Thursday, April 18, 2024

Beginning Blacksmith - Book now published!


Beginning Blacksmithing: 


'I wish someone had told ME that!'

Paperback – March 17, 2024

Have you wondered exactly how to get started as a hobby blacksmith?
This book offers valuable advice on how to get started the RIGHT way, and may both keep you working safely - and save you money on those first tool purchases!

Topics include :
• Getting the right HAMMER
• Firing the FORGE
• Picking an ANVIL
• Working SAFE
• Tools and workshop
• Motion Dynamics
• Picking a Course

This book is based on over 45 years personal experience working at the forge, since 1992 as a professional artisan blacksmith at the Wareham Forge in Ontario, Canada.
Darrell Markewitz has guided hundreds of first time blacksmiths through an ‘Introduction to Blacksmithing’.

6 x 9" format

160 pages

black & white

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Mounting Fire Base Activities

 Mounting Fire Based Activities

Considering Ground Surface Impact


A physical demonstration of many crafts activities requires the use of high temperatures as a transformational method. Those involved with living history presentations have a secondary problem, as modern generated heat sources (torches) or containments (metal ‘fire bowls’) are obviously not historic methods.

Land owners may have established a ‘no ground fires’ rule. There are several underlaying (logical?) reasons :

- Not wanting surface lawns to be damaged.

- Not wanting to have pits dug into the ground

- Concern about transportation of fire wood, or gleaning activities

- Concern about potential dangerous spread of a poorly managed fire

- Concern about the liability aspects of burn injuries

Generally these concerns are expressed by three commonly stated rules :

       - Only fires on raised metal fire bowls

- Only fires in specific pre-determined and equipped locations.

- No open fires of any kind

Event organizers need to be fully informed of the technical requirements related to individual craft methods. The physical size or working dynamic of a specific activity may itself impose limitations on how to properly and safely layout a fire based heat source. This is especially the case for historic demonstrations which will require the use of wood or charcoal fuel. A good example would be glass bead making, where modern practice is to use bottled gas torches the historic method is using a small enclosed clay furnace, charcoal fueled.

Often the response when contacting event Organizers, who may be constrained by simple rules dictated by land owners, is something like ‘You can work at the edge of the single shared camp fire.’ This is not a workable solution, as craft working requires considerable control of fire sources, if not specialized builds entirely. The desire for a companionable ‘fire circle’, or need for group cooking are just not compatible for the technical requirements for metals casting as one clear example.

There are a number of possible solutions that can be utilized by conscientious and experienced crafts workers that should fulfill at least the requirement for general safety and prevention of ground surface damage. Artisans need to explain these solutions in clear detail, Organizers need to understand physical requirements.

Contained Fires

Many historical craft techniques utilize fires inside specifically fire proof containers. Examples would be small glass bead making and metal casting furnaces. Larger and longer duration fires for ore smelting, pottery firing, even bake ovens, again all require durable containments. In all cases the purpose of these builds is specifically to hold the fire inside, concentrate and control these fires for correct function over time. Because of this technical requirement for fine control of heat, constant management of a very specific sized fire is necessary. In all these cases, the fires are normally contained inside clay or brick walled structures, and can not be in any way considered ‘open’.

Even the most extreme of all the potential fire based historic methods, bloomery iron smelting, requires a structure intentionally designed to withstand internal temperatures in excess of 1350 °C, over a day long operation.

Experiment / Demonstration of ‘Celtic’ bronze casting by Rey Cogswell during their Master’s studies at University College Dublin in 2018. Clay walled melting furnace to rear, stone walled crucible warming fire in front, both mounted above ground surface.

It is understood here that without general permission to use ground fires, any structures using pit or banked construction can not be used. Given the large disruption to ground surface that is required for larger dug in kilns or furnaces, Artisans should always ensure specific permission before undertaking these builds.

Surface Protection

For Organizers, recognizing the added value provided by fire based demonstrations, the simplest solution is to position those activities on ground which can not be damaged. An area already of plain dirt or gravel, like the edge of a parking surface. This also prevents any possible accidental spread of fire effects beyond the working area.

Often land owner rules will state ‘raised fire, just because this is the easiest description. It is expected that Organizers will be logical when considering the following long proven options for safety and limiting surface damage. The question needs to be considered : ‘How high does ‘raised’ actually mean?

The easiest way for Artisans to avoid any potential damage to surfaces is to first lay some type of completely fire proof covering down and build the furnace or fire on top of this. The cheapest, fastest and most protective method is to lay down a group of standard concrete paving slabs. These slabs are typically 45 mm thick. Using four pieces at 60 x 60 cm yields a completely fire proof barrier big enough for the largest furnaces. Although a bit bulky to transport, these slabs are durable and available at any building supply, at a 2024 cost of roughly $12 each.

Iron Smelting Furnace built on concrete pavers preserving a grass lawn. At Western Michigan University, International Congress in Medieval Studies, 2013.

Smaller furnaces can be built on special purpose refractory plates, such as pottery kiln shelves, or even on slabs of thin stone.

Demonstration of the high temperature Aristotle iron re-melting furnace. This furnace is about 20 cm at the base, and safely sits on a refractory plate. At a Society for Creative Anachronism event.

If absolutely conserving lawn grass is a consideration, lay down a standard wooden shipping pallet, then place the same concrete slabs on top. This method was first devised in 2005, when a full iron smelting demonstration was mounted on archaeologically sensitive ground (Canadian National Blacksmith’s Conference at Annapolis Royal NS). It has been used repeatedly to also conserve concrete flooring and decorative lawns, and proven to have virtually no impact after being removed. Positioning several lengths of 4 x 4 lumber will also leave a protective air space below the concrete plates.

For smaller furnaces, the same effect can be achieved by laying down a couple of cut to fit pieces of standard 2 x 4 lumber. In either case, and potential heat transmitted downwards through the fire proof plate is vented by the air space created underneath


Faced with the problem of not damaging archaeological ground in Britain, but still wanting to create a historic looking solution, the long standing living history group Regia Angolorum (back about 1990?) developed a protective design suggested by a panel from the Bayeux Tapestry. 


In it’s simplest form this is a set of clay bricks, placed loosely on the ground, contained in a wooden framed box. These can be covered with a thin layer of sand, which both hides the more modern bricks and also will fill any gaps between bricks. The basic design can be improved by laying a piece of light sheet metal down first. More elaborate equipment is also constructed along the same principle, with use of short legs to lift the entire surface clear of the ground. This form is more commonly seen in European re-enacting, where the problem of not marring archaeologically significant ground is always present.

No details of who / where. The fire surface appears to be a 10 cm deep bed of sand seen to the left end. – uncredited internet source

These fire boxes, on the ground or raised, were introduced as a response to a specific problem inside a specific region, they are also being applied for cooking purposes only. A slightly smaller version may be suitable for supporting smaller furnaces (metal / glass bead work). These activities require quite specific heights for safe and efficient working. Again, physical transport needs to be considered, with table frames, crates of bricks and pails of sand.

It is worth remembering that the most common solution suggested, a completely modern stamped steel dish, is not suitable physically for containing a craft working furnace or kiln. What is required for any of this equipment is a flat supporting surface, not a depressed bowl.

Value of Experience

Organizers need remain aware of the value of the accumulated experience of individual Artisans. This may be considerable, and certainly any long working artisan will be fully aware of the operating dynamics of their heat sources and safety measures involved. Rather than applying a simple blanket rule, individual cases need full consideration. Organizers should never forget the considerable effort undertaken by Artisans, and the overall value any physical demonstration brings to their event.

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Wednesday, April 03, 2024

the 'French Nail' : Field Expedience

I was recently contacted by a long ago army buddy, who was looking to have some replicas made of an early World War One object. 
Image from the Imperial War Museum

'French Nail' fighting knife ['Clous Français']

The reference he provided was from the Imperial War Museum

These were not 'regular issue' weapons, but were made at the front by blacksmiths working primarily as farriers, who's primary role was shoeing all the horses and mules used for the bulk of transport in that conflict. 

The basic raw material was supplied by converting 'screw pickets', steel posts used for holding strands of barbed wire in entanglements.

Photograph by Lt. J.W. Brooke : 1917-10-23 (IMW)

 The IWM description provides the following dimensions (of the sample pictured above) :

Depth 11 mm

Height 318 mm

Width 54 mm 

Weight 0.314 kg

As is my normal practice, I took the reference image and converted it to life size, and printed off a copy. 

My first surprise is the diameter of the round bar used. I would have expected French metric sizes at 10 mm / 3/8 inch. That 11mm is just a strange size, converting to imperial to 7/16. These knives were also made and used by both British and American troops, where I would expect 1/2 (12.5 mm) stock. Given the few clear reference images I could find of British (hence also Canadian) troops with screw pickets, I decided to use 1/2 round mild steel stock.

In use, the hand would grip inside the ring, around the blade side. The blade would point upwards from the thumb. This allows for a 'low line' stab to the gut. The heavy loop of bar thus runs over the fingers, creating a 'knuckle duster' effect for punches. The knife is primarily a stabbing tool, so the long point is more important than the cutting edges. Simple, brutal, efficient.

From the life size image, I pulled the following additional measurements :

Blade : 20 mm / 3/4 inch wide x 15 cm / 6 inches long

Handle Interior : 80 mm / 3 1/8 long x 30 mm / 1 1/8 wide

The handle interior space was a bit puzzling, being a bit on the small size. I have fairly small hands and would have found the historic sample a tight fit.

The two replicas, upper as diamond / lower as triangle (on 1/4 " grid)

As a primary thrusting weapon, the blade cross section could have been either diamond or triangle - either would produce two cutting edges. The most likely would have been a more standard diamond, but the triangle results in a thicker, and thus more rigid, central spine. None of the images or descriptions I could easily find via the internet specified which. As a forging test, I decide to make one of each cross section. The one closest to the reference sample (smaller hand grip) as diamond. The second replica was made with an intentionally larger interior grip size to fit a more modern physical build, and I used a triangle cross section. I was a bit surprised to find the forging steps required for either turned out to be pretty much the same. The diamond needed forging on four sides, but the triangle I found needed more control with the hammer blows (although admittedly not a shape I make that often).

I also made some trials working 1/2 round into a triangle bottom die. The die I had on hand was more of an equilateral triangle, so not ideal for the wider final shape required. With the proper shaped die made up, the time to forge the triangle cross section would be greatly reduced, and the forging would produce both a significant central spine as well as thinner cutting edges. This most certainly would speed the work if a smith had a large number of requests for this knife. (Worth noting that the sample does not show the more exaggerated cross section suggested by the test pieces I made.) 

Monday, March 25, 2024

'History in the Wind' - past work as prototypes

 The last posting showed my design rough for 'History in the Wind', but was thin on details of what the individual weather vane units would actually look like!

I have always been interested in wind motion objects, and have made a great number of both conventional weather vanes and what I call 'sculptural windbiles' in the past.

For the actual submission to the Paisley Street Sculpture Project, I had included images of past works, most replicas or interpretations of historic objects from the spread of history represented :

3) The Norse - ...Bronze Weather Boards like this element were fixed to the ship’s prow, with weighted ribbons moving to indicate wind direction and speed. 

Copper Weatherboard - one of a set of four, early 1990's

5) Quebec - The most common early Canadian weather vane is the rooster or cock.

Copper Weathercock, lightly sculpted, mid 1990's

6) Upper Canada - As settlement moved westward into what is now Ontario, ... the Horse becoming one of the most popular.

Galvanized sheet steel, mid 1990's

7) Into the Future - ... the spinning cups of the Anemometer, to measure wind speed. 

'La Tene Rotor', stainless steel, 2012


For other examples of past work see :

Weathervanes -

Sculptural Windbiles -

Saturday, March 23, 2024

'History in the Wind' - selected for Paisley Street Sculpture Project


" On behalf of the Paisley Artscape Society, thank you so much for your submission for the 2024 edition of the Paisley Street Sculpture Project.
I am pleased to tell you that the Artscape Board chose your submission "History In The Wind" as one of the 2 sculptures to be displayed in Paisley this year.  The Board really appreciated the concept of time as captured by your design and the way it connected to the celebration of Paisley's 150th anniversary as a village."

 “History in the Wind’

What is the weather? One of the defining characteristics of Canadians everywhere has been our discussion (often complaints) about the weather. Through Canada’s long history, weather vanes have had symbolic meaning, with specific cultural / regional styles.  
Over the decades, with my connection to museums throughout Canada, weathervanes have been a area of both interest and work. This has included reproductions of specific artifacts, new work inside historic design traditions, and extension into my own ‘windbile’ series of sculptural objects.

History in the Wind’, overall, consists of a series of individual elements, representing various historical and cultural traditions, stacked chronologically one above another on a central support. In this the rough form also echoes First Nations ‘totem pole’ memorials.

1) The Land - As Canadians, again almost universally, we are strongly tied to place. Since the Canadian Shield runs under almost all our country - and almost links the whole country side to side, a block of granite forms the base of the sculpture. I have proposed random piece of glacier dragged and smoothed stone - here representing the Land before the advent of humans.
2) First Nations - Obviously the First Nations Peoples inhabited the Land for thousands of years before the recent history of Canada. For at least Eastern Peoples, the Turtle is important in traditions about the creation of the world. Here the figure of Turtle is rendered in a thick slab of simply surface carved wood. This element, although mobile, is not balanced to shift under anything but the most harsh of winds. This is intentional, representing the long duration of First Nation’s traditional beliefs.
3) The Norse - The Scandinavians of the late Viking Age were the first Europeans to travel to our East Coast, although admittedly only with a brief stay. Bronze Weather Boards like this element were fixed to the ship’s prow, with weighted ribbons moving to indicate wind direction and speed. The figure punched into the metal surface is the World Serpent, thought to entwine the World.
4) Early Europeans - The first European voyages to their ‘New World’ start in the early 1500’s, what is really the end of the Medieval period. At this time, the ‘Banner’ design was common. The element was created out of individually hand forged bars, the whole riveted together - the construction method chosen here. The date of 1605 represents the founding Champlain’s original settlement at Port Royal in Nova Scotia.
5) Quebec - The most common early Canadian weather vane is the rooster or cock. With its ties to Christian symbolism, this remained especially true in Quebec. The historic samples range from simple sheet iron cut outs, carved wood, and hammered tin plate and elaborate copper sheet. The Weathercock seen here, executed in copper, is based one from Saint Georges.
6) Upper Canada - As settlement moved westward into what is now Ontario, the taste of the English speaking immigrants effected choice of design, with the Horse becoming one of the most popular. These were often made of tin plate, thin iron sheets with a bright white tin coating (now worn to black with time). The pattern here is loosely based on a number of vanes from Central Ontario.
7) Into the Future - As time progressed, commercial stamped weathervanes, sized as decoration rather than function, started to replace the larger often self made figures. With the shift (in my own life time) of Canada from primarily a rural to primarily urban dwellers, people are increasingly cut off from even being able to feel the wind at all. Increasingly, suburban home owners were able to install simple weather forecasting instruments. This includes the spinning cups of the Anemometer, to measure wind speed. For the top element the form of this functional instrument is warped to create an element as much eye catching as useful. It incorporates six spiral shaped individual arms, each with a inserted moving ball element

Technical Details:

This sculpture was originally designed for the 2017 ‘Canada 150’ competition, but was not selected.

- The installed sculpture will stand roughly 9 feet about the base mount.
- The individual elements all shift with the wind, the widest being the Banner, at roughly 5 feet above ground level and sweeping out roughly a five foot diameter circle (so 2 1/2 feet each direction from the base). Note that this element has the least amount of ‘fin’ so will require the most wind to push it.
- In keeping with the requirement  for long term durability, many of the structural elements will be created from stainless steel. Primarily this relates to the central support, which will be composed of a single length if 3/4 inch diameter threaded rod.  The individual elements are secured via nuts with washers also of stainless. The individual bearings will be of a weather proof type.
- The base flanges and central upright will all be permanently welded together. The remainder of the elements plus their hardware will be threaded onto the upright at the installation site.

Asking Price for ‘History in the Wind’ can only be estimated at this point.
This primarily because of the unknown cost of sourcing some of the major components.

I have undertaken considerable work creating individual weather vanes over the years :

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Monday, March 18, 2024

History in the Dark - Canadian Museum of History

 I had traveled to Ottawa in later February to give some lecture segments at a local SCA (medieval) event. I took the opportunity to add any extra day to the trip for a visit to one of the many museums in Canada's capital. I had considered both the Diefenbunker, the War Museum, or the Aviation & Space, none of which I had seen before. Truth was I really was hoping to see something that would lead so some artistic inspiration (but not the kind of thing likely at the National Gallery).

So I chose to go back to the Canadian Museum of History, located just over the bridge in Hull.

Now I have not been to what was once the Canadian Museum of Civilization for over a decade. I was well aware, through my contacts in the archaeology community, of the re-engineering of the museum's research, programing and presentation under Steven Harper's government from 2012 -2017. 

As someone fairly familiar with the general sweep of Canadian History, I was extremely displeased with the what had been done.  

It is clear that simple politics has shaped what has been included and how it has been presented.  

The old presentation included simulated room settings to display objects. These started from the impressive West Coast First Nations hall, with timber building fronts and totem poles. As you moved into the modern era, there were recreated street scenes and individual buildings. All used to situate objects in context. A highlight for me was the use of living history staff, mainly working as 'animators', ie presenting set piece historic based and scripted presentations, followed with more free form public interactions. Overall the lighting was bright and the spaces airy. 

As an important aside here, regular readers are aware that I have significant bias here. I have worked as a living history interpreter at a number of Settlement Era sites. I have made many replicas and reproductions for both static and interpretive presentations, plus worked as a consultant on a number of traveling exhibits. Most significant is my creation of the 'Norse Encampment' program for L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC, and my long association with Parks Canada for that site.


The new presentation is dimly lit, overall the feeling is being in a dark shrine to the past. 

A very carefully selected and limited view of the past as well.


The front public spaces now only contain First Nations related objects, primarily major modern sculptural works. Yes, I agree that these are impressive and important pieces. There had originally been a 'European' based diorama as well. This being a representation of the first landing at Vinland by the Norse, with two figures and a detailed replica of a small boat and associated goods. 

This is gone now, who knows where all those pieces ended up? Sorry Mr. Harper, my feeling is that First Nations are being shoved forward, as a tossed bone showing 'see, we know you were here first' Especially since it is the monumental scale *contemporary* work of First Nations ethnic artists being featured to exclusion.  (The fact that "Indigenous peoples, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis" are given free admissions, while all others pay any day but Thursday or Canada Day, kind of re-enforces this.)

" The galleries on Level 1 of the Museum present exhibitions relating principally to Canada’s First Peoples: their histories, cultural identities, artistic expressions and traditional and contemporary ways of life.

On Level 2 there are three galleries devoted to changing exhibitions. Some of these exhibitions are designed by the Canadian Museum of History; others are produced by Canadian as well as international institutions.

The Canadian History Hall is located on levels 3 and 4. This exhibition traces Canada’s history from the dawn of human habitation to the present day. " (quoted from the CMH web site)

A couple of key notes to that description:

Take a look at the allocation of space, via the Museum's printed guide

Level 2 also contains the IMAX theatre, the gift shop and significantly the Canadian Children's Museum. Which you should note is not even listed as containing 50% of level two in the description above. 

Level 3 and especially Level 4 are reduced in raw size over the lower levels. The combined exhibit space is about equal to that on Level 1.  (I freely admit that I was getting burned out by the time I got to Level 4, which is 'Contemporary - post 1914', and did not view that. That gallery was brightly lit.)

The Canadian History Hall starts with the Norse in Vinland. (French first, then English, so reduce what you see in half for duplication.) One Panel. Kind of...

Objects? 1) a pile of wood chips, 2) a pile of iron smelting slag. There is absolutely no description or explanation of why either of those fragments mean anything. There are no replicas of the two most significant artifacts, the soapstone spindle whorl or the (diagnostic) bronze ring pin. (There are lots of other replicas other places.)

The next case is 'Arctic People's First Interactions with Europeans' 

Object #8 - number tag is 1cm

Sorry about the image quality, shooting in the dark (see below)

The objects presented include about half that are actually of Greenland Norse origin. It is significant that the objects are actually described as being found in Arctic People's sites, so this origin is hazy at best. Especially the difference between object 10, actually of Arctic People's creation, (and highly significant) and the other two iron artifacts, reworked from broken European objects. (That knife badly photographed as #8 was clearly to my eyes a broken spear tip.) This major technological difference is completely glossed over.

As you proceed through Post Contact Canada, roughly equal space is given to objects from French and English European origins, and those used by First Nations. 9 about 1/3 ?) Primarily these are 'memories of the Rich and Famous' (you know : 'pocket watch of the first Governor of Quebec' ).

Again, Mr. Harper? I understand that you want to ensure that everyone remembers that Six Nations on the Grand River also fought in the War of 1812. But the CMH has already given over roughly 50% + of the total exhibit floor space to exclusively First Nations culture and history via Level 1. 

Looking at the First People's gallery...

Although I do understand there is a simple collections / preservation problem with First Nations materials. The bulk of the objects on display in the First People's Hall, if actually 'historic artifacts', are late 1800's dated. The bulk of these are, as expected, wood or plant material. Many objects are in fact of completely modern creation, and made by First Nations artisans. These are most often not listed as 'replicas' or 'reproductions' however (1) They are simply credited to the artisan with the actual production date. 

Double images on object descriptions from shooting through glass

Note the complete lack of any detail here. This does say 'model' (one of the few so described). Is this life sized? What is it made of? What is the history behind this? Fish trap used how? What is 'Haisle' (a Nation, a Location?) Without proper context, there can not be understanding.

Another bias point. When I was researching 'What Dreams They Had' I ran into a huge problem deciphering the difference between 'traditional' / historical / ancient. Too often 'traditional' came down to 'what my grand mother told me' - with no appreciation that what was done 200 years ago could possibly be different, Much less 600 years ago = pre-European. 

I found too often the background for objects in this gallery, when presented, completely missed this quite important difference between what is well understood to be a shattered 'tradition', an a possible difference in historic practice. To be fair, the overall gallery presentation is attempting to illustrate material culture within separate regional Nations.

I do understand that museums hand over much of the control to the presentation of their collections to graphic designers, who often have little to no understanding of the objects they are presenting. Drama is more important than clarity all too often. The average viewer does not read beyond a couple of words. Context is only provided by loose groupings of objects, often shoved together for effect more than historic realities. Overall I found much of the First Peoples Gallery suffered from this stripped down information. Especially with simple things like functional objects. Why is that basket in any way different than the last basket presented?

What are the materials used here? What source? Not given on the label!

Shooting in the Dark?

Look, I understand that at least SOME of the objects include paint or dye. Somewhat reduced lighting should be expected. But the First People's and History Hall Level A materials were in the dark. Most especially the 'West Coast Nations' materials. From an artistic standpoint, these were the only materials on display that caught my design eye. Below I will show the images as shot - and after considerable modifications via photoshop. (1) Note that this selection is from objects that particularly struck me as possible inspiration points for my own future work in one way or another.

Painted, this one of the better lit objects!

This was so dark, I could not get a usable image of the description.

'Headdress', worn like a helmet


It is hard not for me to assume the whole purpose of the near darkness used in the West Coast Nations section specifically was to create an intentional 'shrine' like atmosphere. I noticed anyone attempting conversation was speaking in hushed or whispired tones. Why?

Now of course I had my drawing book - and did make my own scratch drawings of some of these pieces.

If I am feeling generous, I may undertake a second blog posting illustrating some of the other objects that caught my eye...


1) The only thing I studied at all four years of art school was photography. The camera used here is a 2008 Olympus E-300 (8 mpx) with a 3.5 aperture lens. Most of the exposures were hand held (braced against the case where possible) from 1/8 - 1/4 second exposures. I freely admit my hands are not as steady as they once were. But that does not account for the lack of light to enable even vaguely correct exposures.


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

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No duplication, in whole or in part, is permitted without the author's expressed written permission.
For a detailed copyright statement : go HERE