Category Archives: Woodwork

Sliding top boxes

Clearly these must be for Viking Dominoes! These are again a series of objects from early medieval Dublin, from our recent visit. I have known about these little boxes for year and never seen one in the flesh, and like most period finds they didn’t disappoint. Once thing it is easy to forget is often how small, fine, well made, and detailed these objects are, particularly as within a living history environment, many of our castings and replicas are too big, too heavy, and too crude. I have absolutely no idea  what they are for but I guess any kinds of sewing items, gaming counters, jewelery, or religious relics could be kept in one.

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This one however, blew me away. It’s hard to see from the photograph, but it is miniscule. I was not convinced you could even fit a small sewing needle in this. So perhaps it was for a keepsake, a hair from the head of a saint, or perhaps even their children? If anyone else has any ideas I’d love to hear them!

 

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We’re all going on… a Summer Holiday

If the title of this post has induced horrendous visions of being stuck on a bus with Cliff Richard singing, have no fear, this is actually about something far less terrifying; a long hall full of armed and marauding vikings. At the beginning of August our society held its annual weeks holiday at Murton Park. The group has attempted to hold a week-long event there since the first one in July 2004, 10 years ago, and also during the event we had our 11 year anniversary as a society and celebrated it in our own unique way as you will see.

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We stopped in another house this weekend, as our is still undergoing some work on the roof and daub, and with the kids along, it was much easier to simply stop elsewhere.This is a picture of the house we stopped in on the first holiday, and you can see how long ago it is, as there is a rare straw bale, the house didn’t have a porch yet, and most importantly, Anlaf still had hair!

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Here is the same house now, which you can see has a convenient porch and deck outside, which is very useful with the kids.

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We brought a lot of things to stop the full week, and set out the inside as best we could.

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There is something quite satisfying about stopping in these places for a longer period, as you get the opportunity to slide into a more natural pattern of eating and sleeping and it becoming ‘normal’. The only problem is, as with most holidays, just as you are getting used to it, its time to come home again.

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Either way the kids enjoyed the week in their usual fashion, Hakon spent a lot of time fighting and joking around.

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Ragenleif… well she did her own thing as usual

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We got on with a few jobs on the village, such as shingling the backside of our house, fitting the remaining shutter, and Al gave us a great hand by building out and trimming the eaves on the front of the house. Osric and Snorri also got a lot of daubing done inside Snorri’s house, and on the side and front of our house, Osric being watched here by Hakon and Ragenleif.

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During the week Odin also got a bit of a haircut of salad leaves, like a larger version of an cress-haired egg-man!

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We also get more opportunity to wear many of the different and elaborate outfits we have made over the years. Here is Katla in her Viking style strap dress and accessories with Ragenleif.

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Here is Einar ad Hakon showing off their dress, Einar in a copy of the Viborg shirt, with linen trousers and winingas, with a belt and seax.

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However, where the real beauty and mystery of the village comes to life is at night, by the light of the fire.

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By firelight everything seems more enigmatic. One can put aside reality and be drawn a little into the atmosphere. The fire flickers, and shiny objects glitter and sparkle in the dark. The dark corners and shadows draw a veil over the dirt, dust, and any authenticity inaccuracies just like snow does, and the imagination and the senses seem much more alive in the dark.

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It is a wonderful place to take photographs, though with the low light it can be quite tricky. Any attempt to artificially light the place looks awful, flash or any lighting of any other kind can easily destroy the wonderfull shadows and the yellow glow. Yet there is precious little light to capture images without graining and blurring, and often I resort to putting liquid wax or oil onto the fire to produce a bright flare for a few seconds to allow me to use a slightly faster shutter speed. If you notice anyone a little dazed looking on the photographs; now you know why!

 

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We also tend to let the children stay up until they fall asleep, and often they will play viking and other ancient games, like Katla and Hakon here playing pick-up stones, a scene I can almost image all those years ago; a boy and his mum playing a game by firelight.

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After the cooking is done, everyone gets together for the evening meal. The cooking and the meals are a great opportunity to use known viking ingredients and suggested recipes and attempt to investigate some of the possible tastes of the tenth century: Lamb and onions with leaf salad and beetroot, onion soup and bread, bacon, boar, and barley, vegetable stew amongst other treats.

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Of course, in such an environment, it would be rude not to same some fine brewed ales and meads as well!

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I’d like to pick up a final point I mentioned briefly earlier, and it is a point I have also heard echoed by Professor Neil Price in his Messenger lectures at Cornell University about firelight and shiny things, notably metalwork. You can see on this picture of me, the effect the brass, tin, and silver of my belt buckles, strap ends, seax sheath fittings, and arm rings have in a dark hall. You can also see how the tin sheet on the Tating ware jug, and the tinned studs on the iron-bound box glow. To people in the 10th century, this would seem as enticing and enchanting as it does to us, perhaps even more so.

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I’d also like to introduce you to two new looks Einar and Snorri are trying, entitled ‘Blued Steel’

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These are a final few  shots of the village the last night before we left, with the sun slowly setting.DSC_0155

You can see the back side of our house finally shingled here, with the new shutter on the reverse side fitted.DSC_0150

Lastly a final shot of the house, with a little more of the roof finished, and the two daubed panels. Still quite a bit of work to go, but a good deal of progress made none the less. DSC_0175

It was a shame to leave, but we had a good trip, with more progress on the house, some good feasts and chats, and even a sneaky trip into the Yorkshire museum and the Jorvik centre to check out some of the real stuff again. We will be back again in early September for a birthday celebration, and another great banquet!

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Clothes, and boxes, and cups… oh my!

We have been busy over the last couple of weeks with some crafts projects and I’d thought I’d share a few of them with you all. We have the groups annual week-long holiday at the Danelaw village at Murton Park Museum of farming next week and we have been furiously getting things made and ready for the week ahead. This has included buying straw hats, sharpening and repairing axes, sourcing wicker baskets, waterproofing shoes, cleaning pans and cauldrons, making implements to cook with, planning food to cook, and making and repairing clothes to last the full week.

It was my wife’s birthday last week, and I decided to make her a present. Using some spare off-cuts we had I made her a jewelry box of her own to keep her Viking treasures in, as the one we had been sharing was getting a bit full!

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The box is not an exact copy but it uses elements of many exisitng finds, combined in what I feel is an appropriate period fashion. It has a lot in common with one of the boxes from the Birka cemetery, such as its small size, the handle, and general design. The Birka example uses decorative copper-alloy plates, but iron straps and brackets are common to many boxes including Cumwhitton and the boxes from the Oseberg ship, and the tinned nails are found on the Oseberg ship boxes.

 

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The handle and lock plate are pretty ubiquitous on most boxes from the period, and the exact design of the lock being is that of a verticle mounted type (as described here), found on many boxes, both Viking and Anglo-Saxon. On this last photo you can just see the bluey-purple tinge of the metal, which I heated and quenched to darken it.

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The key is not the final version, as I didn’t have any steel appropriate. But it serves to open the box for now. The two teeth and the handle can be seen, and how they reach round inside the lock, to depress the spring, then allowing the key to act as a handle, and slide back the locking pin. One very obvious thing missing, is the hasp that actually closes the lock, which I hope to make next week on the forge at York.

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I also turned a few more objects on the lathe, in order to reduce some of the wood pile in my garage before any wood worm gets at it. I made a few small early medieval cups out of birchwood, with the classic globular shape, and decorative grooves.

DSC_0024We have also been very busy making clothes, particularly linen garments in order to cope with the heat we are having at the moment. As well as a few tunics for the children, I have also made myself some linen trousers, in two distinct patterns. Viking age trousers are, by and large, guessed at from pictorial sources, and the patterns of finds from the preceeding period. There are a few tentative pieces from the Viking age, which do suggest some commonality with these earlier garments, but there is still a lot of guesswork involved. For a very good summary of the archaeological evidence this article is definitely worth a read.

The first trousers I made are a pair of shorter, wide waisted trousers, to a very simple design similar to those found at a much earlier site at Marx Etzel, and a number of mediterranean and continental sites from the first few hundred years AD. These trousers come down to my calves, a bit like long shorts, or cut offs, and I shall be wearing them with red linen hose or woven leg bindings. Thor Ewing’s ‘Viking Clothing’ book makes a interesting case for garments such as there, and after having a chat with him at the Midlands Viking conference earlier this year, I decided to try some variations on these, to asses their style and practicality. So far they do look very different, and given the evidence for this style of dress, there does seem to be a distince continental, particularly Carolingian feel to it, which makes a lot of sense to me. Given how popular Carolingian metalwork is, the idea that elements of continental clothing fashion creept into Denmark and Anglo-Saxon England too, including these hose and such linen garments is quite compelling. Certainly the volume of the trousers, combined with the tightness of the leg bindings, produce a remarkably similar profile to some of the baggier looking trouser on many period illustrations, indicating that not all may have been quite as baggy as the ‘Rus’ pants worn by reenactors, and clearly illustrated on some pictorial sources. The legs are slit up the back slightly, to allow a quite tight fit around the calf.

DSC_0025I also made myself a pair of linen trouser in the Damendorf/Thorsberg style, with narrower, full length, legs, and more sophisticated tailoring.

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Ultimately, because of the size of the piece of cloth I had, I ended up with a bit of a hybrid pattern between the two garments, with the crotch and back gussets more like Thorsberg, but with triangular inserts in between the legs and gussets, to allow more room for movement, and prevent embarrassing tears when squatting! I was really quite pleased with this hybrid design, as it felt very like another version of the sorts of tailoring and designs we often see in archaeological clothing remains, which often seem to hint at a variety of specific patterns, within and certain style and philosophy of tailoring.

DSC_0028Finally, I have begun to make myself a pair of red linen hose to wear as an alternative to leg windings (once again if you wish to read a decent summary of the evidence for hose, please visit here). Whilst there is some debate as to whether red linen is linked to hose specifically, as dyed linen does not seen to be very common in the period, there is a reasonable argument to be made for it. As the lower legs are very visible in Viking mens clothing, and even the tops of the Coppergate sock had a small red band around it, I decided that red linen would be very striking and a good way to spend a small amount of money on a small piece of material, that would be very visible. I shall be sure to take some pictures, when I have them done!

DSC_0026We now have a final weekend to put the finishing touches to the lat bits of clothing, and then we will be ready to head to York next Tuesday! If you are in the area in the week between Tuesday 5th and Monday 11th of August, then do drop by and say hi!

The Viking House rebuild; a little more than we planned for!

The weekends work on the house went well, though as you will see it ended up being a little more than just a re-roofing and adding a few shutters. The first thing we had to do when  we arrived on Friday dinner time, was take a final snap of the old house. As you will see in this, and a number of other snaps, we used modern ladders, modern footwear, and modern tools this weekend, primarily because they are a lot safer, quicker, and easier to use, that their historic counter parts, and ultimately, we had a lot of work to do in a short amount of time.

20140711_141928The stripping of all the roof straw, and exposing the rafters, took a few hours, but was good fun!

20140711_165920Finally we removed a layer of plastic membrane which are used on all the houses, to help keep them waterproof (a little compensaton for the lack of funds to thatch or shingle them with truly authentic, but expensive, materials). Then we had the roof stripped. We spend until later that evening removing as many lats as we could, and clearing out some of the roofing material we had removed.

20140711_175602The next morning, not long after 6.30am, we started work again, this time removing that last of the lats, and beginning to strengthen the partition, and extension to the house, however this is where things got a little more complicated. The extension, was a bit of an after though to the structure, and the wood had been up some time and was rotten in places. It became clear it needed replacing, so whilst we had the man power, materials, and opportunity we decided to rebuild that end.

DSC_0163We sunk two brand new posts into large post holes we dug, and squared them all off, making the building about a foot longer in the process. We also began to clean up, and de-nail the rafters, as well as adding new rafters in, in between the old ones, to strengthen the roof.

DSC_0164The next step was to cover the roof in boards and plastic. Not the most authentic solution I appreciate, but as we have explained previously, these houses primarily exist as an education resource, so we need them to be strong, cheap, waterproof, and easy to maintain, and when we have covered the inside and outside with plans and shingles, the modern materials will be invisible.

DSC_0169We also dug post hole, and affixed my new carved and painted posts, originally designed to cover the old partition posts, which we had now removed. As a result, we added the post in a little further back, closer to the door. I was very pleased with the posts when they were in position.

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Finally, work began on fastening the new lats on the roof, and installing the shingles. There were 6 rows of shingles on each side, and each row had about 57 shingles in it, with a final smaller row to be installed close to the ridge nest time we come down. Meanwhile the inside of the new extension was being planked out, and insulated, with the intention of daubing them in future.

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With evening on the final of four days approaching, we had to take the decision to stop shingling the back side of the roof and to spend our last hour or two tidying up and making the house clean and safe for the next few weeks until we are back. We cleaned up all the debris from the build. We covered any visible modern membranes temporarily, and dressed the inside of the house ready for public visitorsDSC_0180

I re-hung the old door, which is a little small, and fitted the new shutters I had built ready to install, and added back in some of the old furniture and items for now.

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There is still a lot to do over the rest of the year, but the strength and quality of the new roof, and the improvement of light and space inside has added another 15-20 years to the building, and will mean we will be able to adapt to our increased need for space as the kids get bigger!

DSC_0184Whilst we didn’t 100% finish everything we wanted to achieve, we also added on rebuilding half the house, and I think the finished house will be massively better for the extra work. I’m looking forward to hosting a thank you banquet in it when we are finished next year.

I’d just like to thank everyone who came to help me this weekend: Osric, Magnus, Afrior, Snorri, and Roarr, who worked like trooper, and without which I’d never have got it a quarter of the way. Thank you.

Breathing new life into old longhalls

In two weeks time, on the weekend of the 12-13th of July, we have a long weekend planned for the village at Murton Park, outside York. Our ambitious goal is to remove, and replace the roof of our house, and renovate the internal uprights, and replace one window, and reinstate two others with brand new frames and shutters.

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This is the view of the back of the house, and the place where this new shutter will be inserted. We don’t know a lot about Viking age windows and doors, but finds from York suggests that windows may have been quite small actually, and perhaps even have had small horn inserts. A window aperture was found in a house at Hedeby 32cm x 48cm, and also small lights cut into the wider stave planks. They are mentioned in literature, such as Njals saga and Grettis saga, the latter mentioning light shining through a window. However, one has to bear in mind that these are Icelandic medieval documents, and may not reflect viking age building techniques, nor indeed be representative of other parts of the viking world. Ultimately, however, we often have to spend a lot of time in these spaces, and light is important for us to see to cook, eat, and do crafts, and when one considered this is a museum with members of the public around and that fires and lamps cannot always be monitored, then shutters are a very sensible option.With the decision made, I think we have enough evidence to attempt some putative reconstructions of small shutters, around the size of the Hedeby one. I have therefore set about making some shutters at home, and glued and pegged them all, ready to fit on the weekend. To close them, I have taken a leaf from some of the simple wooden sliding mechanisms from Hedeby and other sites.

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Our house has an addition to one end lengthening the house by just over a meter, but the original end wall of the house is still present. This means that the outside door is central to the house, and the one in the partition is offset with a wood store to one side. Originally we did this to reduce the draughts and create the store as we had insufficient timber to do anything else, but now we have some bigger plans. The uprights in the original end wall are being left in place, but being strengthened by being clad in some substantial new carved and painted timber uprights. This will allow us to place a new tougher cross beam in higher up, remove some of the walling higher up, and reinstate the door in the centr, creating a larger and brighter space inside.

The posts are each being carved and painted differently, one has a Borre chain motif found on many items, notably the Gosforth cross shaft base.

In addition to this, I decided to use the form often found on viking age cross shafts and convert from a square post, to round, and integrate the knotwork from the round, into the square, using rings and knots on the corners similar to the moulding found at Kirk Levington.

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I decided to paint them Red, white, and black, as they seem to be frequent colours occurring on paint traces from viking wood work and stone sculpture (as well as yellow and blue) and we as a group often use it as common colour on our houses. I alternated the base colour of the ‘triangles’ to draw out the pattern and lead the eye to the underlying links, and then used the other two colours as borders. Overall I am very pleased with the complete effect.

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Finally, having been there for over 15 years, the roof could do with replacing. It does not leak as bad as some, but it does, and the straw coverings are proving hard work to replace and repair, particularly as the straw we have access to is not as good as it used to be, due to changes in local farming practice. As a result, we have prepared 650 clipped point shingles for fitting to the new roof. Shingles have been found archaeologically at many sites, from York to Trelleborg, but also are seen on stave church roofs, and covering the roofs of hogback monuments. I often believe that shingle and turf roofs are overlooked, particularly in the North of England and Scotland. Turf roofs as easy to maintain, and last a long time, and shingle roofs are inherently repairable and long-lasting, particularly if treated with pine pitch, and when no longer any use as a roof, their remains make good firewood. More importantly, for us, they suffer less from infrequent maintenance, particularly when treated with a modern ‘pine pitch substitute’.

imag0494.jpgHere is a last picture of the house not long after we first took it over. It will be a shame to see the shaggy mop go, but hopefully the work we get done over the weekend should mean that with a little luck and hard work, we should get another 15-20 years out of the houses yet! IF you are around York on the weekend of the 12th-13th of July, do pop along to Murton Park Museum of Farming and say hi for yourself!

 

Anglo-Saxon style knife

I have a mutual arrangement with a friend of the groups to produce each other various items, mostly exquisite tablet braid for wood, metal, and bonework. You can view some of Ingibjorgs fantastic work on her website.

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On is occasion it was my turn to make her a copy of an Anglo-Saxon knife, suitable for use and a reasonably high status Anglo-Saxon womans outfit she had made.

She had a few ideas, but we decided something based on this example from the Victoria and Albert museum would be a good idea as it is fairly generic in terms of dating; probably 9th-10th century, but very diagnostically Anglo-Saxon with its inhabited vine scroll motif. The original was made in bone, but I thought this would also look very nice in a piece of limewood I had, which holds very fine carving well.

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I manufactured a appropriate sized and shaped blade, with a distinctive angle back, characteristic of Anglo-Saxon England and continental Europe, and then began work on the handle. Firstly roughing out the shape of the handle, drilling the hole for the tang, before carving out the design. at least this way if anything goes wrong with the drilling, it is before I have sunk hours into carving the wood.

When the carving was done, I buffed the handle with a cloth and oil. Finally, whilst holding the knife blade in a wet cloth the keep the blade cool, and thus not destroy the temper of the blade, I heated the knife tangs tip, and then forced the final bit into the handle, burning in the last bit to keep the blade in place.

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I am not entirely sure what the little motif on the reverse was, perhaps just a whimsical piece of whittling, but it was there on the original so it seemed rude not to include it here! I am pleased with the final result, I hope its new owner will be, but now I need to move onto a carved scabbard to match it!

Summer Holiday

Re-daubed side of Magnus's house

The re-daubed side of Magnus’s house

This last weekend we spent another glorious weekend working hard on the houses and enjoying the village. Some temporary coverings were added to the rooves, and thedaubing down one side of Magnus’s house was finished off in preparation for winter. There is still a final side to complete, but the next pressing job will be new rooves for Einar and Osrics houses, which are in dire need of repair. The search for a supply of wood begins!

Painting some of the old carvings

Painting some of the old carvings

Einar had a tidy round of the shrine to keep it looking good whilst Roarr is away, and we also had some fun painting up some of the old carvings around the village, which have needed a little brightening up!

An angry viking face

An angry viking face

Striking resemblance

Striking resemblance

We were struck by how close to Magnus one of the carvings was by the time we had finished painting it!

Katla and Ragenlief

Katla and Ragenlief

We had a great time, and Einar and Katla managed to take 3 and a half year old Hakon and 9 month old Ragenlief, with success, who both had a fantastic time, and a welcome to the group for the first time for Ragenlief!

Hakon

Hakon

Magnus spent some time training Hakon in viking swordplay, though we are all looking forward to the day when Hakon manages to get a lucky hit in somewhere sensitive!

A few recent little projects

We are all off back to Murton this coming weekend and I have, over the last few months, been working on and off on a number of projects. Firstly, a copy of a 10th century wooden knife handle found during excavations in York. As you can see from the published drawing the back portion of the knife was reasonably well-preserved, but the front was missing and I had to get creative and try to reconstruct it as best I could.

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The first attempt I felt was a little short, so I had another go with a slightly longer handle, and mounted it on to straight-backed style blade, which I have noticed seems to be more popular in Scandinavia during the period.

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Then I had a go at scabbard tooling for the first time, again based on some examples contemporary to the knife from York.

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… And also a seax scabbard, with some brass fittings. The fittings are a hybrid of Scandinavian sidearm knife fitting sets, and the style of fittings from some contemporary sites, and an earlier saxon seax. As there are no seax fittings remaining on the examples of decorated seaxes we have from the UK, I am fairly confident this is a decent educated conjecture, and pretty close to how they probably looked. At least, if someone walked past me wearing it in the 10th century I am fairly sure they would think that’s nice, rather than; what the hell is that supposed to be!

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I have also been working on casting some ‘silver’ rings, arms rings, and strap ends. Obviously, these are actually pewter, but it has been a reasonably cheap and effective was of me learning how to cast, and cold forge and punch the metal.

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After drawing out a flat bar, I made some metal punches and decided to have a go at making one of the domed hollow punched arm rings from the Silverdale hoard, a hoard found in the next village to the one I grew up in.

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I was really quite pleased with my foray into it, and the strap ends, arms rings, and finger rings all turned out well.

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When I had decorated the arm ring, I used a rawhide hammer to beat the flat bar domed over the reverse head of a ball pein hammer, before soldering on some terminals, which was actually the trickiest part.

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You can see the enlarged photocopy of the original arm ring, with its central rosette here, next to the pre domed punched bar. I haven’t plucked the courage to try another yet, but I do plan to, and this time try to add the rosette to, perhaps with an amber setting?

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