Friday, June 23, 2017

Iron Smelting in the Celtic Age (three)

In casting around for prototypes for the upcoming demonstration project at the Scottish Crannog Centre, I keep coming back to the work of Thijs van de Manakker.

Thijs works at / with the Eindhoven Museum in the Netherlands. This is a living history museum, centred from pre-history to the Medieval period.
One of the activities there, which Thijs has lead over the years, is experimental iron smelting based on the Celtic Iron Age. You may note that the video record below is from 1999 - two years before I even started inv

(Below ported over from YouTube - you may have to click on the title to get the intended content. The full set of videos are on Thijs' web site.)

Looking over the process illustrated above - these are the things I notice (*):

1) Build : The mix is a fairly rough blend of chopped straw, what appears to be locally dug clay, and sand. The consistency is softer than I normally use, with what appears to be a sequence of thick rings applied, then left to sun dry to firm up before the next layer is added.
- This method results in very thick wall, with clear breaks between the layers. The outside is clearly blended, but the interior has been left very rough. I did wonder at this when I initially watched this first video (but the logic becomes clear later).

2) Layout : The completed furnace appears to stand roughly 70 cm tall. It is clearly flask shaped, looking about the same outside diameter at the base as the height.
- Given the thick walls, this suggests an interior diameter at tuyere level of about 50 cm, perhaps 30 cm at the top opening. (All WAG).
- The furnace is a slag pit type (seen briefly at the start of the construction phase, later in the smelt when slag is drained). It looks like this is a smaller pit, lined with sticks, is placed to the front of the furnace below the tap arch. (Rather than a full pit under the entire furnace?).
- There are two tuyeres, set at base level, opposite each other and so also 90° to the tap arch. These are both basically set dead flat. (I would be concerned about slag levels.)
- The actual tuyeres appear to be lengths of modern steel pipe. These are quite long, the purpose appearing to keep the bellows operators well back from the furnace itself. (Likely done for both safety and to keep the working area around the furnace clear. This becomes especially helpful during the extraction phase.)
- There is no specific way to tell if these were set proud in the interior - or how far they may have burned back during the smelt.

3) Air : There are two good sized leather drum bellows supplying air. Obviously there is a flap input valve on the top. It is not clear if there is an exhaust valve.
- From the video you can see the pump rate is about one stroke per second each.
Also that the two bellows are being blown identically, with one operator setting the pace, the second (less experienced?) following.
- A (very WAG) guess on the size of each is about 30 cm wide, with about 30 - 35 cm height of air being expelled each stroke. This (extremely WAG) suggests about 3 litres per stroke / 180 litres per minute / 360 LpM combined. Taken against that estimated 50 cm ID, I would consider this marginal air volume, and likely to effect the bloom yield and density.

4) Slag Management : The tuyeres are set up fixed and in a straight line. (Not the Y tube with removable plug / view port that we use.) This means all the slag control is in the hands, and ears (!) of the smelt master.
- As the tuyeres are set flat to the ground, this is certain to result in the slag bowls forming high, requiring careful monitoring to ensure the tuyeres are not 'drowned'.
- Given the lower volumes of air blast, I would expect either two separate slag bowls, or jointed to a lobed shape (like a kidney bean), shallower in the centre.
- In the later stages of the smelt, you can see several slag taps. The bowl is punctured at the front edge - I would suspect on a diagonal back to the individual slag bowls. The excess slag runs to drip into the front pit.

5) Extraction : The logic behind the construction style of the furnace, with the corregated interior, becomes clear here. The lines between the individual rings of clay are easily broken free, allowing the furnace to be dismantled in easy steps as the charcoal burns down.
- The use of the wooden chisel tool is a nice touch. A bit lost when the clearly modern metal tongs are used to pick up the clay pieces. (But certainly much easier than using a more historic wood shovel or wooden folded tongs.)
- Once the charcoal is burned down close to tuyere level, you can clearly see the 'bright spot' outlining the two separate bloom masses. As expected, these are located just to the front of each of the two tuyeres.
- On the extraction and first quick cleaning / compaction of each, it is clear that the iron produced is mainly a number of smaller pieces most significantly quite lacy in consistency. (Note how much slaggy 'mother' breaks away on hammering, and how quickly the hot iron core collapses into a very small mass.) The last piece extracted appears to be as large as all the others combined. I'm not surprised it was formed on the tuyere side of the 'lead' bellows operator.

6) Compaction : The use of the hand held stones initially is certainly a 'primitive' touch. I'm not sure exactly how accurate that might be historically? (Use of hand held stones was recorded in African traditional method, but wood hafted stone hammers are certainly part of the archaeological record by the Celtic Iron Age.)
- The use of a second, quite different, 'slot' forge is clear for the compaction phase. - Quickly the hammer stones are abandoned in favour of metal head sledges.
The piece being worked is appears to be the largest iron mass extracted. Over the sequence you can see it compacting nicely to a dense iron billet. It certainly looks to be working up like good soft iron, judging from the effect of the hammering!

The end result (2 kg?) is worked to resemble the 'double pyramid' trade bars known from the Celtic Iron Age.

(*) Although I know Thijs loosely through past e-mail conversations, I freely admit at the point of writing this I have not specifically approached him on more accurate details. Specifically for exact measurements and things like consumption rates and yields. I will be doing so!

WAG = Wild Ass Guess

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Iron Smelting in the Celtic Iron Age (two)

From the last post, you can see that the upcoming bloomery iron smelting demonstration (Scottish Crannog Centre - August 5 - 6) is going to be framed:
500 BC
Scotland (ideally the area around Perth)
Iron Age technology ('Middle' ?)
'Celtic' / pre Roman

What might that look like?

- As with other early history bloomery iron smelting, the furnaces are likely to be small.
- Air delivery is going to be produced by smaller, human powered equipments (see the earlier discussion on possible bellows types).
- The ore type most commonly exploited is a primary bog iron ore.
- The furnaces may be some version of a 'slag pit', rather than the later 'slag tapping' type

My normal 'go to' is Radomir Pleiner's Iron in Archaeology, the European Bloomery Smelters.
This is almost the only overview survey of Early Iron for Europe. This reference is however not organized in a fashion that makes sorting to a specific geography / cultural / date sample the easiest. There is in fact not very much indicated as 'Celtic' in the index. (The archaeological examples are sorted by furnace construction type, and only into major forms, largely based on the slag management method employed.)
Typical of the results of attempting an internet based research into Early Iron in Scotland

Now, the raw dynamics of a bloomery furnace remain the same for anyone (1) :
- Furnace needs to be constructed of some material which can withstand temperatures in the 1200 C range.
- Internal diameter needs to be plus 20 cm. (Experience has shown that below that size, the working heat volume to surface area loss ratio becomes so high that the furnace just will not get to the needed temperature range.)
- The effective working height of the upper stack needs to remain at plus 40 cm. 
'Ideal' Short Shaft (Viking Age) furnace
 - The air systems available are not able to effectively penetrate very far into a working furnace. In turn this typically results in a smaller bloom (usually with very lacy consistency). One way seen both historically and in modern experiments to combat this is to use multiple tuyere points, which although individually are limited in effect, combine to both ignite a larger furnace volume - and create a number of smaller individual blooms in a single firing.
The second effect of the lower air volume systems (bag or drum bellows types) is to limit the maximum effective diameter of the furnace. With single tuyere / bellows combination, this is most likely in the range of 25 cm. A furnace certainly could be built larger, but practically only a small part of the interior volume will be effectively involved in the reduction process.
- It is most likely the original smelting efforts would be 'occasional' - rather than a more intensive ('industrial') scale. This certainly limits the number of furnaces constructed originally on any given location, and by extension reduces the chances anything but the most fragmentary archaeological evidence may be discovered.

" SMELT 2010 was an experimental archaeology weekend held in the National Heritage Park, Ferrycarrig, Co. Wexford with the primary aim of smelting Irish bog ore in a reconstructed bloomery furnace. We had some success, producing iron, but no usable bloom. "

What you can tell from the video:
- slag pit furnace (core using river reeds)
- construction of clay / sand / manure mix (2)
- furnace is very wide and squat
- the stack height above the tuyere is limited
- single tuyere (ceramic tube) (2)
- use of paired bag bellows
- ore is gathered bog iron
- charging amount of 1 kg charcoal to 1 kg ore is indicated

I have sent a request for more information to this team, as the video does not give much by way of technical details :
- dimensions of the furnace
- total ore added
- total charcoal consumed
- burn rate
- air volumes

When I watch the video - a couple of things do stand out:

A) The air system is only heating at best the front half of the furnace volume. (This most obvious with the sections shot at night, during burn down).
With the single tuyere, and the bellows system used, this is about what I would expect.
B) The duration of both the build and the smelt itself is quite long. Although not specified, from the lighting it appears they started the furnance pre-heat quite early in the morning, and certainly worked well into darkness. Plus 12 hours?
C) At a point in the sequence where they have already started adding ore, a comment is made of the volume of steam coming off the outside furnace walls. This normally indicates water being driven off from the clay structure. Water seriously impacts the overall 'energy budget' of the furnace, robbing heat that should be going to increase the interior temperature. Ideally the main sequence is best not started until no more steam is visible on the exterior walls (ie the furnace is fully dried). The construction shows very thick clay walls, plus there is a comment about the clay mix being initially too wet.
D) They certainly have created a volume of iron rich slag. Iron?
The night time image of the mass that was extracted certainly appears to my eye to be primarily slag. A slag mass with an interior bloom shows a very distinctive colour gradient. The slag cools quickly to dark, while the dense bloom will stay much hotter for a considerably longer time. There should be a distinctive, bright 'nugget' of iron visible inside the larger slag mass. (Normally the camera easily captures this - as the camera records further down into the infra-red light than the human eye does.)
E) At the end of the video can be seen a very small and lacy fragment described as containing iron. This appears what we would call a 'gromp' - metallic iron to be certain, but too light and lacy to be effectively condensed into any workable iron.

Next - 'Bloomeries of the Scottish Highlands'...

1) ORE - This has proven to be the single largest modifier for what will prove to be the most effective individual furnace design.
The second important modifier is 'material culture' - European, African, Japanese cultural concepts of work organization, even 'ritual' practice, have a serious impact on how separate groups have chosen historically to construct and operate furnaces.

2) IRELAND - I had been in e-mail conversations with a group attempting a reconstruction of an Early Iron Age smelt - at about that same point in time. (Of course I've lost / can't find the contact names!) Given the similarity of the clay mix and the use of kiln support tube for the tuyere seen - I do wonder if this is the same team?

Friday, June 09, 2017

Iron Smelting in the 'Celtic' Iron Age... (one)

One of the problems with researching the actual historical prototypes for the upcoming demonstration at the Scottish Crannog Centre - is finding some actual prototypes.

(Very) Loosely, this will be framed up as :
500 BC
Scotland (ideally the area around Perth)
Iron Age technology ('Middle' ?)
Is that 'Britons' / 'Celts' / 'Picts' ?

I've chosen to refer to the current SCC project as 'Celtic Iron Age'.
I freely admit - no matter what language I chose - the terms are a bit loaded.
What to the Scots themselves use as the 'ideal' term for their ancestors? The people living at the edge of the Highlands, 'before the Roman Invasion'.
- 'Picts' generally is used to refer to the peoples of especially North and East Scotland, 'post Roman to pre Viking'. One of the dominant differences (on many influencial levels) is the the Picts are primarily a Christian culture.
- 'Britons' generally is a much wider grouping, referring generally to 'pre Roman' - but over the geography of England primarily. I feel it reasonable to distinguish between Scotland and England - although at period of interest, neither nation existed.
- 'Celts' does imply connections to the wider group across Europe, with shared material culture. So it is fair to say a term not so specific in terms of geography or even time. It is the term most often used at the SCC itself.

As I understand it, there is some question, at least based on existing archaeology, if the people building and living in the Crannogs on Loch Tay had actually been smelting their own iron. Or if instead, the iron was imported from outside, as either the intermediate stage 'working bars', or even as the finished objects. The excavations by the team of the Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology have only recovered rare objects made of iron. This is pretty much what should be expected, given the nature of ancient object preservation, the severe limits of underwater archaeology - and the raw value of iron objects within their original historic context in the first place. One object recovered, from under the platform of the original Crannog, was a small iron knife blade. Certainly a personal disaster for the original owner!

Unsurprisingly, there is not much solid archaeology to go on.
The excavated remains of iron smelting sites for Scotland is very limited. Not especially surprising, as 'occasional' working areas don't leave much of an observable trace to begin with. Furnaces are constructed of clay, perhaps with stone supports, but in any case either wash away or are shattered by weather. The slag always remains, but again in itself presents little in way of evidence. The valuable iron is of course absent! So even in the best situation, it is more likely traces of an iron smelting event will be most likely discovered within the excavation of a much larger occupation complex. (see earlier work related to the Culduthel site)

(next - looking at some other experiments)

Monday, June 05, 2017

#2 - Celtic Iron Age Bellows

Continuing from the last post ...
What I've built so far:

'Semi Drum' Bellows - top view, extended
So at best I have to consider this a hypothetical design.
Once again (as with my long discussions here on Viking Age twin chamber bellows), there is no archaeology to guide in type or design. In this case there are not even illustrations, much less surviving artifacts (or fragments).

As I suggested in the previous post, I remain unconvinced that the simple open top 'bag bellows' will supply enough air for an * effective * bloomery furnace operation (1).( When I look at other experiments, I most usually see very poor penetration of air into the furnace interior, exhibited by the temperature gradients visible. )

Admittedly, the raw size of the bellows above was almost solely dictated by the leather materials I had on hand. I cut the largest pieces possible from what was about a half full hide leather skin. (This also has used up the last available piece of leather I had of a suitable thickness for bellows sides.)

What you see above is made from one single rectangular piece, folded in half and stitched up the two sides - the same basic construction method as the bag bellows type.  This gave a measurement on the open (top) end of 2 x 25 1/2 inches (51" / 130 cm total as circumference).

The oval top plate was then cut from available 12 x 1 inch rough pine, again utilizing the best width possible from that material. This created an oval 19" / 49 cm x 11 1/4 / 29 cm in dimensions

Top Plate - inlet holes to hand size
Given the oval overall shape thus generated, it was clear that two hand operation would be available. I made a decision not to include interior input valves. Instead, the operator's hands would create the seal - as they pushed down on the plate to collapse the bellows. As with the 'one goat skin' interpretation, a loose leather strap would serve to lift / expand the bellows. I cut the input holes to fit my (smallish) hands - to 3 " / 7.5 cm diameter.

Now I did get a bit more elaborate on the internal structure:

Interior view - showing securing the base straps - and the (modern) output valve.
I had considered how to hold the unit down securely. I decided the easiest way to accomplish this would be using heavy leather lacing across the four lower corners of the bag. These could be tied to wooden pegs hammered into the ground. To ensure there would not be damage to the leather where the crossed thongs exited the bag, I cut a smaller wooden plate for the interior. The thongs are knotted in the centre, then secured in place with a large leather square, itself tacked down to the wood based. (This of course uses unlikely metal fittings. I can imagine the laces running through simple holes in the wooden base as a more historical method.)

Past experience has shown that unskilled operators will often end up sucking air back into a bellows from the output end. As this unit is intended to be attached to a smelting furnace, this unwanted reversal would be sucking back gasses at a temperature range of 1100 - 1250 C. Certain to burn up the leather!
So to prevent this, I did add a very modern 'cheat' to the design. A standard plastic sump pump one way valve was inserted and tied into the output leather tube. This does reduce the available output diameter slightly - to 1 1/8" / 3 cm ID.

The short leather output tube was sized to easily allow the insert of a standard plastic sump pump hose - at 1 1/2" / 4 cm OD. Of course in use this tube could be mated directly to the tuyere. (2)

View of the expanded bellows from the side.
At full expansion, the height of the unit is 10 " / 26 cm. When fully collapsed, the effective height is 4" / 10 cm. This gives a rough 'loft' of about 6" / 16 cm.
Computing the potential volume produced using the formula for a regular oval tank (Pi x major axis x minor axis x length / 4) suggests 17 litres per stroke.
Given expansion of the leather sides, and that the bottom is not another flat oval, this calculated volume is likely high. Experience with other bellows units built in the past certainly suggests the practical working volumes are often closer to 50 % of the calculated theoretical.

Lifting the bellows on the fill stroke (only one hand - the other was on the camera!)

Even so, this all does suggest that this version of a semi drum bellows might easily produced as much as 500 litres per minute, based on 60 strokes per minute. Over the length of a smelt, this is more likely to drop considerably, but hopefully a volume of 350 LpM should prove achievable.
If the smelting furnace intended for the Crannog Centre demonstration is built to the smaller 22 - 25 cm ID, this amount of air should prove workable, if on the lower end of the effective range.

One of the other considerations here is equipment transport (!). This construction lays fairly flat, and is not so large as not to fit into a suitcase. It also has almost no metal parts - often a major concern in these days of airport paranoia.

1) Weasel Words Here:
Certainly you can get * some * iron from a furnace using low volume air. The resulting yield will be extremely low. The density and quality of the iron created will be extremely low. So if your objective is balancing over effort and expenditures of materials over the entire ore to working bar production cycle, low air is just not effective. Other researchers using low volumes have reported 'ore to bar' ratios of 10% (or even less). The loss at 'bloom to bar' is especially high.

2) Our standard practice is to use a Y tube between air source and tuyere. Fitted with a simple wooden plug (in historic context) to the third branch. This allows both easy observation down the tuyere, and clearing obstructions with a long thin 'Radner' tool.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Celtic Iron Age - BELLOWS ??

Given that the rough dynamics of an effective iron bloomery iron smelting furnace are set in fixed science...

What is a specifically 'Celtic' working furnace going to look like?
Here I am using the Scottish Crannog Centre rough date target of about 500 BC.

One of the biggest specifics in my mind is the air system - most specifically the bellows type used.

Pair of simple bag bellows used for a bronze casting furnace (from Ancient Tools & Crafts) (1)
There are often references made to 'bag bellows'.
This is a very early historic type, basically a rectangle of leather, stitched up two sides, with a pair of sticks framing the open, upper edge. Most typically, the type is illustrated in use for metal casting furnaces, one hand opening and closing the bag. This obviously this small size and method will greatly limit the possible delivery volumes. Not at all a problem for bronze casting furnaces - which most certainly has proven quite effective. Same for the requirements of blacksmithing forges.

 It may be larger, worked with one hand on either side of the open edge. This will certainly greatly increase the active volume. At the cost of increased effort of course! Remember that overall size and the required air volumes for an effective iron smelting furnace are easily an order of magnitude greater than that required for a simple bronze / jewelry casting.

Bag Bellows are often described as the type seen in various African iron smelting traditions. Early observer reports describe the size as 'one goat skin'.
What I have observed of film of this system in use shows very rapid stokes (reported as high as 120 per minute!). The individual strokes at those rates show as extremely short, and without little force applied. In combination, this will combine to produce only low total volume - and certainly very little penetration into the body of the furnace itself.

Jens Olesen, likely at Eindhoven, the Netherlands (date unknown) (2)
A fully developed type is the 'drum' bellows.
In its simplest form, the open top of the bag has been replaced with a wooden plate, either oval or circular. Leather can be conserved by using two matching plates, one top and one on the bottom. This also will have the effect of increasing the 'open' interior volume. Adding some hoops of stiffened material (simplest being bent twigs) can greatly improve delivery volume. The stiffeners keep the sides of the leather from collapsing inwards during the fill stage of use.
The true drum bellows will also have valves, at the very least a simple circular flap valve at the top (input) side

Unidentified re-enactor, at Military Through the Ages, Jamestown Virginia (my image - 1998?)
 A transitional type is what I am going to call a 'semi-drum'
The inspiration for my current design is based on what I had seen while a participant at Military Through the Ages in the late 1990's.  This event is a juried competition for historic re-enactors - of all all time periods. (The second year I was there, the span ranged from Celtic Iron Age - through to Viet Nam War!)
You can see what the fellow above has is basically a 'one goat' skin. One 'leg' extends to attach to the ceramic pipe tuyere that feeds this blacksmith's forge. (Itself a shallow clay lined bowl dug into the ground, filled with charcoal.) The 'neck' of the skin is sealed with a wooden plate. Interestingly, there are no fixed valves in the system. The top plate has a hole in it. The leather strap spans this hole. On the fill stoke, the hand moves against the strap as you lift up. On the output stroke, your hand covers the hole - and becomes the valve. Obviously this is somewhat less efficient than the full drum design.

Next Up - what I've built (so far)...

1) Ancient Tools and Crafts has a great deal of helpful information. Particularly detailed observations / build instructions for bag bellows and simple metal casing furnaces. 

2) Eindhoven Museum - under the direction of Thijs vander Manakker
Thijs is most certainly one of the pioneers of experimental archaeology applied to bloomery iron smelting. (Expect further references to his work as this series proceeds.)

Note : for this article, I did pinch most of the reference images from various web sites - I have tried to cite these as possible. 

Friday, June 02, 2017

'the CELTS are Coming'

In early August, I have been asked to take part in the 20th Anniversary Event at the Scottish Crannog Centre, Aberfledy (north of Perth).

The reconstructed Crannog on Loch Tay - looking roughly south west. (from SCC web site)

'The Celts are Coming

August 5 & 6

I will be one of the artisans providing historical demonstrations at the Forestry Commission's lochside picnic site at Dalerb, Kenmore (right across the water from the Crannog Centre, about 2 km by road).

Right now one of the (too many!) project outlines I am working up is a 'Celtic Iron Age' period bloomery iron smelt for this event.

This will be a continuation of my research into ancient (pre Medieval) iron smelting process. As seen on my web site documentation, my main focus has been Viking Age. Over the years I have been involved in experimental projects that push the basic process of the 'short shaft' furnace earlier and earlier in terms of specific archaeological and cultural prototypes.

As I work up specific aspects of this specific time / culture, expect to see a number of the elements expanded into blog postings here...

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Mixing Bog Ore Analog ('DARC Dirt')

(Back to our regularly themed topics?)

I am currently involved in the planning phases for two major museum based projects.
July - To L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC with a team from DARC.
August - To the Scottish Crannog Centre (Aberfeldy) - 25th Anniversary event

Both of these involve iron smelt demonstrations.
In both cases there is discussion on the actual ore type to use. I have suggested that the bog ore analog, initially developed by DARC for our 'Vinland' research series, should be used.

As a fast review, 'DARC Dirt' was initially developed to provide the team, working here in Central Ontario, with a consistent and dependable iron ore type. This was important because originally, there were too many other unknown variables effecting the working design of the furnace and operating method. Experience has since clearly proven that ore has the biggest single impact on results : You can have a good furnace and proven experience, but if the ore is less than ideal - you are just not going to get good results (yield and density)

'DARC Dirt' bog ore analog - added to a working iron smelting furnace (Vinland 1?)

If you are interested in the long development sequence of our bog ore analog, the easiest way to read the many earlier commentaries is a simple search :'bog+ore+analog'


There are two types of iron oxide easily available via pottery supply.
Black = Fe3O4
Red  = Fe2O3
Although the black does create a higher overall iron content per weight, in the past it was significantly more expensive (about double).
Checking today's prices at the Pottery Supply House (Brampton, Ontario), Both the black iron oxide and the 'Spanish Red' are priced at $55 CDN for a 50 lb (22.6 kg) bag.

The problem with this material is that it is extremely fine - even more than baking flour. If you attempt to add it straight from the bag, most of it is just going to blow straight back out the top of the furnace.
Originally we had been attempting to match the chemistry and texture of natural primary bog iron ore as uncovered in the archaeology at L'Anse aux Meadows (Vinland). The reports indicated '10 % organic matter'. To simulate this, our analog uses the same amount of whole wheat flour.

What happens in production is that the flour acts as a kind of binder to the iron oxide powder.

The method is to add one standard bag at 2.5 kg of whole wheat flour, purchased at the local grocery store, to each full bag of the oxide.
- The best way to do this is to dry mix these ingredients together first, ensuring the flour is spread evenly through the mix.
- The low tech version (1) is to make up two batches, half of each of the main elements, into standard 5 gallon / 20 litre plastic pails. Blend by hand.
- The ideal way to add the required water to the mixture is to use a third pail. Fill about 1/4 of the bucket with water, then add the dry mixture on top. (If you add water on top of the powder, it never penetrates down fully to the bottom layer and corners to correctly mix.)
- Again the simplest (and most effective) way to mix up the water and powder is with your hands. Yes, you will end up covered from elbows down. Yes, the fine powder gets about everywhere (wear old clothes!). Yes, the fine powder seems to get lodged in every small crack and wrinkle of your skin, and seems to take days to completely wash out (!).
- The ideal consistency is roughly between that of peanut butter and mayonnaise. Generally this is about 1/3 water to powder by volume. If you make it too thin, it is easier to mix, but will take much longer to dry.

The next step is setting the paste out to dry in the sun. The ideal thickness is about 1/2 - 3/4 inch / 1 - 2 cm.
If you have the space, the simplest is just spread out the paste on to plastic sheeting, thin painter's drop sheet tarps works very well (and easy to cover over with the same at night. I have a set of cheap plastic trays, about the size of cookie baking trays, which makes it easy to move the drying analog under cover in case of rain.
Obviously your local weather is going to effect drying time. Here in Central Ontario, I need roughly 4 - 6 days (depending on time of year). In real wet weather, I have spread out the analog inside the workshop with a large room fan blowing over the surfaces. This typically doubles the drying time, but does work reasonably well.

Ideally the paste dries out to about the consistency of an oatmeal cookie. It should break under your fingers, not flex and mush (still too wet in that second case).

The dried analog needs to be broken up. Ideally none of the pieces should be much larger than 1 1/2 inches / 3 cm = 'half walnut' sized.

I normally save a 100 gm sample of each analog batch. This is placed in a metal pan, then baked (to a dull orange) in the gas forge and re-weighed. This to primarily determine the proportion of water still remaining after the drying sequence. (Although this method likely burns out some of the organic contribution as well.) Results vary by individual batch, but typically the water loss thus calculated is roughly 15 % on average. (2)

We often slightly 'enrich' the analog mix - by adding 10% / 2.5 kg of gathered hammer scale from my forging operations. I sweep this up daily using a large magnet. There is certainly some additional silica content here (from dirt clinging to the hammer scale on the forge floor. The effect on overall yield is slight (if anything), but this additional iron oxide (as Fe3O4) is certainly available.

There is always some loss in the mixing process. This is balanced by the additional weight in added water. So typically one batch of the straight red oxide to bog ore analog produces about 26 - 28 kg of ore for the furnace.

(1) Given how messy this process is, and how often I do this, I purchased a small size electrically driven home concrete mixer. This unit is designed to mix one standard 50 lb bag of concrete mix - the same weight and volume as the analog.

2) I will often take this into account when recording the final yield number on any smelt using analog. The other natural ores being used by other experimenters rarely have any significant weight as water in their material and measurements.

Monday, May 29, 2017

NOT - Getting into the USA

On Wednesday May 10, I was denied entry into the USA.
I was attempting to travel to the International Congress for Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo MI.
I have attended this conference, presenting at organized sessions, since (at least) 2012.
One of these sessions was to be a combination demonstration / hands on. I had undertaken similar sessions there in 2013 and 2015.
I had booked a vendor’s table, selling objects made in Ontario at my studio, either by myself as the Wareham Forge, or by my partner as Elfworks Studio. I have done this since 2014.

At ICMS 2017 I was intending to undertake the following:
- travel straight to and straight back from the event, a total of 5 days.
- setting up a vendor’s table to sell products made in Canada (all at my home studio), at a total combined value of $2450 US
- participate in an pannel discussion session (#41)
- participate in a hands on workshop session (#224)

I can not remain dispassionate about this whole episode.

Through this entire event, I made a deliberate attempt to keep my body language calm and unassertive. My hands folded in front of me, on steering wheel or visible on the desk. I attempted to keep my voice casual, calm and relaxed.
I do appreciate that some questions, some actions, are part of standard operations policy. I did attempt to make allowances for all this, never refusing to answer or follow instructions - as they were given.
I consider it extremely important to remember that I have decades of experience communicating to the general public. My spoken language skills are excellent.

Obviously this is based on my memory (although I did make notes at the time) - and not everything is detailed.

I arrived at the inspection booth at 13:25.
To begin with, the interviewing officer at the inspection booth was not speaking loud enough for me to hear her over the noise at the location. I had to ask her to repeat each question she asked. This obviously annoyed her as the initial interview progressed. (1)

I handed over my passport.
I answered each of the questions given to me - as they were stated. (2)
I was asked ‘Where are you from?’
The reply to this was ‘A small town called Proton Station, 2 hours North West of Toronto’.
’No, what is your citizenship?’
The reply : Canadian (3)
‘Where are you going?’
Answer given - ‘To Kalamazoo Michigan for an academic conference.’

‘Are you bringing anything into the USA?’
‘Yes, I will have a vendor’s table, and have a bit over $2400 US worth of small items, mostly jewelry I make myself.’  I hand over the Canadian version ‘Export Declaration’ with an attached detailed item list. (copy below)
This appears to totally puzzle her.
“What are these DVDs on here? You said it was only jewelry.’ (4)

‘You have over $3500 worth of goods here’
‘I see ’total $1367.50 half way down, with another total of $2442.50 at the bottom, together that is over $3500.’
‘No, that top number is a sub total of items I made, with those made by my partner separate. The combined total is about $2450. Excuse me, that is from memory, you have the detailed list in your hands.’
‘You said you made everything. I think you are being misleading.’ (5)
‘Yes, some of the items were made by my partner, working in the same workshop as I do. Using my tools.

‘What is this list on the bottom’
‘Those are the total number of items with their NAFTA classifications. I have been in contact with agents at this specific office in the past and have been instructed to provide the NAFTA descriptions.’
‘Officer - we are not agents’ (6)
‘I think I made a math error on the values with the NAFTA codes, I suggest you use the slightly higher value on the item by item list.’

‘I think your answers are deliberately misleading.
Making false statements is a serious offence.
I am sending you over to commercial clearance.’

‘Ok - where am I going?’
‘Over there. See those trucks?’ (7)
‘Where exactly?’
Officer gets out of the booth. Flags me forward. Gestures me to stop. She walks forward another 10 feet, flags me forward - then gestures me to stop again.
‘Over there, follow that white truck, down past the building with the purple sign on it.’

I have to wait for the traffic to clear from the outbound inspection booths (I was to the far side and had to cut across about 5 lanes). So by that point ‘the white truck’ is out of view.
I follow down the side of the building with the purple sign. I see the white truck now well past this, in a line with several others leading to a drive through inspection point.
I sit in line. For 20 minutes, moving forward as two of the four trucks in front of me enter the inspection building.
An officer comes out of the building.
‘Hey YOU!
What are you doing here!’

He gestures me forward to him. I drive from the lane to him.
‘I was told by the officer at the booth to follow this truck for commercial inspection.’
‘I doubt that..’
He (angrily) points over to the rear side of the ‘purple sign’ building. (8)

The correct location is not at all visible from the inspection booths. It is down the side of that first building, around one end, back up about half way to a series of high loading docks. There are a couple of small trucks and several cars parked. A series of doors marked ‘No Entry’.
I park at the last dock. Wait a bit to see if anyone is supposed to come out.
Get out, have to climb past a barrier to get up to the dock level. Walk down to the other far end. Eventually see a door marked something like ‘commercial drivers’. In that, down a long hall to a door marked ‘wait for entry’.
This proves to be the correct location for the commercial clearance.
Interviewing officer here is considerably more friendly and more reasonable in tone.

I go through the whole description again, handing over my original document (which the booth officer has written some interior code on).
I have explained to this officer that I had been through this same check point, traveling to this same event, undertaking the same activities, in past years. That I had spoken at length to Officers at this office about what information was required, and what value I was allowed to ‘import’ without use of a Customs Broker (9)
‘Correction, the Officer decides if you need a Broker or not. This can be at any value from $750 to $2500.’
‘Ok - first off, this is the wrong form. You need to supply a 7523. This one you have does not supply all the information we require.’ (10)
‘Do all the items have Made in Canada stickers on them? They are required.
’No, most of them have not been attached. The roll of stickers is on the top of the items in box. I just ran out of time to get this finished’ (11)

‘I need to inspect your vehicle, can I have the keys?’
‘Most of the items are in a big silver box over the rear seat’
I wait, two of them head off to undertake this.

The Officer returns. I overhear a comment about ‘all his tools’. (12)
Over this conversation, I finally get asked ‘What all are you doing at this conference.’
I state that along with the vendor table, I will be participating in two academic sessions. One a panel discussion, one a workshop session where participants will be able to make cast pewter badges they can keep. I stress that I am not being paid for any of this.
Eventually, I get told that the goods will be released with no duties and allowed to pass importation.
‘But there is something else I can’t determine, so you will have to go to Immigration.’
Just what the potential problem may be is not given.

Another, heavily equipped (tactical) Officer arrives.
‘I don’t think I need to put you in handcuffs for this, but I am required to put you under restraint’
Please put you hands behind your back, fingers interlaced.
He holds my hands with one of his, pushing up and forward so my weight is off balance on my toes. He is supporting me with his other hand on my upper arm.
This officer is polite and professional. I get escorted in this manner across an open parking area, through a public area at the front of the separate Immigration building. (13)
The Commercial Officer is accompanying as well, with my original invoice document in hand. He still has my car keys.

I get placed in the ‘detailed holding’ secure room.
Total of four officers, two interview stations. One other person being questioned.
I wait about 15 minutes before being called forward.
I get asked pretty much the same questions (Nationality, destination, activities).
The officer seems focused on the workshop session.
I wait another half hour.
I get asked again. I get photographed, finger printed.
I wait another hour. (14)

I am not asked at any point to provide any reference documents related to the actual conference I was attempting to attend.
I actually have the conference catalogue with my specific session descriptions marked. I have my letter of acceptance for the vendor table. I have my letter of acceptance for the panel discussion session. All of these are sitting on the front seat of my car. They have the keys. The car is at this point about 200 m away, across that open parking lot.
I am doing my level best to remain calm and polite.
I am doing my best to explain what I am intending to undertake at the conference. It is becoming increasingly clear that all they are understanding is WORKshop. I have explained that that session is a combination of demonstration of historical technique with a hands on opportunity for participants to undertake the making of their own * rough * casting. For which I am NOT being paid. Participants can pay a ‘nominal fee that covers the out of pocket costs for the raw materials’ -  if they wish to keep the casting.

I get told :
‘You are being denied entry into the USA, because you are not allowed to engage in commercial activities.’
‘Fine, that is your decision to make’.

At this point, despite the fact I have repeatedly told them I am not being PAID for the workshop session, it is clear that this is the problem.  I request to speak to a supervisor.
I wait another 15 minutes.

First thing I asked, explaining that I had crossed before for the exact same purpose without problem, was ‘Does this reflect a change in procedure after January 1 this year?’ I was told that this was not the case.
During the conversation with the supervisor, the following is clearly stated:
1) Every request for entry is deemed a unique and isolated situation. Past instructions or past experiences do not apply.
2) The decision to allow entry or deny is up to the individual interviewing officer - alone. (15)
3) There would be no way  to have prepared for that interview. There was not any specific documentation I could have provided to support / explain.
4) All commercial activities, regardless of scale, were to be subjected to the identical level of scrutiny.  (16)

I waited about another half hour - it appeared to prepare a three page document with two paragraphs of description.
I was required to sign a document before I would be released.
What was written:

“.. he will be operating a booth showing customers how to make jewelry and sell his products. “

“.. he cannot come into the United States to conduct business and produce merchandise…”

As this document clearly stated those to elements - which differed from what I had (repeatedly) told the officer, I wrote ‘Disagree with Decision’ under my signature. (copy below)

“ … was refused entry into the United States pursuit of 212(a) (7) (A) (i) (I) immigrant with proper documents…”

I was not advised what this actually means.

I asked after signing, how this refusal would effect any future attempt to enter the USA.
I was told ‘You could drive back to Canada and come back in 5 minutes and attempt to enter again’. (17)

Total elapsed time at Customs & Immigration = about four hours.

The Notes:

1) This is the second time I have had this same problem.
I observe officers staring at their computer data - so not directing voice out the window towards the person they are questioning. Officers are not taking into account the traffic noise (especially from trucks), and not projecting their voices to allow the volume needed.
Admittedly, I have about 25% hearing loss from my lifetime as a working artisan blacksmith. I should have identified this factor?

2) Through this entire experience, there was a core problem. Officers ask vague questions, yet insist on precise language in response. They use their own perceived definitions of language, holding the person interviewed responsible for CBS interpretation of what is said.  (The effect of this element will be seen repeatedly.)

3) Perfect example of (2). The officer has my Canadian passport. She has called up my licence plate number on the computer. Proof of citizenship and legal address. If the question was “What is your CITIZENSHIP?’ then “Where are you from’ is sloppy. How am I responsible for a sloppy interviewer?

4) Check the item list and the values. I have a total of 204 pieces. Of those 165 are listed as ‘jewelry of base metal’. Only 10 are DVDs. I did state ‘mostly’ - not ALL . Which appeared what the officer determined I had said (in error).

5) Take a look at the print out I gave her…
- Note that it is my understanding it is the ‘country of origin’ that is important. Not if I personally make the objects or not.
- Again, remember I did state ‘mostly’ - not ALL.

6) What does that have to do with anything? I never once referred to her, or addressed her as ‘Agent’.

7) This is the Port Huron complex. Besides the inspection booths, there are at least three separate buildings to the complex : Customs Clearance / Immigration / Agriculture Inspection. There are trucks moving around all over the place. At the point she said ’see that truck’  - there were at least four in sight moving, all going to different locations. Two were white.

8) There are no SIGNS on any of these lanes or buildings that would direct you.  As I said, you can not actually SEE the commercial inspection area from any point along the route I was ordered to take.

9) The USA CBP web site states ‘commercial import below $2500 US does not require a Customs Broker’ I had been told the same by an Officer at Port Huron in 2014 over the phone.

10) I later requested and was given a copy of the correct 7523. If you compare it with the Canadian document I had provided, the Canadian version actually supplies considerably MORE raw data:
- Business Registration number
- Importer name and address
- Consignee name and address
(note that I had later filled out the provided 7523 shown here - against a possible attempt at a second entry through Windsor / Detroit )(copy below)

11) I freely admit a failure on this. My items are inside small boxes. The roll of stickers that I had only received a week before this event was placed on top of the items. Kelly’s items were all mounted on display boards, obviously without packaging.

12) ‘all his tools’ ??
I had one milk crate. Contained :
metal dish
face shield
safety glasses
hand propane torch
metal ladle
plastic box about 6 x 9 x 3 with small carving tools, two soapstone blocks
small bag with about 3 lbs pewter pieces
There was a bag of charcoal.
Later I found they had shifted my seats. This to look at my ‘show box’. This is in fact a medium plastic tool box, but it contains primarily office styled supplies like markers, a stapler, pins and screws - all used to assemble and outfit the sales table.
There is also medium soft tool bag with emergency repair tools for the vehicle. It did not look like they had examined this.

13) At this point it became clear to me that something MAJOR was going on.
I had been only polite and forthcoming with every question asked of me.
Likely the requirement to ‘move under restraint’ is standard procedure  - but up to this point, the entire interview process had been about * commercial * aspects.

14) Given the other individual being processed is there for an undeclared past criminal record. References are being made to an FBI background check. As I have been put through exactly the same series of steps, it appears the wait is for my own record check by the FBI.
I have not been asked :
- if I * have * a criminal record
- if I have ever been denied access to the USA in the past.

15) Also what became my obvious conclusion : Once a snap judgement was made by the interviewing officer, regardless of the level of information that judgement was based on, there would be no chance of the admission of error. That decision would stand, with all CBS officers fully supporting the initial judgement.

16) The supervisor, in an attempt to explain, used to analogies that he felt applied to my situation:
1) Someone bringing a tractor trailer full of doll parts into the USA, then assembling these into finished dolls and selling them in the USA.
2) Offering a class to Americans, for which they paid a fee, where they were taught to assemble radios using parts I provided. After which I kept the finished radios, taking these back to Canada to sell there.
I continue to fail to see if either of these examples, clearly a reflection CBS understanding of my intended activities, applies even remotely to the true situation as was described.

17) I find this statement disingenuous at best. Clearly after such a lengthy process, my name has been ‘red flagged’. I find it extremely unlikely that the first question asked of me on any future entry attempt would not be ‘have you ever been denied access before’. At which point I fully expect the same process to be repeated.
Although not entirely clear if it applies, a fast internet search suggests that I may be subjected to a period of 5 years before being allowed re-admission.


There is no information available via search of the CBS web site on the definition of the regulation number given.
I did find this:
“ Intending Immigrant [INA § 212(a)(7)(A)(i)(I)] – This is the most common ground of inadmissibility applied under INA § 212(a)(7).  Any foreign national who seeks to enter the U.S. and remain here permanently, or who is suspected of seeking to enter the U.S. and remain here permanently, but who does not have the proper documents to demonstrate that s/he has authorization to do so, is inadmissible.”

How on earth does this come to apply ?? :
- I presented a valid Canadian passport.
- I was never asked for additional documentation (i.e. drivers licence etc.)
- I was never asked what my occupation was.
- I was never asked if I owned property in Canada, or any other indication of permanency in Canada.
- I only had one gym bag of clothing with me.
- I clearly (repeatedly) stated my return to Canada would be Sunday May 14.

At this point in time, I do not know how the specifics of this refusal for entry may effect me into the future. There is a suggestion (same web site) that I may be refused access into the USA for a period of at least 5 years. (This is a bit unclear, as the specific code quoted applies to illegal immigrants who are caught and deported from inside the USA itself. )

I had made a brief comment on social media after this:
“US Customs and Immigration took something from me yesterday.”

Nothing material.
They did not tear apart my vehicle.
I was not manhandled.
Officers were generally polite.

I was robbed of the cost of traveling to and fees related to attending the event.
I lost at least five days working time - two preparing, one day packing and loading, one day traveling, one day unloading and unpacking.
I lost at least another full day shop time preparing the mould for this specific demonstration.

More importantly :
I have lost any trust what so ever that American Customs and Boarder Security will make rational decisions.
That any decision they make will be nothing but totally arbitrary.
That even when demonstrated a snap decision does not reflect the actual facts, they will modify that decision.

I have had my sense of worth assaulted.
I was physically restrained, and moved in that fashion through a public view - for no reasonable reason that I can determine.
Long decades of difficult research was totally disregarded. I am in fact recognized at an international level as at the very least highly skilled and experienced in Viking Age / Early Medieval technologies and material culture. This obviously was considered irrelevant.

I have lost any sense that private individuals are treated fairly, certainly in comparison with corporate identities. Since vast volumes of materials were passing through the boarder crossing even as I was detailed there, virtually without pause, it was clear I was NOT having the same process applied to me as that applied to those trucks.

After this treatment I absolutely have no interest at this point in time in ever returning to the United States of America.

At this point  I have forty years at the forge, over 30 years professionally. I have worked with major museums and universities throughout Canada, the USA, the United Kingdom and Europe.
I have continually gave freely of my hard won knowledge, skill and experience.
I have personally invested thousands of hours and thousands of dollars into research.
Rarely have I had even my direct out of pocket costs recovered for any of this.
I am NOT supported by an institution, but bear all the related costs personally.

MY snap judgement?
If America wants to stay stupid - they can just BE stupid.


The related documents (referred to in the text)

Canadian EXPORT Declaration (note identification details)
Attached invoice description (note subtotals and totals indicated / separate NAFTA)
Required USA 7523 - not used (note lack of identification information)

CBS statement A (note activity described inaccurately)

CBS statement B (note 'immigrant without proper documents')

CBS statement C (note 'required' signature)
Addition - June 1

Wow - I got more comments returned on this posting than any others over the 12 years and almost 950 earlier pieces!
Almost all supportive - and I have set them all for reader's consideration here.

One thing is very clear. 
The experiences of both Americans and Canadians attempting to cross that boarder - in either direction, going or returning show a clear record of arbitrary decisions. 
It is also obvious that the state of mind of any individual inspecting officer has far more influence than any 'official regulations'. 

To my surprise - and their massive credit, The Medieval Institute at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo did in fact refund my unused conference lodgings and meal purchases. This is beyond generous, as they had no ability to effect the actions of CBS is any way at all.

I did contact USA Customs and Boarder Security via phone (same Port Huron office - after attempts to contact via web site, Buffalo, Detroit). It was clear that the inaccurate statement seen above has now become the 'official' record of the incident. I was advised to expect to be refused entry again if I attempt to enter for any similar reason - so attempting to attend an academic gathering in the USA, at any point in the future. 


Monday, May 01, 2017

Another season at Point Rosee

...but they still don't have much

Once again I do find an archaeological team that appears to have only limited understanding of the historic bloomery iron smelting process.
But at the same time the entire focus of this excavation involves evidence related to that exact process.  

Primary Bog Iron Ore
- is found all over Newfoundland. Not quite any time you lift a block of peat turf (but pretty close!)

- A concentration of bog ore (finally reported as 8 - 9 kg) *might* represent a human gathered deposit. It might also indicate a chance concentration by water deposit.

- I still notice that there has been absolutely no mention at all if the ore found was roasted or not. Natural bog ore (fe2O3) is not magnetic. After roasting (Fe3O4) * is * magnetic. This is a 5 second test that you can do in the field. Why has this never been done?

- Part of the evidence was a 'dark deposit' on the surface of a single stone. - One stone does not make a furnace. - You smacked off the surface with a heavy sledge hammer?

- The iron smelting process is an involved one, requiring considerable preparation of equipment (a furnace at least) plus raw materials (ore, charcoal).
This furnace operates for hours at extremely high temperatures (1100 - 1300 C). The overall process leaves remains that are :
- specific
- highly durable
- extensive
There is no mention of any of these remains being found.

- I note that in this report, Dr Birgitta Wallace is often shown, but given very little chance to speak.
I have to agree with her opinion that this location holds nothing that specifically illustrates a Norse presence.

At least in what has been reported so far.

I'll be traveling close by to Port Rosee this summer on my way up to L'Anse aux Meadows - to undertake a Norse historical iron smelt no less. I will attempt to see if I can get view of this excavation on my way through??

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ásfólk - Easter Event

Ásfólk - Grand Opening Event 
April 14 - 15 
Eagan, Minnesota

I was quite flattered when Arthur Von Eschan asked me to be one of the guests for the grand opening of his Ásfólk studio / school.

I had met Arthur when he undertook a private one week training session here last Fall. The course content was a special 'Forging the Viking Age' program we designed together. It included work using replica Norse forge, anvil and tools - making a number of replica objects. As well Arthur undertook a full bloomery iron smelt using a VA style short shaft furnace (which he also constructed). We both felt it was an excellent week.

Arthur is still working up details on the Grand Opening event (so expect details to be added soon!)
Bill Short, Icelandic Researcher and Combat Instructor, is another of the special guests. (I have worked with Bill a number of times in the past - and certainly recommend his work.)

These are my proposed sessions over the roughly 24 hour, two day event:

Lecture : Iron and the Norse
An examination of how iron was made, how it was worked, and what it was made into during the Viking Age. Illustrated with artifact images and many replica objects for close examination.
(expected to run 60 - 90 minutes)

Demonstration : Forging the Viking Age
Showing the construction and use of a 'sand table' style forge (charcoal / bellows stone / twin chamber bellow) with replica blacksmithing tools (largely based on those from the Mastermyr Tool Chest). As well as discussing the dynamics of the tools, a small seax (knife) blade will be forged from antique wrought iron.
(expected to run about 60 minutes)

Workshop : Forge a Seax
Participants (limited by available equipment!) will work in pairs to forge a small, simple knife blade from mild steel bar. Each pair will alternate forging with operation of the bellows - all using replica Viking Age tools. The completed rough forged blade is yours to keep (and may be further finished within other working sessions under planning).
(expected to run 90 - 120 minutes)

Demonstration : The Aristotle Furnace
The Aristotle is a theoretical model of a small scale 'hearth steel' re-melting furnace. (There is some evidence this process was known to Norse metalsmiths.) Over a roughly 30 - 45 minute working cycle, it can convert 600 - 800 gms of any scrap iron material into a roughly predicted carbon content 'bloomery textured material.
(expected to run 45 - 60 minutes)

Workshop : The Aristotle Furnace
Individual participants can run through the operation cycle of the Furance. Each will produce their own cake of modified carbon 'steel. The small roughly 500 gm (1 lb) cake created is a good size for further forging down to a working bar at your home workshop.
(expected to run 45 minutes per person - ongoing)

Round Table (proposed) : Building the Viking Age
Join experienced re-enactors and museum program designers Bill Short and Darrell Markewitz for a rather free wheeling discussion of some of their trials and triumphs attempting to bring the Viking Age back to life. Expect some observation on what works (or doesn't!) in public presentations. The good, the bad, the ugly (!) of making and using artifact replicas.

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

'Forged in Fire'? - not this professional!


... I'm a Casting Producer with Leftfield Entertainment. We produce hits like Alone, Pawn Stars, American Restoration, and Counting Cars on The History Channel, as well as programming for networks like FOX, Discovery Channel, and National Geographic.

We’re currently casting competitors for the hit show Forged in Fire on the History Channel, and after taking a look at your site, I thought you might be interested in hearing more!

We're searching for bladesmiths and armourers.  This series focuses on experts who pride themselves on producing incredible blades, whether they be historical or modern, large or small.

Participants will be given the opportunity to showcase their talents for a chance to win a substantial cash prize.

Does this sound like something you might be interested in?

Please let me know if you have any questions or might be interested in applying!

For more information on Forged in Fire, please visit

(edit - all name information removed)

 Ok - So maybe I should be flattered that between all the possible choices of people available on the ever expanding mass of self promotion and anngrandizement that the internet has become, Leftfield Entertainment chose to contact me.

At this point I have watched the first three seasons of Forged in Fire.
My opinion of the program has dropped since I wrote my initial critique, based on the first three episodes:

Now, an argument could be made that I could be a true mercenary, jump through the pre-production hoops, and just play along for the personal experience and what is likely a free air ticket to the studio location.
But there is no reality in 'reality' TV.
Odds are much better I would end up damaging whatever reputation I have built over 4 decades of work.

So this is what I sent back:

If you check your records, you might see that I was contacted several years ago - for the original pilot episode of Forged in Fire.

Several emails.
A long phone conversation.
A painful set up for a Skype interview.
(This was four / five years ago. The intern could not seem to understand that rural Canada did not have high speed internet. 'Just use your phone...')

The end of that eventual Skype call went like this:

Intern - Great, now if you could please send us a copy of your audition tape!
Me - What ???
Intern - Your audition video.
Me - er.. You have seen my web site, which effectively is my portfolio of past work. I can send you a copy of my CV, although that also is on the web site. ???
Intern - No, we need to see what you look like on camera.
Me - (silence)
So what you are telling me is that you don't care about the quality of my work, or my past experience.
You just want to see if I'm a freak on camera???
Intern - (silence)
We're searching for bladesmiths and armourers.  This series focuses on experts who pride themselves on producing incredible blades, whether they be historical or modern, large or small.
Look - let us be honest here.

Forged in Fire has an absolutely horrible reputation between professional blade smiths.

- There are constant incorrect uses of technical language.
- The 'experts' often make comments / do things that are incorrect (This specifically to your 'historic' judge, who consistently has used historic weapons employing incorrect methods.)
- Contestants regularly make fundamental errors in the most basic forging techniques. (Burning metal / hammering cold / incorrect heat treating process)
- Often standard safety processes are ignored - in place of 'dramatic effect'. (So much so I am amazed your crew allows it.)
- It is obvious that most of your contestants are those who * grind *, not * forge * - despite the show title.
- The often heard statement 'I made my first knife at (insert pre teen age) - does not in any way indicate actual working experience.

You should be aware that the reputation of Forged in Fire is so bad that there is actually a Facebook group named : 'Bladesmiths who will never appear on Forged in Fire'.

 I can't imagine in any way you would want me.
Although I do have many decades at the forge (and as a professional working artisan blacksmith since the mid 1980's).
Although I have made many blades, from tools, to knives, to swords.
Although I have undertaken considerable work with museum quality replicas and reproductions.
I don't consider myself a 'professional blade maker'.
My teaching experience would make it extremely difficult for me to 'go with the flow' - in terms of agreeing with statements made by your judges that I know to be false information.
Past experience with TV productions has made me extremely wary of 'edit for effect' - and distortion from what was intended into what is broadcast.

Practically, you might also consider the mere logistics challenge of my involvement.
- Right off the start, as a working artisan smith, my next free block of uncommitted time is now into November.
- I am located in rural Ontario Canada. Two hours NW of Toronto.
Consider the raw problems of potentially mounting an in shop filming week at my home studio?
(With the current mess of US Homeland Paranoia at your boarder, even attempting to bring a box of tools via air flight is a dicey process at best - which my own past experience has proved.)
So - thanks for your interest.
Forged in Fire has certainly sparked an increase in interest in bladesmithing as a process.
Unfortunately, the huge amount of mis-information and mis-conceptions it has communicated has resulted in more problems for we professionals in the field - than advantages related to its popularity. 

A reputation takes years to forge.

But with one bad heat, all that work can be burned away.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Looking for Course Dates??

2017 Blacksmithing Courses at the Wareham Forge

2017 Course and Event Schedule - March 13
The demand for courses this year has been simply massive.
I'm in close contact with David Robertson - and his bookings are about the same.
At the end of February - I'm booked solid up to the end of NOVEMBER.

As of the date of this posting (March 11) I have only the following spaces remaining:

March 25 & 26 - Zombie Killer - 4 spaces *

October 28 & 29 - Forge Viking Age - 1 space

November 10/11/12 - Introduction to Smithing - 4 spaces

December 9 & 10 - Introduction to Smithing - 2 spaces

* As of this morning, I have a total of three people asking to attend this as a Basic course.

The following programs require previous experience, but have spaces remaining :

April 22 & 23 - Forge Welding (requires Basic) - 2 spaces

November 25 & 26 - Layered Steel (requires ability to Forge Weld + Bladesmithing) - 2 spaces

Those interested in the one week private session - Forge to Blade :

Look at the white spaces. These represent mid week periods which have not already been committed to other projects. What you see is that there is potentially only the last week in August to mid September as available.

Only a deposit secures a placement!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Early Iron Furnace in Upper Canada


Lansdowne Iron Works National Historic Site of Canada

In Lyndhurst, Ontario

 Illustration of an early iron furnace - by Edwin Tunis,
from his book Colonial Craftsmen, 1957.

It was known by 1784 that an iron deposit was situated about 2 miles from a 16’ waterfall on the Gananoque River.  After prolonged competition for the privilege of opening an iron smelter, in 1800 the Executive Council of Upper Canada gave their blessing to the proposal by Wallis Sunderlin of Tinmouth Vermont. By 1802 a water powered blast furnace was in operation on the east bank of the river, and 1200 acres of land were granted to Sunderlin to supply charcoal for the furnace. At the same time a bridge was built across the river, a saw mill erected, and a forge with trip hammer was built on the west bank to manufacture wrought iron for the Royal Navy dockyards at Kingston, as well as local blacksmiths. At its height, it was said to produce a ton of cast iron per day and 400 lbs of wrought iron. The location became known as Furnace Falls, and boasted a hotel with a 10 gallon still, and several houses. A grist mill had been added before the whole industrial complex was destroyed by fire in 1811. Wallis Sunderlin died the same year. The iron works was never rebuilt. This was the first iron smelter in Upper Canada.
In 1828 new saw and grist mills were built on the east bank. In 1846, Furnace Falls was renamed Lyndhurst. In 1857 a beautiful stone 3-arch bridge was built over the river very close by, which is now the oldest bridge in Ontario. By 1870 there were sawmills and grist mills on both sides of the river, and in 1912 a hydro generator was installed in the mill on the west bank. The last remnants of the furnace stack were demolished in 1881 to build a new grist mill on the east bank, which was demolished in 1967. The mills on the west bank burned down in 1953.
In 1932 the Historic Sites and Monuments Board designated it a National Historic Site and erected a stone cairn in 1935. In 2008 a Stage 1 Archaeological report was written and the site registered on the Ontario registry as BdGa-37. In late 2016, the Township of Leeds & 1000 Islands purchased the west bank for parkland and possible archaeological exploration.
Sesquicentennial Archaeological project
In the Spirit of Canada’s Sesquicentennial, The Municipal Heritage Committee for Leeds & 1000 Islands, in conjunction with the Lyndhurst Rejuvenation Committee, proposes to conduct Archaeological Research on the properties described in the Stage 1 Report of 2008. An application is being prepared to Parks Canada for a Cost Sharing Program which will pay 50% of the cost up to $25,000. We have to raise an equal amount to match the grant.
from 'The Blacksmith in Upper Canada' by William Wylie (scan from photocopy!)

Archeology Update Jan 30
Pledges have been coming in steadily since the forms were posted on line. We have passed the threshold where we can launch a project for 2017, assuming Parks Canada support, but it would be small, and would leave more to be accomplished in future stages. Our goal is to have a two-week dig. ...

This is the kind of project that builds communities. It builds on previous accomplishments in the community, beginning in 1932 with the granting of National Historic Site status to the Lansdowne Iron Works, saving the Lyndhurst Bridge in 1985/86, commissioning the book “Rear of Leeds & Lansdowne 1796-1996” by Glenn Lockwood, and writing the Stage 1 Archeological Report in 2008, not to mention the designated blacksmith shop, four historic plaques and one interpretive sign in the same area. Some of these events contribute greater significance to the location, while others were prerequisites to the archeology now proposed and the funding we are now eligible to apply for.
As we said in our presentation to Council last Nov. 7, the long-term vision is to have an interpretive center incorporated into the newly purchased township park land on the west side of the river below the bridge; here to tell the story and show the artifacts, and create a small attraction to the village and area. In getting to that goal, the process itself will be an exercise in community building, by raising the funds for the archeology in the community, and by getting local people involved in the actual archeology. We have built into the project the opportunity for volunteers to participate with trowels and whisks, under the direction of the archeologist, digging up their own history.
Our goal for this year (it will continue for a couple of years) is $22,000, of which we now have pledges for 40%. Please help us out and show your pride in the community and our history and our Sesquicentennial. 
To support this project - contact :
Art Shaw 
3367 County Rd 3, RR 1 
Lyndhurst, ON. K0E 1N0
The pledge forms are here:

This in from Art on February 13:

"Last Monday night, Leeds & 1000 Islands Township Council voted unanimously to support the project and be the applicant for the Parks Canada Cost Share Program."

The next step is for Art and the Township Treasurer to complete and submit the formal proposal to Parks Canada. 


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

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