We did it! We finished our Måstermyr chain. Well, mostly. We spent 5-1/2 hours and finished the 23 links that we had created and joined them into one chain. The actual Måstermyr chain had 26 links and a ring at one end. We will probably add those at some point, but for now we are considering this project done.
One of the nice things about making this chain was the repetition that was part of the project. For most of our other projects we have made just one and then moved on to the next project. With the chain, we got to repeatedly practice making links and then forge welding them so we started to get really comfortable – albeit still beginners – with the process. There’s a lesson there about going back and revisiting some of the projects we’ve completed previously and something to keep in mind regarding our projects going forward.
We’re going to have a bit of a break due to other commitments, so it will be a few weeks before we’re back at it again. Next up will be the completion of the bellows we began way back when and making hammers. Looking forward to having a custom-built hammer!
Today is the day when we turn from making links to making an actual chain. The thought of forging a link together while there are a couple of other links hanging off of it seems daunting. It’s often the case that we struggle to get the piece shoved into the fire as it gets hung up on the bits of coal or other obstacles. Adding a couple of links hanging off the end seems like it would only complicate that.
In addition, today was the day that Troyd Geist from the North Dakota Council on the Arts, the sponsor of our grant, was stopping by for a site visit. He certainly picked a good day! Because of his schedule we started a bit later than usual, which wasn’t a bad thing. Doug had done a nice job of setting up a table of beverages and snacks as well as a few of his favorite books, some of which we hadn’t seen before (and ordered on our way out the driveway!). It was really nice to finally meet Troyd and having him in the shop on a day when we were forge weldingweldingWelding is a process that joins metal by using high heat to melt the parts together and allowing them to cool, causing fusion.
Welding is distinct from lower temperature metal-joining techniques such as brazing and soldering, which do not melt the base metal. was a good choice.
So we started to combine our links into a chain. Take two completed links and hook them together with a U-shaped link and weld that up. Seems easy enough, right?
Actually, after much trepidation, it was pretty easy. Or at least no more difficult that doing a standalone link. The extra links hanging off didn’t really interfere with it much and sometimes actually might have made it easier as the extra weight balanced things out.
The most challenging part was not letting the join area of the link get too thin. It’s easy to want to just pound on it to get the weld to stick, but if you don’t do the overlap with enough metal it can get think in a hurry.
After doing a couple, it became much easier and we were off and running. Forge welding is hard, but it’s also a lot of fun! We got two sets of seven links put together. The Måstermyr chain had 26 links. This is going to be quite a long chain when it’s done. But making links / chains is something a person could enjoy doing a lot of – and they probably would have done a lot of them back in the day.
We had some homework to finish before today’s session in anticipation of forge weldingweldingWelding is a process that joins metal by using high heat to melt the parts together and allowing them to cool, causing fusion.
Welding is distinct from lower temperature metal-joining techniques such as brazing and soldering, which do not melt the base metal. the links. We had made a few U-shaped pieces in preparation for making links for our chain during out last session, but we needed to complete more of them – 12 in total – to have enough to work with for today. So we had finished four last time and then at home Rob did four and I did four to round out the dozen links we needed to start with.
So there are several steps to making a link, and we were nervous about how difficult they seemed. (Remember the quote: “Forge welding: The most difficult damn thing you can do!!” – said by someone who’s an expert!) But it turned out to be easier than we feared and went pretty well. Even our “mistakes” turned out good and we learned some good lessons from them.
While we worked much faster today, it was still nearly four hours of work to put the ears on eight pieces and turn out four figure-8 shaped links. Making the ears turned out to be the most fun, at least for me. But the feeling when you hit the metal when doing the welding is pretty satisfying too. You pretty much know if it’s a good weld or not by the feel. One of those things you can only learn by experience.
So next time we’ll get to take two of the figure-8 links and join them with a third link to start the actual chain. (You can see an example of that on the anvil in the pictures.) We may make some additional U-shaped pieces at home to get to the full 26 links of the Måstermyr chain. We ended the day trying to do the math of links. What we were trying to figure out is how many links are used as the chain grows. Because the start of a chain is two links joined by a third link producing a three-link chain. Then you make two of those and join them with another link, so you have seven links, etc. It looks something like:
So I’m not quite sure why the Måstermyr chain wound up being 26 links, but we will have to have to work with an uneven set of links somewhere along the way if we want to re-create it. We intend to finish our chain at our next session, so let’s hope that joining link isn’t much tougher than welding the other ones.
Viking-age anvils and hammers were on the small side.
Smaller pieces of metal were welded together to make larger objects.
Stones may have been used as anvils.
Viking-age anvils had horns and holes.
Pattern welded weapons were rare, but existed.
Crafting specialization was unlikely, meaning metalsmiths probably also worked wood, bone, soapstone, leather, etc.
Some tools were made of soapstone and it was a main material in tuyeres.
There was a type of shears that resembled a modern scissors but with arms bent upwards like a cloth-cutting scissors.
Saws existed but with low-carbon steel they were thicker and coarser. Some were meant to be used by pushing not pulling. Among other things, they were used to make bone combs.
A division between farmer smiths and (perhaps itinerant) specialist smiths seems supported by things like scales and dice in some graves.
Farmer smiths were more likely to be multi-crafters.
Weapons (not including axes and knives) were common objects for metalsmiths. Axes and knives were so common that they cannot be considered as weapons.
Shields and arrows aren’t really associated with metalworking.
In mythology, dwarves are exclusively connected to metal working.
The Old Norse word “smiðr” encompasses both metal and wood working and is probably better interpreted as “crafter” or “creator” rather than “smith”. The current use of the word “smith” has different connotations.
Smiths were likely part of the warrior structure.
Weapons production was decentralized as you could obtain weapons through the entire country.
There’s an old Anglo-Saxon calendar (sixth century) that describes October as the month for metalworking on the farm after the harvest.
There is a single mention of a female smith (smiðkona) named Þórgríma in the Harðar Saga. She was also considered a sorceress.
Egils Saga mentions a smith (Skalla-Grímr Kveldulfsson) as also creating poetry in his smithy.
Smithing was considered to be a proper skill for a king’s son.
The old Norse concept of “knowledge” or “wisdom” involved action, interaction, and experience. And smithing definitely involves those things. Our current understanding of knowledge and wisdom is much more passive.
Tools are found in both “rich” and “poor” graves. To quote: “you did not have to be a king in order to be knowledgeable, (- ideally -) you had to be knowledgeable in order to be a king.”
Next to Read
Carsten, 2012, “Might and Magic: The Smith in the Old Norse Literature” – a chapter in “Goldsmith Mysteries. Archeological, pictorial, and documentary evidence from the 1st millennium AD in Northern Europe” by Alexander G. Pesch, 2011
So we continued our work with forge weldingweldingWelding is a process that joins metal by using high heat to melt the parts together and allowing them to cool, causing fusion.
Welding is distinct from lower temperature metal-joining techniques such as brazing and soldering, which do not melt the base metal., or at least prepping for it. We didn’t actually do any forge welding today. We are working on replicating a chain found as part of an archeological find in Sweden called the Måstermyr find. It’s a rare case of an entire toolbox full of blacksmithing and other tools. Doug showed us a book that documents the entire find and we may need to acquire a copy of it.
So we had practiced forge welding last time. This time we started to make the links that we’ll be forge welding into a chain. So since chains are made up of lots of links (26 in the Måstermyr chain) we started to take our square stock and forge it into links.
The first step was to make a mandrel out of a piece of round stock that would fit in the Pritchard hole of the anvil. We’re going to be using that to form the curves of the links.
So most of the day was spent bending the square stock into the u-shaped pieces that are going to be the basis of the links of the chain. It’s surprising how long it can take. Our skills are getting better as we learn to look with a critical eye and correct mistakes and just generally prevent them in the first place. Getting uniform curves and parallel, equal-length reins while not twisting or crimping them.
The most interesting technique of the day was using two tongs to pull on both reins to set the curve and pull them even. It was also a test of skill to get the kinks and bumps out and make sure the curve was symmetrical. We only got four links done between the two of us over four hours. I have to imagine this gets much faster with practice.
Forge weldingweldingWelding is a process that joins metal by using high heat to melt the parts together and allowing them to cool, causing fusion.
Welding is distinct from lower temperature metal-joining techniques such as brazing and soldering, which do not melt the base metal.. Today we tackle forge welding.
Okay, we dabbled in this once before, but now we’re getting down to brass tacks. We started the session in the “classroom” – meaning Doug’s dining room table – with a lecture on how forge welding works and the various fluxes that are used to clean the metal. Forge welding is considered a “solid state” weld as the metal does not liquefy. It is critical to have clean surfaces to allow the metal surfaces to forge together tightly.
While all fluxes help clean the surface they each have characteristics that make them unique. There are some fluxes that are magnetic, which in theory sounds good as it would stick to the metal, but it doesn’t really seem to provide as good an outcome as some of the others. The cheapest, most readily available is regular grocery store borax which can work just fine, but it is “hydrated” meaning it contains some water. You can watch that water bubble off when sprinkling it on your metal. There is also an “anhydrous” version, meaning without water, that seems to be the most straightforward flux and provides the most consistent results. Personal preference perhaps, but that’s going to be our go-to for the day.
We also talked about the different types of metals available and how well they work for forge welding. The old, and now hard to find, wrought iron worked really well forge welding. Some of the modern materials still work pretty good, but there are others that don’t work so well at all. Rule of thumb might be that the softer the steel, the easier it will forge weld.
So once we finished in the classroom, we moved out to the forge to practice. We set aside working on links and just focused on practicing the skill of taking two pieces of square stock steel and getting them to stick together. Building the fire like an oven (that’s what in one of those whiteboard drawings) so that the steel can be surrounded on all sides and heat evenly is important. A forge welding fire needs to run hotter that most.
So once it is in place, the next step was to shove the square stock in and heat it up. Then when it was good and yellow hot, we pulled it out and applied flux to clean it up. Then back into the fire to heat up again. And after a bit, you can touch the two pieces together and they should stick to each other. At that point you’re just looking for a bit of greenish-yellow smoke to come off and maybe just a few sparks. At that point you pull it quickly out of the fire, straight to the anvil, give it a solid smack on the top side, flip it over, give it a solid smack on the bottom side, and then back into the fire. That basically just sets the weld. Then once it’s heated up to yellow hot again, you pull it out of the fire and over to the anvil again and give it a couple of good whacks on the top and a couple more on the bottom to really meld the two pieces together. Back into the fire once again, back up to yellow hot, back over to the anvil, but this time you can take it a bit slower to seal up the weld and dress the sides. You’re kind of past the welding part at this point and back to the forging part to shape it the way you want.
So enough practice. Rob had started a link during our previous session and we wanted to get it welded up.
So it was time to put what we learned to the test. We heated it up and followed the steps outlined above. It’s a little trickier to use tongs to grab the link than it was to use your hands to grab the square stock (tongs always makes things trickier), but the process of heating, fluxing, pounding, repeating was the same. After a few heats and some good solid smacks, it started coming together. Literally.
You don’t want to flatten or figure-8 the link too much as you’re pounding on it, so there’s a bit of finesse and being careful with hammer angles as you go. But if the weld is solid you can shape the link as needed to get it to the size and shape you intended.
So there’s one link done. Now to do dozens more so we can have an actual chain. I hear that you make separate links and then join two links by adding a third. That sounds easy enough, right? I guess I know what we’ll be doing next time.
With wreath season over and the craziness of the holidays behind us and all that brought to everyone involved, it was time to get back to the forge. So we had some half-finished candleholders that we needed to complete.
So we had left our candleholders in this state:
So what remained was to taper the stem and finish closing the socket for the candle. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, tapering the stem was the easier of the two but even that was a bit challenging because of the socket started at the other end. It was pretty easy to hang on to, but you couldn’t lay it flat on the anvil. So much of the tapering was done off the rounded edge of the anvil with 45º hammer blows so that you didn’t bend the stem. (I was doing it wrong for a bit and boy did it make a difference when I got that sorted out!)
So how to turn that fishtail into a socket? Seems odd, but much of the work is done right at the base of the socket or on the backside. By rounding the area at the base, the rest of the fishtail follows along and the edges just naturally close. To create the fishtail the work was done with the cross peen side of the hammer and on the table portion of the anvil. That only goes so far because you can’t get the hammer in there any more. That’s when it’s time to start working the base and backside on the top of the horn of the anvil.
Rob put a twist in the stem of his candleholder, but I chose not to because I had a shorter stem and was really happy with the way it had turned out (and didn’t want to mess it up). It’s hard to believe that we started out with a piece of 5/8″ round stock and wound up with something that would look good on a dining room table. I guess that’s part of the magic of blacksmithing.
Rob finished before I did, so he started to work on our next project: a welded iron chain. We’ve done a few S-hook chains, but weldingweldingWelding is a process that joins metal by using high heat to melt the parts together and allowing them to cool, causing fusion.
Welding is distinct from lower temperature metal-joining techniques such as brazing and soldering, which do not melt the base metal. the link shut is a new skill that we are both excited to learn. Forge welding is going to be challenging. But it seems the links themselves aren’t all that easy either. Since all good projects start with a plan, Rob and Doug sketched out a few parameters before they began.
I missed out on a few of the instructions (I’m sure we’ll revisit them next time), but at the end of the day, Rob had a good start on his first link. Take a close look at the way the ends overlap as that was a new way to scarf the ends that we hadn’t seen before. Looking forward to cranking out a few more of these and then finally trying our hands at forge welding.
Because Goose Prairie Forge turns into Swenson Greenery for the holiday wreath-making season we were unable to work on our bellows, so instead we started to work on a Viking-age candlestick. While these were an everyday item in the Viking-age, they weren’t something that everybody owned. Not necessarily a nobleman’s item, but probably not something peasants would have. There are several variations, including one that looks like a spoon, but we were going to create one that looks somewhat like what you think of when you say “candlestick”.
So we started with a pretty big piece of round stock in a soft steel – probably 1045 or so. And the first thing to do is what? Hammer round stock into square, of course. Be we also began to taper that down a bit. Thing really got interesting when we flipped the hammer over and began to use the cross peen side to make what I can only describe as a fishtail.
The goal was to get the fishtail to the proper size to fit around a candle, so we were looking for something around 1-1/2 inches at the end. It took a lot of hammering to get it into shape! Once the fishtail was big enough it was time to start giving it a curve. Still using the cross peen side of the hammer, the fishtail gets place on the table portion of the anvil and you start to hit it into the corner to get it to start to bend.
That’s actually about as far as we got today, which doesn’t seem like much progress but hammering out the fishtail is harder than it looks and takes time. But we should be able to wrap these up next session. Can’t wait to see them finished!
Since the forge is set up for wreath-making season, we chose to work on fire strikers rather than continue our bellows project. So we started with the pieces we had hammered out the last time and started to draw out one end to a taper. I guess it’s not a true taper since with a fire striker you want to keep one edge straight.
As we continued to work, our instructor (have I mentioned that his name is Doug Swenson of Goose Prairie Forge?) took a moment to explain the hardening process and a few tricks that can help get the steel as tough as possible. Fire strikers need to be really hard in order to spark. So the first thing he recommended to do once the item is forged into shape is to hammer on it to compress and align the metal structure. It’s not a hard hammering but it’s a bit more than a tap. So he did a demonstration for us where he took a bit of steel and forged it for a bit, quenched it in water, and then broke it to show us the grain structure. Then he did pretty much the same thing but this time he packed it down with the hammering first. It’s a noticeable difference in the grain structure with the second one being a much finer grain. He also pointed out that steel that hardened well during the quench will have a mottled appearance you can look for.
After that demonstration we continued working on our fire strikers (we were there nearly 5-1/2 hours) and Rob managed to complete his including hardening and grinding.
I however did not quite finish and therefore had some homework to do. I had my fire striker pretty well forged into shape, but it needed just a bit of clean up and then hardening. So I fired up our home forge and cleaned it up by hammering out a few kinks. Then I put it through the normalization process where you heat the piece up to critical temperature where it becomes non-magnetic and then just let it air cool until you can touch it. It goes through normalization (aka thermocyclingthermocyclingThermocycling is the process of heating steel to critical temp (non-magnetic) and then letting it air cool. Usually done three times in a row.) three times before the final heat for the quench. It came out nice and mottled so it looks like the hardening went well. The last step for the fire striker is to grind the striking edge as the metal needs to be shiny to get sparks. So a short spell on the belt grinder being careful to not heat up the metal which would ruin the hardening (I dipped it in water after every pass on the grinder). In under an hour I had a finished fire striker that even produced some sparks!
So we had a bit of a break since our last session and expected to finish up the bellows today. However, we didn’t have the rivets we needed so we went through some safety reminders and decided to start working on fire strikers instead. So we started with a piece of 108510851085 steel is a hardenable steel steel that used to be part of a tine from a farm rake.
We started by learning to work as a team with a blacksmith, a fireman, and a striker. When having two people work a piece of steel there’s a “code” that is used to communicate what you’d like to do. Back in the day, smithies were noisy places and if you spent too much time in them you were probably hard of hearing. So they developed a way to let the other person know what they should do. The fireman was an experienced blacksmith and in charge of keeping the fire going and running the blower. The blacksmith took the lead working the steel and handled the steel from the fire to the anvil and directed the working of the piece. After pulling the piece from the forge they would position the piece and begin with the first hammer blow. The striker would then hit in the same location and they would take turns. The blacksmith would communicate that it was time to stop by tapping the anvil with their hammer (it just naturally bounces a bit). And if they wanted to start the team striking again, they would tap the anvil twice with their hammer as a sign for “let’s go”.
So we worked as a team and took our farm rake tine and cut off about 10 or 12 inches and started to flatten it into bar stock. Working as a team it went quite quickly! In addition to pounding it flat, the blacksmith also got to do some clean up work with keeping the edges straight. We wound up with to smaller pieces of “bar stock” and were ready to start tapering out the ends to make a fire striker.
The next step was to start tapering down each end. At that point we decided it was time to review some fundamentals and get really good at them, so we set aside our new bar stock and started to practice on some off-the-shelf round stock.
The steps to make a tapered point on round stock
While hammering at an angle, take a couple of blows to make a flat slope.
Turn the piece 90º.
Hammer another flat slope.
Turn back to the first flat slope and repeat.
Continue making sure you have a square at the tip.
Move the hammer back from the tip a bit and continue hammering on the flat slopes.
Once you have a nice tip that’s maybe two hammer-widths long, then hammer on the edges between the flat slopes to make an octagon rather than a square taper.
Continue the octagon shape back the two hammer-widths as well until you now have an octagon taper.
Now that you’ve hammered a round piece of steel into a square and then an octagon, it’s time to hammer it back to round.
Hammer (actually more like tap) on the octagon’s ridges until they are smooth and the piece is round again.
You’re done when there is a nice smooth taper at the end of your piece.
We finished our practice by curling our tapers starting over the edge of the anvil and then working them on the anvil’s face. And lastly, we practiced adding a fuller using the round edge of the anvil and the same 90º striking technique that we used earlier. We ended with something that may not be pretty, but it was a pretty important lesson to review.
We also spent a bit of time talking about knife blades we’d been making and reviewing our experiences working with round stock, bar stock, starting with the blade, and starting with the tang. I think after talking it through we discovered we all kind of prefer to work through the various steps in the same order on bar stock.
Steps to forging a blade
Angling one corner of the bar stock into a tip.
Setting the shoulder on the spine side of the blade.
Forging the cutting edge.
Shaping the tang.
Of course that’s a very rough description of how a blade is forged, but it does seem to work the best for all of us.
So we started to build our Viking-age bellows tonight. Doug had the wood pieces all pre-cut and ready to assemble, which makes it sound quick and easy. However, three hours later we have one bellows only half assembled. There’s more to it than you’d think.
Making the Valve
Our previous session went over how the valves work and what they should look like. (Refresher: two pieces of leather – one square, one rectangular – placed over the air intake hole in the wood.) So today it was time to cut the leather and install it inside the bellows.
Making the Hinge
The next step is to make the hinge. This too is made of leather. We started by putting spacers in between the top and bottom pieces of the bellows so that they were flush with the wooden snout piece.
After that it was time to cut the piece of leather that was going to serve as the hinge. We needed to determine the size we would need to cut. We wanted it to cover the wooden snout piece and then a couple of inches of the bellows surface (I’m sure that has a name, but I don’t know what it is). Plus it needs to fold over the sides too.
To be clear, the leather used for the hinge was a reasonably thick piece of leather since it’s going to get some hard work and different than the leather used for the valve as that should be more flexible.
After the leather was cut, we drilled a couple of hole through the top piece of the bellows as we planned on riveting the leather to that piece. The placement of those holes was about an inch or so from the front and sides.
We used an awl to punch holes through the leather hinge before heading to the anvil to rivet it in place.
Once the main rivets were in place it was a matter of adding tacks and small nails to secure the leather to the snout and the board and make the hinge as strong and tight as possible. We also added glue to make it secure.
At the end of our session we had gotten that far on just one of the bellows. Going to have to finish them up next time!
So we started our apprenticeship with Doug Swenson as part of the Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant that we received. The work plan was originally developed about six months ago and we’ve learned a lot since then. And we are about to leave on a trip and be away from the forge for several weeks so we kind of are starting out of order with the Viking-age bellows.
We’ve used Viking-age bellows once or twice and they are surprisingly easy and fun to use. There’s actually not a lot of information about them because they haven’t survived through time very well and they aren’t mentioned to often in literature or historical accounts. There is a cool depiction of one on a runestone from Sweden.
We spent a bit of time going over how bellows evolved and how they work. Some have a single chamber and others have a double chamber. Later ones got rather large and hung overhead, operated by a lever or a foot pedal. But they all essentially work the same way: air goes in one end and is directed out as smoothly and steadily as possible out the other end. And valves in the middle keep the air moving in one direction.
So we started talking about the valves for the bellows we are about to build. In this case we are going to use leather for our valves. It’s a traditional material and actually quite suited to this purpose. The air intake is actually just a round hole cut into one side of the bellows and the valve consists of a couple of pieces of leather that cover that hole. However, there’s a bit of elegant math to the size and placement of the leather pieces. There’s two pieces that are involved. The first is a square large enough to cover the hole plus a bit more. That piece is placed with corners to the front and back of the bellows and tacked down at the sides. The second piece of leather is twice the length of the first piece and covers it and is tacked down at the corners. It should be extremely taut as it will need to allow air to pass through it freely.
After that we looked at the construction of the bellows that our master blacksmith instructor uses in his Viking-age demonstrations. Most of it is very suited to purpose and have stood up to use and time, but we might make a few minor adjustments when we build ours.
Been learning to make fire strikers. This one’s from soft steel so probably no good for lighting fires, but great for practicing on! It started as a 4″ piece of bar stock and it’s now drawn out to 7.25″. Next up – the curls!
I don’t know that I’ve shared this yet, but this is the Viking Age knife I made at the Fiber and Flame event in late June 2019. It is my second knife. Started with a chunk of coil spring from a car. The handle is made of ash from a tree growing near Hedeby. This one is not for sale. Ever. Than you Jeppe Nordmann Garly for sharing your expertise all the way from Norway!
The North Dakota Council on the Arts has a Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program that “is designed to honor and encourage the preservation of North Dakota’s diverse living traditions by providing grants that allow master traditional artists to pass their skills and knowledge to apprentices on a one-to-one basis over an extended period of time.” We were encouraged to apply for this program to help us continue to study under the master blacksmith Doug Swenson of Goose Prairie Forge and were lucky enough to be funded from July 2019-April 2020.
The general outline of the work we intend to do and the things we intend to learn includes the following:
Technique: hot punching, riveting; Project: shears
Project: building the forge
Project: building the forge
Project: building and using the forge
Project: fire striker
Project: fire striker, sheep bell
Project: sheep bell
Technique: fire weldingweldingWelding is a process that joins metal by using high heat to melt the parts together and allowing them to cool, causing fusion.
Welding is distinct from lower temperature metal-joining techniques such as brazing and soldering, which do not melt the base metal.; Project: iron chain
Project: iron chain
Project: iron chain
Project: cooking utensils
Project: cooking utensils
Viking Age forge ✓
Fire striker ✓
Iron chain ✓
Cooking utensils ✓
Sheep bell ⓧ
That’s a lot of projects and a lot of hammering! The biggest challenge, however, will be squeezing it into everyone’s busy schedules.