Attempting Skaldic Verse

Saturday, I went to Crown Tournament in Æthelmearc again. This one was waaaaay down in the Barony of Blackstone Mountain in BY GAWD West Virginia. We were just there two weeks ago for Blackstone Raid – same site even! – but my friend Bjarki is on the Beat Everyone’s Ass Tour of Æthelmearc this year, so I’m going along – actually a bunch of us went down to support him and help out – to help him in his quest for a crown by heralding him into the lysts.

I’ve done a good bit of this over the last few years, and I am not known for any one particular thing (other than being loud and enunciating clearly). This is probably because I don’t like to do the same thing twice. I have bragged couples into court before the Crown in German and Pig Latin, sung in Gregorian chant and Irish traditional filk, bragged in just the consort, only mentioning the combatant as a parenthetical footnote, and a bunch of other stuff. I try and make every time special for the combatant and their consort; typically all I ask them is, “Serious or comedic?” and go from there. They have no idea what I’m going to do until I start.

This time, though, my man Bjarki is a Viking, and Vikings mean skaldic verse. This was new territory for me. I wrote some lines down and called my lifeline: Master Magnus hvalmagi, an East Kingdom Laurel for, conveniently, Norse poetry. You can read his stuff (and his brewing adventures) here: https://thedraughtsaredeep.wordpress.com/

I shot him my first attempt, and he confirmed that it was, in fact, absolute garbage. A dildo filled with syphilis. A poopy bowl of rotten chocolate custard. Just bad.

But, him being the stand-up guy he is, he attempted to assist me, and after a longer time than I’d like to admit, messing with syllable counts and beats-per-line and weird rhymes, I ended up with this. Anything that’s good here is due to him, and all mistakes are my own (and published despite his sage advice and teaching).

Lordly, comes from Coppertree
To Blackstone for Winter’s throne
Bearing honor, not belt-wearing
Lyst-vying, light-stepping, foes dying

Mighty, comes from Coppertree
Red-brand swings in skillful hand
A bear, to be Sylvan heir
Patriarch of Æthelmearc

This isn’t great, hell it’s not even correct or good, but it gets across what I wanted to say and sounds vaguely like it’s in some kind of Norse meter and structure. I guess I’d say it’s vaguely a Drottkvaett, if I had to pick something, but the rhyme scheme isn’t right. It was enjoyed and complimented at crown, so I guess that’s a win. Maybe I’d bust this out again at a drunken bardic circle.

Anyways, if you want to know more, don’t talk to me, I’m bad at this. Here’s a short document from Master Magnus about skaldic verse, read this then go ask him: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1ES_J7vdqoZcMt3sw7tFIOYE7DZSCgSyFGvJfcnbMAeI/edit?fbclid=IwAR00EjFog09RKQh46l3ogLYkr31XvvW6yT-9lBouzRjlzu8qp0Cf2TA1Nno#slide=id.g33fa24dbd_00

PS. Bjarki was dead last in the Order of March, and made the semifinals. He’ll get the next one.

Photo by Alaxandair

Making a Mjolnir

At Gulf Wars this year, my good friend Bjarki impressed King Gareth and Queen Juliana so much at the Viking deed of arms that they gave him a silver ingot. He wasn’t sure what to do with it, so came to me. I told him we oughtta make something out of it. My first thought was a belt tip, but turns out that my research shows those were usually cast, not forged, and I’m straight garbage at casting. We didn’t really make any decisions, and he stuck the ingot into my jewelry bag for safekeeping.

We both promptly forgot about it for a couple weeks.

Then he decided he wanted to fight in Crown Tournament. His current girlfriend is lovely, but not super-interested in the SCA, so he’s been fighting for a Pelican from the other end of the kingdom – she’s great and it’s a good arrangement (bumps him up high enough on the roster for crown that he doesn’t have to challenge in). He wanted to give her a gift, and we remembered the ingot. We talked a bit, and he decided that giving her a Mjolnir was what he wanted.

I thought first that I’d see if I could cast one. Let’s see how that went first:

I carved a Thor’s Hammer into some soapstone for a mold, and heated up a bunch of scrap silver in my crucible with a MAPP gas torch.

Starting the pour. This never works for me.

Already a mess and I can tell this is a fail.

Eeeew.

Not much to do but keep pouring at this point.

Gross.

Big stupid muffinhammer.

Straight garbage. See that little ingot of silver on the anvil to my right? Gonna start over with that, because that’s actually Bjarki’s ingot. I had so little faith that this casting try would work I didn’t melt that one in with the scrap silver I had.

Anyways, yeah, total fail. I honestly just need to put more effort into learning the right way to cast silver – it’s a lot different than casting pewter, which I have a pretty good handle on. So anyways, I snatch up that little ingot of Bjarki’s and start hammerin’.

As usual, I use a hammer with one face rounded and polished clamped in my vise as an anvil, and use another hammer with a rounded and polished face to draw the ingot out, but striking glancing blows. This makes the hammers act like a rolling mill.

After each pass with the hammer, the ingot has to be annealed to soften it again. Silver work-hardens; you can only hit it once or twice before it becomes too hard and you run the risk of it cracking.

Still drawing it out. I’m pretty sure I’m not smart enough to forge the whole hammer, so I’m going to cheat a bit.
My high-tech quenching tank, with red-hot silver being dunked after annealing. It makes a fun hissing noise. Silver, unlike ferrous metals, doesn’t harden when heated and quenched.

That’s enough flattening. I sketched a long-handled Mjolnir onto it with a pencil – you can sorta see it there.

Then I got out the jeweler’s saw and started trimming. This is very tedious but very precise.

I’ve lopped off the end, now sawing up the handle. The Vikings would never have sawn silver – you’re wasting it. Everything they did was cast or hammer forged from cast ingots. I’m in a hurry though.
Still sawing my way up the long handle of the hammer.

Bunch more sawing and I end up with this. I gave it a final anneal, then a rough cleanup with a 220 grit sanding sponge.
I used some small files to round off all the edges and clean up some saw marks. I don’t feel bad about this like I do the sawing- files are period, they found some in the Mastermyr tool chest.

I sanded the faces with a 220 grit sanding sponge before I took it to the buffer for a quick initial polish.

Using handmade Viking-style stamps to decorate the face. You only get one chance to make a first impression…

Switched over to a tiny circle-dot stamp I made tonight for this project.

More cheating – I used a Whitney punch to make a hole in the end of the handle.

Had some silver wire, used a small hammer to draw the ends out a little for a more authentic look. If I was hardcore I’d have drawn this wire by hand myself. Tonight I ain’t about that life though.

Annealed the wire then wound the ends around itself. There are lots of historical finds with this kind of terminus.

Used a tiny buffing wheel to shine it up after annealing.

Finished with the hammer – but it’s got to be worn!

Once it was done, naturally I had to decide it needed more. I had a bit of fine silver rolo chain in my stash. “Rolo” chain describes a fairly archaic and simple type of chain where the links are all simple round or oval links. I cut 24″ of it, hung the Mjolnir on that, and fashioned a closure of silver wire to join the ends of the chain.
The clasp is a simple piece of silver wire that I melted one end of to get it ball-shaped, then threaded the chain onto it, then melted the other end.

No documentation because this is a gift, but it’s loosely based on this one found in Denmark:

The original archeological find from Rømersdal, Bornholm, Denmark. Dated to 790-1100 CE. Picture retrieved on 4/16/2022 from the Danish National Museum site: https://samlinger.natmus.dk/do/asset/9412

I can’t see the backside of it, so I don’t know if there’s a pierced hole or a forged curl back there. The ring goes the wrong way for it to lay flat anyways, so I like my version better.

Further reading on Viking stamped jewelry and decorations can be had here:

https://snorri.blog/2022/04/20/a-brief-survey-of-viking-stamped-metal-decoration%ef%bf%bc/

and here:

https://snorri.blog/2019/04/27/viking-stamped-jewelry/

Plausibly Period Arrows Project

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m a little bit of a purist (some would say a snob – and maybe, sometimes, justly) about shooting period bows and arrows in the SCA. Not to completely get up on my soapbox about it here, because this is supposed to be about arrows, but I feel the need to justify why I’m writing this, so here it is:

I feel that people doing archery in a medieval recreation society should be actually trying to do medieval archery.

That’s it.

So, to practice what I preach, I only shoot “period” bows, and I only shoot “period” arrows.

————–
Aside: I’m putting “period” in quotes because what I’m doing, and virtually everyone else shooting in the period divisions of the SCA are doing, isn’t really shooting actual period equipment. The function and form is largely correct, but:

  • We aren’t at medieval draw weights. Most experienced SCA shooters are shooting between 40 and 50 pound draw weights at 28 inches. That’s a half to a third, at best, of what a medieval archer pulled.
  • We’re almost all shooting bows made with modern glues and epoxies.
  • Virtually every shooter of an Asiatic “horsebow” in the SCA is shooting a bow with fiberglass in it.
  • Medieval arrows weren’t made from perfect dowels.
  • Most longbow shooters are shooting laminated bows, made from two to four layers of different woods (including bamboo).

and so on and so forth.
—————-


Conveniently, the Society already defines what’s a “period” bow and arrows, right here, on page 13: https://www.sca.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/target_archery_rules.pdf

The broad strokes are that you need to be shooting off your hand, which means no cut-out rest in the riser (handle) of the bow – the arrow rests on your hand alone – and you need to be shooting arrows with self-nocks, that is, the nock of the arrow is cut into the shaft of the arrow, rather than being a glued-on commercially-made plastic nock. All SCA archers have to shoot wooden shafts with feather fletchings, at least, so there’s that, right?

That’s all. That doesn’t seem so hard, right?

And yet, the vast majority of archers in the SCA can’t seem to get there; they are still shooting what’s generally referred to as “traditional” archery equipment. In the before-time, pre-internet, it could be difficult to get a bow that met the period archery requirements. No one really made them outside of hobbyists, and the traditional archery scene in the USA is huge, so those types of bows are readily available – often at garage sales and secondhand shops for a near-pittance. But now that we have the internet, bows of a much more medieval form are available from a bunch of different places. Both horsebows and longbows that meet the SCA’s definition of “period”, as I discussed above, can be had for around $100, and a dozen appropriate arrows can be had for as little as $40.

Now, certainly that’s not “let’s go try out archery” money for most people. For a beginner, telling them to fork out $150 to try out archery would most likely kill their interest immediately. But I’m not trying to make the case that a beginning archer in the SCA should be shooting period gear – just like no one’s telling a fledgling fighter that they should be buying a $500 helmet before they can fight. But, just like with fighting, where when a fighter reaches a certain threshold of skill and time-in-grade, it’s time for them to surrender the ancient bascinet from the loaner pile and start looking at something that fits their own head and persona, when archers reach a certain skill and dedication level, I feel like they ought to be looking to set down their Samick Sage or their 1978 Bear recurve, and start looking to move to a period longbow or horsebow.

Why they do not, I cannot wrap my head around. (If you have an idea why, please reach out and tell me!) My current working theory is, again, availability of equipment. Availability of bows is largely a moot point now that vendors such as AliBow, Flagella Dei, Ringing Rocks Archery, and many others are selling longbows and horsebows that meet the SCA’s period requirements for very reasonable prices. However, availability of arrows may be an issue. Many, many archers in the SCA either make their own arrows, or personally know a person who is making their arrows for them, and if this is you, then you’re my target audience for this next section.

Now we get to the meat of this blog post: I’m going to show you (you being a lightly experienced fletcher, let’s say, someone who has made at least a dozen dozen arrows) how to make a simple, cheap, and plausibly period arrow from readily available, commercial components.

There are really just four parts to an arrow: shaft, nock, point, and fletchings. Let’s talk about how to make these plausibly period for each one.

The Shaft

The vast, vast majority of SCAdian arrows are made of a wood called Port Orford cedar (POC), Chamaecyparis lawsoniana: https://www.wood-database.com/port-orford-cedar/. This is a miracle wood for archery: it’s light, has a very straight grain, and is reasonably strong for it’s weight.

It’s also from Port Orford, Oregon, USA. That makes it, to me, NOT a period wood for anyone doing a European, Asian, or African persona in the SCA’s time period.

Fortunately, there are other options. While ash would be a wonderful option, ash arrow shafting isn’t really available anywhere. We do have three fine choices though: bamboo, German Spruce, and Larch (Tamarack). I’ve shot all three, and while none of them are the miracle wood POC is, they’re all straight and shootable woods. German spruce is very light, almost as light as POC. Larch is a heavier wood, but extremely tough. Every archer has had the experience of hitting something hard, like a stone or a metal fencepost holding a target, and having the point of their POC arrow snap off cleanly right at the tip. Larch just bounces off. Bamboo is light, cheap, and strong, but often needs straightening, and cutting self-nocks into hollow bamboo takes practice.

The shaft should not be striped, colored, painted, or otherwise tarted up. Avoid a super-shiny modern polyurethane coating. A simple wipe with boiled linseed oil, tung oil, or a similar natural wood finish works great. If those aren’t available, you can use poly; try the wipe-on kind in a satin finish, and don’t do more than two coats.

The Nock

In traditional archery, the nocks of arrows are made of plastic and glued onto the wood shaft. They’re cheap, clip onto the string nicely, and are perfectly consistent. They do absolutely provide a significant advantage over a medieval self-nock. But plastic nocks are definitely not period (although glue-on nocks ARE period; particularly in Turkish and middle-eastern archery both horn and wood nocks were fashioned separately from the shaft, and glued on. If you can find these – and there are some domestic distributors of them – by all means go nuts and use them). Most medieval arrows were of what we call the “self nock” variety, that is, the nock is cut directly into the shaft of the arrow. There are lots of ways to do this, and as bows got stronger and stronger, different types of reinforcements were necessary to prevent the power of the bow from instantly splitting the wood shaft upon release. Cord wraps and horn inserts were the most common in European medieval archery.

However, as I said above, most SCAdians are only shooting a 40-50 pound bow. At those weights, not much actual reinforcement is needed. The important things are to make SURE you are sawing the nock against the grain of the arrow, and put a simple cord wrap just below the nock. When I say, “saw against the grain”, I mean that if you look at the round ends of your arrow shafts, you will see parallel lines running across them. That’s the grain. You want to saw across those lines, perpendicular to them. If you saw your nocks parallel to those grain lines, your arrows are going to split on release. I promise you, arrow go boom. It’s quite scary and a bit dangerous. Best thing to do is, once you’ve located those grain lines, just use a pencil or a marker and draw a line across them, then saw the nock there.

You do have to actually saw in the nocks; usually about 1/2″ deep is how far to go. The best tool (non-motorized tool, that is) for doing this that I’ve found is three hacksaw blades taped together, with the middle blade’s teeth facing the opposite direction from the two outside blades. You can tape one end of the blades, then tape from the middle all the way to the other end and use that part as a handle.

You have to hold the shaft while doing this; for this I recommend a table vise with padded jaws. Some scrap leather will pad them fine, or you can buy magnetic nylon jaw covers for your vise online that have a V on one side that holds round shafts wonderfully. It should only take a few pulls of the saw to make the nock once you’ve got the hang of it.

You can do a LOT of shaping and futzing about with your self nocks if you want to. Some people use a round file to make the canyon rounded to fit the string better, others use a belt sander or sanding blocks to round off the ends of the dowel. I like to taper them a bit roughly on my belt sander (a $35 tool from Harbor Freight) then use a drywall sanding sponge to smooth them out.

For the wrap, you want it right below the bottom of the nock. You can use artificial sinew or thick nylon thread from a leatherworking shop, silk thread for a later period look, or (what I use) some very thin linen string I bought a big spool of.

You only need to do about 3/8″ of a wrap, then tie it off. I like to cheat here a bit with some modern materials, and use a very thin superglue to coat my wrap, and let a little of it sink into my nock as well. Makes it immeasurably stronger with little effort, and it’s almost invisible.

The Fletchings

The default feather for fletching arrows, worldwide, is now the turkey feather. It’s much like Port Orford cedar for arrow shafts; they’re miracle feathers for arrows. They’re large, long, robust, easily dyed, and readily available as a byproduct of the poultry industry.

I looked long and hard, far and wide, for an alternative to turkey feathers for fletchings, because the turkey, being a New World bird, is totally inappropriate for a “period” arrow.

You simply can’t do it. Not if you’re looking, as I am, for a readily available commercial source. Let’s go over what I tried:

  • Domestic chickens and ducks have been bred for hundreds of years to have smaller flight pinions. No good.
  • Raptor feathers, those of eagles, hawks, etc. are all prohibited from ownership, and all raptors are protected species. These feathers are made of unobtanium unless you are a member of a First Nation – and they’re not fletching arrows with them, they’re sacred objects used for ceremonial purposes.
  • Seagulls are a protected migratory bird (yes, really) and you can’t possess any part of those.
  • Ditto for Canadian geese. Never mind that you can go find a field where a thousand Canadian geese rested overnight while flying North or South and glean dozens of suitable feathers from the ground, you can’t possess those.
  • Crows would work – but I’d have to hunt them myself. No one I found is selling crow feathers in any bulk. Besides, I like crows – I have a whole murder I feed peanuts to year-round in my backyard.

At that point I threw in the towel. It was turkey feathers or nothing. I had to live with it.

However, I could at least make them look more period. Pre-cut arrow fletchings these days come mostly in two shapes, “shield cut” and “parabolic”:

The middle arrow is fletched with “parabolic” fletchings, the bottom with “shield cut” fletchings. The top arrow is a flu-flu, fletched for short range shooting – the big feathers create lots of drag – and not suitable for SCA target archery, so ignore it.

Neither of those is particularly medieval-looking. Most medieval fletchings are either cut straight down perpendicular to the shaft at the back, or have a trailing rear point. Fortunately, there’s a type of feather shape from the early days of traditional archery that, while also not readily available, at least it’s popular enough that you can buy templates to cut your own. It’s called Pope & Young (after two famous traditional archers):

Most European medieval arrows end up being one of the triangular shapes above, while Asiatic arrows tend to be fletched with a more rounded profile, more like the “Hog’s Back” fletching shown above. I find the Pope & Young shape to be a nice midpoint between the two; it has a bit of a curve on the long side, but retains the trailing rear point that’s so common. That said, I have also fletched period arrows in the 90 degree triangular shape and the “natural line” shape. They all work fine. At the ranges and skill levels most SCA archers are shooting at, we won’t see a real difference between any of the above shapes.

But, we were talking about commercially-available stuff. None of the above shapes are. Commercially available, I mean. Fear not, it’s pretty easy to cut your own, and actually cheaper as well. Here’s what you need, in addition to a bag of full-length turkey fletchings:

  1. Template
  2. Rotary cutter
  3. Squeeze clamp
  4. Cutting board
  5. Utility knife

You clamp the template over the feather, keeping the quill in the cut-out channel on the backside, clip off the back of the quill with the utility knife, then use the rotary cutter to cut the shape.

Take off your clamp, lift up your template, and you have a fletching. Do that 35 more times and you can fletch a dozen arrows.

When fletching, I use the same modern glues and materials I use when making traditional arrows (a lengthy pictorial primer on how I do that can be fond here: https://imgur.com/gallery/gbLql ). Again, looking for readily available. Using fish or hide glue here, and tying on the fletchings all the way down, is like a modern seamstress hand-sewing interior seams on a period garment. No one’s going to know but her, so why do it?

A final note on colors: medieval folks didn’t have blue, or yellow, or purple, or red, or green feathers. They had the colors that come on birds: white, black, brown, and gray. Please try and stick to those. Also please avoid the “barred” feathers. Not only do they cost more (because the barring is artificial) they’re meant to look like turkey feathers, and the turkey’s the bird we’re trying to pretend we’re NOT using the feathers of here. I know the temptation for SCAdians to try and bling up ALL THE THINGS is nearly irresistible, and fletching your arrows with the colors of your arms, household, or kingdom seems like a great idea… but it’s wrong.

The Point

Not much to say here. Almost any medieval point you can think of will be disallowed at an SCA archery range (and most club ranges, too) for doing to much damage to the target butts. Personally, for me, I think the standard field point is just fine for SCA use at any event.

However, if you want to go the extra mile, there are a number of modified bodkin points, or “modkins”, commercially available.

Personally, I use the TopHat screw-on modkins. They’re universally acceptable because the largest diameter of the point is no larger than the shaft of the arrow, there’s just a small hip on them for aesthetics.

As you can see here, the shaft is not tapered, as with a glue-on tip, the shaft itself is threaded with a special thread-cutting die in a tool from TopHat, and the points are screwed on. It’s a wonderful system and I recommend it.

Another very medieval-looking option is conical pin points:

These are also made by TopHat and are screw-on points, but similar glue-on options are available.

So just install whatever points you like, and you have yourself a “plausibly period” arrow, as I have taken to calling them.

And that’s plausibly period arrows. I’ve been shooting these arrows ONLY, made from larch or German spruce, since the beginning of 2018. I am a Master Bowman with period equipment in both the recurve and crossbow categories, and I’m knocking at the door with longbow (currently shooting mid-70’s with period longbow, but ran out of daylight for practices this year). If I can do it, you can do it.

Would I probably put up higher scores shooting off the rest of a traditional recurve bow, with plastic nocks, and perfect factory-cut fletchings? Almost certainly. But I’d also put up better scores shooting an Olympic recurve, carbon fiber arrows, or a compound bow. Did you just recoil in horror at the idea of that?

Then why are you still shooting trad equipment?

-Snorri

Voice Heralding Class Outline

This post is a work in progress – when I finalize the class material I’ll remove this disclaimer. If you read this post and the disclaimer’s still up, that means I’m not happy yet, and I’d welcome any suggestions anyone has.

-Snorri, Jewel Herald of Æthelmearc for the reign of Timothy & Gabrielle IV

Voice Heralding 101

From SCA.org:“Voice heralds” are used for “crying out announcements, announcing the fighters entering the list field, and acting as the voice of the nobility in court, reading the scrolls that accompany the awards being given out.”

“Book heralds” – helping members of the SCA to research period names and design devices (armory), and registering them with the SCA College of Heralds.

“Protocol heralds” – recording the awards and honors that are given in court, drafting period-style ceremonies for use in court, and determining the precedence of award holders and other legal niceties in all sorts of situations.

In Æthelmearc, a billeted Voice Herald (Baronial Heralds, Jewel Herald) usually acts as the Protocol Herald as well.

This class deals with Voice Heralds.

In two primary places:

  1. At tournaments
  2. In court
    but also:
    • at events, making announcements
    • on the list field, announcing competitors and results and calling fighters to the lists
    • at feasts, announcing courses, introducing entertainment, even making toasts

Be these things:

  1. Loud
  2. Articulate, clear, and easily understood
  3. Correct

In Court:

The Court Herald is the Voice of the Crown, and also the Master of Ceremonies

  1. Pronounce all the names correctly
  2. Read the scroll correctly
  3. Acknowledge scribes
  4. Vivats
    • You are like a music conductor – the crowd MUST know when you are going to start these – use your arm and show them!

At Tournaments:

  1. Be complimentary
  2. Be cleverly or personally complimentary
  3. Be cleverly/personally complimentary and funny
  4. Be artistically or historically complimentary

Speaking “Forsoothly”

  1. Avoid contractions – say “Do not”, rather than “Don’t”
  2. Avoid modern slang. Speak “properly”.

++ Breathing
++ Posture, projection
++ Timbre/pitch – lower will carry better, but do not strain
++ Non-restrictive clothing

++ Grooming. Shave, haircut, hairstyling, makeup, etc. Treat it like you’re at a professional job, because you ARE. You are the emcee of an awards ceremony for an international 501.c.3 non profit corporation.

Viking Stamped Jewelry

The Vikings made a lot of stamped jewelry; finds of Viking hoards are littered with the stuff, for example, check out this picture of the Spillings hoard¹ in Sweden, dated to the ninth century:

There was almost a hundred and fifty POUNDS of silver found there, and at least half of it was either stamped or twisted. Another example is the Silverdale hoard², found near Lancashire in north-west England:

A third example from a hoard found in Gotland³:

If you look really closely at stuff like this, you can start to discern the shapes of the stamps they used:

Once you see the shapes of them, you can begin to make them: triangles with one or three dots in the middle, round dots or ring dots, dotted lines, straight bars, and others. I do this with round steel stock and a lot of different tools: a pedestal-mounted grinder, a couple belt sanders, a 1/2 HP buffer, files, drill bits in a pin vise, sandpaper, a flex-shaft jeweler’s rotary tool, a Dremel tool, and a few other hand tools, as well as a MAPP gas torch for heat treating. The basic procedure is this:

  1. Figure out the shape of what you’re making. Triangle, bar, circle, whatever.
  2. Square up the end of a piece of steel rod 4-6 inches long, and about 3/8″ diameter. This is thick enough that you can bang on it hard, but not too thick that you can’t make small things.
  3. Using your files, drills, whatever, make the end of your rod be that shape. I use my grinder to get the outside shape because it’s fast, and files and drill bits to get the finer details, for the most part. If you screw up, just grind the end flat again and start over. If it helps, use a fine-point Sharpie to draw your design right on the end of the rod.
  4. Clean it up. Get rid of all your file and tool marks using 400 grit sandpaper, a buffer, whatever you have handy. I buff the crap out of mine until they have a mirror shine. Any tool or file marks left on the face of your stamp will transfer to the metal. While you’re doing this, square up the other end, too, and maybe put a little chamfer on the edges.
  5. Harden it. You need to harden both ends, but not the middle, so I grab the middle with a pair of vise-grips, and clamp them in my bench vise. I use a MAPP gas torch to heat one end until it’s cherry red and non-magnetic, then quench it in water. Repeat for the other end. Don’t burn yourself.
  6. Use a green scubby pad to knock off the worst of the fire scale, if any appeared.

That’s it, you have a workable tool. This whole process, if you have all the tools and materials ready, should take like fifteen minutes.

Here are some pictures of mine:

I’ve been using them to make pieces like these, a set of twelve bracelets for a kingdom largesse derby:

and this German silver arm ring, a gift for author Christian Cameron in gratitude for his excellent novels, the Tyrant series: http://www.hippeis.com/tyrantseries

I’ll be teaching a class on how to make these at Æthelmearc’s Spring Æcademy, complete with power tools and fire and sparks and cursing and squire-level safety procedures: https://www.facebook.com/events/279911099350393/

More pictures exist in this Imgur album: https://imgur.com/gallery/D9FJgz3

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spillings_Hoard

2: https://lancashirepast.com/2014/05/13/silverdale-viking-hoard/

3. https://www.archaeology.org/issues/240-1701/features/5123-sweden-gotland-viking-wealth#art_page3

 

 

Etching and Medallions

I’ve been playing around with etching for a while. Modern etching is accomplished in two parts: an etchant and a resist. The etchant is what eats away at the metal you’re etching, and the resist is the thing that keeps parts of your subject from being etched. This means you’re always etching negative space, and you have to remember this when you work up your designs.

I started off doing saltwater etching with an adhesive vinyl resist.  Saltwater etching is a good place to start, because it involves no toxic chemicals, and low-voltage electricity. I used my vinyl cutter to make stickers, stuck those on axe heads. Then I used a battery charger, wires with alligator clips, saltwater and cotton balls to etch the cut-out area of the vinyl sticker into the metal. This is super fast and super easy, but the results aren’t always great and you can’t to fine designs with a vinyl resist. Still, it was a lot of fun and a good starting place, and the results were good as long as I kept them simple.

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Author’s own saltwater etched axe head
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Author’s own ceremonial dress sword
But I wanted to start making SCAdian award medallions. A household full of new folks (which I founded, but am not an official part of) that I’m close to is starting to get awards – a couple of Golden Alces so far, with a Master Bowman or two on the horizon – and I thought it’d be nice to be able to give them cool award medallions. Master Artemius, a stained glass and jeweler Laurel from the Barony of Delftwood, was a great help in showing me the ropes of acid etching with a photo resist. Here’s how it works:
1. Make your design in black and white. Use Photoshop, GIMP, MS Paint, whatever your graphics program of choice is. Personally I’m familiar with Paint Shop Pro, so I use that. You want a high-resolution vector graphic; if the resolution is too low your design will be pixellated, and the pixellation absolutely WILL be visible in your etching – that’s how precise it is. Remember that the black parts of your design will NOT be etched – that’s the resist. Another helpful hint is to work in a place for a hole to hang it by. Sometimes I put these on the outside of the medallion, and sometimes on the inside – depends on the design.

2. Print your design, using a laser printer, onto glossy photo paper. I’m using this stuff: https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AN5WTTM Cut it out leaving as little excess around the edges as you can.

3. Cut your metal to size. I usually make 2″ medallions, and I buy my metals in 2″ strips from www.onlinemetals.com. Specifically, I have been buying Nickel Silver 770 H02 and  Brass 260 in 0.05″ (16 gauge) and 0.125″ thicknesses. The 0.125″ thick stuff makes delightfully heavy and substantial medallions, but it’s a pain and very time consuming to saw. The 16 gauge stuff is a lot lighter, but I can rough it out with my Beverly shear, which is a huge time saver, and it’s much faster to saw, too. The 16 gauge medallions are lovely too, just not… substantial-feeling. Master Artemius says it only takes him ten minutes to saw out a 0.125″ medallion, so I suspect I need more aggressive saw blades for my jeweler’s saw. Or more practice. Or both.

4. Using a regular household iron, high heat, no steam, heat up your metal for thirty seconds, then, as precisely as you can manage without burning yourself, place your face-down printed photo paper resist onto it. The glossy paper will almost immediately stick to the hot metal, so you really only get one try. You can put the resist paper onto cold metal, but you run the risk it’ll slide around – because the next thing you do is iron the paper onto the metal with substantial pressure for five to seven minutes. Move the iron around continually. If you keep grabbing the paper try using a piece of parchment paper between the iron and the paper. Use the tip of the iron to press down every area of your resist.

5. After five to seven minutes of ironing, WITHOUT burning yourself, move the metal to some water. It’ll cool fast, and once it does, use some pressure from your fingers to rub and peel the paper off the metal. It will leave behind all the toner, giving you a perfect resist:

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Photo resist for a Golden Alce medallion on nickel silver.

If you have small imperfections in your design, you can touch them up carefully with a Sharpie or some nail polish. If it’s absolutely bollocksed up, you can quickly remove the photo resist with some acetone and try again. It comes right off with a toothbrush and nail polish remover.

Finally, you’ll want to cover the back of the amulet too, to retain the smooth factory finish there. I use adhesive vinyl for that, and Sharpie on the edges if they’re very close to the edges of my design. I think electrical tape will work if you don’t have vinyl around.

6. Once you have a good resist down, it’s time to etch! I use ferric chloride acid: https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B005T8Y20W  This stuff will etch any copper alloy and any steel. Put your blank into a plastic, glass, or ceramic bowl (flat bottoms are most efficient), using toothpicks to keep it off the bottom. Put it in face-down so that the particulate matter falls down and doesn’t impede the etching. Be careful not to have the toothpicks over your resist – the areas that the metal is touching the toothpicks also won’t etch, so don’t obscure your design.

Pour in enough ferric chloride to cover the medallion, and set a timer for two hours. Very simple, blocky designs can go a bit more, designs like the Alce above need to go a bit less, otherwise the acid starts to eat away at the really fine details from the sides. After about 30 minutes, wearing gloves, remove the piece your etching and give it a quick rinse in water, just to loosen the first bits of particulate matter, then put it right back.

After two hours, take it out, thoroughly rinse it in water, and responsibly dispose of your acid. Use a toothbrush and some acetone to scrub off the photo resist, and uncover the back and clean that too.

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Golden Alce medallion, fresh from a post-acid rinse and acetone scrub.

7. Saw your medallion out, drill your hanger hole(s), clean up the edges with a rotary tool or belt sander or files, and polish the edges and back. I do all my polishing on a pedestal-mounted buffer, but you could do it with polishing wheels and rouge on a Dremel or on a drill held in a vice, or even with sandpapers of increasing grits up to about 2000. A final wet sand with 2000 grit will give you a mirror shine – it just takes a lot longer than my buffer does.

8. Enamel it. I’m using Ice Resin: https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B00HQP2YK6  It’s not cheap, but it works great. I tint it with a drop or two of acrylic paint. Less is always more with the paint, don’t use too much. I use Vallejo hobby acrylics that come in dropper bottles. Mix the paint in with the resin thoroughly, then CAREFULLY apply it to the medallion. I use a sharpened toothpick to do this. It’s painstaking work, and takes a long time and a steady hand. If your colors are widely separated, you can do them all at once, but if they’re close together, I highly recommend you do one color a day until it’s done.

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Two medallions, with their initial layers of enamel.

9. When your enamel is all dry, you’re done except for adding a jump ring and a cord or chain.

Here is a small gallery of some of the medallions I’ve done so far:

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Image may contain: jewelry

Image may contain: jewelry

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No documentation, as this is not a medieval method or craft that I am aware of.

 

 

 

Trying my Hand at Illuminations

I’ve always had a vague urge to try my hand at some illuminations. Not the calligraphy part, mind you; I tried that last summer with a quest book as part of the Queen’s Guard, and, well… I can barely write legible English now, let alone write pretty.

Anyway, I’ve been painting wargaming miniatures on and off since about 1996, so I figured this can’t be all that different. I was right.

A

I’ve decided to do the “Alphabet Challenge”. I’m going to illuminate one scroll with each letter of the alphabet, then turn them over to the heralds to make into scrolls. Here is my B, which I just finished:

B

A quick rundown of what I’m using so far, for those that are interested in trying it themselves:

Windsor & Newton #0 Kolinsky Sable Brush: https://smile.amazon.com/Winsor-Newton-Kolinsky-Sable-Watercolor/dp/B0013E68SU.

Hot Press Watercolor Paper: https://smile.amazon.com/Fluid-Watercolor-Press-Block-9X12/dp/B00CVB60TG.

Holbein Artist’s Gouache: https://smile.amazon.com/Holbein-Artists-Gouache-%EF%BC%A7702-tubes/dp/B075YJLKRZ.

And, if you’re going to pay $15 for a single brush, make sure you take care of it: https://smile.amazon.com/General-Pencil-105-BP-Masters-Preserver/dp/B0027AEANE.

There’s lots of books around to help you get started working with gouache. The only real suggestion I have is to use a wet palette. I’m sure you can buy expensive ones, but all I do is fold a paper towel in quarters, lay it on a saucer (I use a disposable plastic one. Been using it for years.), put water on it until it can’t absorb any more, then cut a square of parchment paper the size of the saucer and lay it on the wet paper towel.

This will keep your paints nice and liquid for a day or so, depending on heat and humidity. When they do dry out, the dry paint flakes right off the parchment paper, and you can use it again. So nice for keeping you working and not messing around mixing more gouache all the time.

Unless you have a flawless hand, or are only doing originals, you’re probably going to want to trace things to get the outlines. For this, you need a light box. I have one my dad made years ago, but they’re fairly cheap these days: https://smile.amazon.com/Ultra-thin-Portable-Artcraft-Sketching-Animation/dp/B01JPD6QZK.

Finally, this thing is essential for keeping your brushes wet, not letting the paint dry out in them: https://smile.amazon.com/Games-Workshop-99229999165-Water-Edition/dp/B0776QZ5FV. Just remember to never leave your brushes in it overnight. The wood will swell, the ferrule will rust, and your brush will be ruined shortly.

Anyways, that’s what I’m up to. Two down, twenty-four more to go!

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