Saturday, March 29, 2014

a Norse Woman's Knife

Just completed, so a few images before I deliver to the customer.

The request was for a knife suitable for a Norse woman.
Female grave finds from the Viking Age often contain a specific profile blade. Typically these are a narrow triangle, single edge to a sharp point. The cross section is a V grind, and often the thickness of the back also tapers towards the point. The size of most Norse knives is much smaller than our modern perceptions - blades in the range of 7 - 10 cm long is standard.
Artifact Knives from Coppergate at York, England

Taken all together, this profile creates an ideal 'small tool' knife, with a sharp edge and easy to control point. The knife is thus ideal for fine exact cutting, as needed for textile work. It also is handy for kitchen work. So the result is a tool specifically designed for the kind of domestic tasks undertaken by Norse women.

Forged Blade beside one of the Artifact (scaled drawing)

In this case, I was able to use a simple natural piece of antler (caribou) for the handle.

The starting billet was a small piece of 4 core twist that I had on hand. It is roughly 200 layers in total, not with a carbon steel core in this case. The finished blade is 10 cm long.

This is a close up of the completed (etched) pattern welding. The starting materials are more uniform, my guess is no wrought iron and less high carbon steel. This results in a less dramatic pattern. I also chose to leave the surface with a single solution (nitric) etch, which does create a texture, but results in a more uniform colour to the finish. This specifically to echo the simpler etching solutions (likely vinegar) that would have been available historically.

Friday, March 28, 2014

FORWARD INTO THE PAST - Upcoming Presentations

Forward Into The Past
23nd Annual Symposium
Saturday April 5
Bricker Academic Building, Wilfrid Laurier University
Waterloo Ontario
Working an Experiment - 'Turf to Tools' at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop

What goes on when attempting to take our hard earned 'play' with tools and techniques, then turning it into a full fledged experimental archaeology project, at an educational institution, and as a public demonstration? Over 2013, brief conversations lead to the development of a two week special project at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop (an arts based institution near Aberdeen, Scotland.). Although the project is scheduled for August of 2014, this (rambling?) discussion will cover the kind of background work that goes into a project of this type and scale. Certain to be of interest to those wanting to increase the complexity of their own presentations from 'hobby' to (paying?) professional level.
Persona and Living History - A Round Table

There can be a number of ways individuals can take their interest in history and clothe it as a means of illustrating the past. For many, developing and equipping a character based on history is the method chosen. How * do * you create, then portray a 'voice from the past'. What works, and what does not?
Join a select panel of experienced living history re-enactors who will discuss their experiences. Questions from the audience will form the basis of the conversation.
With Steve Strang, Kary Bates, Mila Little and Dave Cox as Moderator.
Re-enactment and Education

Join Dr. Darrin Cox, Dr. Alicia McKenzie, and Darrell Markewitz for a roundtable discussing how medievalism and re-enacting can be used in an educational context. This lively discussion will be happy to take your questions and will also look at the good and the bad of integrating such elements into the classroom and museum environments.
With Neil Peterson as Moderator.

For more information on the event go to the FITP web site

Friday, March 07, 2014

Teens as Students - Expanded

I am seeing a trend in messages coming in related to my ongoing series of weekend training courses.
This is parents, acting as agents for their basically 'young adult' children. 
Combined with a trend for people not to bother reading the (extensive!) information already detailed on the web site.
An increasing element is parents attempting to find alternatives to standard education for individuals with some element of a learning disability. Not realizing (perhaps through lack of their own knowledge) how difficult a task blacksmithing can be, and how complex the working environment actually is.

'For the Record...'

Blacksmithing - Teens as Students

"... My 14 year old son / daughter is keen to learn how to do blacksmithing.  Are your classes or private lessons open to teens?..."

I am getting an increasing number of e-mail messages like this one. Often enough that I feel I need to create a 'standard reply' to the question. My concerns in accepting students younger than 16  is based on my own (considerable) experience - both working and teaching.

I now require all parents indicate they have read this commentary.

My response question is : 'How physically robust and developed and how mentally mature is the young person.'

I normally set 16 as the lower limit for a potential student in blacksmithing. This is primarily since below that age - with boys especially, the possible range of size, strength and co-ordination is so wide.

The tools required to undertake any effective work at the forge are a minimum of 800 gms / about 1 1/2 lbs. The student MUST be able to not only move this weight - but more importantly be able to CONTROL the tool in motion. Now consider the amount of repetition required - the course extends over a 8 hour day. About 50 - 60% of that time is applied to direct forge work.
As a comparison, the basic forging hammer is somewhat heavier than a standard nail driving hammer. The degree of control required is considerably greater.
For several of the basic forging exercises, use of an even heavier 1000 gm hammer is required (making tongs).

I am quite concerned about the effect of the kind of high impact physical activities that blacksmithing requires on the body. For that reason, I devote considerable attention not only to related safety concerns, but also to physical dynamics. Using a forging hammer correctly and effectively is not like driving nails. Individual body size, strength and proportions will effect what determines the most effective - and safe - working pattern for each student.

A number of concerns apply most specifically to teen aged students.

The truth is that teen agers are by definition still growing and maturing. This effects raw strength, physical coordination, bone and joint solidity, attention span, potential frustration level.

As a blacksmith works, all these factors combine to produce physical strain.  As someone who is light framed (ie - not that strong) myself, I know that joints and tendons are cushioned by  the muscles. Younger joints and bones are not as strong to begin with, and when there is less muscle mass supporting the underlying structure simple fatigue can result in potential injuries.

What happens is that someone attempting to use a hammer too heavy for their effective control will instinctively hold the handle with a tighter grip. This in turn tightens the tendons. As fatigue mounts, the likely hood of the hammer head striking slightly off angle increases. If this happens, the hammer suddenly will rotate, the firm grip transferring the rotation into the arm and rigid tendons. The potential exists to physically damage these tendons at the elbow. Tendon damage is basically forever.

There is  often a problem with  less mature students with simple frustration. Without ability to manage the hammer weight - effectively - it will just take too long to finish the various forming tasks during the day. Also, there is a noticeable tendency to keep working well past the point where the student is obviously too tired to continue. The very control required for effective work, and more importantly to prevent physical injury, has long been lost. I obviously watch for this with all students, but it can be very difficult to convince even an adult student that they stop working during a paid program. As you might expect, I try to keep the instruction paced to the group average. Any given course may not get through the entire outline as posted - it all depends on the work speed of the group.

I have had boys as young as 14 as students before who have been successful with the work in the course. Mind you - these have been the 'built like a football player' type of early developed young men. (In some cases notably larger and stronger than I am!) I should also point out that teen aged GIRLS physically and mentally mature at a younger age, although raw strength may be more of a consideration.
One other possibility is to accept a parent and student working as a team. I will not charge extra for this - only one work station will be provided, which will be shared between the two. Ideally this allows the younger student to do as much work as they are able, with the parent assisting on heavier physical tasks. Work will be limited to the use of a gas forge only (due to space constraints around the coal forge).

So I am willing to accept a younger student - with the clear understanding that the PARENT is knowingly accepting the greater possibility of a less successful completion of the course outline. An important consideration must be the legal liability concerns in involving any individual under the 'legal adult' age of 18 in what is a potentially risky undertaking. Most importantly the parent must clearly understand the risks related to the activities and take * full responsibility * for any possible injuries that may occur.

Increasingly, I am being asked to accept younger students who are having trouble with normal academic studies. Individuals with learning disabilities may not be suited to the complexities involved within the working environment of the blacksmith shop. There is usually lack of understanding how technically demanding effective blacksmithing work actually is. New students will need to undertake at least FIVE new physical elements SIMILATANIOUSLY to work effectively. Ideally the individual must also be able to visualize often complex shapes and sequences.

My normal teaching technique involves the flowling steps : • A quick verbal description of the forging step, illustrated with a completed sample
• A slow physical demonstration of exercise, providing details of position, motion, expected results.
• A second repeat demonstration, undertaken at 'normal working speed', indicating primary elements
• A quick verbal review of the exercise, indicating possible problems
• A project card is available for individuals to refer to, with both illustrations and point form list of the main elements
• The individual student will then undertake the indicated forming task. Every attempt is made to provide direct supervision, both in terms of of reminders, suggestions, corrections as required.

Although this may seem harsh, I am not able to provide specialized training or extensive personal instruction much beyond that sequence, within the framework of a regularly scheduled training program. Please remember that these courses are *group* situations, and the pace and delivery methods utilized must balance the needs of the group as a whole, not a single individual. As each course progresses, each builds new skills on those previously undertaken, and students must increasingly be able to work independently.

Blacksmithing does require full physical abilities. Although it might prove possible to design speciallized equipment to allow those with certain physical disabilities to participate, I personally am not willing to undertake this kind of extensive (and expensive) modifications to the Wareham Forge or its facilities. Note that the workshop is most definately *not* 'wheelchair friendly' (dirt floors, uneven floor surfaces).

I am willing to discuss the possibility of designing a 'Private Session' program for individual students who have specialized teaching needs.


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

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