Monday, February 28, 2011

Some older Bladesmithing

(I know I've been a bit short on postings here the last week - so this is almost a place holder!)

One of the things I'm supposed to be working on is getting some additional work posted up to the Wareham Forge Gallery of Past Work section of the web site. Not only more recent pieces, but also some older work. I've been going back and scanning images from slides to do this.

Some (much older!) Bladesmithing:

'Robbin's Sword'
About 1990?
Forged spring steel, etched, antler hilt with cast tin alloy guard and inset

Forged mild steel, leather disk hilt
(Big story here - this blade has seen actual combat use)

Layered Skinner
Mid 1980's
Layered steel, brass guard with olive (?) hilt
One of a series of small layered steel with carbon steel cores I made and my brother sold while he was living in the high arctic. The lower layer count seen is typical of my first work with the method.

Etched Knife
Details ?
Likely forged spring steel, etched.
At one point I was doing a large amount of decorative acid etching.

Carved Seax
Pattern Welded steels, deer antler hilt (carved by Steve Strang)
This was one of the first knives on which I used the combination of twisted rods for the back welded to a flat slap with carbon core edge.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Vikings to Vinland - Lecture Feb 24

Thor’s Day Thursdays

A new presentation the last Thursday of every month for the duration of the Vikings: Master Mariners, Traders and Artisans exhibit.

1st Presentation
February 24th at the Sarah Jane William Heritage Centre.
62 Temperance Street, Bowmanville

Clarington Museums and Archives presents the first in the series of guest speakers and discussion followed by a tour of the Viking Master Mariner Exhibit. Light Refreshments served. 7 to 9 pm. $7 Tickets must be purchased in advance.

Vikings to Vinland

The Norse of the Viking Age were the boldest explorers of their times.
Although much is made of raids on England and France, perhaps their greatest adventure was travelling from their homes in Scandinavia westward across the North Atlantic. Settling in Iceland, then Greenland, eventually they would reach the shores of the land they called Vinland, what we know as Atlantic Canada. Just who were these explorers? Where did they go? Why didn't they stay?

Join Darrell Markewitz, creator of the Norse Encampment living history program for Parks Canada at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC, for a lively discussion. The presentation will be illustrated with images from his many trips out to northern Newfoundland. Handle replica objects from Vinland and the greater world of the Norse.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

HOW TO HISTORY - Norse Broadaxe

I was approached recently by James & Julie Eason of How to History - who asked if one of my 'work in progress' clips could be included on their (excellent) web site. Part of our initial conversation ran like this, a response to my question about the evaluation process they use for selecting new materials:
I appreciate your concern and vetting is an area that is a constant
struggle. I sometimes take several hours just to write a simple 150 word description for a video. My wife and I have some backgrounds in various arts and crafts but it'd be far from truthful to claim expert status. For that matter, it seems that interpretations of established fact even in scientific circles is in a state of constant flux.

The spectrum of subjects and timelines we're attempting, means there are many areas we're just not going to have depth on. A technique that was applicable in one place and time may not be true for another. We do try to review video content prior to approaching authors for their permission and try to reason whether their interpretations jive with our own understandings. We are definitely trying to stay away from the trap of content for content sake and stand ready to address changes and corrections as we become aware of them. Feedback will always be welcome.

For instance, we had a friend in Canada do a video for us making nails
where due to his limited resources, he accomplished the task without a
nail header. A doable technique but probably not the best. We're
currently looking to supplement his work.

All that said, we try to be mindful that not all of our contributors or
subscribers have full access to period tools and materials. Where
possible, we try to make the distinction between the two.
The clip they selected for a first addition was 'Forging a Norse Broad Axe' Readers may remember commentaries here on this project, the creation of Viking Age ship building equipment for L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC.

I am extremely happy with the introduction James & Julie wrote about the video. I'm sure my readers will find other materials on How to History that they find of interest!
(full URL : )

Friday, February 11, 2011

Contemporary Blacksmithing in Uzbekistan

A bit of background. As most of you know, I have had a large presence on the internet for a very long while. Although it has become the primary connection point for potential customers, it also can bring in a lot of unwanted e-mail spam. You never know however, what might end up an interesting and valuable contact. A couple of weeks back, I got the first part of a communication from someone who included Cyrillic characters in the text, along with a pile of images of blacksmithing work. I responded, and got a second, more informative, letter in return. I have edited the two letters from Ibragimov Timurbe into one. Remember that English is not Ibragimov's primary language. As well I have included some the images of his father's artistic blacksmithing work.

Dear Colleague!!!
I am a son of Blacksmith. We are very glad to find you!
You know, being very enthusiastic in my father occupation I would love to know a little bit more about blacksmithing from people who are real professionals in wrought iron! If you don't mind We'd love to know your opinion about our forged items. What do you think about them? We make all forged items only by means of our hands and of our best friends - hammers! Look at them!!!

We are not actually from Russia or Ukraine but we are certainly from one of the post Soviet Union countries. We are from Ferghana city, Republic of Uzbekistan. We haven't got our own Web site but I can send you other works of my father's if you like.

Before going into this profession, my father had graduated the High school of Arts and became artist, then he entered the University and studied for 5 years before becoming a qualified builder. He really wanted to make something different when he was a student and went into blacksmithing, having merged two his abilities (building and making art) into one. My father has been working for over 25 years in this occupation but now it's really hard to make a living just building an art in our country, so my father decided to move to Russia this year. He was invited to work by blacksmith organization in Yekaterinburg city, Russia.

Please write us any opinions, ideas of yours, you are always welcome!!! We even will be very glad to have other ideas of Professionals! We will be very grateful!

С искренним уважением, Ибрагимов Тимур Икрамович!
My best wishes!!!

Ibragimov Timurbek

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Art of Scott Caple

" OK, it's my turn. I am having a SHOW in Downtown Toronto , at the Toronto Cartoonists Workshop, 486 College St. / Friday Feb. 25 / 7-11. It 's going to be a show of layout and design work from past projects I 've worked on -Incredibles, Hunchback, the Bluth movies, maybe even some Nelvana stuff - plus some personal work. Some will be original , some won't. But there WILL be refreshments and good conversation. And signed prints for sale! "

Stolen from Scott's Facebook page.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Bronze Casting - Metals, Melts and other Mysteries

I am trying to recreate Viking bronze casting and have been having some trouble. I bought the “ancient bronze” from Rio Grande. It has a melting point of c. 1800 degrees and I have not been able to get it to melt using charcoal and bellows in the little furnace I have made. The pages that I have seen on the web all seem to mention bronze with a melting temp of between 800-1200 degrees. Since you seem to be successful casting in bronze using period methods, can you make any suggestions? Where do you get your bronze? Do you mix your own?

The melting and further the best temperature for fluidity will vary considerably depending on the exact alloy you are using. You might find the MatWeb site helpful:

Its on the technical side, but what you can do is search for bronze, and it will let you see the various commercial alloys with their properties.

My own experience with true bronze alloys (so thats in the range of 90% copper and 10% tin) is that their melting points are in the range you state - so roughly 1800 F

First thing - When someone is quoting 800 degrees, I expect those are 'not Americans' and using Celsius. (Remember at this point the USA is pretty much the only nation solidly still using Fahrenheit. On line converters are our friends) Although 800 C is only about 1500 F, and a bit low for bronze - go to point number two.

Second thing - Sometimes (especially with commercial sources) there is confusion (often intentional) between BRONZE and BRASS. Brass is a lower copper alloy, with less expensive zinc making up as much as 60% of the content. It has a lower melting point. (It also is evil, zinc fumes are extremely toxic and should be avoided! If you see a pronounced blue flames in the torch flame, get volumes of white smoke coming off the surface - just get the heck away from it!)

It should be noted that working with even open topped crucibles in a charcoal fire is unlikely to result in this specific problem. I say this cautioning against repeated exposure to fumes, most certainly avoiding working inside small enclosed spaces with poor ventilation. (Yes - THEY did it, but they also went blind / went crazy / died at 40!)

In the Viking Age, the alloy actually used varied considerably. The primary element was copper, but various amounts of tin, lead and zinc were the other primary components. Lead will lower the melting point and make the material more fluid (in both cases easier to pour). Zinc was not added intentionally, but was a natural component of some ores. From the Roman period onwards, old objects were cut up and re-melted, the resulting loss in volume being made up by adding other metals (typically lead). There is a noticeable shift over time in alloy contents because of this process. Readers referring to texts after about the 1980's may have noticed a shift away from the use of the term 'bronze' to the more vague 'copper alloy'. The spread in actual alloy contents in artifacts is the reason why.

Third - You mention Rio Grande. I have dealt with them (primarily for silver purchases) for many years. I have found them quite reputable and dependable. I'm not sure what the situation is in the USA, but here in Canada, any supplier is required to provide you a 'Materials Data Sheet' on your request. This details the elemental contents, physical properties, and in your (teaching) situation any safety hazards. I'm certain if you asked Rio Grande they would be able to provide you with a MDS on the 'antique bronze' they are supplying.

Fourth - When you purchase 'antique bronze' it is a trade name, not an exact alloy mix. I suspect (see below!) that the exact content will vary both with individual supplier and also likely over time. To that end, I'd recommend you contact Rio Grande (again, they are quite helpful there) and get them to tell you the exact mix and properties of their specific alloy.

A Cautionary Tale:

I worked for a couple of years as a casting technician (dental alloys). I've done a fair amount of fine metals casting for jewellery (lost wax investment casting in silver and gold) and a huge amount of work with the high tin 'pewter' alloys, primarily in stone molds. (This ideal for the classroom, but thats another conversation.) I've also worked with green sand casting using bronze for small objects. In addition, at least messed around with using all Viking Age equipments for casting bronze in clay molds.

Now, you asked where I was purchasing my own alloys.
At the start, I was using scrap. The problem with scrap is that you never know what the heck it *really* is. This can be critical with any metals, but especially anything you are intending to bring to high temperatures. At the melting point, sometimes if there is a lower temperature metal in the alloy, that element can vent off as vapour. Many metal vapours are extremely toxic!

The case in point with bronze is that the heavy metals lead and cadmium are commonly alloyed in with the copper. Both are extremely bad for you. My friend Mike Cardiff (Magic Badger Ironworks) at one point had pretty much destroyed his liver through working (primarily just forging) scrap bronze bars that were laced with cadmium.
Knowing this, I started either using more 'recycled' than 'scrap' materials. That is, metals with a known alloy content. I also started making up my own bronze alloy here. Obviously with the forges and industrial torch sets, I had the temperatures required. I work a fair amount with 'roofing copper' (which is pretty much pure copper, MDS list at 99%), so I just save my scraps and melt them down. (This is not particularly easy, as the copper material has a listed melting point at roughly 1100 C / 2000 F) You first bring the copper up to its melting point. To this I add a measured amount of 'Britannia Metal 92', my lead free pewter / high tin alloy. (Usually at about 10%. There is a small amount of antimony, 1.5 % of this pewter component.)

Anyway, a couple of years back, I was going to teach my first bunch of students a course on 'bronze casting in green sand'. I decided to play it safe (??) and purchase commercial bronze casting alloy, rather than use home made materials. I was a bit pressed for time, so purchased what was called 'antique bronze' from Lacy and Company in Toronto. Now, I had purchased Lacy's material in the past, and had good results with it. I even had some remaining, though not enough for the course.
I should have suspected something was up right from the get go. The new metal was a different colour.
Taking the torch to it produced that warning bright blue tinge to the flame. Once it started to melt, bellowing clouds of a white coloured smoke. I shut down the torch and got everyone out of the room.
At lunch time, thinking it was a problem with my technique, I repeated the steps with my friend and gold/silver smith Brenda Roy watching. It turned out one of my students was a materials scientist for a government lab. Both absolutely agreed with me the problem was with the material.
It was not bronze at all - but (cheaper) high zinc brass.
This was just at the time about five years back when copper prices (thank the Chinese) went astronomically high. They doubled, almost tripled, in mere weeks. Suppliers would not hold quoted prices longer than 24 hours. Lacy's of course does not *make* their 'antique bronze' alloy. They purchase from an industrial supplier and re-package for sales. Curiously, they could not provide me with the mandated MDS when I called. After much yelling and threats of government intervention, they eventually refunded my money on the returned metal. Obviously Lacy's themselves had been scammed. They had purchased what was supposed to be 90% copper bronze, but had been sent 40% copper brass. Their supplier had substituted - and scooped the 50% difference in raw cost.

After than, I just went back to always making my own bronze from my own copper. At least I know what the heck is in it.

Now, you mentioned looking at internet sources, specifically related to Viking Age furnaces.
By far the best, both in terms of experience and knowledge is the work of Anders Söderberg. Anders supports two web sites:
The first is a historic overview of Norse bronze casting.
The second is a more practical description of his experimental work.
As I said, we (being DARC) have messed around with using all norse tools and methods. Maybe a half dozen times. Frankly, although we have accumulated some experience, its more just enough to illustrate the problems and show us what individual elements of the process we still have to work the bugs out of.

There is no doubt that hardwood charcoal, provided with bellows air, will produce temperatures high enough to melt the bronze. Its what the ancients did! The key is in the design of the furnace. Here I refer you back to Anders.
The design of your bellows is important for ease of work and good performance. Here I invite readers to simply use the search function here under 'bellows'. That topic has been dealt with over a large number of past postings!

Original artifact, 'lead alloy' disk broach, cast in stone (?) mold
My replica, high tin alloy cast in carved soapstone mold
Bronze copy, cast in green sand using pewter as master
(all about life sized, 1/4" grid)

Thursday, February 03, 2011

'Songs of Distant Oceans'

As some of my closer readers know, this time of year I spend (too much?) time huddled inside near the glow of the computer - and the wood stove!

One major undertaking is trying to get 'new' work added to the various gallery sections of the main Wareham Forge web site.

Todays result was the addition of a new section 'Songs of Distant Oceans' - which bundles together my series work : Atlantic Realm / Shades of Ancient Seas / Hallucigenia

Come take a look, these pieces represent the majority of my non commissioned work over the last two years.

The title block is modified from one of my best photographs from my years at Ontario College of Art. Photography was the only subject I took for all four of my years there. The image was shot along the shores of the Canso Causeway, leading from the main land over to Cape Breton, I believe in the late spring / early summer of 1978. The full unmodified image was scanned from my original Cibachrome print.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Cooking Grid from Fire Grid

- Converting the artifact into the real world.

I had written earlier about the Fire Grid from the Mastermyr Tool Find. (See 'Interpreting an Artifact' - December 31, 2010)
Many re-enactors desire a 'cooking grill' for their camps. This artifact is most often pointed to as the historical reference. It is clear from a detailed look at the construction of the actual object, that it could never serve that function. Its relative light weight further supports the ethnographical references given by Berg in the primary report. This object is better suited to hold light pine knots serving as a source of area lighting, likely for a workshop.
This was not an idle rambling, I had actually been approached about creating a replica based on the original artifact, modified for use as a camp fire cooking / grilling rack. I'm not going to go into detail about the original object, or a commentary about its intended use. (see the original posting for that!)

In the end we did work out a compromise, basing the size and many details on the artifact sample. The whole was considerably strengthened. Although I do have reservations on the strict authenticity of using a cooking grill in a Norse context, the customer was keen to keep as many historic details as possible. Most importantly, my earlier discussion was not wasted, and the budget was realistically large enough to support this level of work.

So - what was the result?
Photo of the original artifactPhoto of the completed cooking grid

So you can see that I have quite intentionally set up the image of the completed project to replicate the published image of the artifact.

Enlarged detail of artifact top mountCompleted top mount & chain

When you compare the top support element on the artifact with the one used for the camp grid, one of the important modifications can be seen. To support the greater weight of the heavier construction of the cooking grid, I started with thicker material. The central H shaped element was made from 1/4" thick steel, split and forged to points. The artifact was forged the same way, only starting with closer to 1/8" thick wrought iron. In both objects, the chain elements were forged from 1/4" square stock, with one end loop forge welded closed. I retained the random lengths of the individual chain elements that is seen on the artifact. As the artifact, each length was composed of 4 elements with a total of 42 cm.
Rather than use commercial round stock for the top swivel loop, I forged down square stock to a cylinder before forming the loop and upsetting the lower swivel.

Illustrated artifact detailsGrid detail
End Hooks
Bar Ends

When the artifact drawings are compared in detail to the finished camp grill, some differences become obvious.
- For use as a cooking grill, the spacing between the individual bars was reduced, through the use of wider bars. Again for strength, the stock chosen was almost double the thickness (to 3/16" thick). To get the required shaping for the pair of central strips, thinner 1/8 thick material was used. Although standard 3/16 diameter round top rivets were used to attach all the bars, the hammer peened ends were place upwards to hid the machine made shape of the heads.
- The biggest change is the use of standard 1 1/2 wide x 1/8 thick industrial angle material for the side bars. In the original these were made of considerably thinner flat sheet, bent to the desired shape. The substitution was primarily done for physical strength (but cost and material availability was also a factor). To provide extra durability, the corners of these bars were MIG welded where they overlapped on the bottom side. A single use over the fire and even these hidden, admittedly modern, welds will be next to invisible.
- The angle material was cut away on the bottom surface. The remaining 'tab' was drawn out to a tapered point, then folded back to create the end hooks. Originally this was done without using the anvil's horn to mimic Norse tools and methods. (Norse anvils almost ALL do not have horns - see 'Shape of Forges in Early History' - December 2, 2010). When the result was compared to those on the artifact, the shapes were not quite correct. The central image shows the lower hook forged over the anvil's edge alone, the upper one forged over the horn. The more circular shape is the result of either great care (!) or the use of a conical or cylindrical forming tool. In the end I chose to use the horn to open up the circular shapes on all the end hooks.
- Another important fine detail was to hot punch all the rivet holes on the grill bars. This method results in a distinctive spreading to the bars. These were also forged round - rather than just being square (as saw cut). In the bottom image, the middle bar has had modern power tools (band saw and drill press) to finish the end. The other two bars show the distinctive shape of hand forged methods.

The customer's choices of hand forged methods, especially the 16 forge welds and the roughly 22 hot punched holes, easily doubled the cost of the project. The end result, although a different application than the Mastermyr fire grid, has resulted in the creation of an object which certainly has the appearance of an authentic Viking Age piece. I was very happy with the result.

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

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