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)

Thursday, January 06, 2022

Fathoms 2022 - Waiting Their Turn?

 Elora Sculpture Project 2022

 Fathoms 2022  : is a play on that average depth of the oceans against this year’s date (at 3,682 meters, actually 2013 fathoms).

 Waiting Their Chance?  : Who truly knows what creatures may inhabit the depths? How do we evaluate the potential of a life form with an intelligence so unlike our own?

    The reason Earth is a ‘blue planet’ when seen from space is that 70% of the surface is covered in oceans. 

    Unlike the flat dry land that human occupy, the average depth of those oceans is some 3700 metres - a huge volume to contain living organisms. We have only mapped the smallest fraction of even the bottom surfaces. (1) Even this is being done with remote scanning methods, without specialized equipment, humans find it difficult to descend below 60 meters. (2) 

    The truth is that we know less about the ocean depths than we know about the surface of the moon.

    The cephalopods, particularly octopuses, are clearly intelligent. They quickly solve problems, and can pass that information to others. They have excellent vision, adaptable in ways our eyes are not. They have eight arms to our two, with hundreds of manipulator suckers to our ten fingers. They have two limitations, one being that without bones, they are mostly (!) confined to a water environment. Most importantly, they do not live very long, so have such a short time to learn and develop. Evolving past this limitation alone could create startling results.

    Back during the Cold War years, the bet was that Cockroaches would inherit the Earth, after we humans had wiped ourselves off the surface in an orgy of nuclear fire.
The way our world will end is ‘with a whimper, not a bang’, as the Climate Change double barrels of Extreme Weather and Sea Level Rise will literally wash the Earth clean of us. 

Who waits in the wings to rise as the new pinnacle of creation?

Description :

    The main body of the sculpture is formed of a number of dished plates, suggestive of a shelled mollusc like an abalone or giant clam. From gaps in the segments, fluted sections of the interior mantle project, brightly coloured on their interior surfaces. 


    The shells have a series of punched openings, each containing a long knobbed protective spine to protrude upwards. From the lower edges of the shell emerge a set of eight tentacle like arms, the front pair forked to provide fine manipulation. A pair of eye stocks also mark the head end of the creature. 

Technical :

    The overall size is roughly 60 = 80 cm wide by 100 cm long. The spines lift to a height of about 150 cm, projecting outwards to a diameter of about 150 cm.
    The main body is composed of a series of  3 mm thick steel plates; The shell elements are dished to shape, with holes cut then punched outwards to produce a ‘puckered’ form. These are left the natural ‘from the forge’ surface on the shell pieces (so as to naturally rust with exposure over time). The inner surfaces of the sculpted mantle pieces are spray painted with graduated colours on their intertior surfaces.
The individual spines are mounted to coil springs into the framing inside the body shells, which allows them some subtle movement. The sets on the outside shells are forged from a piece of crimped mild steel pipe.

Prototype spine element, forged from pipe

The longer central set are forged from a single length of round stock, tapered to a long point and ending in a coiled basket like shape. All of these elements are painted with coloured highlights.
The separate arms are forged from angle, using a pinching technique, then curved and spiraled. There is a dark base paint, with bright highlights down the centre of the pinched interior. 


'Feather' element, here with dark paint and copper highlights

The eye stalks are forged using various pinching and shouldering techniques on small diameter steel pipe. This ends in a larger flared cone, inset with a solid patterned glass eye (these made by glass artist Shannon Scollard, commissioned for this sculpture).

As with other submissions made in the past to the Elora Sculpture project, this will be a new object, made specifically for inclusion to this presentation.


Artist's Statement :

    As a child, before I could do much more than dog paddle and well before I had my first simple face mask and fins, I was entranced by the television adventures of 'Mike Nelson' (played by Lloyd Bridges). I remember making my own twin cylinder, twin hose, 'SCUBA' gear out of cardboard paper towel rolls and 'diving' over the living room furniture. I would have been about 12 when I was gifted that first 'real' mask, proper fins and snorkel. (That last, an early US Divers simple J tube, which I still have, and is my oldest single possession.) I remember staying in the waters around Peterborough Ontario for so long at a session that I could hardly walk back on to dry land after. Through my early teens, I clearly remember the 'Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau' specials - a figure who has long been been one of my personal heroes.

    Simple economics and lack of opportunity limited me to skin diving, and within the confines of fresh water lakes and rivers in Central Ontario. It was not until University in 1974 that I could afford to take an actual (NAUI) training / certification course. Even for that time, this was a 'tough' program, taught by an ex-Navy frogman. The 'warmup' for each segment was swimming a quarter mile worth of lengths of the swimming pool. We had run out of time during that final pool water test, and ended up undertaking buddy breathing, blindfolded - and with no masks. 

     It has become painfully clear to me our current pandemic situation is a core a CLIMATE induced problem. Partially due to my own age (I guess) and most certainly from a life of 'making due' economically, I increasingly feel out of step with the Popular Culture around me. Over the months (going on years) of isolation due to COVID, I have been watching a lot of documentaries, a good number detailing the alarming state of the world's oceans, along with Cousteau, the observations of Sylvia Earle. ( 3 )  

Notes :

1)  " The ocean covers approximately 70% of Earth’s surface. It’s the largest livable space on our planet, and there’s more life there than anywhere else on Earth.
Consider the size of the ocean. Its surface area is about 360 million square kilometers (139 million square miles), and its average depth is 3,682 meters (12,080 feet / 2013 fathoms). Throughout these depths, there is life.
    " By 2020, less than 20% of the global seafloor had been mapped with modern high-resolution technology (multibeam sonar systems), usually mounted to ships, that can reveal the seafloor in greater detail. (The majority of this is limited to the Continental Shelves - areas directly bounded by dry land.) 

    " The deepest place in the ocean measures 11,034 meters (36,201 feet) and is found in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench, at a place called Challenger Deep. "

2)  ' The normally quoted recreational diving limit for divers with PADI Open Water certification is 18 metres (59 ft) - without greater training and experience.
    (I personally have dove to this depth a few times, although my usual are more in the 10 - 12 metre / 30 - 45 ft range)  

    ' Nitrogen narcosis becomes a hazard below 30 metres (98 ft) and specialized equipment using hypoxic breathing gas is required below 60 metres (200 ft) to lessen the risk of oxygen toxicity. '
    " The open-sea diving depth record was achieved in 1988 by a team of Comex divers who performed pipeline connection exercises at a depth of 534 metres (1,752 ft) in the Mediterranean Sea as part of the Hydra 8 program. These divers needed to breathe special gas mixtures because they were exposed to very high ambient pressure (more than 50 times atmospheric pressure).
    " An atmospheric diving suit allows very deep dives of up to 2,000 feet (610 m). These suits are capable of withstanding the pressure at great depth permitting the diver to remain at normal atmospheric pressure. This eliminates the problems associated with breathing high-pressure gases. "

3) Recommended :

Mission Blue / Silvia Earle : 2014

The Living Sea : 1995

Becoming Cousteau : 2021

Playing with Sharks - the Valerie Taylor Story : 2021

Perpetual Planet - Heroes of the Oceans : 2021


Images :

Image One : "This "full disk" image of the eastern Pacific Ocean from the GOES-11 satellite shows Hurricane Eugene (right) off the western Mexican coast on August 2, 2011 at 1500 UTC (11 a.m. EDT)." Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

Image Two : " An octopus named Paul II swims in his tank at Sea Life aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany, in 2010." Credit Roland Weihrauch / AFP/Getty Images

Image Three : Orange Rimmed Flatworm  Seen in ’Spineless - Portraits of Marine Invertebrates’ , pg 48. Susan Middleton, 2014, Abrams, New York

Image Four : Seen in 'Realm of the Giant Pacific Octopus' Credit Jett Britnell

Note that these images were all sourced via the internet, which makes giving correct credit difficult.


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.
For a detailed copyright statement : go HERE