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Serpent-Spear


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Thanks Nick! There a few ways of doing it, but without any stock removal this is all I could come up with that seemed reasonable to try. Another way to do it is like Niels did in the Serpent Sword where the straight core is clad with an outer edge of sacrificial material which is then cut with a bunch of offset triangles, then forged back to a rectangle. It is effectively the same thing. One way I want to try is using a press, making a set of dies which have a full wavelength of the shape of the edge bar, using it to bend the core into a snake, then using that along with the top die to forge in the waves to the edge bar. With a little care and manipulation of the steel along the way, it theoretically can give a set of three matching bars that come together perfectly, which can then be welded as is without using the shape as a means of distorting the core. That way, it can be a lot tighter. If any of that even made sense... It would be considerably easier to explain with pictures, so maybe I'll get to that once I have a press available :)

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I'm thrilled to say that the scraper works beautifully! The steep edge angle has done a wonderful job at taking off little curls of steel, and the heat treatment I think was spot on. Although there is a long way to go with this, I took a really quick test etch to show what's going on. Because I don't have anything to etch it in, I just wiped on some ferric until I started to see things stand out. I already knew that the serpent is not quite centred in the spear, but for the process I am not too worried about it. Unfortunately, because of work I won't be able to do anything with this until about mid March, so hopefully the down and dirty etch will suffice until I can do it properly ;)

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I don't have any good way to hold this in my apartment, which made it difficult, but once back out in the shop I can hold it secure in the post vice and really start hogging off some meat from this. And also not worry about getting little metal shavings all over the place...

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  • 3 years later...

Looks like mid march came and went by a few years...

But, I was able to at long last get my belt sander back up and running and with the excess of both time and old projects these last few months I figured it was time to go back to this one. While effective in light surface removal, the scraper was nowhere near fast enough to get through the thickness of this thing for pattern development reasons, and outside of taking several consecutive days of just scraping, I ripped through it on the 24grit. 

 

Almost all of the seams and corners from the welding are gone with exception of where the socket meets spear tang, and those are only small aesthetic defects. If I were to tack the socket in place with a welder or even leave everything just slightly more oversized and neck down, it would be gone entirely. 

 

Overall, I am not totally convinced that the pattern is as even and sinuous as intended, there being significant variation for how small an overall length (in relation to sword length) the spear head ultimately ended being. I'd be curious to try this again with a different approach, but first want to look into what compliment of tools were proven to exist at the time of the first emerging serpent cores. The way the forcing down of the straight core by flattening the undulated edge bars obviously had the desired effect, just not to the extent it needs. I believe that there is an upper limit to how severe a counter bend can be achieved in this method, and any additional depth to the valleys of the edge bars will simply translate to elongation rather than undulation of the core.

 

I'd love to hear your thoughts and if anyone has insight as to simple tooling that might be able to create a consistent serpent pattern, please share!

 

John

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Thanks Josh! 

 

I've been thinking about this project a good deal lately, and have revisited some of the initial planning concerns with how to achieve the pattern. In theory, the same pieces could be forged, but the outer bars flipped so the undulations are on the core rather than the edge. I initially discarded that idea, and as I think more about it, I think I was right to do so. Based on how the serpent pattern of a core is relatively common (not unusual, that is) and how clean the geometry and welds seem to be in originals, I do not think starting with a pre bent twist bar would work. To fit the serpent to one of the edge bar undulations would be simple enough, but getting a perfect match for the second opposing side would be far more difficult. Sort of in the examination of wolf's tooth patterning I did with Emiliano and Luke a few years back, there is a fine margin for getting everything to seat perfectly before welding. 

 

That being said, does anyone have any good close up references to original serpent patterns? Preferably something that shows the grain or pattern in the steel directly adjacent to the serpent. Thinking again to the wolf's tooth pattern, there is a fair amount to be learned in how patterns were developed in what shows through the steel (cut v. forged for the tooth 'sockets' for example). To be able to see how the steel was manipulated prior to final forging would certainly narrow the possibilities of tooling used.

 

John

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Glad you got it finally finished! I would also be interested in more historical references of serpent patterns. When I looked at them a few years ago, I did not really find much of interest.

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Thanks Niels! I'll certainly be posting any info and further attempts here!

 

One of the methods of reexamination I am considering is forging the individual bars closer to the final thickness prior to welding the billet together. Although this one wasn't overly thick, there was enough residual deformation from thinning that some of the tightness of wavelength may have been lost. If I had thought about it at the time, I would have measured the overall length pre and post shaping. With thinner bars, it not only reduces the lengthwise pattern deformation but I think more importantly will make the 'upsetting' of the undulating outer bars into a rectangle less taxing with regard to stretching.  

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1 hour ago, John Page said:

forging the individual bars closer to the final thickness prior to welding the billet together

 

I have found this to be the single most important factor in recreating Viking-age pattern-weld.  Without a hydraulic twisting machine and press, that is. 

 

I have no insight into the serpent pattern, but for the twists and multi-core billets I try to think like the smiths of the day probably did.  Small anvils, no power tools, bloom iron and steel rather than homogeneous steel, and so on.  The iron lends itself to additive construction rather than subtractive, i.e. more welding and forging than grinding and filing.  It's easier to put a lot of small pieces together into a bigger blade/object with small anvils and hammers than it is to work down a big billet, even with strikers and large stone anvils.  

 

Oh, and good to see you around again, John. B)

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Thanks Alan! And good to be back! Things have a way of getting away sometimes, and I realized I've been missing the community now more than ever. Especially without various hammer ins to kindle energy and inspiration, I'm trying to avoid the grand influx of malaise that's creeping in, even if time at a forge is somewhat limited. 

 

I think it was first Michael Pikula (could be completely wrong) who made me realize how small bars in a composite blade could be prior to forge welding, his sword bars sometimes around 1/4" square! It does make a lot of sense to forge thin and weld larger, especially with both material value and equipment limitations. I wonder if a small stake fuller/drawing anvil would be able to produce this sort of shape? With a regular flat surface for welding, the thin bars would certainly be easier to work. Investigation will be required!

 

Although it may be an unrealistic approach, the inclusion of wrought in smaller pieces (thinking back to the wolf's tooth pattern with several individual teeth plus a thin bar across the entire surface) may be able to eliminate the need to upset and forge back down to straight lines. Welding several smaller 'teeth' in the valleys of the serpent with another edge layer outside that may achieve similar results. I am not convinced of the practicality of that approach, however, and the asymmetry of the process is dissuading. Worded another way, the wavy edge bar would be used as a form while cold for a hot twist core forged down into it to match, then the second edge would take the 'teeth' one valley at a time in order to reduce the required precision of perfectly matching a mating frequency of peaks and valleys. Those individual parts for the second half could be easily rough forged, then finish forged into the cold, already bent serpent prior to welding for a much tighter fit. That way the trialing ends of the 'teeth' could be smoothed over and possibly lap welded over one another or if close enough to the same height, just adding another thin bar of wrought over that to match thickness to the first side. 

 

I should note that wrought is not necessarily a choice material, having made swords with wrought in the core before and experiencing the ease at which it takes a heavy set regardless of the other steel, but other material could as easily be substituted there. For some reason in my head wrought iron makes sense simply for the subsequent etching and revealing of the process in its grain. 

 

Anyway, I digress. Whether or not that method is either viable or plausible doesn't matter much, but in thinking out loud through as many different ways to do this with minimal tooling I begin to develop a list of details to look for in originals and how the processes either exclude certain techniques or demand them.

 

John

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