Tuesday, September 24, 2013

French Trade Axe from Bloom Iron (1)

One of the few artifact pieces I have in my collection is an early French trade axe, a 'Biscayne' type:
Artifact measurements - in mm
I bought this piece at an auction near Angus Ontario, quite a few years back. The original owner had told me he had dug it up on his property there. He had spray painted the thing gold, and had a loop of wire (thankfully no hole!) to hang it on the wall.
I had recognized an early, blacksmith made axe - and not much more. Back at my shop, I had thoughts of re-conditioning it. I ran it up to forge heat to burn off the paint, then gave it a heavy hand wire brushing to lift off the surface corrosion. After cooling, I started to clean up the edge on the bench grinder. (Sorry!) As I reduced the edge,  I found a massive flaw in the edge weld, a piece roughly the size of a quarter with visible fire scale inside the crack. At that point I realized I had a great commentary piece on historic blacksmithing work. 'See - not everything was made by masters - and they screwed up too.'

On a fast internet search this morning in preparation to this article, I was a bit surprised to find the following :

Fur Trade Axes  by Mark Miller - Biscayne Trade Axes

" The Biscayne trade axes are the oldest style of metal axe we know of traded in North America.  The eye pattern has a distinctive ovate egg shape..."

" Records show Biscay hatchets being traded to American Indians by the Spanish as early as 1520's - 1540's;  the French from about 1560-1750's; and the British from 1674 -1690's? which were copies of the French ones but were recorded as imports by the blacksmith Samuel Banner from England.  "

" The Hudson's Bay Company began literally copying the French biscay trade axes in 1674 ...  How long the English copied the French made axes is not known but there is no mention of it past the 17th C....
The French made Biscay style trade axes from at least the 1530's-and tapering off until the last known reference to them was 1758. "

The artifact I have is heavily pock marked with corrosion. There is no obvious makers mark I can distinguish on either face. 

Given that and the find location, it may be hard to date the axe accurately. Angus is within the north to south line of the Nottawasaga Valley, putting it directly south of Collingwood / Georgian Bay. This is potentially one of the routes possible to the French mission at Saint Marie Among the Hurons to the north (1639 - 49). Most certainly with the later expansion of the English into what became Upper Canada, there was a continuing European presence in this area to modern Canada.

Some images of the original artifact - along with the piece I have been working on the last couple of days based on it  (both images expand to roughly life size, the artifact is on the top) :

Side 'face' view

Bottom surface view

Along with the massive welding flaw on the actual cutting edge I mentioned, you can see that there is a serious flaw in the weld  along the bottom side. This would drastically impact on the axe's ability to be correctly fitted to - and remain attached on - a working handle. 

Together I get the impression of 'junk for the natives' - low quality work, produced as quickly and cheaply as possible!

Note : The replica version I am working on is only at the 'rough forged' stage at the point of those images!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Building an Icelandic Iron Furnace?

 Some questions concerning a possible DARC build of the Icelandic Iron Furnace - as suggested by Kevin Smith's work at Hals...

Richard  wrote:

-- what are the archeological dimensions I should be aiming for?
-- am I burying it in a bank or should it be free-standing?
-- given the strong prevailing winds here, should I be looking to place it in a sheltered location, or would careful orientation help create better draw
Suggested build of the original Hals Furnace

1)Link to the full report on the Hals furnace:

The full construction is  a cone of sod roughly 2 meters in diameter, standing roughly 70 cm tall. There is a 30 cm diameter cylinder down the centre. The suggestion is that this cone was surrounded by a box made of timber (alternating logs?) - with the gap between the timber and the sod filled with earth.

2) In effect the construction above is like a free standing bank. The box of earth makes a stable work platform on the top.
One important question is :
"How wide does the sod band need to be."
In use, the sod is in effect taking the place of the thick clay cob walls we have been building to date. The grass roots are creating the stability - during the firing process. The interior wall of the cylinder had a thin (3 cm suggested) layer of clay like marl as a fire proof coating. The fact that the stacking of the sods creates a series of diagonal lines - running downwards away from the interior - is going to keep hot gasses from seeping out of the grass layers.

A team from Iceland, under Margrét Hrönn Hallmundsdóttir, had run a version of the Hals system last year. Margret has worked with Kevin Smith, and she and I did converse a fair amount before her experiment (her first full iron smelt).
The furnace they built (at least from the photos), was more a square, flat layered stack of the grass sods. They also made some other departures from the archaeology at Hals. I thought the main one was that they built a chamber of stone blocks for the bottom third of the furnace (basically square). The construction they used was using the sods more like flat stacked bricks.

It has occurred to me that we might do a first test by either partially earth banking the construction - or putting the whole inside a smaller plank constructed wooden box.
The first would allow us to undertake a top extraction - which is suggested by the Hals evidence (slag bowls in place). The second would be simpler using a bottom extraction.
Something to take a look at would be the way the team from Tranamo Sweden group had  built a semi portable demonstration furnace. They had used a cylinder of fire brick held in a 45 gallon drum - this surrounded with a wooden box that they used earth to stabilize.

At Heltborg, Denmark, 2008

On alignment to the wind:
It might be nice to have the wind going from our backs across the front of the furnace - or from side to side. At Wareham the prevailing winds go from the rear of the smelter towards the workers. This only occasionally pushes the heat into our faces (singed beards). In terms of providing air blast - it would only be the rare day this would really be useful. A bellows or blower system is still in play here.

DARC has undertaken a number of smelts in a series leading up to a full reconstruction of the Hals Iceland system. You can find this work documented on the full Wareham Forge IRON SMELTING web site

Monday, September 16, 2013


For the last two weeks I have not been able to access this Blogger account.
For some reason it just sits and attempts to load - endlessly

Seem to be back to 'normal' now.

Watch for a photo essay on my experiment with a Celtic Iron Age - BRONZE working furnace, from Bonfield over the Labour Day weekend...

Japanese Sword Smithing

We are having Fusataro, a master Japanese sword smith, forge swords in the US & Canada starting Sept. 2013 and this email is to formally announce a few items in regard to his arrival and the variety of events created for people to take advantage of his stay.  

We will have presentations, demonstrations and even courses taught with the use of actual Japanese sword steel, known as Tamahagane.

The Tamahagane Arts website has enabled secure e-commerce, allowing people to purchase tickets to events happening in the US & Canada, featuring Fusataro.  Ticket purchase can be initiated at the bottom on any event page or you can select from the ticket page itself.

We already had a few early bird purchases, so please register your purchase soon as space is very limited.  Please refer back to our website for additional updates and interesting information about the art of Japanese sword smithing.  We are also formalizing a few event surprises and encourage you to reach out to us if you have an idea for an event yourself or wish to schedule an interview with Fusataro for media related purposes.

Also look for our social media links at the bottom of any page on the website to connect with us.

Thank you for your support, we encourage you to circulate and spread the word to ensure Fusataro's stay is a memorable one.

Allen Rozon
Principal Owner

I took the offered chance to meet Fustaro for the charcoal breaking workshop on Friday September 13.

I was impressed with him - his work, his attitude. I suspect he will prove an excellent instructor. His English is not perfect, but he communicates quite well. Allan is a wonderful help as well, and between his own experience and his limited Japanese - I was finding even technical questions well answered.

My understanding from Allan is that the SECOND of the three workshops coming up at Robb Martin's (Thak) still has several places open. (There may even be a chance at a slight discount!)

Something that may not have been clear:
Each student will be working with actual Tamahagane produced metals.
This is the Japanese form of bloomery iron / steel. Back in Japan, I learned that this material sells for some $300 per kilogram!
Each student will be getting roughly a kilo of raw material total, in three different carbon content grades as well. The work is all being done using charcoal as the fuel, which if bought via your local hardware would be a further $2 per kilo expended.
This all suggests the raw material alone for the week long program would run roughly 1/3 of the course fee.

I was also told each workshop session would be limited to only FIVE students.

To my eyes, this all represents a realistic value for such a close quarters hands on workshop.

Jump on it!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Sword Making (Everything you know is WRONG)

Remember the video clip I re-posted here a couple of weeks back? 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

So, I was in checking the viewing statistics on this blog earlier this morning. I found there were a large number of 'entry' paths from this article:

6 Things Movies Get Wrong About Swords (An Inside Look)


Also so funny. Also so true.

From there I found another link over to an article on Anvil Fire

Generation X Sword Making

or POOF! You're a Swordsmith!

by Jock Dempsey

Read more : http://www.anvilfire.com/FAQs/swords_faq_index.htm

Also so true (but not intended to be funny).

If you are another blade maker - you might find both of these links might save you a bit of 'wiennie time'.

If you are just interested in swords and sword making - there are a lot of the core information points laid out clearly.

If you *are* a wiennie who instantly wants all the secrets - READ and save us both some frustration (?)

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

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