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I saw this... ...and thought, "That is the level to want to… 
13th-Oct-2005 11:56 pm

I saw this...
{picture of lady with domed viking kiln} ...and thought, "That is the level to want to obtain."

From this I started down the path of learning. The above wesite is here and I have also gathered this video footage which  I believe to be a style of higher Viking craft of this type. I also gathered this picture...

... and extrapolated they were similar places/times ballpark. I believe the lower end of the technology tree would be what I am trying to achieve. The first step was to determine how deep I wanted to go with my knowledge of the topic. What did I have and what did I already know I would need? Fire. I need a big hot one. Questions to answer include: What fuels did they use? How do you obtain those fuels? Things need to be hot, and regular fire requires a boost (bellows, coal, etc)

a place to hold the fire. The furnace is a problem. How big? How portable should I make it? (Do I want to show it off? Should it even be portable?) How big are real ones?

Is the product processed? (How is glass made?)

In the thought of making the item. what level of professionalism is required? How much detail? How much of a craftperson do I have to be (part-time learner, or applied skilled worker?)

Factors to consider:

  • repeatablity of any process (was it so hard that I produced extra in one effort, rather than ever have to do it again?)
  • Cost. ( can I do everythign from objects at hand or taken from nature?)
  • Difficulty/specialty (sometimes a step can't be achieved without serious learning time of application)
  • Competition (driving myself, and hopefully others, to achieve the desired level. leveraging off others' re-enactment: can I "afford" to trust others' judgements or tests? should I repeat their example to re-prove the wheel?)

With these steps in mind, I have attempted to work methodically and throughly to examine each of the things (and others) listed. The surprising part was how quickly I achieved a single bead  and since then I have been working on refining the items to far more individually created components of the process.

Fire was attempted first. I chose charcoal, because it seems to have been widely used, and is frequently mentioned in many texts and litrature. Making charcoal - the act of removing all the other burnable fuels from wood, leaving carbon - is an astonishingly time-consuming and tricky proccess. I made three batches of it in a large space.

The furnace for this started life as a pig-cooking oven. We roasted a pig in it twice to work out the full process, with the first attempt not being fully recorded, and the pig being a little burnt, but still a good job. The second pig was very nicely done - the oven had been brick-lined and the fire well tended. The furnace was then expanded to include two long air shafts, the logic of which was never fully understood, but seems to follow all the rules - and it heats the fire hotter.

When the charcoal-making began, the first fire was locally salvaged wood, eucalyptus, based on the theory, "They wood have used wood lying around" - a bad one, but I just wanted to see what happened. I read a number of sites about other people's experiences, and learnt about the 3 stages of fire smoke, which turned out to be surprisingly correct - tar and water smoke (thick whitey/yellow); wood fuel burning (clear heatwaves); ashy fuel (giving off ash in the thin white smoke). The burning process needs to be stopped during the clear phase, just as it turns to ash. The problem is in the timing. All the wood in your stack needs to have been burnt, with the remainder to be charcoal.

Having achieved this by fluke, I tried it again. This time I sourced a large quantity of oak, specifically brank oak . These I split and stacked in the pit. Rather than use a dirt mound (which I would still like to attempt, and have left some oak aside for). I struggled with the oven/ducted forge. I wanted to see how hot i could get the fire for future use, before I shut off all the air to allow it to go out (having starved it of oxygen, thus trapping the carbon inform.)

The third attempt was a repeat of the first experiment, to simply get more. it worked the worst and proved that you can mess with the fire too much.

Once I had charcoal, I set about testing its burning quality These proved fun and I managed to get the fire what I assumed to be reasonably hot with only a small amount of air blowing on it (a camp air-mattress foot pump thingo).

This quickly lead to the next experiment, which I now feel I rushed in an effort to simply make a product.  I blew air through a foot pump into a sideway chimney filled with eucalyptus charcoal. It sparked a little, and eventually I melted the aluminium pipe that fed the air in, but with a few hours' effort I managed to get a roundish bead onto a mandrel. I wasn't happy at all with the shape, so I squished it and then rolled it against the side of the chimney. This produced a surprisingly good-looking bead, and so I am considering doing more this way.

The next version was to work on bellows. I have studied these a lot, and am simply baulking at the task of all the leather- and wood-work involved. the hard bits, like one-way valves, and pump actions, the air flow regulation - it's all pretty tricky so I suspect this will be the last to ever be achieved.

Another beading furnace itself has moved onto testing. I am trying for a small one/two-man kiln usuage. This will require a two/three-man team: one pumping air, the other two working/rotating through the opperations. The first attempt was simple walls of clay formed into a simple chimney. This failed to work well at all, and I am back to the drawing board. However, from this, i proved that clay needs to be dried properly, be of the appropriate material or type of clay, and that you need to slowly heat it to temperature.

I also know of a similar experiment tried at this year's Pennsic, and leveraging a little off the scarce knowedgle being emitted from that source, I have begun thought of moving straight to the final domed forge-type kiln.

The future is a while off, but tantilising close. It holds the making of glass through the three great experiements - heating sand from the beach (to simply see the results); extracting silicate from sand, and heating that with flux (salt), via an anciept Roman recipe{link} ; the re-melting of pre-made glass, and rather than using Roman glass, using modern "bottle glass" equivalent.

These experiements will be attempted over a much larger fire to be done in quantity, athough I can "cheat" at any time by doing smaller quantities over my minor burner (lpg/oxy torch). I am, however, not tempted to go down this path yet, as I feel this will be "cheating". This will spur the final drive for me - the process of having made a bead, from scratch: Making the glass. heating it, over a self-made fire source. forming a bead. Hopefully I can have a chance to make many beads, in a portable manner, so I can do a number of demonstrations, or another attempt at our own festival.  but a vaguely bead-shaped object somewhat recognisable as glass will be enough for me.

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