Sunday, May 03, 2015

Message ? or the Medium ??

On 02/05/15 8:24 PM, Jason wrote:
Your site is amazing and something that has always interested me. I really wish you would put up better high resolution images that can be expanded to a much greater size. My vision is not what it used to be and I really like to look at the detail. Most of the images are just too small to really get an idea of the beauty of the creation, such as the Damascus steel.

Please understand that although I enjoy bladesmithing, I am not primarily a specialist blade maker. Any given year I might undertake 2 - 4 blade projects, usually only half as paid commissions, the others 'just cause I want to'. Don't be fooled by the large number of objects illustrated. You are looking (at this point) virtually a life time's worth of work. Obviously the most effort in communications has to go to the work that actually pays my bills.

A point to remember is that I personally think the distortions that comes from the effect of the hand hammer on a layered billet is important. Because of this, each individual object is quite distinctive. Although I appreciate the technical skills involved in creating uniform, regular, predictable patterns (Middle Eastern styles), as an artist, I chose deliberately not to do this.
My own work style is more based on the Northern European 'pattern welding' style (twisted multiple cores).

'Sword of Heroes' - 2000

Lack of high resolution (huge file) images?

A combination of reasons:

Largest being connection speeds. Only urban dwellers have access to high speed. I most certainly do not.
I have problems uploading larger images from my location (via an expensive direct satellite uplink dish).
On the download end - I also have problems viewing sites that insist on using giant files. (As this pisses me off personally, I intentionally have chosen not to restrict the viewing of my own web site in that fashion.)

Image processing. My best quality camera is an older (2008) 5 mega pixel. Any images before 2008 are on colour slides! Although I do have a full version of Photoshop (v. 7.0 - 2002) I am working primarily on a Mac G5 (1.8 speed ) using OS 10.4.6 (about 2003).

By far the biggest limit = Time. The Wareham Forge web site dates to the early to mid 1990's. It is huge. Guess who does all the coding, formatting, writing, image crunching? Attempting to keep up with the latest trends in internet use is a huge problem. Since its original inception, there is not almost constantly being new materials added, but the entire site has been re-designed at least three times. For the last several years, I have barely been able to keep up with just re-designing the site  for function and general appearance. Much less finding and re-formatting images from the original source copies.
The entire site itself is immense. It currently totals almost an entire gigabite of storage space. I really don't have an exact count of the contents, but there are about 200 + individual 'pages' - including over 2000 individual images.  Consider it 20 years worth of contributions.
At core the site is more a grand portfolio of work, more informational than sales oriented.

The internet is increasingly trend driven. The amount of raw labour required to keep up with this stuff is almost always not worth the time invested.
Although I do think I have certain skills in layout, writing, photography, and certainly do have the base knowledge of web site creation - it is * not * what I do.
I make stuff -
Documenting it and presenting it are two entirely different skill sets.

Too few people appreciate the vast amount of work that surrounds being an artisan - maker
. I typically work 10 hours a day (plus), over a 6 1/2 day week. Of that a 'good shop day' is 2 1/2 - 3 hours worth...

PS : Readers here should also consider the work invovled in preparing, writing, formatting this blog. This post makes 845 individual segments. Each typically takes roughly one hour to prepare and install....

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"Armoured Fish' - Elora Sculpture Project 2105

(adapted from the original submission)

For the 2014 Elora Sculpture Project entry, I looked back to a series of sculptural pieces I had developed during 2005 - 2010. This work was inspired by ancient fossil fishes and other sea creatures.

Considering the significance of the Grand River to both the history and the current environment of Elora, a sculptural fish seemed an ideal fit. There is also an obvious link to the limestone that forms the Gorge - and the fossils contained within.

'Armoured Fish' is a fairly large piece, as designed to be the full 48 inches long, with the width at about 12 inches maximum. The forged components are about 48 inches top to bottom, but the main structural support could easily be made any length to raise the sculpture higher up off the standard base mount. (The support member will be welded to a matching piece of 1/8 plate with triangular strengthening brackets.) Despite its large size, the competed sculpture's weight is estimated to be about 50 lbs.

The main components are forged from heavy mild steel, and are being left with their fire scale finish. This will allow these pieces to naturally oxidize as they are exposed to weather. The thickness of the metal ensures a durability measured in decades. In contrast, the various 'fins' are sculpted from stainless steel sheet, providing contrast in both finish and colour. The upper spines are capped with natural wave polished beach stones (limestone from Goderich).

'Shadefish' - illustrates the forging technique intended to be used for the spine element. A heavy 3 x 3/8 flat bar will be drawn to a long taper. Next a series of holes will be hot punched along that length. In between each hole, the bar will be crimped using a shouldering tool.

'Kelp' - illustrates the elements surrounding the main support (three total). Here angle is first flattened, then forged to a series of reversal curves with terminal spirals.

I am quite pleased to have been selected again this year as one of the dozen artists contributing to the 2015 Elora Sculpture Project. 

In keeping with the 'water' theme of Armoured Fish, it will be mounted at site #1 which is located at the south side of the bridge.

'Armoured Fish' will be offered for sale - the asking price is $2000.

I am in the process of forging elements for the final assembly of the piece. (Hopefully to be installed this coming Saturday - May 2).
Expect some later postings to detail the process involved.

2103 Contribution - 'Layers'
2014 Contribution - 'Spears of Summer'

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ancient Metals = Ancient Fluxes ?

On 25/04/15 4:02 PM, Joel wrote:
   ...  Since in our modern world, we use mild steel to mimic wrought iron, there is a need for a wire brush.  What can be used instead as a Viking Age tool?  I've tried sand with limited success.  

What you are appearing to refer too is the forge welding process.
It is quite true that iron oxide scale itself will not fuse. The metal surfaces need to be made, then remain, as clean as possible.
What the addition of a flux does is two things:
1) Coats the surface of the iron to prevent contact with oxygen. No oxygen = no scale formation
2) Under the pressure of the hammer stroke, the (then) liquid flux squirts out - washing with it any dirt or scale that might have gotten between the surfaces to be welded.
Careful control of the fire oxidation / reduction atmosphere also obviously important to reduce potential scale formation.

Recent (say post 1855) practice with our modern steel alloys is to add a flux to assist with both functions above. (The best way to ensure the success of a forge weld is to start with clean bare metal surfaces!)
Here in North America, which has natural supplies of borax, it is borax that is the usual flux applied. This can either be chemically purified (water removed) borax, which requires only small amounts, but also is quite expensive. A lot of smiths (including myself) just use much cheaper 'washing soda' borax from the grocery store (like '20 Mule Team' brand). This is certainly messier - but only a tenth the cost.
The 'traditional' practice from England / Europe is to use a fine white silica sand as the flux. I fully admit that I personally have not tried this. You certainly would need much higher temperatures to get this material to stick, much less melt on to, the metal surface. Problem there is that oxide scale is starting to form * before * a modern steel has gotten hot enough to allow that same sand to fuse to, thus protect, the metal surface.  (One warning bell here - this practice likely pre-dates the introduction of our modern steels.)

Forge welding a piece of bloomery iron. (Image by Neil Peterson ?)
Ancient type bloomery iron especially, but also 'antique' (pre 1855) wrought iron have a quite different physical structure than modern steels. Both these materials always contain small amounts of glassy slag remaining from their initial smelting process. So in effect, both these materials are * self fluxing *, in so much as the glass contained tends to 'float' to the metal surface at forging temperatures. How much so would certainly depend on the initial purity (read quality) of the starting bar. A lower quality bar would contain more slag, which also makes it de-laminate more easily (but in combination should be easier to weld back together). This 'weld while forging' process is often over exaggerated by those less experienced with historic type materials. (You do * not * have to start * every * forging step at welding heat!)

We of course can never know exactly just how individual blacksmiths from ancient times might have undertaken specific forging steps. The pronounced grain in corroded bloomery iron objects can inform us about how the metal might have been folded and welded. On a microscopic level, remaining inclusions of certain slag compositions might suggest addition, and composition of a fluxing agent. It may prove possible to make some guesses based on close examination of 'hearth bottom' slags. Even collection and examination of tiny pieces of slag spattered out from the welding hammering itself.

On your observation on use of modern steel wire brushes to clean metal surfaces. Obviously there is no duplicate of this type of tool in the Viking Age tool box. I would suggest that the possible method would be to use a large 'whetstone', over the surface to be cleaned / welded, likely like modern practice of brushing, when the metal is hot. Remember that many of these whetstones are huge to modern eyes - imagine a block the size of a two by four as long as your arm! If made of a rougher sandstone, such a block would certainly allow for very swift cleaning of scale off a hot metal surface.

Viking Age whetstones - Ribe Museum - Ribe, Denmark.
It is important to remember always that our modern steels do * not * replicate the handling properties of historic metals. What may be easily accomplished with modern alloys and also modern coal / gas forges (and big anvils!) might be quite different than the working processes used with ancient metals and tool sets.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Pre-Roman Iron Age in North Europe?

Scott wrote on the Bladesmith's Forum:

I have a hard time piecing together the history of Europe in the early Iron Age... Pre-Roman.   I get that east and north were generally Germanic and to the west was mostly Celtic.   I see plenty of examples of Celtic swords and I see the single edge Germanic swords and war knives.. and I know that the Germanic tribes adopted Roman swords at some point.. but what double edge swords were of pure Germanic origin .. if any?

Another thing I'm curious about but see very little in the literature is the nature of interaction between the Celts and Germans.  Obviously it was either trade or war ... but what details and evidence?  Obviously there would have been no written account until the Romans became involved.  But what does archaeology tell us?

If you define 'Iron Age' as 'marking the use of iron as material' - then the true Iron Age runs from at least about 1000 BC in Northern Europe.

One of the other definition problems is that mainland Europeans / British / Scandinavians all see the frame work of their own past marked by different events. So much of what us English speakers have access to is from Britain. The line between 'before the Celts' and after this invasion is fuzzy at best, and does appear to also mark the transition from a primary Bronze Age into the early Iron Age. The Roman period has sharp lines for initial start and theoretical end.  Then there is another fuzzy period around the 'Saxon Shores', when the 'Germanic' Angles and Saxons are invading and colonizing.
Complicating this is the whole very modern concept of national boarders. I mean, does a person living in North west France about 200 AD part of 'French' or 'Celtic' or 'Gallish'  culture? (Or maybe even some weird mix of Roman plus all of the above?)

Part of a big problem for me is the whole concept of the 'Viking Age', which is defined by two British only events : Lindesfarne in 783 and (usually) the Norman invasion of 1066. Some argument at least can be made for an end to the true Viking Age some place about 1000 - 1100, with the growth of centralized kingdoms and gradual adoption of a more feudal structure. The notion that the Scandinavian culture sprung to life fully formed overnight is obviously unrealistic!

I was a bit surprised when I managed my one trip to Denmark that there they break the lines at 'Iron Age' to 1000 AD and then 'Medieval', running afterword. (I guess I should not have been!). North Germany and Denmark into Scandinavia was relatively untouched by Roman culture (quite unlike the rest of Europe).

Some histories out of mainland Europe will mark 'Migration Period', which usually is some (again fuzzy) time 'post Roman - pre Medieval'.  This is at least a bit better than the older seen line of 'Roman to Medieval', given as the 'Dark Ages'. (Honesly, I'm never quite sure just when that is supposed to cover - at least in terms of end dates.)

'Migration Era' grave goods set - fighting knife and small tool knife

(left) 'Celtic Iron Age' - c 100 BC
Iron sword locked into decorated bronze scabbard with cast bronze fittings.

If your interest is clearly on * object *, your best bet might be just digging into the archaeological record. Not a simple task, as you are unlikely to find a single point reference that is going to help you. Its going to be a tedious task of checking dates and find locations.
One of the huge problem is one of simple survival of iron objects. The Celts of La Tene are a primary * Iron Age * culture. But what do we find? Bronze objects! Iron swords corroded and locked into decorative bronze scabbards, with only rare x-rays giving any clue at all about physical structure of the blades.

Complicating this is the whole modern tendency to apply our current 'best technical practice' backwards. 'Steel' means something quite different when applied as a descriptor by an archaeologist to an Iron Age blade - than it means to a modern bladesmith.  Original bloomery iron materials most often had little or no carbon - and also have a quite different physical structure from our modern alloys. It is clear when you look at primary archaeological reports that our current practices of heat treating were only being developed and more randomly applied through the 'Late Iron Age'.

See also some earlier posts:
'Iron from Celtic to Early Medieval'
'Iron Age vs Viking Age'

Exploring the Viking Age in Denmark

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

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