?"
"I looked the damage, and there is no way it should have happened. So I'm going to send you a new model as a replacement, free of charge."

What came a couple of days later was a model 9525. It is a 5 inch version, with a top mounted thumb switch. (I can't find an exact image.) It appears to be a 'last years model' (not listed on the Makita Canada web site) but was brand new. The specifications are 5 Amps, 10,000 RPM, 3.1 lbs. The grinder came packaged with a bonus 14 inch tool bag. (I'd guess thats to balance the slight reduction in power from the damaged unit to the replacement.)

Good for them.
Not expecting anything, getting a brand new replacment unit is just bonus. It was a pain having to replace a needed tool in the middle of a job. The end result is now I have two working angle grinders in the shop (actually three, as I do have a cheap ass Benchmark with a wire brush cup mounted for clean ups).

Thanks Makita Canada. Although all your tools are now made in China (instead of Japan) with all that implies, you fully backed your warrenty. Actually past what I expected.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

'Proof' (??) of Female Blacksmiths

Not to 'beat a dead horse'... (much)
Liutgard of Luxeuil said...

It isn't Viking age, but there _is_ a 14th c illumination of a woman at the forge- and we know it is a woman because men did not wear the goofy frilled fillet with barbette and net on their hair. I don't think that it equates to anything akin to modern attitudes about what women can or cannot do- there is a man in the picture also, and it is entirely possible that it is simply a woman helping her husband out on a busy day. Fun to ponder though.

Now, this came in as a (well intended!) comment to my earlier piece (October 23, 2010)
'Female Smiths in the Viking Age?'
This is the actual illustration she refers to:

from the Holkham Bible, England c. 1327 (portion)

Thanks to the wonders of Google Docs, a fast search gives you this commentary on the Holkham Bible by Dr. W.O. Hassall:
" The purpose of this manuscript is revealed on its first page, which
discloses a preaching friar commissioning a secular artist and
explaining that the book is to be shown to rich people.
The costumes, tools, weapons and buildings in the pictures are those
of fourteenth century England. They were intended as "visual aids"
for a popular preacher to show to wealthy merchants or craftsmen.
They present a medieval panorama by almost cinematographic
methods. Many early occupations such as dyer, smith, carpenter,
midwife are shown in what are virtually "stills" of a medieval
miracle play of 1330 showing the England into which Chaucer was
born. "
In the on line version of Hassall's notes, for the description of this illustration :
Frame 60
fol.31. Three Marys follow Christ. Note the green cross.
Simon of Gyrene with gloves, tall hat, country boots and cudgel. A
carpenter bores a hole. A smith says his hand is too bad to make
nails. His wife at the forge.
The image is thus part of the story line around the Crucifixion of Christ. Note the context of the image - The smith is attempting to AVOID the work of making the required nails, claiming his hand is damaged. This certainly suggests 'his wife' is not able to undertake the task.
Not exactly what I would call definite proof of a female as working blacksmith.
Obviously there is a LOT more going on here than a simple illustration of 14th century reality.

'Luitgard' I think has made a good critical assessment of this historical source.
Its certainly interesting, but put into its context it becomes, more, not less, certain as a depiction of actual mid 1300's life. Most definitely it should not be used as justification to transpose modern ideals back into Medieval realities.

Once again I need to state, CLEARLY, that I have been and remain a huge supporter of modern women involved in metalsmithing (or any other 'non traditional' activity).

Sunday, January 09, 2011

How To History

- Video Tutorials in the Historic Arts

Via a bit of a devious route, I was contacted by James Easton, who is starting up a web site featuring video clips of various hand and traditional skills. The collection is aimed at, and of most interest to, re-enactors. Though I can see teachers would find this a good reference portal for students as well.
My friend David Robertson, of Hammer and Tongs studio, is well represented. David has developed a considerable catalogue of short videos for YouTube.

If you have not seen them yet, I have my own collection of about two dozen film clips. These are split pretty evenly between the types of topics discussed here - Viking Age / iron smelting / blacksmithing (or some combination of the three!)

Go on to Darrell's YouTube Channel

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Museum Photographs - Internet Publishing

A revisit of the problem of photography in publicly funded museums - and who controls the rights to images:

I had made a commentary on this issue some time back (see 'Photography in Museums', June 5, 2005). In a nut shell, the conflict was centred around use of 'casual' photographs taken of open public collections. A major complication is the often desperate lack of funding for those same institutions.

I have been personally involved in many aspects of this problem, as a private researcher, sometime educator (on the user end) and also as a living history interpreter (as subject to other's photography). I danced around the whole thing when I decided to publish 'Exploring the Viking Age in Denmark', which is a collection of my own photographs (with commentaries).

Over the last day, two extensive collections of museum photographs published to the web have been highlighted through various discussion groups I participate in:
Is from an un-named living history interpreter who volunteers at the "Archeon", Bronze Age 'living history park' in Alphen a/d Rijn, the Netherlands. (Introduction in English)
Is from 'Víkverir', which as far as I can see from their web site (in Norwegian?) is a small Norway based living history group centred on the Viking Age. (nice web site!)

Both of these collections are extensive, grouped by individual museums. The images are presented without labels or commentary, so there are not specific identifications possible. (Sometimes an image does include the museum's lable.) In some cases the images represent separate visits to specific museums. Most of the images are taken hand held with available light, so often they are not crisp, and colours are obviously off.

Without identifications, the artifact images are less useful than they might be. Still, it would be likely possible for anyone seriously trying to identify a specific object to contact the institution directly for more information (including the photograph as reference).

As Neil Peterson had suggested in the original conversation that sparked that 2008 commentary - this 'horse has left the barn'.
The explosion of low cost and high quality digital photography could hardly be imagined a decade ago. The sift of the internet to ever easier publication methods was suspected. The implications of the geometric progression in potential storage volumes was certainly understood.

Ya can't sell this stuff - when people are giving it away for free!

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

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