Thursday, January 29, 2015

that Spiral Cooking tool...

...or - Have I told this story so many times now that I am *sure* it is true??

This tale starts with the following image, seen on the Wareham Forge web site:

The specific objects illustrated here I created for the feature film Outlander, back in 2006. The commission included a cauldron hanger and cauldron, plus the set of cooking tools seen above. There was also a 'slave chain'. The chain and the cauldron set would both be clearly seen in the final film. (1)


It appears that the image above has been shot around a fair amount over the world wide web. Usually with all the citations removed. (2) Particularly via  Pinterest, which appears to be intentionally designed to remove the original source information. The image seen on Pinterest actually appears to be located on Tumblr : here

Next element to this story is that one of those Pinterest images got posted up to a special interest group on Facebook (quoted here with the links and names removed) :

Joanna Dionne
Joanna 25 January 19:03
Greetings original foodies ! A number of years ago I was given a metal spiral on the end of a long handle and was told that it was for baking bread. Also, that small loaves of bread had been found with this distinctive spiral on the bottom. Does anyone remember something like this and could give me a reference to it? I want to bake bread on it for an event, but I need the documentation. Thank you for any help you can give. I found this image through google that shows it. I hope this url works -
viking vikings viking food -

Let us feast and make merry - Viking style! A selection of images to make the mouth water.
One of the other members of DARC, sent along a copy of that message - pretty much as a chuckle (knowing full well what the original source was).

Because of that posting to face book, I have had some people track me down over the last week, asking for the artifact reference.

Have you ever had research you undertook years ago come back to haunt you?
In this case decades ago!
" It's in one of these books - one of them - someplace... "

Well, after about three hours and dozens of reference books checked page by page, the answer to that is 'not really'.

My original production notes for the Norse Encampment (going back to the early 1990's) gave me this (single) reference:
Spiral Iron - Berger, Norway; in Universitetes Oldsaksamling, # 15788
(You might note that there is a typo there, long un-corrected - it should be BERGEN) (3)
The description I provided was:
This cooking tool would have been used for grilling meats. This item appears to have been much less common, with only a half dozen or so samples surviving. Most of the artifacts are quite small, with the diameter ranging from 6 to 17 cm, with the average being around 13 cm across. This is likely because of the large length of iron rod needed to make a spiral. Although the reproduction is only 15 cm in dia, forming it required about 70 cm of rod. One of the major domestic meat animals for the Norse was sheep, and port was likely more commonly eaten than beef. In both cases the excess fat would drip through the open coils during cooking.
The only drawing of my own I can find is one intended as the production drawing - my visual notes for creating the replica for the Encampment program. An such, not a drawing from an artifact, but at best only an 'interpretation' : see Iron Objects 2 on the Norse Encampment documentation (Of interest may be that the original spelling mistake may go back to this hand written note.)

All that digging did turn up this :
Original drawing 4 3/4 inches wide - click to expand
I also 'remember' seeing another artifact in photograph. It was much smaller, with the shaft broken off just after it bent away from the body of the spiral. (No idea at all what or where!)

For this next bit, I have to thank Christie, known as the Viking Answer Lady. Over the years I have come to respect the depth of her research and understanding. I had sent her a quick e-mail asking her if she knew an artifact source she could quote me :
 Actually, I found a couple of examples in museum website data galleries and sent them to you a while back, since I had noticed that uy'all didn't have pics on the Forge website. Hmm. Let me look...

Aha! Here you go:

So here is what you will find there:

Object 580 - description
# 580 - image altered to increase surface detail

# 580 - Field Drawing (?) Note resemblance to 'page 156' reference.
Object 15788 description
# 15788 image
These are the two written descriptions provided - image of the original Danish, then an attempt at translation via Google Translate (plus edit)

A Toast (?) ; of iron;  formed by a long, flat iron plate of about 1 T's (inches ?) Brede (breadth) (breadth is ei (not) everywhere DC (uniform?) ), which is bent in spiral form, so that the Forms a round surface of approximately 6 Tr's (inches ?) on an average, and then go straight out as a Haandfang (handle ?); its length is approximately 5 Tr (inches ?). but a piece seems to be disconnected. (Avb. R. 429).

Gravfunn from the early Iron Age. Berger (gnr. 14-16), Aurskog p. og pgd., Akershus . and PGD., Akershus.
A remnant of a spiral formed grating av iron, lik(e) R. 429th . Both the most audiovisual (remaining?) shaft and the inner part audiovisual (remaining?) coil is missing.

What you see from the artifact samples:
Small diameter (# 580 at 15 cm)
Formed of flat profile stock
Forged to a fairly tight spiral (not given or scaled for #15788)
No detail on original handle terminal, length

So at least some of my original Encampment description bears relationship to the artifacts.
(My memory somewhat intact - I did not make this all up!)

One glaring early interpretive error I note now:
The concept of allowing fat and grease to run off is an extremely modern, Canadian, observation. If anything, in the cold northern climate of the Viking Age, fats would have been retained and consumed for their high energy content.

I also received this question this week:
From Joanna:
I was gifted with one of these irons a number of years ago.  At the time I was told that there had been a find of petrified bread rolls/patties/some kind of baked bread that were marked on the bottom with spirals the size of this iron.
Do you have any idea of where any articles about this may be?
To that question, I draw an absolute blank. I am not aware of any food artifacts as you suggest. (But I'd guess the Viking Answer Lady knows!)

I do make general replicas of all these Viking Age cooking tools for sale off the Wareham Forge web site : see NORSE TRADE GOODS

 I can make not only the basic cooking irons and trammels, but more elaborate pieces like the Oseberg Tripod, the Mastermyr Pot and Mastermyr 'cooking' grill. In the past I have created pots and cauldrons in antique wrought iron, steel, copper and brass / bronze - as well as decorative forged cauldron hangers.

Why not get these from the original source?

1) For a full look at my work on these props for Outlander, see:
Description on the Wareham Forge
Earlier Blog Postings

2) Try this experiment : Go on to Google Images / search using ' spiral, cook, viking '
What I see is that only the first eight images actually are of cooking tools (and even then, #3 is of a spear.) Five of those eight are images of various replicas of this spiral cooking tool that *I* have made over the decades. *
NONE are actually artifacts - and I have not been able to source an artifact reference via Google Images.
The other two images are of a version by 'Welandsmithy' :
You can see that version is made from round profile stock. This is certainly not historically accurate, and has surely been chosen for the much easier forging effort on the part of the blacksmith involved.

About # 20, you will find an image of the version by 'Iron Leaf Forge'
What has been done here is that round stock has been forged to the spiral, then pounded flat. This results in the irregularities seen. Once again not the historic method.

3) What I find particularly humorous about this, is the written description given  (and not credited btw) :
" Based on the few fragments found in Berger, Norway this cooking tool was thought to be used for cooking fatty meats. "
Note the repeat of my original typing error?

Honestly, I personally find the way most people pass off work as 'replicas', or even worse, 'reproductions' fairly annoying - and certainly without accuracy.
Its also a wee bit insulting that other metalworkers are selling lower quality versions of my own work - obviously using my research without doing their own.

* I do note that because of the 'custom search' method that Google is using, your personal results might vary!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Small Tool Axe

Although this hardly matches the work I am seeing other artisan smiths exhibit of late...

This is a 'Norse styled' small tool axe, which I finished the rough forging on yesterday:

Small tool axe - shown life sized
The construction style is from a later period, in that it is made of one piece folded back on itself and welded to create the eye. This shows most clearly in the top view. The sides of the eye and back peen are roughly 1/2 the thickness of the base of the blade (just forward the eye).

I would refer readers to a couple of earlier posts on Norse axes :

3/4 view - enlarged version
Side view - enlarged
Top view, showing thickness variations - enlarged
This small axe has the measurements:
- total 18 cm long,
- blade is 7.5 cm
- the base of the blade is 1.5 cm thick x 4 cm wide
- the eye is  about 3 cm long x 2.5 cm wide x 4.2 cm tall
- as rough forged the weight is 695 gm (expect some loss with final shaping and sharpening)
The blade has an inset carbon steel wedge welded in. (The small surface crack seen mid way along the fold and weld will be ground out when the finished profile grinding is undertaken).
The eye has been reshaped (via drifting and hammering over the drift) to closer to the correct D profile. There is a slight point drawn down to the bottom side of the eye, while the top line is left straight. 

Group of Viking Axe axes, weapons to the rear, two tool axes at the front
Jim Austin is who I would consider has given the most thought and practical experimentation into the actual blacksmithing problems related to creating Norse axes :

Looking at the artifacts, you clearly see the difference in shapes between the small tool axe (likely intended as a splitting axe, given the shape) and my forging.
Jim and Jeff Pringle have been able to look at a number of heavily corroded artifact samples (not the nice clean 'perfect' ones usually on display like those above!). The corroded axes clearly show the welding lines. This indicates the two main production methods use by the Norse were:
- cut to Y and fold for peen
- draw and profile bar end, fold and lap weld at base of blade / eye

If Jim's original work had any limits, it was that he was (understandably) working with modern mild steel, and also using (very) modern tools (gas forges / large anvils and vices / power hammers).
There are two cautions here:
- First is the dynamic of working with a bloomery / wrought iron, which has pronounced grain and potential failure lines. If anything however, Jim's methods *reduce* those potential problems over other possible production methods. (Especially the use of the 'split and drift' method I have used in the past (see the Norse Tool Axes reference above).
- Second is the limits imposed by actually available Norse blacksmithing tools. This is a thorny problems for two reasons :
- The available tool sets are limited number, and primarily intended as grave goods (so may or may not represent actual 'working' tool sets). It should be remembered the old axim 'Absence of proof - is NOT proof of absence'.
- Norse smiths *obviously* were fully able to utilize both the ,split and lap, and  ' draw profile and lap' methods - and extremely well as the artifacts prove. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Day and Night

This is not about iron or the Norse either.

Here at Wareham, I have squirrels in the attic.
(Some might say *I* show 'squirrels in the attic', but that is another matter.)
It sure beats raccoons in the attic.
(I also have skunks denning under the house foundation from the workshop, but yet again...)

Now, I kind of like the red squirrels. They really don't do that much damage upstairs, mainly coming in through small holes that more are less there already. Piles of pine cones, but not that hard to clean those up once a year. (Again, not like raccoons. Who are horribly destructive. And filthy. And toxic.)

There look to be a pair of red squirrels. They don't co-operate with each other. They do manage to pretty quickly empty the bird feeder.
(Sorry for the image quality. These shot with a zoom lens from the other side of a glass door.)

One night last winter, I was surprised by one of *these* little guys!
I had to double check to be sure, but it turns out these are flying squirrels.
Saw this just once last winter, but several times this season so far:

(Again, image shot through the glass, using a flash this time.)
You can see that there are in fact *two* of them, nicely sharing the feeder. A breeding pair? I can sure hope so.
These are the first flying squirrels I am certain of seeing ever before. I'd like to encourage them to take up residence and stick around.

Of course the problem there is that the raccoons *also* have known about this feeder for generations now. I've taken to taking the feeder in at night to stop those bastards. (Who are 'trap smart', as are the skunks.)

Thursday, January 08, 2015

...and now for something completely different.

" Quite tasty, smokey, a bit sweet. And of course, an appropriate name. "
Suggested by Vandy...

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

' I heard it through the (on) line... '

I just realised that I have a number of past presentations at Forward Into the Past available on the FITP web site:

FITP XXIII - 6 April 2013

The Cutting Edge : Considering Blades (slides)
'll Huff and I'll Puff - Observations on Air Delivery in Bloomery Iron Furnaces (slides)

FITP XXII - 31 March 2012

Designing an Interpretive Program
Experimental Vikings - Vinland Iron Smelt

FITP XXI - 2 April 2011

Basic Blacksmithing

FITP XX - 27 March 2010

Smelting in Vinland 

Most of these are pdf versions of the powerpoint presentations. So what you will get is the images and the main talking points.

Thanks to Neil Peterson - who undertook the work of converting and publishing.

(Note - the contents of all of these are strictly © Darrell Markewitz. I do apologise for images I used that were sourced off the general internet )

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.
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