Saturday, July 25, 2020

Small Forged Pots in History

At an upcoming 'hammer in' style event involving the Ontario Artist Blacksmith Association, one suggestion offered was having participating blacksmiths work with pre-cut 8 inch steel circles.

Here are some historical objects - using roughly the same starting shape:

One interesting factor related to Viking Age objects - is that 20 cm / 8 inches marks about the largest size individual measurement of any object forged out of what then was small scale bloomery / wrought iron.
There are two reasons for this :
- The scale of the working forges most commonly used provided a 'ball of heat' about the size of a grapefruit (at best). So just large enough to permit a forge weld on an axe.
- Because of the fibrous texture of the bloomery iron material, it is physically very difficult to work out a thin, large, piece of plate. Those with experience with wrought iron know that as you push it during forging, it can start to de-laminate, requiring re-welding to solidify. Often these fractures tend to diagonal lines - which as you can imagine create a special problem re-welding as the material gets thinner.
So when you examine iron artifacts from the earlier period, you see larger forms are made up of a number of smaller pieces, riveted together. Cauldrons are the perfect example of this. Even helmets are typically either a right and left half - or a top skull with additional pieces for the sides.

is a flat disk cooking tool on a long handle (underneath showing pair of rivets attaching). The disk has slightly upturned edges.

There are a number of samples of this flat disk cooking tool on a long handle (underneath showing pair of rivets attaching). The disk has slightly upturned edges.

A small cooking pot. A dished lower bowl surrounded by a set of plates curved into a cylinder. The handle made of a piece of flat bar.

As I have detailed in articles in OABA's Iron Trillium, Cast Iron is not common in Europe until more or less the end of the 1500's into the early 1600's. This matches the effective start of the Settlement Era here in North America.
Looking to objects at Jamestown (Virginia, c 1610), you see some small cast iron cauldrons, in the range of 1 - 2 gallons, but only in the hands of the wealthy. The more common people are still using pots of bronze / brass - or importantly, forged wrought iron plate.

Replica at Jamestown Settlement - Taken from the underneath side, you can see how pieces of flat bar have been riveted to the deeply dished bowl. Again, this cooking pot is about 8 inches in diameter.

As you look into what most of us would consider the Canadian Settlement Period (1750 - 1850) you will see increasing use of cast iron, specifically as much larger cauldrons. There are still many cooking pots and flat pans made of forged plate. Most first cabins had open fire places, and a common design was a deep fry pan with and extremely long handle. The bowls are typically now a flat bottom with slanted sides. Most of these are considerably larger, but again working with the 8 inch size would create a distinctive object

Replicas at Fortress Lewisburg (c 1745) - A collection of long handled fry pans. (again replicas)

As a commercial note :
I have made a great number of replicas of cooking tools from all these time periods - and these objects specifically.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

'Time Lord's Sundial'

I've got to thank an old friend, David Wentz, for that title...

About a week ago, I posted up an image of an older piece of mine on to Facebook. I try to temper my frustration with how social media is reflecting social concerns (badly!) with regularly posting up old images from my attempts as a photographer and 'promotional' images of past work.

'Celts at the Gates - Shield and Spears' 2008

Now, I am quite proud of that piece. And also extremely happy with this image of that piece. The echo of the curves as shadows.

There was some back and forth comments from folks who caught the posting on Facebook : (1)

Something started cooking, spawned from the back and forth from Kathryn Chiasson and David.
(stick with me here)

Way back in 2017, I attended a design workshop by Adrian Legge of the UK. (2)

As part of the process, we each selected two or three images out of a group of '25 images that inspire you' to work with.
This was one of the images I chose to develop further ideas from :

False colour image of trails in a cloud chamber (poached from Discover magazine)

Those who are familiar with my personal 'Rivendale' style, can certainly see the connection here.
In the workshop, part of the design task was first selecting elements from the source image to develop further:

From my drawing book at the workshop

You can clearly see that my years as a working blacksmith lead me to get ahead of the intended exercise. I had jumped straight to 'how to make it', rather than simply 'playing with the lines' as had been intended. (Actually to the third step in the exercise)

What Adrian had actually wanted us to do was go from 'inspired lines' to 'outline an object':

'Star-Dial' concept drawing

So I had to pull back - seen above is one of three (quite) different possible objects we were tasked to draft, working from our earlier selected element roughs. (The other two objects I proposed were a desk lamp and a wall fixture.) This was certainly the most divergent concept from my normal work for me, both in terms of type, and scale.

You can get the general intent here. Two fairly massive spars, each pierced with aligned holes, holding up a constructed arch, also pierced. There is a more elaborate central construction, holding in place a glass disk. Below this all is a set of carefully placed stone slabs. You can see the intended scale, the arch extending 15 - 20 feet, set 8 - 10 overhead.
The combination of central disk and markings / variations in the stones would act as either a seasonal marker, or alternately as a sun dial. There was the possibility that holes punched in the uprights could be aligned to work as a night-time star finder (as another seasonal marker).
Part of the inspiration here was the juxtaposition of the the lines from that ultra modern cloud chamber instrument, pushed backwards to our most ancient of measuring devices like Stonehenge.

I think you can see the connection between Kathryn's idea and David's title.
The initial 'Star-Dial' concept is unlikely to ever go past these roughs. To develop it further, considerable research into sun and stars would be required. The scale of the object means actually making it would only prove feasible as a major public sculpture commission. The details of design would most certainly be very site specific.

The more recent suggestion by Kathryn and David might also be explored. This might prove both reduced in scale, and a bit simpler to lay out and install. The potential of marking shadows over a surface with irregular shapes or curves would be interesting.
Something based on Victorian clock mechanisms crossed with Celtic la Tene comes to mind...

In case any of you were wondering 'Where do Ideas come from'?

1) In the past, I have been at times extremely open in terms of my linkages on Facebook. I was originally extremely skeptical about the value of Facebook. Some people I know have had extremely good results, in terms of promoting their work, even generating commissions or sales. I started both personal and work related (Wareham Forge and Norse Encampment) pages on this platform as a means of illustrating what I do. I regularly cross link the postings from this blog back to FB entries.
As it stands right now, my 'friends' list sits at just over 600, my 'followed' total at about 130. The majority of these are at best folks I may have some loose shared connection to (Blacksmiths, Re-enactors). Most are not actual friends, meaning people I know well or even in passing.

2) For an overview of my participation in that workshop - see the earlier blog posting:

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Hype or History? the Mammen Axe

I recently was asked if I would be interested in accepting a commission to make a working replica of the Mammen Axe:

Image ? - sourced off Pinterest (1)

Most of the images you see of the actual artifact (and those in my own reference materials) show the one or both the faces of the axe in this orientation. This is to best display the decorative patterns - which define the Viking Age 'Mammen' artistic style.
I spent some time this morning going through my own reference books, and also trying to get some better details off the internet (good luck there). I was able to get some better images of the artifact from the Danish National Museum (DNM) web site. (2)

The Mammen Axe appears to be a 'Peterson type H' as close as I can judge.
One wrinkle there is that the type is described as being a bit early for the actual date of the Mammen find, which is given as 'later half of the 10th century'. (3)

The artifact is clearly a weapon type, with a long thin slicing blade profile. Although this also would have some use as a fine woodworking axe (detail shaping of timbers), the narrow profile is not suited to splitting firewood or felling trees. (4)

click to view at about life sized (NMD)

In one of my favorite 'go to' references, From Viking to Crusader, I was able to get at least one physical dimension : total length of 17.5 cm (5)

My standard method when considering an artifact replica - is to get the best detailed image I can find - then convert that via Photoshop into life size.

This scales the blade to 10 cm. This is about what I would expect from other VA axes I had seen. This would place the total weight into the range of about 1000 - 1200 gm. (6) This estimated weight would place it comparable to a modern general purpose axe (roughly a fairly standard 2 1/4 lbs). It will 'fly' a bit differently, with less of the weight at the cutting edge, more placed back towards the handle. This will result in the 'angle of attack' a bit harder to control.

click to view at about life sized (altered from NMD)

This second image (also available from the NMD description) shows both sides, plus the normally never seen back peen side. The lower image is actually more of a 3/4 view, which allows some general idea (and potentially rough measurements) of the cross section. Again almost never seen and rarely considered. The heavy peen thickness, coupled with the relatively thin side walls to the eye, certainly suggests a 'sculpted then wrapped' forming method. (7)


So here is the thing (rant mode on)
To undertake correctly hand forging to make an accurate replica of this kind of object is requires knowledge, skill, experience, special tooling - and considerably hard work. This should suggest expensive.

Go out on the internet.
Search 'Mammen Axe'

So - you (should) see the much referenced Danish National Museum first.

That first link is to a 'review' by Alexi Goranov of the same object - sold (next link) by Museum Replicas.
Take a look at the Museum Replicas sales description first:
Replica created by CAS Iberia / Hanwei of China.
" The Mammen Axe, one of the best-known and best-decorated examples of the small Viking throwing axe, is a perfect example of the Viking’s blend of art and war. Excavated from a famous 10th century barrow near Mammen Denmark, the original is decorated with silver inlaid engraving in a typical Celtic manner. Hanwei's recreation of this beautiful piece is a tribute to the creative as well as the martial side of this dynamic, influential culture. "
  • Overall length: 17-1/2"
  • Blade length: 4
  • Handle Length: 17-3/4"
  • Weight: 1 lb / 3 oz
That is the entire description ( 8 )
Note that the axe head itself has only two variables : weight and blade width

My underlines are especially troubling :
" Weight: 1 lb / 3 oz " ?
With the word 'recreation' loosely applied, how does 500 gms match the artifact, as discussed, more likely to have been closer to 1200 gms when new?
" Small Viking throwing axe " ?
Ok - I will give you that the object being sold, which is only half the correct weight, most certainly would qualify as a light weight hatchet or possible throwing axe. Describing the artifact as such, certainly indicates a massive distortion of the actual prototype object.
" typical Celtic manner " ??
Sorry - I really lost it when I read that. This statement shows a complete lack of any understanding of Cultures or History. Do we need to be reminded that the Mammen Axe actually is the core example of a recognized Viking Age - NORSE - artistic style. To the point of providing the NAME for that style.

Of clear concern :
- What is the actual metal that the head, especially cutting edge, made of?
- How are the actual designs applied?

Now that first offered link:

" The purpose of this review is to examine the reproduction of the Mammen axe offered by Hanwei (Item #2041-GT)."
Image poached from

Now that you see an image of this 'reproduction' - what do you notice?

The head is upside down.
Because this object has been made as a light weight 'tomahawk' style, the eye is designed with an obvious taper, larger at the 'top' and smaller to the 'bottom'. This so the handle, which is tapered to match, can only fit in to lock as shown.
If you attempted to actually USE this object (for it's indicated 'throwing axe' purpose), the thin tip of that upswept blade would strike first, putting excessive impact shock into the weakest part of the cutting edge.
Oh - I guess that dramatic upsweap to the edge looks way cool...

Note the complete lack of any peen - at all. Completely the wrong shape, completely distorts the handling balance. The eye is deliberately made to suggest the (incorrect) 'one piece folded' construction method. That technique is not a Viking Age method (more typical of later Medieval and Settlement Era axe making). It has been distorted to a flat oval shape - not the flattened D shape of the artifact.

This is clearly a mass production cast steel object.
The review states that those nice designs? Are painted on.

I also see that this 'review' includes THREE hot links back to the CAS Ibera web site.
Can you say 'click bait' ??

Ok - the Suggested Retail on this version was $90 US.
It looks pretty.
Made in China
(as if more needs to be said - right there)

A 'replica' or a 'reproduction' ?

Not even close

1) I should mention that I really HATE Pinterest as a source. Images are grabbed from almost anywhere, there is little to no descriptions or credit given for the original source.

2) The artifact images have been transferred here as file copies (to ensure proper loading, a problem with past use of now absent internet sources). The indicated images (NMD) were sourced (as linked) from the National Museum of Denmark.

3) This raises another whole ball of wax about 'date of creation' against 'date of deposit'. Peterson indicates for the closest displayed profile of type H  " The type seems to originate around 900 AD, and belongmostly to the fist half of the 10th century. "
The National Museum of Denmark indicates :
" The axe is decorated in the so-called Mammen style, which is named after this particular find. The style arose in the 900s and it survived until around 1000."
"The grave from Mammen can be dated to the winter of 970/971 AD ..."
(Based on dendrochronology)

4) For a discussion of axe profiles against functional uses, see an earlier commentary : July 16, 2008 - Norse Woodworking Axes

Unfortunately, almost impossible to find a copy (only a limited number from this traveling exhibit were ever printed) Considered by most Viking Age re-encators as the single best exhibit catalogue ever produced.

6) Admittedly a bit of a WAG. Based on a fast comparison to research and creation of a replica of the 'Rhynie Man Axe' I did in 2014 as part of the Turf 2 Tools project.
(This was a replica of a circa 600 - 800 AD, Pictish, profile. Wth the narrower edge, the weight was about 900 gm)

7) Details on just how this works is best seen in the work and documentation by James Austin. I was lucky enough to attend a workshop / demonstration weekend featuring Jim some years back and found him skilled, knowledgeable - and most certainly extremely willing to share both.

8) There were two images available. I was unable to either copy - or directly link back to, these.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Installed at Wareham...

'Old soldiers never die
They just fade away.'

'Celts at the Gates - Spears and Shield'
Mounted at Styl gallery in Elora - 2008

Over the years I have made many larger objects, most often as display samples. In the decades I was actively doing retail craft shows, I always tried to have one or two 'show' pieces. Any individual object had a fairly short exhibit life, generally about twice at a given annual event. This primarily to keep 'new work' on exhibit, but also a progression of quality and marking changes in evolving design and increasing scope.
As display pieces, many of these works never were sold, most especially as the individual objects became more complex, hence more expensive. I certainly found there was a 'break' point there, over a certain value, people wanted an original, one of a kind design, with input from their own taste - not so much 'off the floor' work.

'Spears and Shield' at Wareham

The raw size of many of these larger objects, gates, grills, fountains and arbors, also meant that the raw mechanics of repeated loading and unloading, hauling around and setting up, with long storage in the (unheated!) workshop took it's toll. Those pieces loaned out for possible commission sales were mostly mounted out of doors. As strong (if heavy) as forged steel is, the main damage was to painted surfaces. The enamel paint which is my basic finish is durable, but over time any paint will start to show its age when exposed to the elements.

'Celts at the Gates - Spears and Shield' is a much older work, originally designed and made in 2000.  At the time I had been considering a series of larger garden gates, with designs derived from ancient Celtic Iron Age / La Tene artifacts. The central spiral lines here were suggested by the 'Battersea Shield'. This was also one of my early uses of brightly coloured paint - instead of the 'flat black' so commonly used as a protective finish. You can see that in the gate's original configuration, it had a cut brass panel, which in turn held a large glass disk. I was never completely happy with the relatively thin brass, compared to the solidity of the wide forged curves.

The gate was re-worked and a second narrower matching panel created to fit the display space at Styl when it was loaned there in 2008. I was extremely pleased with the expanded version of the gate. So much so I submitted a number of images of it to the survey volume 'Ironwork Today 2' - where it was featured in a double page spread.
(There detailed descriptions of both versions this gate on the web site.)

Styl was closed in 2018 (the building in Elora was sold, the space converted into a pub restaurant). I made sure that the ownership of not only 'Spears and Shield', but also the two panels of 'Paris Metro' also on loan there were not to be considered part of the 'building and fixtures' to be included in that sale.

After a decade outside in the weather, both pieces were well past 'new'. As I had pretty much stopped any retail shows by 2016, I most certainly had no place to exhibit them. Their fate was to join a growing pile of larger pieces, pushed into corners around the Wareham Forge workshop or where space could be found for them.

Added to this were the very large sculptures made for the Elora Sculpture Project, one each year since 2013. (1) Of these happily one was purchased (Armoured Fish from 2015). This leaves me with a lot of large sculptures now being dotted around the front yard!

The final stages of the new replacement and large expansion to the second story deck off the residence at Wareham does give me someplace better to mount these older works - than some dusty and dark corner of the workshop.

South side of the Residence, with the new stairs

Seen in the image above, working clockwise from the top:

A) Man's Inhumanity to Man - 2020 (description pending)

B) Paris Metro (two panels) - 2006 (on the web site)

C) Green Grass / Autumn Grass Arbor - 2005 / 2015 (on the web site)

D) Shield and Spears - 2000 / 2008 (links above)

E) Sample for Riverdale House - 2007 (on the web site)

Green Grass Arbor was the re-painting of the older version (Autumn Grass, originally dark brown with yellows) done in 2018. It had been stored inside and wrapped up until this current mounting about two months back. I still have some hopes I can display this at a local garden plant operation against a possible commission sale.

My normal practice on large architectural commissions is to make a small sample piece. (The reasons why related to ensuring the customer sees how drawings convert to real life - and to illustrate detailing and quality.) (2) This roughly three foot long panel was such a sample. (Although as it turned out, the customer chose an entirely different design!)
Right now I have also mounted another smaller sample panel at the other end of the upper deck (awaiting work on a second stair case and a possible cantilevered additional deck level).

Overall - it just seemed stupid to have all these pieces, some of of which I am quite proud of, just wasting away in storage.

1) All detailed other places on this blog : search 'Elora Sculpture Project' for many detailed descriptions of both the design and making of each.

2) See a fuller description of how I normally work on a major commission in the section 'On Design'

Sunday, July 05, 2020

a Visit to Fiddlehead

Fiddlehead Nursery is a permaculture plant nursery in the Beaver Valley, near Collingwood, Ontario.  We specialize in edible, perennial plants, and design low-maintenance, productive gardens. 

Here at Wareham, we have become friends with Ben up at Fiddlehead Nursery.

click to view the very large 300 degree panorama

His operation sits on County Road 13, which runs (more or less due) north of us down into the bottom of the Beaver Valley, about a 15 - 20 minute drive.

One of our original interests with Fiddlehead was that the plants available there are all very suitable for our own environmental conditions *

Kelly is extremely keen to explore (and create) sustainable, perennial, edible gardens (if only at a small scale). 

interior of the plant greenhouse (after a very busy sales period!)

Ben has offered us a lot of excellent advice about this all over the years we have known him. His garden plants are extremely good quality, and honestly, the prices extremely affordable. In better times, we had taken one of his day long garden workshops, and both learned a great deal as well as quite enjoyed it.

'native plants' section

* Pretty much. Wareham sits on top of the 'Dundalk Plateau'. The altitude at Wareham is about 500 m / at Fiddlehead it about 260 m. (Wareham sits at almost the highest point in all Ontario). Obviously the surrounding valley protects Fiddlehead, where Wareham is almost at the lip of a wide open flat table. We often see walls of cloud and rain running along the south, east and north sides of us at Wareham (without us getting a drop - especially this point in the year).


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

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