Logan Atkeson

Student with Project Dilemma

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Hi guys!

Brand new member here, just wanted to get some advice on an idea for my senior project. I'm not sure if this is the proper place to post this, so if it isn't, sorry in advance!

I'm a senior undergraduate student at UCLA studying Nordic Studies, and about to graduate. For my capstone project, I chose my topic surrounding ancient Scandinavian weapons that have historical significance behind them, having the the ultimate goal of analyzing their cultural impact through the years. A large part of my project is researching the process behind creating these artifacts, what tools and materials were involved, and what methods blacksmiths preferred. To get a good understanding of this process due to my lack of experience, I am interested in working alongside a blacksmith to create a replica of an artifact, all the while documenting it in a video.

My problem is trying to find a blacksmith who is willing to accept such a fairly obscure request. I've reached out to many people over the past month, and either they are located very far away from Los Angeles (like outside the state), or they are too busy to do something like this, which is entirely understandable. I don't want to scrap this idea at all, because I've always been interested in this exact topic the majority of my life. Would anyone have any suggestions as to what I should do, or where I should look? I need to finish my project before the quarter ends (June 13th), so it's a very big request :wacko:

Thanks everyone!

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Question are you hunting for a blacksmith or for a blacksmith using early medieval tools materials and processes?  I don't know if your smithing research has advanced enough so that you have learned that the fuel the smiths generally used changed from real charcoal to coal in the High to Late Middle ages and the metal they forged changed with the move from the bloomery process to the indirect process to the Bessemer/Kelly process and subsequent processes.  So almost all modern blacksmiths do not work  anything like early medieval ones do. (What I am getting at is the differences between riding cross country in a Conestoga wagon pulled by Oxen from St Louis to Oregon and riding in a SUV on the Interstates; one teaches you a lot more about the original conditions than the other does...)

For example: here is a modern reproduction of an early medieval style anvil: Y1Kanvil1.thumb.jpg.b1c1b2a611888e39c401ab638223ad36.jpgY1Kanvil2.jpg..thumb.jpg.c4e903115e291b798db19aa5f5e5fccd.jpg

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1 hour ago, Logan Atkeson said:

Hi guys!

Brand new member here, just wanted to get some advice on an idea for my senior project. ............. I need to finish my project before the quarter ends (June 13th), so it's a very big request :wacko:

Thanks everyone!

 not a very realistic project. Unless you are paying the smith to do your project for you.

What are they teaching kids these days they pay a fortune for degree in 4 years of college. but they still expect to learn an advanced apprenticeship in a month

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The Hylestad stave church has some carvings indicative of earlier smithing.

Also:

The Sword and the Crucible: A History of the Metallurgy of European Swords Up to the 16th Century

Williams, Alan     Published by Brill (2012)

ISBN 10: 9004227830 ISBN 13: 9789004227835

As Steve is alluding you don't have enough time to accomplish this---unless you are willing to work full time with a Smith and of course pay them full time wages to stop whatever they are doing to teach you even the basics.  

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1 hour ago, ThomasPowers said:

Question are you hunting for a blacksmith or for a blacksmith using early medieval tools materials and processes? 

Hey Thomas!

Thanks for the reply, and the great book recommendation! It will help a lot with my research essay accompanying my project. 

As for the traditional use of tools, materials, and processes, I definitely understand that it's quite a specific thing to ask for; for that reason, I am open to any methods that modern blacksmiths use at this time, and would probably make for a really interesting compare/contrast of old methods to new methods in my paper, and the historical progression of these methods evolving over time. 

 

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You may want to watch "Secrets of the Viking Sword" that Nova put out in 2012.   However, if you have to be done by June 13 you are asking for a very generous smith and something close to a miracle to get it done in that time.  Assuming you're still taking classes I don't believe you even have the free time to accomplish this if you could find a willing smith, but that's just my 2 cents.

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"Cathedral Forge and Waterwheel" Gies&Gies has good illustrations of medieval smithing, though more toward the high middle ages. (Does show some of the changes over time.)

++ on Secrets of the Viking Sword

Changes between Moxon's "Mechanick Exercises" pub in 1703  and some of the illustrations of medieval smithing in C,F&W mainly have to do with the methods of smelting and the use of the double lunged bellows instead of two single action ones; as well as the possible use of coal for forging.  BTW if you need a good description of making medieval metalworking bellows, "Divers Arts" Theophilus, 1120 AD/CE has instructions in it.

"De Re Metallica has a lot of info on mining and smelting metals in the renaissance and LOTS of woodcuts!  De La  Pirotechnia was a bit earlier; but lacks the great resource of illustrations.   Diderot's Encyclopedia would have enlightenment engravings of smithing and once in to the 19th century you get things like Richardson's "Practical Blacksmithing" 1889,1890,1891. (multi volume) 

All of these are easily found.

I'll ask my apprentice if he's aware of any smelting parties going on in the LA area... (

(I do have to note that the great Radomir Pleiner didn't have access to any smiths working in an early medieval way when he had swords forged for his testing in "The Celtic Sword".)

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51 minutes ago, Buzzkill said:

You may want to watch "Secrets of the Viking Sword" that Nova put out in 2012.

Hey Buzzkill,

I've watched that, it's a fantastic episode! I've actually reached out to Richard Furrer from that episode, and we've discussed my project; unfortunately, he's located all the way in Wisconsin :(

As for the point you made about the time frame, I totally agree. I've been trying to contact people from the beginning of the quarter, and to no avail! I wish I discovered this forum earlier. 

But concerning the finished product, I would be willing to recreate anything from ancient Scandinavia, so ranging from axes and spears, from which I understand would be less time and work than a sword (but still obviously not an overnight project). But, even with that, a little over a month organizing this is still ambitious :wacko:

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 Richard Furrer from Wisconsin is just a plane ticket away, or a bit of a drive. If you WANT the information and he is willing, then every day you talk about it is one less day you have to accomplish your goal.

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Basically what we hear you saying is: "I need to win a Formula 1 race in one month; of course I have never driven a car;---ok  winning a NASCAR race would do...."

How much time do you expect it to take from ground zero to succeeding at highly skilled work?  How much time can you actually spend?

I teach modern blacksmithing and in the first class we do an S hook, two nails and an ornamental pepper forged from black iron pipe. Weaponsmithing is a high end skill.

You will find that many of us will not be happy helping you to set yourself up for failure. 

 

 

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Logan, I am of the understanding, correct me if I’m wrong, that you don’t actually intend to learn all the skills.  Rather, you want to witness and document the process.  If that is the case you have a chance.  It would be worth it if you could schedule the trip and meet with an expert to film his process.  If you intend to walk away with the skills you have very little chance of succeeding.  I’m being nice...you have no chance.  I believe your Capstone project would be served well with video of an expert crafting and talking about the process.  Many people rely on expert interviews for their Capstone projects.  Yours would include an expert in action.  It would be effective and valuable.  If you are lucky you will catch the bug and start trying the learn the craft.

 

Hey, I just did a quick search (My Google-fu is strong) and I found James Austin.  He is far north of you, in Oakland, but Viking era tools and weapons is one of his specialties.  http://forgedaxes.com/

Lou

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I interpret "I am interested in working alongside a blacksmith to create a replica of an artifact" a bit differently than Lou.  Just documenting it is different.

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I agree that doing  Docs is possible. but I also understood he wants to be in and win this years Indy 500 with out a Drivers license

 

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Thomas, I am only going on what I know about Capstone projects.  I’m assuming.  His project seems to be about much more than just the process of creation.  His focus on the cultural aspects of the weapons and tools, to my thinking, should be the core of the project.  The creative process is a great side note.  Him acquiring the skills seems tangential to the topic.

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Let's see what Logan says to clarify his intent, his statement can be read either way. I know we've seen enough of the instant knowledge by buying the tool thinking enough, I think it's influencing our assumptions.

Logan: We need you to clarify what you want. Do you wish to acquire the necessary skills to make weaponry? Simple or complex all require a similar level of skills. Or do you wish to film a documentary? 

Both are skilled projects but weapon smithing even simple ones isn't something a person learns in a couple months without being a full time blacksmith student, even then you'd have to have a born talent for the craft. 

Frosty The Lucky.

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2 hours ago, Logan Atkeson said:

A large part of my project is researching the process behind creating these artifacts, what tools and materials were involved, and what methods blacksmiths preferred. To get a good understanding of this process due to my lack of experience, I am interested in working alongside a blacksmith to create a replica of an artifact, all the while documenting it in a video.

The intention of the OP is clear in his first post. He needs a blacksmith familiar with early methods and materials willing to be filmed and also to let him do something in the process. No mention to wanting to become a traditional blacksmith in a month. To appear in the video smiling with a hammer in hand or striking a few times may be just what is needed. 

Seems like a feasible idea to me. Just needs to find someone with that particular expertise that is close enough. 

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Thank you to everyone commenting, I'm blown away by how many are helping out!!

Concerning my intent for the project:

I absolutely do not expect to have even a novice understanding of being a blacksmith in that short of a time, I know that would take years upon years to even get remotely decent at. I've seen the processes online, and respect how much time and work goes into even one small piece, and would not underestimate such a craft. As some have mentioned here, I would realistically be set on making a sort of documentary, and possibly helping out slightly with the process in a way that I wouldn't get in the way of the blacksmith. Just as Marc1 says, I am definitely more concerned with documenting the process of creating weaponry, and if there is an opportunity that would allow someone with my inexperience to participate, then I would jump in. 

Glenn - I seriously considered actually flying out to see him, but the project alone would be pricey with covering the costs the blacksmith would require, and unfortunately my budget wouldn't cover something like this (as well as being very busy with my other classes). :( That's why I'm hoping for a resource in California or in a close state!

Thomas, thanks again for these wonderful resources!! I will absolutely incorporate these, that is a HUGE help. 

Lou L - that's a perfect description of my project when you say it's "much more than just the process of creation.  His focus on the cultural aspects of the weapons and tools, to my thinking, should be the core of the project.  The creative process is a great side note.  Him acquiring the skills seems tangential to the topic." My capstone project would be concerned mostly with the research and writing portion of it - I thought that I should get a first hand experience with something like this with a blacksmith to really get an enriching sense of the process behind it, rather than only reading about it. 

Addressing Frosty - it would definitely be in the form of a documentary rather than. The actual product of the project hasn't been determined yet, but a realistic one would be a simple axe (if that's even possible in this amount of time!)

Thanks again guys!

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You might be better off finding someone fairly close that could help you learn to make a small hook or nail, then in your paper say that you did that first hand, and found out that not everyone could make weapons easily at first as it does take a learning curve to learn how metal moves etc, etc. to just make a simple hook or nail, and any weapon/s would require a greater amount of skill.

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Sounds like you have a pretty realistic view then. I think you might've missed the real point of your project though. Weapons weren't the main job of the smith for the time periods and regions you're talking about. Farm tools were, they're just not as sexy. Regardless of the final product the heart is the making of steel and iron and that's a gold star documentary.

Take it from finding and collecting bog iron, breaking it up, roasting then crushing it. Building the bloomery and doing the roasting in the fire used to make the charcoal. Cover the length of time and effort required to make a 10 lb. bloom, how to refine it and how to select different grades of iron, steel and cast iron during the process. Then take it to the smith who makes and repairs various tools. Weapons among the Norse were a small % of the blacksmith's craft and trade. 

A felling ax harpoon tip or flensing knife or even a maple tap. Maybe not as sexy as a bearded battle ax but a lot more realistic as historic products. Well, okay hunting spears, darts and arrow points weren't uncommon.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Jeremy and Frosty,

This is a fantastic idea, both because of how Frosty mentioned how small of a part weapons really were for the blacksmith, and Jeremy's point that I may potentially have a bigger role in creating something like that rather than an actual ax (which is very costly too). Honestly speaking, the inspiration behind this project came from reading the Sagas of Icelanders, and wondering how weapons really were seen compared to fiction in that time period. Thinking about it more, it can make for an even more fascinating paper due to the presumably larger sample size of artifacts I can research, and could open an even broader section regarding the relationship between farming and smithing, and how those two evolved over time in Scandinavia. Also great suggestions on what items exactly I should look into, Frosty. Thank you both!! 

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In your shoes I would contact James Austin (in California) who is not only very knowledgeable about the smithing weapons and tools from the period that you are interested in, but also has great videos of the process and teaches classes: http://forgedaxes.com/

 

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Aha:  Please run out and find a copy of "The Sword in Anglo Saxon England" H.R.Ellis Davidson it's a lovely example on how to research a topic when there is not a lot of direct evidence: using sagas, poems and riddles, carvings on stones, etc

Now as for swords being part of a smith's work: for a swordsmith they were a MAJOR part of their work---just most smiths did NOT make weapons.  Like tank mechanics nowadays.  How many tank mechanics spend a lot of their time working on tanks vs how many mechanics are tank mechanics...I know Hollywood and Video games and Fantasy books would have it that the lone smith working in his smithy could forge superb swords---which falls under the other definition for BS. It was/is an exacting craft requiring specialized knowledge and training and experience---do you go to your GP for Neurosurgery? (Not You Frosty; we know you prefer a birch tree...just as CRS uses a horse and I use a concrete sidewalk---several times if necessary...)

Now remote farmsteads in the norse world do show evidence of both smelting and forging by the same group---the exception that proves the rule that smelting and smithing were not done by the same guys.

To continue to overwhelm your library card:  

Medieval Iron in Society; Papers presented at the symposium in Norberg issn0280 -- 137 X

R.F.Tylecote Metallurgy in Archeology

BTW Names to look for: C.S.Smith, R.F.Tylecote earlier work in the subject.  Radomir Pleiner and Alan Williams more recent work

And we can't forget John Anstee who went out an worked on proving various theories by forging pattern welded blades!

(to make you hate me I have all these and many more...started buying them when I was in college and am still getting them at 61.5)

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I don't know why he'd hate you Thomas, you're a typing index of metal history books, except when your blood sugar's low and you're a cross index. 

Frosty The Lucky.

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I, for one, love when Thomas references archaeometallurgical books. It makes my "need to buy" list a little longer each time. 

Though i am still wondering how im going to justify the price tag on a copy of "The Knight and the Blast Furnace." 

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