Saturday, December 24, 2011

Peterson House - Front Supports : INSTALLED

- Yesterday, with the kind help of home owner Neil Peterson, I finally installed the forged support pillars that I have been working on for the last two months:

Overview of the two supports as seen from the front sidewalk.

Each support is a bundle of forged pipe, a central load bearing support of 2 inch, surrounded by a group of smaller diameter pieces. There are four of 1 inch, plus four of 3/4 inch, the latter drawn out to long tendrils. The bundles are wrapped by tendrils of 3/8 inch round at four places.

I had made an earlier commentary on the design aspects leading to this project :

Where DO Ideas Come From - Peterson House

Looking North to the hop trellis
Looking South - to the earlier fence extension project.
The view SE - framing the church across the street.
Top of the North Pillar
Close up of the forged pipes with tendril wrap section.
Top of the South Pillar

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Remember this?

I do.

In fact we had just gotten our very first Video Cassette Recorder (a high tech front loading Betamax) the day before the Live Aid concert in 1985.

Take a listen (and a look) and come back...

What I hear, what I see, and what I remember - is that despite the energy, this piece of music was a lament. A cry to action. No one is featured in their glam rock perfection. A lot of sweaty tee shirts. You can see that they mean what they are singing.

Ok ?

Now take a look at this recent version:

Sorry Glee Cast (and more likely FOX television)

Are you frackin' kidding?

Now look, I really like Glee. I find it generally entertaining. I mostly like the characters. A good 50 % of the time I like the music (enough that I have scooped a good dozen for my iPod).

But this is SO far off the mark. Happy, Happy. The meaning is totally buried under all that star power.
And these are supposed to be HOMELESS? Are you bloody well kidding? Awful middle America, middle class, white bread, clean and well turned out. Don't look a thing like the Homeless I've seen in Toronto.
Hell, I just grew up 'short' (and still live short) - and *I* don't look that fat and happy!

Remember this song is supposed to be a rally cry for Africans starving to death in a famine?
One that still continues after now some 25 years?

Bah! Humbug!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Schiffer Releases Ironwork Today 3

Any readers who are artisan smiths might remember that about two years back there was an open call for current work to be included in a new volume in the Ironwork Today series.

There is a bit of a story behind this series. Author Donna Meilach had written an influential volume Decorative and Sculptural Ironwork, back in the late 1970's. Donna had taken a number of courses in smithing, then spent time with the developing art smithing movement, primarily in the South West USA. Her survey book was the first to cross the divide between the practical world of working smiths and the more abstract vision of the artist and fine art curator. Along with short b&w photo essays illustrating how individual smiths created particular objects, there were collections of some of the best artistic blacksmithing work of the time.
Donna remained an active participant at ABANA conferences, and in the developing internet. In the late 1990's Donna decided to revise the original Decorative & Sculptural. At the time she made an open call through the internet discussion groups for additional images of recent work to be included in the central gallery section of the book. Yikes! She got a huge number of submissions of both high quality contemporary work - with suitable quality images. So many in fact, that she launched on a series of a half dozen additional survey works. The last of these was Ironwork Today, Inside and Out. As the series of books progressed, an increasing number of Ontario artisan blacksmiths had their work included.
But Donna was never able to complete the intended Ironwork Today 2. On her untimely death, the task of completing book two was assumed by Jeffrey Snyder. (Questionably, although Donna's hand is obvious in this book, Snyder assumes sole authorship.)

To get a submission of work into this kind of volume, not only does the work itself need to have both solid technique and outstanding design. The photographs themselves need to be both of high quality and striking in composition as well. (A word to the wise here - always take the time to get the best possible images of your work as it is completed and installed.)

Ironwork Today 3, after several delays, has just been released. In past volumes in the series, objects were grouped by type. Snyder has chosen to give each individual a separate section, listed alphabetically. A total of over 70 individuals are featured. Again there some local artisans are included, with submissions from OABA members Darrell Markewitz, David McCord, and David Robertson.

My first criticism is of Snyder's basic method. Although he is listed as an author, in reality he is at best only an editor of other people's work. It is clear that each individual contributor has written their individual statements and commentaries. Because of this, the book has no overall structure, save as an alphabetical list. This is a flaw that extends right back to the initial call for submissions, where the instructions about content were vague .
This also extends to the variation in the images themselves. Some are overview shots on white seamless backgrounds (thus lacking in detail). Some are extreme close-ups in high contrast (thus lacking context). Some have the look of the work of professional photographers, some obviously are lower quality work of the contributing smiths themselves.
I find that the variation in quality also extends to both the commentaries and descriptions. The type of content included for each artist is not consistent. It is so obvious that many of those included have learned the lingo of the art critic:
" The architectural framework of a piece becomes a canvas onto which I can paint an iron improvisation. Artistic blacksmithing is for me the place where Fire, Rhythm, Iron and Ideas meet and cause a spontaneous combustion of my spirit that I can only watch manifest"
(John Winer)
Not only are such grand pronouncements questionable, seeing page after page of so many attempting to frame up the same kind of rationalization gets extremely annoying.
On the quality of the work side, there is obviously a sliding of the scale downwards in relation to past volumes. There are more of examples of work that may be nice, but frankly not exceptional. If only speaking for myself, I was highly honoured to have been included in Donna's last book, but find the relative quality of my own work appears artificially shifted higher if Ironwork 3 was in fact the standard.

It is nice to see your work illustrated in book form, but the lack of direction and frankly lack of visible contribution by Snyder results in a volume that is little more than a vanity publication.
So taken in total, I would suggest that the cover price (roughly $55 US) on Ironwork Today 3 might be better spent on one of the earlier books by Donna Meilach. Most especially a copy of Decorative & Sculptural Ironwork, if that is not already in your library.

Other books by Donna Meilach :
Architectural Ironwork
The Contemporary Blacksmith
Decorative and Sculptural Ironwork
Direct Metal Sculpture
Fireplace Accessories
Ironwork - Dynamic Details
Ironwork Today, Inside and Out
Ironwork Today 2 (although not credited)

On a strictly personal note, although I was happy to be included, I was displeased that neither my web site or my e-mail address had been included on my own section. Both were given for most all the other contributors.

PS - I was highly annoyed by Schiffer's shipping costs. My $175 order of books cost some $70 to mail to Wareham (from Pennsylvania).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

CanIRON 9 - Quebec

I just got this from event organizer (and fellow Early Iron member) Antoine Marcal :
Antoine Marçal posted in Caniron IX
Bonne nouvelle! Nous avons confirmation du...
Antoine Marçal 13 December 11:56
Bonne nouvelle!
Nous avons confirmation du lieu et des dates de Caniron IX:
du 28 juin au 1er juillet 2013 sur le lieu historique national des Forges-du-Saint -Maurice!

Good news!
We have confirmation of the dates and location of CanironIX!
From the 28 June to the 1st July 2013 on the Forges du Saint-Maurice National Historic Site of Canada
Parks Canada - Forges du Saint-Maurice National Historic Site - Forges du Saint-Maurice National His
Located 20 minutes away from downtown Trois-Rivières, Québec, the Forges du Saint-Maurice National Historic Site...

BTW - that logo is most certainly NOT official! Just something I whipped up quickly to grace this post.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Russian VA Iron Smelt...

This video clip was suggested by one of the Early Iron gang:

As seen on YouTube - posted by 'zoomantiq'

The clip shows a team from Russia (given the Cyrillic text) working at a large living history (Viking Age?) event.

I quite like the simplicity of the basic construction method. Use of bundled straw for interior form is elegant.

I do wonder at the purpose of the base construction.
The built up earth plinth may be primarily to raise the height of the furnace. This appears to be explained in commentary. Other than raising the furnace for ease of access, its hard to understand why.
Considerable care is taken with the construction of the base, with a layer of straw, covered with a clay cobb plate, this in turn with what appears to be a semi refractory layer. (Light coloured clay that appears to be mixed with charcoal fines.
This same light material is used as the inner layer for what looks like the first 10 cm of the furnace wall.

The interior diameter of the furnace looks to be roughly 20 - 25 cm.

Note the bellows size and style (medium size double action - Late Medieval) Depending on pump rate (hard to determine from the video) this equipment should be able to supply plenty of air volume.
Use of steel pipe for bellows tube / tuyere
Set at basically flat angle (only slight downwards)
Very shallow base distance below tuyere (perhaps 10 cm??)

The is use of round port for tapping. Appears to be at same height as the tuyere.
There was no tapping event recorded, and no tap slag visible in later parts of the smelt.

Total furnace height looks quite short, the entire furnace may achieve (barely) 40 cm total. Considering placement of the tuyere, this suggests a very short reactive column.

Charcoal is roughly broken for size, scoop from pile method for screening out fines.

Ore appears to be hematite / iron sand or oxide powder (brown ochre) ?
Laid in a large slabs rather than sprinkled through charges. Only two charges shown, and it would be important to know how much ore was used.

There is use of flux (a fine white powder - may be borax?) near end of smelt.
May be explained in commentary, but why?

Furnace is allowed to burn out and basically go cold.
Extraction is by breaking out rear wall to expose interior.

When the interior is exposed, the slag mass certainly looks considerably above the height of the tuyere. Was the smelt halted because the tuyere was blocked? (Commentary may explain?)

On the extraction, three pieces are pulled aside.
The first (which is the piece in the smelter's hand near the end) is holding heat in a manner that at least suggests there may be some iron in it. If so, it is extremely lacy and small. The second piece is dense and dark, and looks like iron rich slag. The last piece (seen again near the end of the video) is light coloured green, typical of an iron poor slag (melted furnace walls).
Obviously the comments of the team would be important to understanding their results.

It appears the smelt master has determined the pieces containing iron by look and weight. It might have been more instructive (for him and us) if these fragments had remained hot enough that they could have been hammer compressed. Just quenching will sometimes break away some of the loosest slag component, but normally not enough to get a really accurate read on just how much iron might be included in such lacy pieces.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Historic Tool ??

A recent question came in about a historic object:
... I was looking into historic blacksmithing in the area of Peterborough, Ontario. I am an art conservation student at Fleming College in Peterborough and I recently completed a project treating a heavily rusted 19th century tool made of a mild steel (which I was told may be a blacksmithing tool). However, I am completely baffled as to what the tool is and what it was used for!
Click to see at approximately life sized.

The image above was altered from Megan's original -
Rendered via Photoshop because of possible copyright concerns

From the scale, the object is roughly 38 cm long by 16 cm wide (so roughly 15 x 6 1/2 inches). The overall construction is rather 'light' - with the components of the frame looking to be about .5 cm / 1/4 inch in thickness. The maximum width of the clamp is about 5 cm / 2 inches at full extension. This strongly suggests not a metalworking application, but something to be used for much lighter materials. (My WAG is for wood working??)

There is no doubt is was 'blacksmith made' (hand forged, forge welds, hand cut threads). I take it you have tested to ensure that it is made of mild steel, which dates it to post 1855 at the very earliest (Bessemer furnace date).

Although I can see the object is intended to be mounted to a wooden bench in roughly the same position as in your image, I can't for the life of me think of what it would be useful *for*.

Maybe one of my readers (a lot of blacksmiths and history types) will be able to identify this tool?

Personally, I have not a clue!

Later Addition

Those that caught this first thing this morning did see an actual photograph. When I e-mailed Megan for permission* she asked that the image not be published due to possible copyright concerns. (Since I've been working with artifacts for a long time, I'm personally less concerned about this - see a past commentary )

I've gotten a couple of questions :

Yes, the lower 'wing nut' does screw / move to push against the sliding bar near the top. It would place pressure on to the bar, but gravity would release it.

The first 'more likely suggestion came in from Matt Balent (via Facebook) :

"Perhaps for compressing/clamping broom straw?"

When I was at Black Creek Village, we had used a simple clamp made ourselves (well, by Ian Bell) from two slabs of wood and a couple of bolts. After the straw had been wrapped to a circular stick handle, the clamp was placed just bellow this attachment point. Then a needle and string were stitched through the flattened straw. Several courses of this would convert the cylinder to a flat oval cross section when the clamp was removed.
Doing this with a bench mounted clamp would be even easier. (If you look at a modern corn broom, you will see the same basic method used.)
It was pointed out by a couple of comments that the six inch width of the clamp might make it a bit small for this purpose.

Even Later!

From Sheldon Browder :

"It's a string mop holder, purely and simply. A mop handle goes on the tang and 1/2 of the mop strings go on each side of the clamp. The photo is upside down."
Now Sheldon was a master blacksmith at Colonial Williamsburg for a good long time. His knowledge of Settlement / Colonial Period objects has always impressed me.

Image scammed via Google from

I must admit that I am old enough to remember using a modern version of the same purpose tool. Details a bit hazy at this point, but there was a roughly similar arrangement of a D shaped frame with a plate that could be tightened against the flat bar, gripping the centre of the string bundle. In that case the construction was stainless steel, and there was a bolt and thumb screw on either side of the gripping plates. The handle fitted into a conical socket (which is a stronger arrangement).

* The Price of Advise!
"By contacting the Wareham Forge, any individual or organization is presumed to have given consent for the collection of such information as is required for the Wareham Forge to carry on its normal business related activities."
Standard Web Site Disclaimer
Those sending me e-mails asking for advise (unpaid consulting) may see my answer to their question re-formatted and turned into a posting here on Hammered Out Bits. I normally echo these posts on to Facebook (at least as a short description and link back). I do take care to remove any personal data (for their own security) and normally will request permission before posting any personal image that may be sent to me. (This does not apply to images pulled down off the open internet by the way).

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Gamer's View on Metals, Armour & Weapons

  - There is a interplay between material, technology and application throughout history. In our real world, the reason why a specific type of metal was used for a specific form of armour & weapons can have to due with more complex factors than 'what is most effective. (My favourite example is the Trojan War being fought with *bronze* armour and weapons - although *iron* technologies had been developed at least 1500 years earlier!)
This piece may not necessarily be insightful to a good number of my regular readers. It maybe does represent a kind of creative thought experiment however.

I am a private game designer and am in the middle of writing a game that utilizes different metals for forging primarily armor and weaponry. I have a compiled list of most metals and alloys but I'm having extreme difficulty in generating a 'generalized' list of the most common metals / alloys used, and maybe with a few durable rare ones I'm not aware of, that are used for weapon and armor forging and what their comparable strengths are when compared against one another based on damage type received (blunt, slashing etc.)
Could you, or would you please, help me to figure out the best types of metals for armor and weaponry over the others and why they're better or why they shouldn't be used either for weapon crafting, armor crafting or both?


So - your problem (as with all *game* designs) is the line between the real  world and the ideal in a game universe

First thing I should mention is that the melting points are not (basically) important here. They may give you some idea of the working temperatures, but most of the *functional* metals and alloys are in fact not cast (melted and poured) but either cold hammered / hot forged.
So here is some basic information for you / I have re-ordered the list in terms of 'effectiveness' - plus added some stuff you have not considered. The way the individual materials is worked - or the form of the armour itself is also an important factor to consider.

'skilled' means a generally useful individual with basic knowledge and tools
'specialist' means a trained individual with specifc tools
'expert' means an experienced artisan with highly specific tools

Listed 'lowest to highest'


Quilted cloth (non metal)
soft (minimal protection, but cheap and easy)
some resistance to thrust and slash (but minimal at the 'seams') minimal against crushing
no special tools

Leather (non metal)
soft (minimal protection, but cheap and easy)
some resistance to thrust, better against slash, not good against axes
no special tools

Boiled leather (non metal)
boiled or baked with wax
better resistance to thrust, good against slash, slightly better against crushing
no special tools

Horn (non metal)
most typically used as scale construction
slightly better resistance to thrust, good against slash, less effective against crushing
very materials intense to produce

overlaping pieces of metal (horn, boiled leather) on cloth or leather vest
varies with material used
very good against slash, good against thrust, less effective against crushing
labour intense to produce

interlocked rings of metal
1) butted ends
2) rivet closed
3) welded
very good against slash, good against thrust (only fair against arrows), less effective against crushing
extremely labour intense to produce
extremely fatiguing to wear

Coat of Plates
'vest' of leather or heavy cloth - contains bars or small plates of metal
varies with metal used
bars - very good against slash, not great against thrust, good against crushing
plates very good against slash, thrust, good against crushing
minimal metal working required

Primary Plate
large pieces cover non moving body areas (chest, thigh, forearm)
varies with metal used
very good against slash, thrust, crushing
skilled metal working required
good balance of protection vs fatigue

Articulated Plate
larger plates over front sides of target areas, moving plates over major joints (knees & elbows)
usually worn over chain (to protect inside of joints)
excellent against slash, thrust, crushing
specialist metal working, careful fitting
extremely fatiguing to wear

Full Plate
entire body covered with fully moving plates (may include inside of joints)
exceptional against slash, thrust, crushing
expert metalworking, careful fitting
moderately fatiguing to wear.


Lead and Lead Alloys (pewter)
extremely soft (virtually useless as armour)
almost no resistance to thrust, slash crushing
could be either cast to shape or cold hammered from sheet
widely available

Tin (melts at 232 degrees C)
marginly better than lead (virtually useless as armour)
almost no resistance to thrust, slash crushing
could be either cast to shape or cold hammered from sheet
remote and limited sources, used as an alloy component for bronze

Copper (melts at 1083 degrees C)
soft, but can be slightly work hardened
typically cold hammered to shape (difficult to cast)
possible use for scale, coat of plates
weapons - slashing, crushing
alluvial deposits
skilled working

Silver (melts at 1064 degrees C)
soft, but can be slightly work hardened (varys with alloy)
typically cold hammered to shape,  could be cast
high cost against lack of function (never used )
alluvial deposits

Gold (melts at 1064 degrees C)
extremely soft (varys slightly with alloy)
typically cold hammered to shape  could be cast
extreme high cost against lack of function (never used)
alluvial deposits

Electrum (gold-silver alloy) (melts at 1064 degrees C)
soft, but can be slightly work hardened (varys with alloy)
typically cold hammered to shape  could be cast
high cost against lack of function (never used )

Bronze (copper-tin alloy) (melts at 950-1083 degrees C, depending on the proportion of tin)
Speculum (high-tin bronze) (melts at 850-950 degrees C, depending on the proportion of tin)
Tin in this alloy has the effect of lowering the melting point, and increasing the hard / brittleness of the mixture. So at 15% plus the alloy casts very easily, but is so brittle it breaks if dropped on a hard surface.  Depending on alloy, the lower tin contents can be hammered cold. All alloys can be cast, or hot forged.
the advantage to bronze is that it is easily cast into moulds, making mass production possible
primarily seen as primary plate
weapons based on thrust rather than slash (spears)
specialist working

depending on stone type, finished blades can be *extremely* sharp, problem is that they are also very brittle.
no armour applications
weapons slashing or crushing
skilled working

Iron (melts at 1536 degrees C)
Pure wrought iron is actually *softer* than a high tin bronze. Wrought iron is quite flexible, so resists impact damage (sword may bend, but not break)
Iron ores are everywhere, and althought the production of ore to iron is difficult, working iron bars into objects is relatively easy.
Iron is hot forged to shape. Armour may have cold hammering to finish
suits all armour types, especially chain, plate
weapons of all types, especially slashing
specialist work to smelt
specialist work to forge
skilled work for basic repairs

Steel (iron-carbon alloy) (melts at 1300-1536 degrees C, depending on the proportion of carbon)
Small quantities of carbon (typically .2 - 1 %) allow radical changes to the qualities of the metal via a complex heat treating process. As carbon increases, so does potential hardness, but also potential brittleness. Individual alloys best suit specific applications only (.5 carbon for swords, .75 carbon for knives)
The 'case hardening' process bakes a thin layer of higher carbon over the surface of a softer wrought iron core. This method was often used for plate armours.
suits all armour types, especially plate types
weapons of all types, especially slashing
Steel is hot forged to shape. Armour may have cold hammering to finish
expert work to smelt
specialist to expert work to forge
skilled work for basic repairs

Layered Steels
The best way to create exceptional weapons (to the advent of modern exotic alloy steels) was to layer together thin plates of wrought iron (flexible) and carbon steel (hard). The resulting layered block combines the primary desired qualities of the two components.
Layered steels are hot forged to shape
weapons - primarily slashing
expert work to forge
specialist to expert work to repair

Note : The sole *historical* exotic alloy used was nickel iron - sourced from metallic meteors. Nickel contents typically 7 - 15 %. (For comparison, your modern table knife is roughly .5 % nickel) Likely you would place it on this simple chart between Steels and Layered Steels

Note : The iron alloys were never used as a cast material (carbon content over 1.5 %) for either weapons or armour. Although easy to mass produce, the metal is brittle -and because of the process extremely heavy.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Yule Sale!

December 1 - 31

'Iron' Broaches - FREE SHIPPING : Saves you 25 % +
Romano-British Utility Knives - FREE SHIPPING : Saves you 25 % +
Norse and Celtic Pewter Castings - TWO FOR ONE : Saves you 50 % +

Introduction to Smithing


Forge Viking Age

Experimental Iron Smelting
Viking Age in Denmark

Introduction to BLACKSMITHING


Forging the VIKING AGE

IRON SMELTING in the Viking Age
Exploring the Viking Age in Denmark
Just in case you might be wondering 'Just WHAT does he spend his time on?'
I started working on this: writing, taking images, formatting, coding, inserting... about 10 Am this morning. Its now 3:30 PM - and I worked straight through without lunch.

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