Bronze Age Sword Making
May 4, 2011 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Based on what my IT man told me today as he let me know he'd need another ten more minutes at my desk, this is also what upgrading from windows XP to 7 looks like.

Thank you good sir, wherever your next adventure may take you. And yes, I will loan you my copy of dance of dragons probably in august.
posted by gordie at 6:20 PM on May 4, 2011

Accents... so sexy.... mhwaaa......
posted by The otter lady at 6:25 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

This show looks worth watching.
posted by Think_Long at 6:30 PM on May 4, 2011

Of course, in olden times, they were forced to make their safety goggles from simple perspex.
posted by Wataki at 6:50 PM on May 4, 2011 [10 favorites]

Can you fall in love with a narrator? Cause I think I just did.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 6:53 PM on May 4, 2011

this just makes me pissed off that there are no more episodes of "game of thrones" to watch until sunday.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:05 PM on May 4, 2011

There were swords before bronze...

Before the Bronze Age there was the Chalcolithic Period - literally "Copper and Stone" - while metalworking was coming into its own, stone weapons were reaching their zenith. The Jomon of ancient Japan and Korea, for instance, made swords and daggers from shale and slate, and the Boston Museum of Fine Art has what appears to be a sword blade made of granite from prehistoric China, with an abraded rather than knapped edge, and holes drilled in it for mounting a bone or wood hilt.

That said, pre-historic bronze-age Europe was anything but primitive and uncivilized. It's weapons, art and architecture are far in advance of contemporaneous civilizations to the east. It's just that outside the Danube Culture, they didn't go in for that "writing" crap. All that messing about with a stylus to keep track of who owes what is a bit bourgeoise, you ask me...
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:15 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yes. YES. I really wish I had something more articulate or interesting to add but I'm too busy making happy noises.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 7:21 PM on May 4, 2011

posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:22 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

I thought this was going to be the opening credits of Conan the Barbarian, but looks like that's been scrubbed from the web.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:32 PM on May 4, 2011

Oh hell yes.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:32 PM on May 4, 2011

This is exactly the kind of shit I'm all over and want to learn how to do.

Ah, if only I was a gentleman of leisure.

... let me tell you the days of high adventure!
posted by porpoise at 7:37 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

That's pretty amazing.

How would you create the void in the clay mold?
posted by thehmsbeagle at 7:39 PM on May 4, 2011

Two halves.
posted by porpoise at 7:40 PM on May 4, 2011

Oh, man. I miss my days doing jewelry production so much... there's really nothing like metal casting. It's so oddly cool.

Never did any bronze casting, however. It looks pretty amazingly easy, once you get things going.

How would you create the void in the clay mold?

Possibly lost wax? They've obviously heated the clay mold and are holding it up using what appears to be heated sand while they pour the metal in. That's the only way to make sure the molten metal actually gets to the bottom of the mold. Otherwise, it will solidify and form a plug as soon as it contacts the cold walls of the mold.
posted by hippybear at 7:43 PM on May 4, 2011

or lost wax.

there's a couple different methods for that sort of thing, from what I remember.

all this stuff impresses me so much.

I think we modern people are so taken with such things, because we do nothing tangible anymore... and inside we long for the days when we did real work with real things.

or at least I do.
posted by EricGjerde at 7:44 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Getting ahold of proper ancient-style bronze is actually kind of tricky these days. Most bronze makers deal in modern silicon bronzes or tin-copper-zinc alloys. Proper bronze (aka CDA 907) is a bit of a specialty item. It's not particularly cheap, either, copper prices being what they are.
posted by jedicus at 7:51 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I should add that Spectrum Machine is a good source for CDA 907 bronze, if anyone is in the market. They're happy to deal in small quantities, too, which is useful for the amateur metalworker. A lot of places will make tin bronze to order but have a 100 lb minimum order, which is a) a lot of bronze and b) several hundred dollars worth of the stuff.
posted by jedicus at 7:54 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh god so awesome. I'm with porpoise, above: I want so much to have a forge in my backyard, apprentice to a hobbyist smith or something. If I had that kind of time.
posted by penduluum at 8:04 PM on May 4, 2011

Pfff, it's not Damascus or Japanese, without the folding techniques it's going to be brittle and troublesome to maintain.

(just kidding - amazing video)
posted by jkaczor at 8:32 PM on May 4, 2011

Oops - missed the whole "bronze age tag". Sigh.
posted by jkaczor at 8:33 PM on May 4, 2011

You mean you guys don't do stuff like this every third weekend? Shit. I'm talking about Fight Club again, aren't I?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:37 PM on May 4, 2011

If anyone is seriously interested in splashing some molten metal around, check out the Sloss Furnace Metal Arts Program. They do cast iron and bronze pours on a semi-regular basis, and teach sand and lost-wax casting. They used to have two cupolas that could generate a 250 lb ladle of hot iron each, but I haven't been down there in years and don't know the current set-up. We used to have an all-night iron pour every year, which was a great opportunity to drink too much and play with hazardous materials.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:43 PM on May 4, 2011

Wow wow wow. So friggin' cool. I want to make a sword. Someday I'll make a sword. It'll go well with the suit of armor I've never gotten around to either. Sigh.
posted by asavage at 8:51 PM on May 4, 2011 [7 favorites]

a great opportunity to drink too much and play with hazardous materials.

Every day you wake up not dead is a great opportunity for that!
posted by hippybear at 8:51 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

The video identifies him as an "ancient metalworker." I think this may be incorrect, as they have video of him.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 8:53 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

That was my initial reaction: "Neil Burridge, Ancient Metalworker? That's a bit unkind."
posted by boo_radley at 8:57 PM on May 4, 2011

This seems like an excellent place to mention the sort of metalworking I'd kill to do: Armour for cats and mice.
posted by fatbird at 9:04 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

How about armor for your wee robot? I could be into that.
posted by breath at 9:09 PM on May 4, 2011

Pfff, it's not Damascus or Japanese, without the folding techniques it's going to be brittle and troublesome to maintain.

Yes, if it's steel or iron. No, surprisingly, if it's bronze. You don't have to work bronze.

One of those popular myths is that iron makes superior weapons, but it isn't true. The reason iron supplanted bronze was economic: iron was cheaper. The problem with bronze was that tin was rare and expensive, and in most places it had to be imported. The Phoenicians made a lot of money shipping tin around, which they got from Spain or from Britain.

The advantage of iron was that it was plentiful and in a lot of places it was local. But iron was soft. Steel was hard to make consistently. During the "Iron Age", they still preferred bronze if they could get it. (Oh, and bronze looks nicer, and it doesn't rust.)

Bronze was harder than iron, though not as hard as steel. It took an edge well. If tin had been plentiful, no one would have used iron.

Here's an interesting factoid: why did the Romans use soft iron for the head of the pilum, and make the head quite long? They deliberately did not work the head or do anything to make the iron stronger.

It was because it was a thrown weapon, and they didn't want the enemy throwing it back. Whatever the pilum struck, enemy soldier or the ground or anything else, the head of it would bend a lot, rendering it useless because it couldn't be bent back by hand.

After a battle, if they won (which they usually did) the legionaries would collect all the pila from the battlefield and the heads would be hammered straight again so they could be used in the next battle.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:21 PM on May 4, 2011 [27 favorites]

It's interesting to note that European steel was far superior to Japanese steel for swordmaking. So, in the west, it became about the type of steel and where it was from (Toledo, Damascus), where in Japan it became about who was forging the steel, the artisan working magic with crummy material.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:38 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your mission if you choose to accept it - in the next week or so, get yourself a 12-16 oz. ball pien hammer, a file, some 14 ga mild steel, an old pair of jeans, some sand and jig saw with a metal cutting blade. Oh, and safety glasses, leather gloves, ear plugs and housemates/neighbors with a sense of humor.

Cut out a metal ellipse with squared off ends. Maybe a ten inches across and six inches high. File the edges smooth. Cut one of the legs off the old pair of jeans. Sew one end closed, fill it about half way with sand and then sew the other end of it up. Set your piece of metal on top the sand bag and starting in the middle and working your way out in repeating runs of concentric ellipses, beat the hell out of it with the hammer. When it looks like it would go over your knee, stop.

Congratulations. You have made armour.

Anvils, planishing stakes, and an obsessive tendancy to put a mirror finish on your metal working hammers because every little defect in the hammer face shows up in your work, once per blow sold separately.

(The cat armour doesn't have that many complex curves. You could so do that Fatbird!)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:55 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Back in the 90's, I did an apprenticeship at a traditional boatbuilding school. We did everything from felling trees to finish paintwork. My favorite part was casting bronze fittings for each boat. It's so....elemental and magical. I keep thinking I'll build a forge in my backyard, even if only for aluminum just for decorative pieces, but now I'm thinking I might have to do bronze, because I need a new machete for all the weeds back there.

And pretty much everything Neil Oliver has done is brilliant.
posted by gofargogo at 10:02 PM on May 4, 2011

if anyone is interested, Neil Oliver narrated the very good Two Men in a Trench. has to be one of the better battlefield archeology documentaries going.
posted by the noob at 11:27 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wish they would have just quit once they had liquid fire. It's a much more badass weapon. (though I suppose portability would be a problem for the next several hundred years)
posted by ShutterBun at 11:27 PM on May 4, 2011

I was going to jump in and mention Two Men in a Trench but the noob beat me to it. Great series and a good accompanying book to check out as well.
posted by thecjm at 12:27 AM on May 5, 2011

Neil Oliver is also one of the narrators of the Coast series on the BBC.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 3:33 AM on May 5, 2011

this reminds me of one of my all-time favorite comments by scrump in a previous metalworking thread.
posted by namewithoutwords at 3:38 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of those popular myths is that iron makes superior weapons, but it isn't true. The reason iron supplanted bronze was economic: iron was cheaper.

It also allows you to clear jungle and build swords instead of axes, which is useful if bronze is scarce and you are flanked by Shaka or Montezuma and they've gone all WHEOOHRN.

It is entirely seemly for a young man killed in battle to lie mangled by the bronze spear. In his death all things appear fair.
posted by Mayor West at 6:08 AM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've been casting aluminium for a while now, based on knowledge and encouragement from the Backyard Metal Casting Forums. It's easier and cheaper than bronze.

It's still dangerous, though; things you wouldn't expect can really hurt you, like dropping molten aluminium onto concrete (flashes any entrapped water to steap, hurling molten droplets). But boy, is it fun, and making things out of solid metal is amazingly satisfying.
posted by nonspecialist at 6:38 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, my, two threads in which I can tell the same story…

My dad was a modest fellow, but did well in business and wanted to have some nice things. He'd always wanted a suit of armor, a real one, fully articulated and hand-crafted and all that. So by-God he bought one, pre-internet days, researched and talked to someone in England and was finally able to order one from Spain, a glorious thing with a sword and everything.

A few years later, he decided that he wanted a Rolex, so he got one of those, too. Then he died.

Mom was, and is, still very much alive, so we weren't in the business of cleaning out the house, but we had the Rolex to deal with. I wanted to sell it and split the money, but my brother wanted the two of us to do some sort of time-share operation. As a compromise, I was given the opportunity to have first dibs on anything else in the house, once Mom kicks it.

Mom will likely live to 100, but I got a full suit of real by-God armor waiting for me.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:13 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

The cat armour doesn't have that many complex curves. You could so do that Fatbird!

It's not the curves, it's getting the cat to hold still for the measurements.
posted by fatbird at 7:16 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hogwash. The fynest materiall for the casting of felyne armour is the Peele of the Citrus Fruit, the Noble Lyme.
posted by TheRedArmy at 7:20 AM on May 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

I meoweth!
posted by TheRedArmy at 7:22 AM on May 5, 2011

That is sort more of a sandcasting with some sort of clay as the exterior component instead of sand. Personally, I'd carve a wooden sword blank out of wood, build two clay half molds, crack it, remove the blank, then fire the mold to harden it. The fact that there is some evidence of flange metal once the sword is removed would corroborate with this really being a two piece mold. The clay would then be broken up and turned back into clay to repeat the process. Lost Wax is really for small pieces because because a wax sword that size would not support itself and the wax would really have nowhere to go out of the mold.

On a quick search, I'd say its a form of Delft Clay Casting.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:22 AM on May 5, 2011

the wax would really have nowhere to go out of the mold.

Well, except to burn up, which is what usually happens in lost-wax casting. Or that's how it worked when I was doing as part of my full-time job.
posted by hippybear at 7:28 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you're right about the two part mold, but you can make some really hard waxes and can invert the mold during burnout and let the wax dribble out the gate. Plus, there's a reason they call it burn out and not melt out.

Somewhere, Theophilus maybe, there are instructions for how to make investment for casting bells and the like from back in the day (the day beign the 12th century). I'm not eager to try it myself as, well, shredded grass is one of the ingredients (hint, you shred it with a cow) and my neighbors don't have that much of a sense of humor.

Fun tip - it's typically pretty clear what Theophilus had done himself; what he's seen done, but not done himself; what someone told him how to do but he's never actually seen done; and what someone who was trying to protect their secret process told him how to do. The shaping of rock crystal (quartz) and the making of Spanish gold both are more fun if you read them in the Tommy Flanagan voice. "Yeahhh! That's the ticket!"
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:00 AM on May 5, 2011

But where did they get the shards of Elendil to work with?
posted by bicyclefish at 10:07 AM on May 5, 2011

Threads like this bring out the best of metafilter - so many cool people with so many cool stories and esoteric knowledge all available at their fingertips...

thanks, MrMoonPie for bringing us here via your suit of armor story in the other thread
posted by infini at 10:24 AM on May 5, 2011

That's a huge amount of wax to expect to burn up. Lost wax is worth it for a jewler to recoup losses - not for an army in the first few centuries to mass produce weapons of war. Lost wax is for precison and intricate patterns - in an extreme case maybe a decorative sword, but for the vast majority - this process would be done with a different method. Swords needed to be cheap and require minimal resources to construct and maintain. If it was a single use product, as per lost wax, that much wax would be difficult to secure and would - by default - be worth more than gold - also every sword would be different as lost wax requires rebuilding/recarving the blank every time.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:35 AM on May 5, 2011

I grew up in a village that still had a farrier and I got to do sand/aluminium casting & use a forge at high school for my engineering 'O' level.

Great fun and I've still got some of the things I made 25 years later. We were never allowed to pour any molten metal (even back then it was deemed dangerous to allow teenagers to be lugging liquid fire around) but had great fun hammering the crap out of cold chisels, hanging basket hooks & the like.

One crappy thing about sand/alu casting – the amount of filing that had to be done to turn the final casting into something that actually resembled the thing you were attempting to make. Half a lesson to make the mould & fill it, 5 more to turn it into a thing that wouldn't slice your hand into little cubes. Especially important when we made a hacksaw with a cast handle.
posted by i_cola at 10:58 AM on May 5, 2011

Before the Bronze Age there was the Chalcolithic Period - literally "Copper and Stone" - while metalworking was coming into its own, stone weapons were reaching their zenith.

And before even that, tools and weapons were crafted from wood, which could easily be gathered by punching trees.
posted by Evilspork at 12:14 PM on May 5, 2011

This post gave me massive wood bronze. Thanks, bwg.
posted by greenskpr at 3:18 PM on May 5, 2011

« Older Project Neon   |   This isn't Tech-Mex, it's Nortec! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments