Monday, February 28, 2011

Where I've Been

Well, I've been in Lemelson. I've been assembling swords. Sword-of.

My friend Jack has been stopping by and I've been helping him assemble HIS sword, which is a learning experience for both of us. I built a blade-tempering bath using a long, trough-like object to hold the vermiculite from the "annealing bucket" we have for tool-steel items like knives and, well, tools, which my friend was successfully able to use. However, I've also had several other projects on.

Two of these projects are thanks to Freya for her exhibition of Viking artifacts beginning tomorrow in the Library Gallery. The first is the seax that I forged a few weeks ago. Having finished smoothing and shaping the blade, I knew the time had come to begin making a handle and a scabbard. I began by scouring the internet and visiting the sites of well-known seax-makers in the bladesmithing and Viking technology community, such as Thorkil and Petr Florianek (both hailing from eastern Europe, as many skilled bladesmiths seem to). I was inspired by pictures such as those above and below.

So, I have designed my own handle for the seax I'm contributing to the exhibit. It's going to require tang-reshaping, machining of the bronze pieces (they're too hard to drill, chisel, and file), finding the right wood, procuring some antler, and a wee bit of carving. Here we go:

I've been working on another project for Freya too, and that's a Viking shield. It's taken up most of my time but I relish the challenge and since I have some woodworking experience I feel more adept at it, even if I'm still learning and making something new. I plan to make many more shields in the future.

I started with six 1/2" poplar boards 42" long and 5.5" wide. I used a table joiner to smooth down the edges and butted them together with wood glue and clamps. I then realized that I wanted the shield thinner based on statistics from this authoritative source. I spent a few hours hand-planing both sides of the shield, which I had now cut into a circular shape.

I cut a hole in the shield thereafter for where one grips the handle, which will be an iron bar running the length of the shield perpendicular to the wood grain. The bar will be vertical when the shield is wielded, and on the same side of the shield as the person it's protecting. On the other side of the shield opposite the handle will be the steel boss, which I dished and planished cold.

I designed a Viking-style motif to emblazon the front side and transferred it onto canvas, which I glued to the front of the shield (historically precedented). However, the glue on only one side engorged the fibers of the wood, causing severe warping. I am currently trying to correct this by applying glue to the opposite side and putting heavy stuff on it. I'll check it in half an hour; it's been sitting the weekend!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Other fairly pertinent things that have happened

Thanks to Greg in the art barn, I've been experimenting with carving machinable wax, which can be used in the "lost wax" casting process. It's used extensively by some swordsmiths for hilt pieces such as pommels, guards, and ferrules on the ends of grips. An example is the masterful Jake Powning, with whom I will be studying next month. I just wanted to get a feel for the material in case I ever gained access to the facilities in which to cast bronze.

Also, my friend Jack from Worcester State came to visit and to use the shop. He is a much, much more experienced bladesmith than I and had several beautiful blades with him, entirely of his own making. One is for a late Roman-era "spatha" sword: a broad, double-edged blade longer than the traditional Roman gladius but shorter than later Germanic swords, even though it was lengthened for cavalry use. This type of sword generally had two parallel fullers running down the middle of the blade, and I welded together a tool for him to forge these fullers in with.

Here we are forging in the fullers:

Further development on projects!

The shell guard is really coming along! I filed out the slot in the one we cut out on the plasma cutter, hot-chiseled grooves for the scalloped look, used a ball-peen to dish the larger shell upwards and bend the smaller shell downwards (towards the point of the blade is "down" and towards the pommel of the sword is "up") after another heat in the forge.

After it all was quenched and cooled, I began to file out the edges and crannies, giving it a roughly rounded finish. It is beginning to look very much like a simple, standard-issued munitions-grade hanger!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Experimentation and preparation for hanger hilt!

This is a picture of the outline I made of the flat piece that needs to be cut from 14 gauge sheet steel with the plasma cutter. We scanned this picture onto Torchmate CAD and prepared it to be sent to the cutter, which we'll do tomorrow!

Above it is the blade we're mounting. It's a beauty.

Stamped onto the blade when it was hot is the signature of the late bladesmith Kevin Moreau, a friend of Don's from Vermont. This is the chosen signature method of period smiths; something I'll do when I begin to forge my own blades is make a maker's mark stamp, or else etch my name into the blade with nitric acid, a process I'll go into when I try it. Right now I'm trying to gain access to some of that volatile substance from Cole Science Center, but chances are pretty low I'll get it.

Another method of signature and blade ornamentation I would love to experiment with is wire inlay, where annealed wire is hammered into chiseled grooves in the blade, and the excess is ground off. Again, I'll give this a sound explanation when I work my way up to it.

The shell guard of the sword (as seen in the picture from the Armour Class website) is to be cut from 14 gauge sheet steel. Here is a picture of my trial scalloping with a file, which I'll do on the shell guard when it's cut:

And here is a picture of what the end of the D-guard will look like, which I will hand-forge out of rectangular mild-steel bar stock. I took a while to get down the general idea of how to forge this shape:

Update/To-Do List

This post is more for me than for anybody else, but I have some free time in the shop today and that's both a bad sign and means I'm not having as much fun as I could. So, without further ado, my to-do:

  • Cut out shell-guard blanks on plasma cutter (we made the Torchmate objects on CAD but we can't cut them out until tomorrow for some reason)
  • Design handle for Freya's broken back seax, decide on materials (probably a hardwood with iron ferrules on either end)
  • Decide how to construct the D-guard and shell-guard
  • Test out the forging skills I'll need to make the D-guard (punching & drifting, forging the rounded ends, etc.)
We'll see what happens.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

17th century English Hanger project

So. The first project we're really making headway on is the re-hilting of a blade forged by a local bladesmith, K. P. Moreau, which resembles English and Colonial hangers from the 17th century.

Essentially, a hanger hangs at the side of a soldier, specifically an infantryman, and can refer to a blade that is either straight or curved (like a saber); either way, hangers are characteristically short, secondary weapons.

The primary weapon of most 17th century English soldiers would have either been a long pike (15' - 22') or else a matchlock musket; these were used in conjunction to brutal effect in tight-knit, maneuverable phalanx formations. But in the tightest of pike-presses, formations broke down and melee combat ensued. This is where the hanger came into play, when close, intimate fighting prevented the use of long pikes and cumbersome, fickle matchlocks.

The English hanger of this period and style would have seen most of its service in the English Civil War (1642-1651), both with Cromwell's parliamentary forces and the Royalist supporters of King Charles I. The picture above shows a hanger at the side of one of Cromwell's rank-and-file soldiers, commonly nicknamed "Roundheads".

This bad boy on our right is a reconstruction by the Scotland-based sword makers Armour Class, which inspires our design.

The visible shell-guard behind the blade is going to be cut out of 14 gauge sheet steel, dished and planished to shape, and then filed to produce the scalloping, which is both for show and to provide structural integrity.

The d-guard is going to be forged out of mild steel by me from stock I have yet to decide the dimensions of, the pommel (end cap on the handle) is going to be turned out of steel as well, and the horizontal ring on the inside of the guard (opposite the shell) is going to be replaced by a vertical thumb-ring, precedented by contemporary finds.

My drawing to the left is a partial sketch-partial schematic of a top view of the hilt. You can see the top of the d-guard on the left and right, which are only shown for reference, along with the cross-section of the oval grip (in the center) and the thumb ring (shaded protrusion on the bottom right, under the scalloped shell).

The two scalloped shells are connected in the center by a piece with a rectangular cutout for the blade. They appear in the flat, as they will be traced onto the 14 gauge sheet for cutting, as a single piece connected in the middle. Both shells will be dished to cup upwards, with the middle section remaining flat for assembly with the d-guard below it. The thumb ring will be arc-welded to the inside side of the d-guard above the handle.

An ambitious project, but we'll start today!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Celtic spearhead forging video

Yeah, this is pretty impressive. This is a guy using only "period" methods to forge a Celtic-style spearhead out of a three-layer billet of iron. I'm particularly interested in the part where he forges the cone-shaped socket of the spearhead. I bring it up because a few days ago, I helped some kids research how to forge viking-age arrowheads for the exhibit by Freya Roe, to be held in early March, and our research revealed that viking arrowheads had not a socket construction, but rather a tanged construction, meaning that they were forged with a simple tang and driven into the arrow shaft, which was then reinforced with a binding.

So anyways. Got the video from here:

First contemporary post

There are some big changes going on here.

First of all, this is the first post to be wholly written on the day it's marked at the bottom. Quite a breakthrough, if you overlook the fact that this is actually the first day this blog has ever existed.

Second: you may be asking yourself about the new background and contemplating its meaning. Since you press me, I admit I can't explain it, but it's pretty damn aesthetically pleasing if you ask me.


I'm feeling pangs of shame that my only bladesmithing experience thus far has been with 1018 mild steel; fairly equivalent to lower-end viking-age steel alloys but still useless as far as holding a cutting edge or withstanding any sort of heat-treat to allow for differential hardness-to-flexibility ratios throughout the blade.

I'm also feeling pangs of trepidation considering the considerable flaws in my craftsmanship: uneven hammer marks in thinning the edge of the blade, resulting in a slightly wavy edge, exacerbated by a poor handling of edge filing and grinding. What the trepidation is all about is fear that these mistakes indicate that I'm not cut out for bladesmithing and that I should save myself the shame and give up now.

So it's true. Craftsmanship is heartbreaking.

I'm afraid of the next step: working with high-carbon steel in the form of a railroad spike. But it's the only way to go on. I realize that my mistakes aren't failures, but I consider what I produce to be a tangible definition of me and literally the only exact the measure of my skill, and every mistake I make is a reason to get it right next time.

Or at least to pay attention, because I don't have ignorance as an excuse anymore.

8 February 2011

This morning began with some research for our second project: the hilt of a munitions-grade 17th century American hanger. The curved blade has a deep, narrow fuller parallel to the blunt back edge of the curved blade, clearly chiseled in, and then a wide, shallow fuller running almost the whole width of the blade with only a slight rise before the cutting edge.

The hilt we agreed to try to replicate is that of an early “mortuary sword”, generally straight-bladed cavalry swords used in the British Empire during the time in question. The guard is aesthetically pleasing and perfectly acceptable for the blade historically.

Here is a link since the pictures themselves aren't working:

7 February 2011

Today I moved onto the next step in making my broken-back seax after forging out the blank: filing. Filing takes the largest amount of material off of the blank and is the most important step for establishing blade geometry after the forging of the cross-section and the profiles. I used a long, coarse file for this step, initially using it as one would a rasp on the edge of a piece of wood.

After watching me work, Don showed me a preferred method of the bladesmith: draw-filing. He took hold of the file in both hands and drew the middle portion towards himself perpendicularly on the blade. The edge of the file literally scraped off material from the blade while establishing the desirable linear grain.