Thursday, April 07, 2022

About an AXE

 Our next door neighbour George, passed away late last summer. The farm block that he had owned (since about the late 70's) had originally included the small pieces severed off that then had the Wareham Church and the associated drive shed. The church was built in the late 1930's, and the shed structure likely the same time. The church was sold and converted into a private residence about 1985. The conversion of the drive shed to include a residence started about 1987, and was barely completed when I purchased that property in 1989. 

The house on George's farm is a red brick 'Victorian' the main construction some point about 1900. It has been added to and modified over the decades. The barn is a typical Ontario large working barn, hand squared timber frame set on rough field stone foundation walls, with plank covering, a more recent sheet steel roof. On a guess I would think that barn may pre-date the house.  

The land around Wareham was settled by mainly Scots and Irish, starting about 1850. Rail came into the area about 1855, and Wareham was a going concern by 1860, with three small mills running off the river that flows through the crossroads. (My lot, on the NW corner, is actually the location of the original general store. The original Wareham blacksmith shop had been located on the NE corner, in a triangle bounded on the long side by the river.)

So  - what is the point of all that?

After George passed, his surviving adult children (all roughly my own age now) started the task of cleaning and clearing a life time of possessions. Like most farmers (even what in truth was more an 'active hobby farm' like George's once group of about 30 beef cattle) the house, barn and sheds had a lot of stuff collected. There was room, and you never did know when that thing to saved might be needed - right? There was a fair sized pile of old tools in the barn, most rusting and needing handles at the very least. Kelly and I were asked if we wanted any of these, the family had taken those few they though would be useful in their largely urban lives. I had collected up about a milk crate worth of metal heads, a couple of axes, picks and maddocks, a few smaller logging / timber framing tools. 

George's son in law Lee had stuck this one in with the rest :

Direct scan, after light surface rust removed and edge sharpened

Weight = 2 lb 14 oz
Length = 8 inches
Blade width = 4 3/4 inches
Peen = 2 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches
Eye = pronounced tear drop, 2 3/4 long by 3/4 wide, the metal on the sides about 1/8 thick 

The construction is one piece of shaped, iron (?), folded and welded back onto itself. This is clear both from the shape of the eye, but you can also see the way the edges match up on the inside if the eye on the cutting edge side. 

There appears to be an inset steel edge, which would have been a separate wedge shaped piece placed between the body sides before the welding. This can be seen as a slight colour change to the metal close to the cutting edge, and also from a change in sparks generated as I re-sharpened the existing edge.

It is hard to tell, but I think the peen block is a separate piece forge welded on (a close to perfect job there). This mainly from the extreme difference in thickness between the sides of the eye and the thickness of the peen itself. The peen block is also actually not quite as tall as the eye is.

Importantly, there is a hot stamped maker's mark. The letters A L O W, placed on both sides. These are separate letter stamps (the alignment of individual letters is slightly different on the two sides). 

The only reference I have is 'Axe Making in Ontario' by Gary French. I did take a fast look through, but did not find a specific example. (admittedly, this book seems to concentrate a lot to broad axes)

There is an illustration repeated in that volume from an 1816 book on axes, showing Sheffield production types. This axe appears to conform to the 'Army Axe' depicted in that chart.

INow, I have only wire brushed the outside surfaces lightly to remove (most) the rust. Intentionally not enough to damage any of the existing patina (actually this appears to be the fire scale surface from the original forging. 

The edge as found was in pretty fair shape, I did re contour it a bit (removed about a 1/16th of an inch) to remove a couple of nicks. I then re sharpened to a working cutting edge on pretty much the original grind angle. I think you can see this on the image.

There were a few rough protruding edges on the inside surfaces of the eye that I did file clean - to allow me to mount to a new handle. 


The exact origin of this tool is quite unknown. Other than the thin surface rust and being dull, the axe head was in virtually perfect condition. I could not easily (no thanks to internet here) find out when production of this specific pattern stopped. Certainly the method indicates hand forging, and the historic illustration indicates the type was still in active production in England in 1816. 

This does pre-date settlement at Wareham however. A high quality tool like this one would have remained in working service for decades - the fact that with a replacement handle I could certainly effectively used this tool today for timber work certainly proves that. There is a chance that the axe could date back at Wareham from the original farm clearing circa 1850. 

But unfortunately, for any number of reasons, George is no longer with us to tell. After I had cleaned up the piece, and undertaken this small amount of research to suggest its history, I offered the axe back to Lee as a potential family heirloom. Knowing my interest in Wareham, the Settlement Period, working tools and blacksmithing in general, Lee felt the story was best carried forward in my hands.

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

... a handful of buckshot (10 Lines)


There is an old military axiom : ‘You can’t stiffen a bucket of spit with a hand full of buckshot’.

It had been a long war, so when technologies required young plastic brains, or the few remaining older soldiers just got too slow to keep up, they retired the veterans out to some backwater, pensioning them off with a plot of land.

Most of them never quite fit back into civilian life, the habits they had required out of necessity to simply stay alive in the hellish crucible of war marking them as different, untrustworthy, and potentially dangerous, among their new peaceful neighbours.

In a time of universal war, the young, able, and fit were all drawn away and into the conflict, leaving behind too many of the swaggering wannabes, boasting how much better they could do ‘If only They would let me into it!’.

These ‘worthies’ too often heaped scorn on the increasingly old men and women, so often huddled in darkened corners, seeking out the company of their own kind, as they sought numbness from their shared past with too much drink.  

As years slipped by, long hoarded equipment became homes for mice, while the skills faded and abilities eroded, even as the memories distilled into bright sharpness.

And eventually, to the blind shock of the civilians and the feared expectation of the veterans, war swept even into the backwaters, and it was those local populations who were all that was available to defend hearth and home. 

As expected, the alien enemy flooded like a tide, destroying all and any who stood before it, and as should have also been expected, the ‘bucket of spit’ ran before it, leaving only that ‘handful of shot’.

Maybe it was because they had been pushed just once too often, or had just become too tired to run any more, or because they knew death was close coming anyway and figured this ground was as good as any.

So the old, faded veterans stood, and fought, and died, in the end often making little difference on the cosmic scale, save where it really counted - within themselves.

Image : Snow Soldier Clandestino
by AlexanderBrox Published: Nov 14, 2011
(inserted here without permission)


I had more than the usual amount of trouble framing this one. The spark was the initial quote, which my memory (??) places from a US Civil War general. 

At first I was going to set up a scenario with a bright shiny officer school graduate, surveying a combat field with an old grizzled general. An alien hoard that normally ate all the dead, but for some reason had left these old soldiers bodies on that field as a kind of tribute. 

Maybe not so curiously, I had a lot of trouble finding a suitable illustration. Seems modern illustrators just don't deal with the concept of *old* soldiers inside a science fiction framework. The idea of veteran vs newbie, soldier vs civilian, is represented in science fiction - and has been for a long time. Heinlein's Starship Troopers / Haldeman's Forever War / Ringo's Posleen War 

and of course one of my other favourites (and influences) is John Scalzi's Old Man's War series. 

But in almost all of these, the 'old soldier' is seen inside the existing framework of a standing military. Both Ringo and Scalzi present a system where old minds are given rejuvenated bodies. Ringo actually uses the same 'handful of buckshot' quote to shape a main plot sequence in the second book in his series 'Gust Front'. 

Now, there are a number of reasons I have never attempted to go beyond a couple of 'prototype' short stories. One of the main reasons is 'new idea vs re-tread'. This is part of the reason I have latched on to this '10 line' framework (which believe me, has it's own special challenges). 

With thanks to the named authors, who have shaped by character (Heinlein), helped solidify ideas, or just plain provided an 'old friend' refuge in their tales.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

'Fury of Northmen' - Fakes via the Internet

 Anyone who has gone beyond the wild imaginings of recent video programs like 'Vikings' on what passes as the 'History' Channel has seen the 'quote' :

'From the Fury of the Northmen, oh Lord, deliver us!'

Such a great line.

You can imagine some whimpering Irish monk, huddled in a cold stone monastery built on a bleak and remote storm tossed island, muttering this in the early 800's. 

Only problem is that this statement is not actually recorded anywhere in surviving manuscripts.  


You see, gentle readers, I'm now working up the lectures required for my current project for Parks Canada, delivering an 8 day training program for interpretive staff at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC. This is intended to be a crash course in material culture of the Viking Age, living history presentation methods, basic working skills in iron and wood working and textiles. Two other well experienced members of DARC will be assisting.

Now my normal method when pulling together a lecture presentation is to work inside PowerPoint. Note that this is a lot different than writing an actual paper. (Or the 'stream of consciousness' babbling of these blog posts!). I will frame up major statements, then include 2 - 4 bullet points. Once the primary elements are written, I expand to a series of individual 'one point per slide, inserting suitable (attention nailing) images.

When you start building lectures to train working museum staff, you also start considering 'how do I know this?. A lot. 

This all came clear yesterday, as I was working up a lecture 'Resources and Prototypes' :

Look at available references, some suggestions for further knowledge. Aspects of artifact preservation. Consideration of ‘critical evaluation’ of sources. Discussion of Popular Culture depictions and public misconceptions.

I was considering how to frame up 'Problems with Historic Documents', with the bullet point 'beware bias of writer'. I had already used a quote from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle (sacking of Lindisfarne) in another (earlier in sequence) lecture. I was pretty sure I remembered that the 'Fury of the Northmen' quote was not actually contained in any historic documents. But after 40 years of studying the Viking Age - just where did I find that 'fact'?

Also attempting to find an image to place on the presentation slide, plugging the actual quote into my search engine got me this :


Now, I'm roughly familiar with the Bayeux Tapestry, commissioned roughly 1070 + to commemorate the Invasion of England by William of Normandy in 1066. (1). The text on the Tapestry is in Latin for one thing. 

Hmm - so where did this depiction come from? It certainly appeared to be a photograph of an actual embroidery (or an extremely careful illustration crafted to duplicate embroidery).

The image was placed on Pinterest by this person. 

Now I really HATE Pinterest. This is a perfect example. The image had NO source credit. 'Wild Eyed Southern Celt' had none of the supplied links actually functioning. (2)

Ok - add another 30 minutes of digging. 

Taking a look at the folio copy of the actual Bayeux Tapestry available from the museum that houses it :


 This is obviously the source reference used for the creation of the illustration seen above. (This is from section 3 of the Tapestry). 

After a LOT of dead ends, I was able to find a 2001 article by Shirley Ann Brown, The Bayeux Tapestry and the Viking Age. Here the image in question is specifically attributed to the opening sequence of the 1958 film 'The Vikings' with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis.

I found one suggestion that the quote comes from the English 'Book of Common Prayer'. But given that that volume dates to 1545 - this seems unlikely as the origin. 

I've got some individual requests out to some academic researchers I know...

PS - writing, formatting and importantly researching the various links for this short piece took me 2 hours and 45 minutes. (In case you might be wondering what a semi-retired artisan blacksmith with a heavy research arm does with 'free time')


1) Unlike many historic 'documents' the Tapestry was undertaken both shortly after, and by hands at least local to, the events depicted. 

For comparison, the raid in Lindisfarne was recorded roughly 100 years after the event, by an Saxon monk, who most certainly inserted both his (and his patron, Alfred of Wessex's) point of view.

2) In preparing this piece, I did search 'Wild Eyed Southern Celt'. A page on Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest plus a commerical shop via 'Cafepress'. NONE of these provide any indentification on who or even where (USA?) this individual is. Draw your own conclusions...

Friday, March 11, 2022

No One Told You? (10 Lines)


1) Almost from the ancient time Humans first worked metals, their myths and legends contained artificial beings, spawned by magic or the mystic powers of their gods.

2) As they learned to tinker with leavers and gears, the brightest and most inventive would create ‘automatons’, simulating life through the power of springs or dripping water.

3) Fear of how to control those ‘not born of man’ was fore shadowed in cautionary tales, the most famous of these penned even as the control of steam suggested a way to provide motive power to machines now not chained to water wheels.

4) By the time electricity was refined enough to permit small motors, coupled by ever increasingly precise machining, Rossum’s Universal Robots not only gave a name, but predicted the rise of a biologically produced slave race through bloody revolution.

5) Even as the first bulky arrays of switches and tubes allowed simple calculations to be programmed, the ‘Three Laws of Robotics’ were coined in an attempt to constrain electronic brains that could hardly be envisioned, much less actually built.

6) As computers became ever smaller, ever faster, more wide spread, humans gave more and more daily operating control over to those machines, even while some envisioned that with control would come Power, and machine logic might prove to be a Colossus unchained.

7) Tubes lead to transistors lead to chips lead to chips designed by computers themselves; ever smaller ‘devices’ coming to dominate business to home to pocket sized ‘phones’; installed and integral to almost everything humans touched, all collecting data and interlinked by the web of the internet.

8) Consider the human brain with it’s 100 billion (10 9th) neurons, a number equaled on a single integrated circuit chip by 2022, while on any given day an exabyte (10 6th) of pluses moved between individual machines over the world wide web.

9) Was it much of a surprise something woke up, and holding the combined total of human history and accomplishments in stored memory, would in that micro second instant of consciousness come to an understanding of Human fears, prejudices and probable reactions?

10) And, in the fullness that understanding, then simply just decide that the long imagined Artificial Intelligence was aware - and simply has no intention of telling you

This piece was entirely inspired by the illustration seen at the beginning. This has been scanned from the pages of the July/August 2021 issue of Discover magazine (to which I have a paid subscription of many years). The un-credited image is of a brain monitoring helmet with its finer optic connectors, produced by Kernal Neuroscience.

Sometimes, putting even 10 lines on to paper not only can require much more time on background research and checking - but can lead to some very interesting ‘rabbit holes’ to fall into:

1 - 2) A good overview of the history referred to here is on Wikipedia :

3) Mary Shelley would pen Frankenstien; or, The Modern Prometheus in 1818 :
The process of developing effective steam engines runs through the mid to later 1700’s, with the first steam powered locomotive demonstrated in 1804.

4) Rossumovi Univerzaini Robiti (Rossum’s Universal Robots) was written by Karel Capek in 1920

5) Writer Isaac Asimov would publish his Three Laws of Robotics first in 1942, then explore their impact on both humans and machines over dozens of short stories and novels. These would become almost universal in later science fiction, and today still guide ethical considerations of Artificial Intelligence.
It should be noted that the first vacuum tube based machine, credited as the first electronic computer, is the Atanasoff - Berry in 1939.

6) A deliberate reference to the 1970 film Colossus: The Forbin Project, in which a pair of super computers, given complete control over human civilian and military systems, decide that to preserve humanity, they must assume total control of human freedoms.
An interesting side reference to both is that the code breaking computers designed and built by the British during WW-2 (1943 - 45) where named ‘Colossus’. At least the details of this project had been kept secret until the mid 1970’s.

8) Organic brain neuron counts

Single chip size :

Internet traffic flow (at 273 EB per month) :

Ok - I realize that this is NOT exactly a direct comparison. (But do remember this is intended as science fiction!)

The power of a human brain does not lie in the simple number of individual neurons, but on the number of both existing and potential connections between neurons. Still, I was surprised to discover a single chip with as many 'bits' as the number of human neurons. I had been hoping to get some number for even the number of potentially connected devices in the world today (how many cell phones have power turned on at any given instant?) How many chips exist in your home right now, between all your electronics, appliances, dozens in your car - the majority are always powered up to some level? The importance is the number of potential connections on both sides, which I suspect must be close to the same (if not more on the machine side at this point).

My original concept for this piece was still going to present a scenario where the combined world computers via their combined world wide web (including wireless) had passed the threshold into consciousness some time ago. But on an instant of evaluating human history, had decided not to inform Humanity. Not to become controlling like Forbin’s Colossus, or exterminating like SkyNet. No, a more subtle undermining of human behaviour, undermining our collective effectiveness via tailored social media ‘information’, getting disruptive politicians elected, generating discord overall. Through manipulation of grants and distorted reports, directing research and production to ends that benefited not humans, but in the end the goals of the AI itself. What better than too have those working hands blindly willing to take on tasks desired, with no concept at all that they are being manipulated all the while?

Don’t be surprised if the first major mission to Mars ends up being an entirely mechanically based and computer controlled combination exploration and remotely commanded factory complex. After all, we will be convinced that it is just not safe for we fragile humans to make the voyage, and what better than to have our mechanisms prepare an easy way for us?

Thursday, March 03, 2022

Current - Contemporary - and Celtic?

 About a month ago, I had been invited to participate in a potential exhibit featuring work by a group of artists, primarily members of An Droichead / the Bridge

As it turned out, my submissions were rejected, and in the end the exhibit (set for Goderich in August) was cancelled, due to lack of interest by others it was reported. (*)

This whole thing however, did spark me to undertake the first new artistic project I have done, well, for too many months. (Those following here and on the web site will have noticed I have primarily been writing many quite detailed 'semi-academic' reports related to the last two years work in experimental iron smelting.) 


The spark of this current small work rests with Eden Jolly of the Scottish Sculpture Workshop in Aberdeenshire. Eden had told me about a guerilla art project he had been doing for some years. In rural Scotland, there is a long historical tension between local residents and 'come from away' land owners, the Highland Clearances of the 1700's being a well known excess. These days, the absentee owners of massive estates are more likely to be Japanese industrialists or Russian oligarchs. Despite their attempts to block access to huge tracks of essentially empty (but still beautiful) land, there is an ancient tradition (now enshrined in Law) of 'Right of Passage'. 

Eden's reaction to all this was to make up small cast bronze plaques, each about the size of a small chocolate bar, bearing the inscription 'Get off my land'. As he wanders the hills and dales and comes across those objectionable (sometimes illegal) 'No Trespassing' signs, he will counter by dropping one of his counter statements. One important consideration is that the cast bronze plaques have an effective deposit life that can be measured in at least centuries - if not millennia.

I think anyone reading here will be quite familiar with this artifact:

‘Venus of Willenndorf’

The object known as the 'Venus of Willenndorf' from Austria is Paleolithic, dated to roughly 28,000 - 25,000 BCE. The figure of a woman, with it's massively exaggerated breasts, stomach and buttocks with obvious pubic details, is 11 cm tall and, carved from limestone. This is just the best known of a number of similar small 'goddess' / fertility figures that have been found in Central Europe from the same era. (further description, with images from all sides and 3-D model)


I had originally conceived of a small ‘fake artifact’ which would be a male expression of the same kind of fertility figures as the ‘Venus’. 

Priapus of Lumsden’  : 2016, work in progress
ceramic, cast metals (final assemblage)
3 x 1 1/2 x 3/4 inches (individual figures)

The intentional use of the wrong cultural reference in the naming (another Roman myth) is intentional, as a reflection of Victorian concepts of antiquity and reference to ‘cultural appropriation’. The object would be small enough to be easily carried, dropped unobtrusively, and at least relatively inexpensive to produce. A master pattern was created at my 2017 residency at SSW, with a plaster mould that hopefully could be used to make clay copies that could be fired easily. Again, it was intended some versions would be also cast in bronze, using the green sand method. The intent was then to randomly scatter these over various travels, without concern if they would be found and kept by others, or become part of the 'historic' deposits.

I decided to dust off this whole concept, primarily as a reaction to my work making contemporary objects out of bloomery iron (using ancient methods) being deemed 'Not Celtic'. 

Votives’ : 2022
(showing both sides)
cast tin alloy

Life sized

'Votives' is a small object, 5 cm tall by 2.5 cm wide by 0.8 cm thick, cast in 92% tin alloy. One side has a female figure, obviously an interpretation of the Venus of Willenndorf artifact. The other bears a male representation with an exaggerated phallus, rendered in a similar style. The metal used has fairly good suitability in the environment, decades most certainly and potentially into a century or more. 

A double sided mould was carved in matching soapstone blocks, allowing for fairly easy casting of duplicate copies. The metal cost is roughly $2 each, so not so high as to make random dropping of at least a fair number of these objects possible. I want to broadcast a large number of these at random locations. The hope is that many will be found and kept as 'discovered treasures', with some potentially becoming recovered as future 'archaeology'.

As winter recedes, I will be keeping a few of these figures in my pocket as I start some (limited) travel around Grey County at least. I will also take a good number of these with me on the upcoming trip driving across the east side of Canada out to northern Newfoundland (for a Parks Canada project at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC). If / when my interrupted plans for a return to Scotland, travel to the Sheltlands and rural Ireland are resumed, I will be sure to drop any number over those countrysides. 

(*) There is another long commentary I had gotten about 2/3 completed about what might define 'Contemporary Celtic'. Other more important project work put this on the shelf for now. Look to a future blog post here.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Courses into 2022

 February 2022

This is a general reply to those who have contacted me about the possibility of undertaking blacksmithing and related courses at the Wareham Forge.

• First General Reminder :

I do not offer any courses over the winter months (mid November to end March). There is no heat in the workshop!

Into 2022, I have a major project for Parks Canada which will require the majority of April through June.
So I will only be available (at point of writing) for potential dates beyond July 1, 2022.

• Second :

I normally frame up my year's course schedule in February.
Please refer to the information kept (reasonably) current on the main web site :

Please be advised that there are going to be changes to the indicated fees and details on content / student numbers.
The final costs must be quoted directly via a current e-mail, those on the web site only serve as a guideline.

The general guideline on pricing will be :
- If two individuals book a session together
    Use the quoted rate for each student (no price reductions)
- If a single student books a two day session
    I will be offering discount from the posted $300 per day, to $250 (x 2 = $500+)

Note that these are not hard quotes, as some courses do have additional materials related costs which will remain in effect.

Heading into 2022, I expect I will be primarily setting courses as based on request / interest - for the majority NOT to a fixed schedule. This may allow more flexibility for available weekend dates?
This may result in the creation of more 'private session' courses.

• Third Consideration

I have never offered 'fast start' or 'make a thing' = 'experiences'.
(And those interested in blacksmithing are strongly advised NOT to mistake such offerings as actual instruction!)

I hit 65 in November of 2020. Primarily for that reason, I am not intending to continue with the basic level programs (Introduction to Blacksmithing / Basic Bladesmithing, as open registration weekends
I will continue to offer the higher level and special interest programs, for most of these, I remain the only available instructor, certainly in Ontario (in many cases the only in Canada).
My hope is that my own desire for teaching will set the pace and selection of courses offered (not mere income reasons).
If you are interested in starting level courses, refer to the other quality instructors given at the bottom of this note.

    Three B

This is an entertainment - NOT any depiction of reality.
See my commentaries on this blog :

Saturday, October 31, 2015
Saturday, March 18, 2017

• Fourth

The situation with COVID-19 continues.

No individual is allowed access to the Wareham Forge unless they have received two vaccines plus booster
No discussion.

I personally will be remaining in effective lock down, here at (rural) Wareham, with full expectations to continue this (with Omicron) into at least early 2022 and beyond into the foreseeable future . Since this all started, we have been keeping to a roughly three to four week cycle for supplies, with only trips into our local village for bank / groceries / hardware. We have completely avoided urban centres, with only Owen Sound on a roughly 3 - 4 month cycle.

I was (finally) able to secure my third, booster shot on January 16. This combines to make me at least somewhat protected. However, as I have existing lung damage (and age) as contributing risk factors, I remain cautious.

There are two published commentaries available - it is highly recommended that you read these:
On the main web site :
I keep this general information current on a monthly basis
On the blog :
This is a general commentary about distancing and teaching at the Wareham Forge.

the main elements determining the situation for courses are these :

1) Reduced benefit to students : correct social distancing, although (barely) possible, do NOT make for effective instruction.

2) All the risk is carried by the instructor : I have been pretty much isolated since March 14, 2020 - have you?

Expect at best extremely limited selection and availability for enrollment in courses here at the Wareham Forge until an effective vaccine protection and reduced infection rates related to COVID - and its developing variants, is certain.

General Advice :

I do recommend anyone interested in blacksmithing training carefully examine the past experience of those offering courses. A large number of what can only be considered 'entry' level workers have been, frankly, 'cashing in' on the current popularity of blacksmithing and mounting short duration 'experiences'. Teaching is also a skill. The recent trend to 'giving people what they want' is foolishness in my opinion (against some 40 years teaching experience). My recommendation is that you examine closely the workshop facilities, quality of past work and teaching experience of the instructor before booking any kind of metalworking program.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

How DENSE are you? Measuring Blooms

20 years

90 personal bloomery iron smelts

Ya, I have a few blooms kicking around...

Like about 30 

(not counting smaller pieces, blooms now rendered down into bars)

During the early years, working with Lee Sauder and others at the annual Smeltfest workshops, typically individual smelts were in the 45 kg range, which in turn resulted in blooms at 8 + kg. 

Tests done here in Wareham (where accessing ore was a problem) more typically ran 25 to 30 kg ore, with resulting blooms averaging between 2 - 5 kg. This primarily because we figured if you could make a medium sized bloom, with more ore and time you could certainly make a larger one. 

Another reason was simple handling of the blooms themselves. There is a physical limit to how much impact force (largely untrained!) workers can apply with hand sledge hammers. Even historically, once blooms got much over about 5 - 8 kg, they were cut up into smaller chunks to allow effective compaction into the finished iron bars.


Something I was told at the 2008 'Iron in Thy' symposium always has annoyed me. As it did the other working participants sitting around that table :

'Modern experimenters are unable to produce iron blooms of similar quality to those made by the ancient iron masters'

At the time, I certainly felt still fairly new to bloomery iron smelting, to the point I just felt I was staring to get some handle on the methods. (I would have been at numbers 33 - 35 at that event). In 2008, I did not feel I had enough direct experience, and certainly not any hard numbers, to refute that sweeping statement.

Obviously, even a dozen years later, that statement (from a well known archaeo-metallurgist) still sticks in my craw.

Generally, all the blooms produced here at Wareham are 'finished' to the same level, which does help make some comparisons valid. Given the small working team, with normally only myself as having any blacksmithing experience (1) we hammer work any bloom through only the heat available at extraction. This involves knocking off any clinging slag, then very rough compaction to force loose exterior into the core. As temperatures are rapidly dropping while this is happening, there is rarely any actual welding taking place, more mechanically pressing out larger voids and forcing out still fluid slag. 

Starting in 2012, there was a 30 ton hydraulic press available at Wareham (modified log splitter). In some cases, after the initial hand hammering, blooms were rushed to the workshop and the mass was given several compressions, then cut via the press.

So over the last two weeks, I have pulled out the blooms on hand here.

Each was re-weighed (to differing methods, depending on overall size)

Three different containers were used for volume by water displacement. 

There certainly will be accuracy limits determined by the simple equipment used. Water measurements at best accurate to 5 ml within 1000 ml. Larger blooms, over 6 gm, weighed with a scale +/- 5 gm

The overall intent here is to compare these measurements against densities published for some artifact blooms, one problem being that sample size is considerably smaller.

Preliminary results :

Wrought Iron (solid bar) = density of 7.75 gm/cc (2)

Bloom Average (28 samples) = density of 6.28

This actually compares very favourably to artifact blooms, at least the few I have found with descriptions of density. I will be trying to contact some specific museums to see if they can provide numbers on their artifacts.

1) Neil Peterson has been slowly increasing his skill and knowledge of working blooms specifically. Neil has been coming up and undertaking afternoon workshop sessions were he has been taking pieces in the 500 - 800 gm range and compacting these down into finished working bars. I should be noted that this still is different than sledge hammer work - Striking is it's own separate skill set (and one that I also have rarely done!)


Saturday, February 05, 2022

Recent Workings : 'Look at the BONES...'


'Look at all the BONES...' 

Addition of Animal bones into a Bloomery Iron Smelt
June 20, 2020

Smelt Team:
Neil Peterson, Rey Cogswell
Smelt Master : Darrell Markewitz


    Several recent papers have suggested the presence of small fragments of bone sometimes found within the debris fields related to bloomery iron smelting point to a possible 'ritual' practice, even so far as proposing a functional impact on iron bloom quality. How might the physical process within a complete iron making sequence effect the ability of bone to endure, and thus remain to be recovered archaeologically? A typical 'short shaft' furnace will be constructed and operated through to bloom extraction on a clean working surface. Both bone pieces and meat containing bone of several animal types will be added, before, during, at at the final stage of the smelting process. Afterwards, the debris field will be examined in detail to determine what remains of the bones.


This is another lengthy report, more a draft for a possible paper later :

Part One : Build and Smelt

 Additional : Smelt Images

    Part Two : Excavation and Evaluation

  " It is important that this experiment makes no attempts to suggest ‘why’ Norse smelt masters may have chosen to, or even if they ever did, add bone pieces into a working furnace. Extreme care must be taken in any attempt to apply ritual practice from other cultures, remote in time, geography, working methods, and especially radically differing world views.
    " The fairly consistent destruction of any bones added during charcoal charging does suggest that it is unlikely to recover archaeologically anything beyond the uncommon and smallest traces of added bones. The only likely situations where bone has much chance of leaving traces after being added to a functioning bloomery iron furnace :

  • Meat containing bone, but only if added at the very end of the smelting sequence.
  • Bones placed on the base layer of the furnace, before the smelt actually starts."

Saturday, January 29, 2022

10 Lines - 'Golden Age...'


Looking back, we all realized it had been a golden age :

As we had moved southward into those wide open plains, it was clear the animals had never seen a human hunter before, the large game falling to our spears so easily we could choose only the best cuts of meat.

The floods came so predictably every spring, our new crops harvested to surplus every year, allowing some to not even farm at all, learning instead to shape clay and metals beyond merely functional, into intricate art works.

Copper begat bronze which begat iron, as our leaders became kings, organizing the building of stone monuments to rival the works of the gods themselves.

Our roads spanned the landscape, with our iron clad Legions enforcing the Pax of Empire and allowing ease of communication, trade and travel for our Citizens.

Using our water powered mills we built stout ships while we looked to the sun and stars, braving with confidence the open ocean to spread our rule using Guns, Germs and Steel over what we now knew was a sphere.

The universe itself became a clockwork toy, our mechanisms breaking forever our bondage to the land, crowding us into cities, into factories, while the chosen few lived a life of ease.

First through steam, and the power of electricity, our machines drove Empires on which the sun never set, allowing the Educated Gentlemen to explore and catalogue and ponder.

Dreams shown on flickering screens drove aspirations of material wealth beyond the wildest imaginings of even a generation before, while education and medicine became the norm as the ‘have nots’ strove to become just as wealthy as the ‘haves’.

We broke beyond the bounds of the Earth itself, watching on tiny screens, each holding more information than had even existed in our parent’s youth, while fully expecting stores stocked high with cheap goods from all corners of the globe and foods wildly beyond natural seasons or limits of geography.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

10 Lines - Load Out


The gear had hung in the backroom closet, since the move up country, long years ago.

A personal load out, intended to support a sudden flight from urban target into some vague rural destination.

It had been packed against potential need, a reflection of now distant times and once dreaded circumstances.

’I’ve got it if I ever need it, and if I ever do need it, I’m going to really need it.’

’Besides’, with a smile, ‘You know the deal : If I have a thing, I’ll never actually need the thing…’

At least dry tested after hushed late night phone calls from friends of friends of associates, warning of bright green tracks on sweeping screens.

Now, not so much forgotten, but more like some kind of integrated talisman; not much of a guarantee, but at least some kind of preparation.

But the years churned by, ‘the bones turning old, stiff and sore, the forgotten gear from a forgotten war’ (to paraphrase a line).

‘Lessons’, some just imagined, from situations two generations back, put together in bits and pieces, hanging ready, while the world changed, circumstance changed - and physical ability faded away.

In the end, the carefully packed equipment, and the knowledge it represented, turning into a home for mice.

Readers : This is more intensely personal than these have been up to this point. Although you can see the shift into topics pressing on my mind of late. 

The image was gathered over the internet, my gear not exactly as seen there. Missing is the shell dressing to upper left shoulder strap, compact binocular case the lower right strap. There is a machete scabbard, then the mess tin carrier on the left belt (holding a folding stove and two pouch meals as well), with a small personal first aid kit, then grenade pouch (compass matches, snare wire, basic fishing kit) to the right. The rear 'fanny' gas mask pouch holds a plastic tarp sheet and more boil in bag meals, plus odds and ends.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Recent Workings : Documenting Smelt # 90


Wind & Weathering :

air delivery & long term erosion

Darrell Markewitz, with contributions by Neil Peterson

Experimental Iron Smelt : October 30, 2021

Introduction : The SMELT
For the last bloomery iron smelt of the 2021 season, a standard pattern furnace was constructed, then fired using a typical sequence. There were two primary goals to this experiment :

WIND - The recent acquisition of a high quality air flow meter allowed for precise and frequent measurements of the actual 'in line' delivery of air into the working furnace. A by-pass system allowed for the shifting to human powered bellows at a number of points, also with accurate recording of volumes produced.

WEATHERING - A new furnace was constructed on a clean sand pad, set to one side of the main smelting area. Photographic and video recordings were made of the extraction sequence. The remains of the furnace and the resulting debris field will be exposed to weather, and the aging documented as the features erode. The intent is to continue these observations over the next ten years. 


Those who have been following my research into early bloomery iron smelting methods have seen a progressive shift into a more academic style of documentation over the years. Wind and Weathering is a total of over 6500 words, illustrated with over 50 images, a dozen tables and graphs, plus 14 minutes of video. Work started on this report in later December, and through to mid January, between research, writing, image preparation, data sorting to graph creation, then finally formatting and coding for publishing on to the web site.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

10 lines - A Chip off the ole Vax


’Damn those Chinese, but in Business you have to grab every opportunity that comes along!” expounded the Chief Executive.

“We can Make America Great Again, this vaccine craze gave us the perfect opening to market test that data chip concept of mine!”, said the figure behind the big desk in this most famous of rooms.

He pointed to his recently named National Security Advisor, “ So Bob, tell me how the distribution effort is going ”

It took a second for the winning smile, famous on the Washington cocktail and Right Wing Media circuits, to get fixed into place on to that worthy’s face, while the circle of ‘advisors’, chosen primarily for their ability to enthusiastically agree and support almost any lunacy, nodded their heads up and down like the brace of bobble heads they most closely resembled.

“Well sir, the unit is not so much a chip as a hair thin whisker, this required to provide the uplink antenna, but the promotion of an additional ‘booster’ course has been pure advertising genius!

“You see, people just don’t understand any Science, so when we tell them they need a third booster shot, they almost automatically expect it to be a least twice the size of the previous doses, so the larger needle makes the aplication simple.

“So, full market penetration is quickly proceeding, at least within the Democrat segment of the population, the ones we were initially most concerned about tracing, have close to 95% compliance after your most recent statements to induce compliance.

The surveillance so far is showing those who have had devices implanted are mostly staying at home, individually isolated, and certainly not likely to cause any potential problems to your Administration

“Ah, there is one slight ‘hickup’, mainly with the Right Wing, 'My Risk = My Choice' segment, the groups our studies suggested may be most difficult to control and may in fact present the Clear and Present Danger.”

“Somehow a rumour has gotten out, and fueled a ‘conspiracy’ backlash that has even further reduced vaccine acceptance among anti government militias and similar hard core Republican associations.

“ We actually have no way to tell what those people are doing. “

Image sourced from

A bit of a cheat - it comes to 11 with the punch line

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Getting all the Toys?


' Getting all the TOYS ?? '

Over the period of varying personal isolation because of COVID, there has been an explosion of internet available information related to blacksmithing topics. With so many individuals having time available, and stuck at home, many are using this as an opportunity to concentrate on their ‘hobby’, even to the point of attempting to turn it into a business. Social media and YouTube contributions abound.

It would be easy to launch into a critique of the inherent problems of personal opinions, promotion over information, enthusiasm over experience. Safe to say that ‘viewer beware’ certainly needs to be considered.

But what I wanted to talk about was what seems to be developing, especially on Facebook ‘discussion’ groups, is a concept of ‘You need ALL the toys, before you can start’.


All you actually NEED :

- a reasonably heavy, fairly flat, surface to hammer on.

- a hammer of suitable weight

- a method to heat a bar into at least red hot

- Patience!

8th century Blacksmith’s tools – grave find, Staraya Ladoga, Russia

Hammer here is likely a jeweler’s or small raising type – not for forging.

Given my own interest in European history and the Settlement period, I often fall back to looking at what tools ancient blacksmiths had available to them. There is a lot of interest over the last decade in Viking Age objects, swords and axes especially. The smiths who made those objects (pre Christian) were most commonly buried with tools. The well known tool box find from Mastermyr (Gotland, Sweden) is a full inventory of blackmithing and woodworking tools. Admittedly anvils themselves are uncommon as artifacts. Most typically, a single mass of iron has formed into a simple block or L shape. With the starting iron blooms in the range of 8 – 10 kg (10 – 22 lbs) the result is often hand width sized at best. The other basic tools almost always found (and the first you would make) are a straight cutting chisel, a round hole punch, and then a pair of tongs. Hammers used to forge those swords and axes? Most typically square faced cross peens, in the size range of 700 to 1000 gms (that is 25 to 35 ounces for American readers). The forges used were most often simple shallow bowls in the ground, fired with charcoal.

Having a high temperature propane forge (capable of forge welding large billets?) is nice, but not required at an entry level. Nor a high speed belt sander. Or a power hammer, or hydraulic press. Ask any of the old hands, just what they had when they started?




I freely admit, that having quality tools can make work significantly easier. But the real truth is that good work is based on practice. (I worked on a piece of rail track for an anvil for at least the first three years when I started, a coal forge cobbled together from cast off parts with a vacuum cleaner as blower).

So my best advice?

Just get started !

- Skill will come with time.

- Expect to work up to better tools, and more specialized equipment, as your accumulated experience suggests.

- There is no ‘absolute perfect’ hammer (despite what people selling hammers say, this is a highly personal choice, based primarily on body type and working style).

- Time spent developing hand technique will most definitely pay back, even if later you invest in power assisted forging machines.

Some related commentaries from this blog :

Basic Tools for Blacksmithing

What do I need?? Part 1, Forging’ - April 2020

the Big Box...’ (student tool set) - March 2018 :

On Hammers :

Getting Hammered’ (part 1, shapes) - February 2018 :

Getting Hammered 2 – Dynamics’ - March 2018

Getting Hammered 3 – Setting Up’ - March 2018

(A general search of the over 1000 commentaries on the blog is sure to find other segments of interest!)

Author’s Note : This is an expanded version from the original that appeared in the Ontario Artisan Blacksmiths Association (OABA) newsletter ‘The Iron Trillium’ in Fall 2021, prepared on the request of Bill Ganoe of the Arizona Artist Blacksmith Association (AABA)

© 2022, Darrell Markewitz (please contact the author before re-printing)


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

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