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Andrew W

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  1. That quote where the spears change color is fascinating little passage. It’s from Hydatius, a fifth-century Galician chronicler, and it is describing a miracle / portent, so the details could be intended to sound fantastical—it might be naive to take it too seriously. I mentioned it in that chapter of my dissertation, though, because it reminded me so much of the colors you get from tempering. Could the miracle be that the color changed on its own, and are colored spearheads really such a far-fetched idea when oxide finishes like russetting, bluing, or oil-blackening show up in other times and places? Surfaces on Late Antique blades so rarely survive, and when they do they’ve often been changed during conservation (the spearheads from Lyminge come to mind—some have beautiful polished black surfaces; the polish is original, but the color came from chemical stabilization in the 1950s). Some of the Late Antique spearheads from the Thames have original surfaces, and these are russeted; but they spent 1500 years in anaerobic mud, so their patina today tells us little about their original color. I think the best clue that some of these spears were blued/blackened is the use of silver inlay decorations on several Late Antique UK spearheads. This inlay would have been very subtle on a mirror-polished blade; but it would’ve looked striking if the blade had dark oxide finish. That’s not the only possibility, however. Researchers scanned the spearheads from Mucking with XRF, and found traces of copper plating on their surfaces. And I like Carlos’s suggestion that they might have used paint. Late Antique spearheads so rarely had complex pattern-welding that I don’t know how common the fine mirror polishes would be (where patterns can be concealed until you look closely, as Alan describes) that swords and seaxes of the period seem to have often had. I think we should play with the possibilities. It’s very easy to project the familiar, polished surfaces of early modern spearheads back onto the spearheads of Late Antiquity. And while that’s probably correct—if our historical and archaeological sources give us other options, why not see how those could look, how they hold up, and whether they can teach us anything new?
  2. What I did was clamp it in the vise and twist it 90*, grasping the bar directly next to the vise jaws. Then I moved the part I just twisted into the vise (rotating the bar) and twisted the next segment the opposite direction, 90*. I think you could also use two wrenches the way you suggested, but I found it easier to move the bar in the vise each time instead. To forge it square without untwisting it, you have to forge the extra material (the humps that stick out on each curve) down into the valleys. If you focus on moving the metal rather than smashing it flat, the twists will survive.
  3. Here’s the scabbard! Scabbards are, of course, tricky things for archaeologists to study. They quickly decompose in archaeological sites; no sixth-century scabbard has survived complete. But tiny traces survive: the sheepskin lining and wooden core sometimes rust onto the sword blade, and occasionally that rust contains traces of the leather exterior and its decoration. Archaeologist Esther Cameron, in her wonderful book, Sheaths and Scabbards in England, has brought all this evidence together. I couldn’t have made this scabbard without her work. My scabbard is lined with sheepskin and has a wood core (poplar). It’s wrapped in leather and bound with a linen tablet-woven tape, and has a baldric to wear over the shoulder.
  4. I've just finished a reproduction of one of my favorite early medieval swords, the sixth-century serpent-bladed spatha from the cemetery at West Heslerton (UK). West Heslerton is a weird and wonderful cemetery. It was discovered by a gravel mining company, and was subsequently excavated, analyzed, and published to a delightfully thorough extent. The cemetery is in the north of England, between York and Scarborough. Many of the burial practices are unusual compared to the rest of England. There are graves with unique types of amulets, at least one female-sexed person buried with weapons (next to a Bronze Age barrow), and a lot of other cool things. Most importantly for us, the iron artifacts were all analyzed in a lab and we have metallographic studies of many of the spearheads and, happily, the sword. The sword was made with a central serpentine twist, achieved by welding a low-phosphorus bar between two high-phosphorus strips. It had steel edges, which were slack quenched and had a bainite microstructure. The whole metallographic analysis, conducted by Brian Gilmour, is published in this wonderful book: ------------------ For my reproduction, I used bloomery iron and steel from 6 different smelts. Five of the smelts were mine, and the sixth was high-P iron I bought from Lee Sauder. One of the blooms: I welded up two edge bars from 16-layer high-carbon bloom sandwiched between bloomery iron. For the central core, I welded a single bar of 16-layer medium-carbon steel between two 4-layer bars of high-phosphorus iron. I then sandwiched that between two bars of folded low- and medium-carbon iron/steel. (In hindsight, I shouldn't have used medium-carbon steel; it kept wanting to burn at the high welding heats. Lesson learned for next time.) I twisted a zig-zag pattern into the bar... ...and forged it back to square, creating the central serpent twist. This is how the original was done (rather than the method of cutting out wedges with a chisel or bandsaw). Then I welded up the bars... ...and marked out the distal taper, in 1/5ths increments (6-5mm thick for the first 1/5, 5-4,mm for the next 2/5ths, and 4-2mm for the final 2/5ths)... ...and forged the profile. Some careful grinding to clean up the surface: The pattern is pretty shallow, so I tried not to take off too much--always a challenge with these surface-level patterns. It barely warped in the quench! I tempered in hot oil, bending out a few little warps between heats. --------------- The sword's hilt was made from cattle horn, none of which survived. We have a good idea what these hilts looked like, however, thanks to some lucky soil chemistry at a different cemetery (Snape, UK) which preserved many of the horn and wood artifacts. Here's the Snape hilt: And here's mine: Capping off its horn hilt, the West Heslerton sword had a small copper-alloy pommel. This would have been cast, and was hollow. I'm not up for that, so I ground mine from solid brass. Most early medieval British copper alloy was made from recycled Roman metal; mine was a recycled door pull. After this, I spent most of a day sanding the blade, wrapping up with a ferric chloride etch (5:1 water : FeCl, 4x15-min etches). I assembled the sword (with help from a bit of epoxy--cheating!), then carefully peened the tang. This part always makes me nervous! And: done! I like it. The serpent twist is, imo, too narrow. I'll spread the central bar more on my second attempt. But for a first try (and the third sword I've ever made), I'm happy.
  5. I forged up some leftover bits of twisted bar into two little knives:
  6. I glued the hilt together last night. I cheated with epoxy (the originals probably used pitch). Today, I trimmed the tang down to 1mm and peened it over the pommel. I considered using a washer here, but most of the finds I’ve seen are just peened like this. It worked well and feels secure! All that remains is to finish the hilt with linseed oil and build a scabbard.
  7. Saturday, my wife and I took the dog for a walk in the swamp. Then I got back to work on the sword I ground it up to 400 grit on my 2x72, then switched to hand sanding up to 1500. I didn't finish until Sunday. Once it was polished, I gave it a light etch in ferric chloride. I etched it 4x 3 min. You can see the pattern wander from where I got it off center, if you look closely. The blade has lots of small flaws on the surface. These are normal on all the real blades I've handled on museums, though mine has more of these flaws than the originals. It's definitely a first try. Where the pattern changed toward the tip. Overall, I'm both pleased and disappointed with this blade. Disappointments first: The finished blade came out significantly narrower than I intended. I was aiming for between 45mm, but the finished blade is only 35mm wide. I severely underestimated how much steel I needed on the blade's edges. Lesson learned for next time. I also wish I'd been more careful forging out the central core to keep the pattern from wandering, and the blade's surface has more welding flaws than I'd like for cosmetics. But there's a lot that I love: I made a blade from ore! Despite the cosmetic blemishes, the structural welds are sound. The blade is also very dynamic--Peter Johnsson's advice on how to forge the distal taper was unsurprisingly excellent, and I'm happy with the result. ---- At this point, I was so close to the end that I decided to stay up all night making the hilt. I wanted to keep this sword simple, so I would make the hilt entirely from horn with no metal fittings, copying a cemetery find from a 6/7th-century boat burial at Snape (UK). (Image from Filmer-Sankey, W., and Pestell, T. (2001). Snape Anglo-Saxon Cemetery: Excavations and Surveys 1824-1992. East Anglian Archaeology, 95, page 150.) The original hilt was made from cattle horn, so I used the same: a piece of mixed-color horn for the grip, and two pieces of dark brown / black horn for the pommel and guard. Because my blade came out narrower than the historical examples I was copying, I made the grip a little narrower to match. The Snape grip is 45mm across (edge to edge); mine is about 35mm, just like my blade. I kept my grip, guard, and pommel lengths the same as the early medieval original. Here are the pieces test-fit on the blade. I finished fitting them in the wee hours before dawn, so I'm waiting until tomorrow to rivet it all together. I gave the blade a final polish before I went to bed (not pictured--yet!) Overall, I'm pleased. This project was both easier and harder than I anticipated. Easier in that, despite every step taking an immense amount of time to complete, the process itself is pretty straightforward. Lots of forge welding, but that applies to everything made from bloomery steel. Harder because the fine details matter so much in these blades. This thing proudly displays every single error I made--there's so much less margin to "fix" and fudge mistakes. I have a much better understanding now of how much further down this road I'll have to walk to make a blade that might earn the old masters' approval. That's going to be a fun journey to walk
  8. I got off work early on Friday, and fired up the forge to harden the sword. And that's when everything went horribly Fine. It was just fine. Bloomery steel is super easy to harden. I did have trouble with the blade sagging under its own weight while I was normalizing it. I had to forge out a bit of a sabre bend at one point. I think I may need to build an oven to hang these vertically if I make many more of them, because it was very annoying! I ended up putting a piece of 2" angle iron in my forge and using that as a track to keep the blade straight, and this worked pretty well. It hardly warped at all in the water quench, thank goodness. Success! Next up: deep fryer tempering. I heated it to 450*F in a tube full of canola oil. After letting it soak for about an hour, I pulled it out and straightened the remaining kinks by bending it in my hands while wearing welding gloves. I'd bend it for 5-10 seconds, inspect the results, and put it back into the oil to heat it up again. It took a few dozen heats to get it straight. There were a few places where the blade was twisted, and I had to clamp it in my vice and counter-twist it with a pair of tongs. This scared the shit out of me, but the blade held up just fine. And that was it for Friday!
  9. That, above, is where I stopped working on this project last spring. Life happened, I got COVID, etc--and this got pushed back into the pile of half-finished things. Last weekend, I found it again and decided to finish First, I cut a notch into the tip of the blade and welded it shut: Then I forged in the distal taper. I followed Peter Johnsson's advice in this thread, which was extremely helpful: Next, I forged out the blade. The thin layers of pattern welding (basically just a veneer over the iron core) made this unusually challenging. I learned that I usually rely too much on my grinder to clean things up--something that just doesn't work with a blade like this. And: done! I noticed while I was forging the blade a few weld flaws in the pattern-welded veneer. Hopefully they're shallow enough to grind out (without cutting too deep into the veneer and marring the pattern). Grinding, grinding, grinding--and I discovered one of my two mistakes. The blade's thickness was correct, but there was no way to clean up the edge profile while preserving the width I'd originally intended. Turns out, I'd severely underestimated how much material I would lose to scale while I forged the blade. I should have used twice as much steel on each edge to achieve the width I'd wanted. Damn. Too late now! Once I'd ground the blade to 120 grit, I did a quick etch to see what I was working with. Hooray! This is the point where I realized my other mistake. Because I had forged (and badly corrected) that rhomboid section in the blade, the pattern wandered off to the side. It did this on each face, and there was nothing I could do to correct it. Oof. I also found that I'd cut too deep into the veneer on the sword's tip, changing the pattern. Given the thickness of the blade here (about 1.5mm) and the veneer (<.5mm), this didn't surprise me. I honestly might have lost the herringbone to scale while forging it out, it was so thin. I think I may, on the next one, end the iron core about 60% down the blade's length so the veneer at the tip is thicker? Let me know if you've encountered this and solved it. That's as far as I got Thursday night.
  10. Sorry y'all, I got very distracted by life! Let's resume where we left off--with me twisting lots of tiny little bars. I eventually finished enough unbroken bars to make the central core (I kept all the broken fragments to use for knives). I decided to weld the faces on one at a time. Here's two of the twisted bars welded together, strapped on to the central iron bar (to which I've already welded the other pair of twisted bars): They welded together pretty well! But I did make my first mistake here. When I welded the second pair of bars to the core, I got things a little off center and part of the bar came out rhomboid. No big deal, I thought--I can just forge it square again! (lol, nope) I forged the bar square again, but I stretched my twists unevenly and the pattern shifted. Lesson learned. Next I added the steel edges: And, done! Here I've made my second mistake: I underestimated how much steel I needed in the edges, because I misjudged how much I would lose to hammer scale. (That's foreshadowing!)
  11. Twisting, twisting, twisting... The bar on top isn't twisted tight enough yet--I took this photo between heats, then kept twisting tighter. The 1/4" bars are so easy to snap while I'm twisting them! I may have had to scarf weld a few back together. I've twisted 3 of the 4 bars. I'm hoping to do the last after work tonight--more updates coming!
  12. The core bars [Feb 2021] For the twisted core bars, I used more hearth steel (carburized bloom) + some nineteenth-century wrought iron that has a moderate phosphorus content. The last time I used this combination I got a great color contrast, so: fingers crossed? 1.5lb (700g) of hearth refined bloom steel + about as much phosphoric iron, ready to weld: Heating it up... Success! And drawing it out into a 1/4" (6mm) square bar: This netted me enough for 2 bars. So I did it again, getting me 4 x 25" (64cm) long bars. Altogether, to make the 4 core bars and the edges, I used at least 10lb (4.5kg) of unrefined bloom + 2lb (900g) of refined wrought iron. I'll use at least 2 (900g) more lb of bloom to make the center core bar--all to make a sword blade that will weigh less than 2lb / 1kg! --- And that's as far as I am right now. Next step: lots of careful twisting!
  13. Making Hearth Steel [Feb 6, 2021] For the blades of the sword, I wanted high-carbon steel. I decided I'd make that by melting my scrap into a charcoal hearth. I recorded a video of the process: 2lb (.9kg) of scrap, plus a copious serving of high-iron bloomery slag, gave me nearly 2lb of high carbon steel. Hopefully that'll be enough for my blade edges!
  14. Here goes nothing--let's see if I can make a sword from dirt. [Jan 2021] The Plan I'm aiming to reproduce a sword that you might encounter in late 6th- or early 7th-century lowland Britain (ie, an "Anglo-Saxon" community). I want to make something typical of archaeological finds from the period, an "average" sword rather than a reproduction of one specific find. I'm going to make it from ore, with maybe a bit of nineteenth-century wrought iron mixed in for fun and contrast. Sources The best survey of swords from this period is Paul Mortimer and Matt Bunker's new book, The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England: from the 5th to 7th century (2019). Paul and Matt do living history, and they wrote this book for an audience of makers and re-enactors as well as academics. It's a great survey. In the book, Paul shows that herringbone patterns in either 2 or 3 bars were the most common on blades from this period. Matt wrote a great chapter on hilts, most of which were made from unadorned cattle horn. I also re-read all of Brian Gilmour's metallographic analyses of sword blades (Tylecote and Gilmoure 1986, and his briefer studies on blades from Castledyke South, Park Lane, and Saltwood). Sketching out a pattern So, what I want to do: 2 twisted bars on each face of the blade forming a herringbone pattern. These twisted bars will sandwich a core of plain iron. For the edges, I'm thinking a simple stacked bar of bloomery steel, but with the welds turned 90* so as to give the edges a subtle striped pattern (something Gilmour noted on several of the blades from Saltwood which I think would look cool). Like so: So I'll need to make 4 twisted bars, a core, and 2 edges. The metal I've been smelting for 2 years, and I've got a few bloom pieces lying around that should work well. This bloom came out high carbon (hypoeutectic) steel, and it forges very well. I made it on the winter solstice 2019 (photos of the smelt here). I forged half into a dozen knives last summer, but I held onto the other half: This one, smelted two months ago on the 2020 solstice, is also hypoeutectic steel: And this one I made last month is lower carbon mild steel (basically just iron): I've also got this bucket of bloom scrap that I can melt down into high-carbon hearth steel for the blade edges: All these blooms were made from a low-phosphorus hematite ore, however, and they don't give great contrast for pattern welding. So I grabbed some mid-P wrought iron to mix in with the twisted bars.
  15. My first seax was from 1095, and I finished it about 3 years ago. You're well on your way!
  16. They're extremely common, but not much talked about outside technical archaeological reports. Browse through the organics analysis chapter in site reports from early Anglo-Saxon period cemeteries, and you'll find that almost every knives and seaxes in England from the 6-7th centuries had a horn handle. Sometimes they can even tell what species the horn came from--both cattle and sheep/goat, it appears (see the report from Finglesham, Kent for both species of horn). Interestingly, you see more wooden handles and very little horn in France during the same period.
  17. Some WIP photos of my latest, a short-narrow seax based on archaeological finds from early medieval England. First, I smelted some steel. I used 55lb (25kg) of "Spanish Red" iron oxide (powdered hematite), and got a very dense 15lb (6.8kg) bloom. It was mostly steel (medium-high carbon, enough to harden), and very easy to forge. After 3 folds, it was a solid bar. I stacked the bloomery steel with some medium-phosphorus wrought iron from an old fence (for color contrast), forged it into two 1/4" (6mm) bars, and twisted them opposite directions. Next I melted some scraps from an earlier smelt into a charcoal hearth to make some hypereutectic steel for the cutting edge. Success! The hearth steel puck forged very easily. This photo is from before I folded it, and already there were no major cracks. I folded it three times for good measure, then drew it out for the blade's edge. So I welded up the bars. Bloomery steel is super easy to weld, and the 1/4" bars snapped together easily. (Sorry, no pictures! I was too in the zone.) Forging the blade profile... ...and quench! It warped badly (as bloom can do), but I was able to twist it back straight with my gloved hands before it cooled. Phew. And: finished! The handle is cattle horn. Archaeological conservators who have analyzed hundreds of originals tell me the handles were almost always horn on these English blades. I can see why---it's a beautiful material. The phosphoric wrought iron was just right to give a contrast with the bloomery steel. I also got a subtle hamon along the edge, thanks to bloom steel's shallow hardening metallurgy. While I enjoy pattern welding, I love the natural patterns in the bloomery steel even more. I got into bladesmithing because I love the wild irregularities of preindustrial iron and steel; it never gets old.
  18. My favorite from 2020. Bloomery steel blade with cattle horn handle.
  19. Indeed! Brian's been so helpful over the years--we've mostly chatted about spears (what I studied in grad school), so I've enjoyed going back to the swords and reading all the parts I'd skimmed before.
  20. The edge bars are a stack like this (apologies for the ugly sketch). This sort of composite edge is common in early medieval swords. The wrought I used etches up with some wild textures, so I'm hoping this will look fun when it's finished.
  21. I've never made a sword before or done any pattern welding, so this is me feeling my way in the dark. I'm having fun! I went with a simple 2-bar herringbone core. The core bars are 7 layers (1084 and 15N20). For the edges, I built a 7-layer stack alternating wrought, 15N20, wrought, and 1084 (etc). Welded up my core bars... Twisted them with my buddy's torch... And then moved and forgot about this project for 12 months So now that I'm shut in on quarantine-- I'll grind it tomorrow and see how the welds look. They all seemed solid while I was forging the profile so...we shall see. As a bonus, I ended up with about 12" of extra herringbone bar. I made way more than I needed! Bonus seax? My goal for this blade is an early Anglo-Saxon style: fullerless (double-lenticular profile), 70cm long x 4.5cm wide blade, and a 12cm tang. I forged in a subtle distal taper, and the dynamics feel about right. Still too heavy at 2.5lb, but I assume I'll knock a lot of that off when I grind the surface and finish the bevels? I've got an old army surplus ammo tube and 6 gallons of canola oil, so once I finish the rough grinding I'll need to get up my courage enough to harden it.
  22. Success! All up and running—and safely wired and properly grounded. Thank you for your help! I’m really excited to put this through its paces now
  23. Now that I've replaced my outlet and it has a proper grounding wire, I can just splice a 10ga copper wire from my grinder frame onto the green grounding wire in the power cord--is that correct? No need for a separate grouding rod on the frame?
  24. Update: I flipped the breaker off and opened my 3-pronged dryer outlet. Turned out whoever built the house used a grounded cable for the circuit—they just didn’t connect the ground wire to anything. So I replaced the outlet with a 4-pronged 14-30 plug, checked everything with a multimeter, and now I have a grounded circuit to plug my grinder into (and my dryer’s safer too, an unexpected bonus). I wired a 20A fused air conditioning disconnect box to a plug (for the dryer socket) and a length of SJOOW cord, so I can run only as much power as I need out the window to the grinder. Just gotta hook up a vfd now.
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