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Christopher Price

Knifemaker Interview Series, a biography workshop

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On 2/10/2019 at 3:03 PM, Joshua States said:

Those casting are quite intricate, and poured in clay molds? I would have guessed a sand casting of some sort.

Here's one of the moulds those axes came from:

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Various mould materials have been used in the bronze age and later periods, including clay, stone and even bronze moulds. Sand may have been possible, but leaves no trace in archaeology, so I stuck to the mould types that have been found. My focus was staying as close to archaeological evidence as possible, using the methods for which we at least have the evidence they used it. I've worked with clay moulds, bivalve, bivalve with outer wrap, and lost wax. And I've worked with soapstone moulds as well.

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It seems that introducing more modern tools to you casting process would allow you to branch out into other forms and items. (I seem to remember a full size Star Wars Light Saber at some point). The expansion into the iron age work also must have taken you in different directions. In what ways has your art and blade making grown? 

In some ways it has stayed the same. I still use very basic tools. My only electric tools are a drill press, angle grinder, dremel and hand drill. This is also for a large part due to lack of space. I would love a belt grinder, but no where to put it. Most of the work is still done by hand on the kitchen table :) The furnaces and forges I work with are still charcoal fueled, and blown by bellows. 

But what has changed is that I've learned to approach the shapes of ancient artifacts more closely, and finding all sorts of ways to get there. Sometimes it's the simplest tools like shaped scrapers to make wooden models for bronze swords f.e. that suddenly make a job that appears challenging quite easy. 

A big step up has been starting to decorate blades. A lot of bronze age knives, swords axes etc. where decorated with punches. It's taken me quite a bit of time to build up the guts to take a perfect casting, and hammering decoration into it. For example this reproduction of a bronze age knife from Appelscha, Netherlands:

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The same goes for iron, but there I do it by engraving:

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It's so very easy to ruin a piece that you've already spend a lot of work into this way. I have to be in the right mood to do it. Often I can wait for years until I feel confident enough to have a go at it. 

The biggest part that I've learned in this is to make errors with confidence. If you look closely at the original work, quite often you see a lot of imperfections. But it doesn't really distract from the piece. It gets bad when you get frustrated while trying to fix it and ruin it further that way, rather then just pressing on in a steady pace. But it's still nerve wracking to do it. But then I do like to challenge/torture myself a bit ;)

I'm still in the process of gaining practice, and getting closer to the result I want, but the few things I've done that way I'm quite happy with. I've also started practicing forge welding. I couldn't do that with my iron age set up, as I couldn't look a the metal in the forge while bellowing. My current forge is more inspired by viking period forges, and I can keep a close eye on the metal, which makes welding a possibility. Now to find time to actually do it more often.

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I also would like to say that I appreciate your devotion to the history and using the original archaic methods. You are one of this forum's recognized authorities on historical works and the sharing of your knowledge has benefited many of us. What can we all learn from studying the ancients and their methods? How can we apply the "old ways" to our work today?

Thanks! One important thing is that you can do a lot with very little. You don't need a big workshop with lots of expensive equipment. Equipment makes things more efficient and reliable, allowing to make more and more difficult things. Working with very simple means makes you rely much more on skill. And I quite enjoy that. Once you go the route of fully authentic, then you learn two things: just how incredible it was that they even managed to make such artifacts and how much work went into it. But also that sometimes very simple means can be incredibly effective. 

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Those axe molds are intriguing. Is that a 3-piece set? I think I see how the socket is formed, but getting the molten bronze into the form with that piece in place is mystifying to me.

Wow. Those decorations are quite the eye candy. How common were these types of decorated blades in the bronze and iron ages? I know of a few highly decorated blades, but what about simpler forms? Were these very common? I always wondered whether the repeated forms like scribed lines or fullers were a type of maker's mark or regional identifier.

Using this as a platform to move to the iron age, what was the focus of your interest there? Was it stylistic, cultural, or process related? Where did iron work take you artistically?

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4 minutes ago, Joshua States said:

I think I see how the socket is formed,

I see it now. There are little holes in the socket plug that the bronze flows through. The cup is in the top of the socket plug. That seems tricky. Especially removing the axe without damaging the mold.

Edited by Joshua States

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16 hours ago, Joshua States said:

Those axe molds are intriguing. Is that a 3-piece set? I think I see how the socket is formed, but getting the molten bronze into the form with that piece in place is mystifying to me.

Wow. Those decorations are quite the eye candy. How common were these types of decorated blades in the bronze and iron ages? I know of a few highly decorated blades, but what about simpler forms? Were these very common? I always wondered whether the repeated forms like scribed lines or fullers were a type of maker's mark or regional identifier.

Of the iron age I don't know many decorated examples, but then again, iron doesn't preserve as well. In the bronze age decoration was quite common. There are also a lot of undecorated blades though. There was a huge amount of variety in blades in the late bronze age mostly with very organic shapes. Pretty much any hilt attachment was used, and a massive variety in blade shapes. Some look very modern, others looks quite odd. 

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Using this as a platform to move to the iron age, what was the focus of your interest there? Was it stylistic, cultural, or process related? Where did iron work take you artistically?

Main thing was that I just really enjoyed beating hot iron ;)  Bronze casting is a lot of preparation, where the shaping takes place making the mould. The casting is a brief process. When forging iron you directly shape the metal itself. It's a very physical process. Plus it's also a great relieve valve to get rid of daily stress. 

I've not done as much with regards to forging iron age blades. I've mostly limited that so far to simple knives. Ring hilted la Tene knives are a favorite. They are simple to make, and quick to finish. 

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With regards to iron age metalwork, I've spend more time doing iron age bronze work, including swords, and other utilities.

My main interest with regards to forging so far has been early medieval, primarily seaxes. When I started to get interested in these, very little information on historical seaxes was available, and virtually no reproductions that had any resemblance to actual seaxes. A common thread through my hobby is exploring periods, cultures and artifacts which have undeservedly been labeled as brutish, primitive, simple. That goes for prehistoric cultures, but also for the early medieval period. Studying it more closely has revealed that very much the opposite is true. The same thing goes for seaxes. In reenactment I saw rough forged blades stuck to unworked antlers being used as seaxes. That is quite the opposite of the highly refined seaxes with exquisite decorative elements, such as engraving, patternwelding, enlaying, and elaborately embossed leather sheaths. Seaxes include so many aspects of bladesmithing, that I very much like to see this being made into reproductions. I'm not at the level yet there that I want to achieve, simply because life has been quite busy. But I've been increasing my skill set. At first I started just trying to get the shapes right in mono steel. I've since been playing with hamons a little, engraving blades, forge welding and a few practice runs with patternwelding. 

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19 hours ago, Joshua States said:

I see it now. There are little holes in the socket plug that the bronze flows through. The cup is in the top of the socket plug. That seems tricky. Especially removing the axe without damaging the mold.

Clay moulds are single use in general. Only with some simple shapes I've been able to reuse the moulds.

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What was that big seax you reproduced? Bengoth? Or little bealings? That big one you made with the central twist. A beautiful piece whatever it was! 

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I'll feed off of Zeb's post and offer you an unrestrained chance at self-promotion. Please post as many photos of your work as you wish.

About that research into primitive or ancient cultures, have you worked on any organized archeological sites? If so, what were they about and what were the event details/outcomes? Who was involved, what processes were employed/what were any conclusions? What were your research options and sources?

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On 2/14/2019 at 3:53 PM, Zeb Camper said:

What was that big seax you reproduced? Bengoth? Or little bealings? That big one you made with the central twist. A beautiful piece whatever it was! 

It's a reproduction of the sax from Heusden, Netherlands. I made that as part of a patternwelded seax forging course by Owen (http://owenbush.co.uk/events/). I attended the course for two reasons, one to get some experience patternwelding. And secondly, because it was on my bucket list to at least make one patternwelded longsax. Since at the time my metalworking activity was declining and it didn't look like I would get around to trying it any time soon on my own, this was a good way to at least strip that off my list :) Now I'll still have to do it on my own someday.

The seax is a simplified version of the original, which had a fuller, grooves and inlay as well. The course was only 5 days, so I did not have the time to add all that.

The blade is constructed of three billets: folded W1, torsion bar (forgot the steels), and wrought spine. The edge has an autohamon. The patternwelded construction is copied from the original.

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Here the seax is shown next to the original, during a temporary exhibition at the National Musuem of Antiquities in Leiden, Netherlands:

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The point on mine is slightly shorter then the original. That was because initially I cut the tip from the billet the wrong way :rolleyes: So the billet became a fair bit shorter having to cut the angle again. I barely had enough material left to make the blade.

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On 2/15/2019 at 4:54 AM, Joshua States said:

I'll feed off of Zeb's post and offer you an unrestrained chance at self-promotion. Please post as many photos of your work as you wish.

About that research into primitive or ancient cultures, have you worked on any organized archeological sites? If so, what were they about and what were the event details/outcomes? Who was involved, what processes were employed/what were any conclusions? What were your research options and sources?

Thanks! I'll upload a selection of my favorite reproductions in the following posts.

I've not worked sites, but I have worked musea and the Archaeology Faculty at the University in Leiden. I've made various reproductions for education purposes (to show students what bronze swords would have looked like originally), use wear traces on swords, axes etc and providing material for exhibitions. The nicest exhibition was "Vlijmscherp verleden" (=razor sharp past), where several of my reproductions were shown next to the originals. That had been a long wish of mine. Included were the seax above, and also this Gundlingen sword reproduction (coincidentally also based on a find from Heusden): IMG_1855.JPG

The sword is an early iron age bronze sword, from around 700BC (iron was still rare at this time). This was spare one from the sword use wear project for which I delivered a series of swords. Those did not have to be polished and finely finished. This one is part of my own collection, so this one is nicely finished. I still need to take some good quality photos of it by itself.

Another example was this early bronze age sword Sögel-Wohlde type sword. The original is from Nijmegen, Netherlands, 1600-1500 B.C.

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Interesting fact, of two of the 3 reproductions I made, both have a similar flaw in the same spot halfway down the blade, due to a charcoal inclusion. Those were very lucky mistakes :)

Edited by Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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So, for some more reproductions. This is a reproduction of the oldest sword from the Netherlands, a Sögel-Wohlde type sword from the chieftain of Drouwen, Netherlands, 1800-1600 B.C. The blade is decorated with punches, which was a first for me. 

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This is a reproduction of a khopesh, based on a find from Tell El Daba, Egypt, dated ~2000 B.C. The original had a hilt of bone I found out after making it.

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A number of bronze age knife reproductions:

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And a few of my favorite, the Appelscha knife:

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I will be uploading more the next few days (due to limited time available online). So more to come! :)

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1 hour ago, Zeb Camper said:

Dude! Wow! Im-freaking-pressive!

That's Jeroen for you.  B)

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I'm going to let this thread sit for a bit while we all enjoy these fabulous photos. As always, the floor is open to questions and comments from the readers.

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Those a gorgeous :O

Where did you learn to cast like that?

Edited by Conner Michaux

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Some axes, roughly in the order of age of the originals:

Copper shaft hole axe from Varna grave 43, Bulgaria, 4600-4200BC:

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Same axe without haft, and copper axehammer from Naxos, Greece, 2500-2200BC:

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Copper flat axe, 3000-2000BC, Netherlands:

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Decorated (punched) bronze flanged axehead with stopridge, Wassenaar, Netherlands, middle bronze age (1500-1100BC):

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Labrys from Athens, Acropolis hoard, dating to around 1300-1200BC:

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Bronze axe type palstave, Leimuiden, Netherlands, middle bronze age (1500-1100BC):

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Two socketed axes late bronze age (1100-800BC), Netherlands:

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And finally something iron, an early medieval axe based on one from Dorestad, Netherlands:

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Edited by Jeroen Zuiderwijk

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Reproductions of the world's oldest swords from Arslantepe, Turkey, around 3300BC:

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Bronze short sword with bone hilt, Iran, 1100BC:

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Reproduction of a giant ceremonial dirk from Ommerschans, Netherlands, around 1500BC:

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Edited by Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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I've also done various joined projects with Neil Burridge, using bare castings of his sword blades, and finishing, workhardening and hilting them:

Middle bronze age rapier, UK:

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The most iconic bronze age sword, the Ewart Park type, around 800BC, UK:

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Type G sword, Greece, 1300-1100BC:

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And one of the very last European swords to be made in bronze, a Mindelheim type sword based on the find from Kemmathen, Germany, 7th century BC:

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Edited by Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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And now for some iron, starting with seaxes.

Short seax, Weingarten, Germany, mid 6th century:

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Type II narrow seax, Krefeld-Gellep, Germany, late 6th to early 7th century:

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Broad seax, Germany, mid to late 7th century:

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And some broken back style seaxes, 8-11th century, UK:

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Edited by Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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A so-called "scramachette", from Lithuania, 7-11th century AD. Hilt and (unfinished) sheath not based on finds:

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Eating knife: late 14th century AD, London, UK. Laminated wrought and spring steel:

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Edited by Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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On 2/18/2019 at 12:10 AM, Conner Michaux said:

Those a gorgeous :O

Where did you learn to cast like that?

Practice :) And I learned a lot from various other casters: Neil Burridge, Erik Schouten, Anders Soderberg and the Irish group Umha Aois. A lot of early things were not so good, but with experience I got better at it. The advantage is that I started the hard way, with bronze age means only. From then on using modern means to simplify things made the rest feel easy. It's a lot harder to cast a simple flat axe the way they did it in the bronze age, then a sword with some help of modern tools and materials. Simply things like a silicon carbide crucible and steel tongs already made casting far more reliable, taking care of the whole issue of melting the bronze and getting it out of the fire and into the mould in time.

Edited by Jeroen Zuiderwijk

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I have a question about the single use clay moulds.  Do you make a wooden pattern of the blade first to form the clay, or do you have to work each mould in reverse?

That also makes me wonder:  Do we know if bronze age people used a pattern to make the mould, or was each mold a unique creation?

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1 hour ago, Brian Dougherty said:

I have a question about the single use clay moulds.  Do you make a wooden pattern of the blade first to form the clay, or do you have to work each mould in reverse?

That also makes me wonder:  Do we know if bronze age people used a pattern to make the mould, or was each mold a unique creation?

The patterns are not an easy one to survive in the archaeological record, but we do have these wooden patterns from Ireland:

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Also, sword moulds have been found which clearly have the imprint of a wooden pattern being used:

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Further, I've been using dried clay patterns as well. These have not been found, and would not survive due to turning back to clay in the ground, but were a very helpful tool that could have been used:

houten_socketed_axe_model_17_sep_2005.jpg

But for thinner shapes, I've also carved the shapes directly into the clay. And for lost wax, you have to make the wax each time you make the mould, although there are some ways to copy the waxes as well.

 

Edited by Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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Jeroen, 

I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking a thread in either the History or Non-Ferrous subforum detailing the whole process of historical bronze/copper casting would be found incredibly interesting.  While you have shared much here, I'm sure you have way more knowledge and pictures you can share.  It is a big thing to do, but if you felt so inclined to share a ton of info, I for one would be thrilled to read it!  

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