Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Nydam quiver

From 1856 when the site was discovered in South Jutland, Denmark and up until now, the find at Nydam has been providing archaeologists and researchers with plenty to sort through and discuss. Efforts were intense from 1989-1997 and 1999. Amongst other things, fragments of two 4th century wooden quivers were discovered. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, I am making a replica version of one of these quivers.

(Note: I dislike the term “replica”. It introduces unreasonable demands and opens oneself up to criticism by folks with nothing better to do with their time. Perhaps I’ll go with “version” instead)

I officially began this aspect of my “quiver project” in November of 2016, when I split a cherry log into a billet for this quiver. The original quiver was made of (some form) of maple but since I did not have a maple log lying around, I used black cherry (which I did have in log form…like everyone does).

Half of the log being quartered into a billet. A heavier hammer would have been nice.
Axing down the quartered piece in order to round it a little bit before turning.
On the lathe, ready to be made round.

The original quiver was turned on a lathe. It is only reasonable to assume that it was done on either a pole lathe or some other form of reciprocal lathe, driven by an assistant. These are the types of lathes we know were available to people in the 4th century. Standing here in the 21st century, I possess 600 pounds of Australian made cast iron with enough torque to turn a small planet. I dislike my pole lathe, I am not very good at using it, it was cold outside and I am generally lazy. I used the cast iron behemoth. This is my big reliance on modern tools for this project.

Hollowing tools l-r: elbow adze, firmer gouge, curved gouge.

Rau (2007) said that the original quiver was turned, split along its length and then, the two halves were hollowed out (and reassembled later with a disc attached to the bottom, but that’s for later). Adzes and gouges have been available to carpenters since Egyptian times and continue to see extensive use today. I had great visions of my completing most of the hollowing using my curved adze. Reality had other plans.

Using an adze is bloody hard work! I am fortunate that my version doesn’t weight very much (certainly less than any of my axes). Despite this and being beyond razor-sharp, my wrists did not enjoy this experience. But that was not the hard part. The hard part was in delivering accurate blows with the adze. I know experience bowl carvers who can hit the same mark countless time in a row and do so for hours at a stretch. I am not those carvers. I was all over the place and it got worse the longer I was at it, whether my arm was sore or not.

I know of two basic methods of using an adze. #1,  Small bites are taken into the wood, once behind the other and then, longer strikes are made to clean up the raised chips. If the piece you are working is standing up and you used this technique, you would start at the bottom of the piece, work your way up and finally long cuts clean it all up. #2, A chip is “chased” along the surface being worked on, forming a long shaving of waste wood. Using the previous example, you would start at the top of the workpiece and slowly work you way down creating a long channel. I have used both methods and here are my less-than-extensive observations…

Method #1 is suitable for hogging of a lot of material, fairly quickly. If you are working on something large and accuracy isn’t too important, method #1 will get you where you want to be. On the other hand, method #2 leaves behind a much nicer surface, all other things being equal. Working slower and focusing on accuracy of blows offers more control. I found myself delivering approximately double the blows using #2 and this led to fatigue and my accuracy suffered. Time and building the required muscle memory is not something I have invested in enough.

Held in place by my tail vise on my workbench.

Eventually, I had to switch to a gouge to continue the hollowing. This was partially due to the work nearing finished dimensions, partly my frustration with the adze and largely because my adze is too wide to get deep into the groove I was cutting. I already owned the curved gouge seen in the above picture (far right) so I started with that. This proved to be sloooooow work and hard on my hands, wrists and arms. The design of this tool does not lend it to being struck with a mallet so it was muscle power or nothing. So, I did what woodworkers of any time period would do if the option was readily available to them… I bought a new tool.

In this case, the tool was a firmer gouge (the middle one in the above picture). The difference between this and the curved gouge is that with the blade being straight and its handle having a metal hoop around the top, this tool is meant to be struck with a mallet. There are other factors involved such as the thickness if the steel, how the steel is attached to the handle  but here is a pretty general guideline to go by… If the steel is straight in line with the handle and there is a hoop at the end of the handle, it is meant to be struck. This made my work faster and easier on my body however, I ran into an issue I should have foreseen…

I figured that since both gouges had fairly low cutting angles that they would have little trouble in cutting where I directed them. What I found was that despite being insanely sharp, the grain of the wood often had its own ideas about how it wanted to come away. I wound up with a mess of split and torn grain. I tried cutting downhill and uphill and this helped some . The result of this was that I now have several areas where the grain has lifted very close to the edges. That means that the end product will be very thin in those areas. I do not believe I am at the point of having major structural issues but time will tell.

Cutting across the grain. What is this glory which I have I discovered?

I brought the work home in order to make some progress while away from the shop. Naturally I set up my portable workbench in my kitchen, like all wood carvers have done at some point (or desperately wanted to do if they were married). Not wanting to make a lot of noise, I put away the mallet and firmer gouge in favour of the curved one. Now, I need to make something abundantly clear… I am NOT a wood carver. I have made more than a few spoons but I really consider that to be more of a whittling thing than anything else. In my mind, a lot of spoon carving techniques did not transfer over to this project. I was very wrong.

I began cutting down the walls of the quiver, across the grain, instead of along the length (following the grain). I learned that I could take a serious of short, small cuts down into the workpiece fairly easily. Once I had made a series of these overlapping cuts, I could turn to go down the length to clean put the chips and smooth the torn grain.This is still hard on my hands and I can only work for stretches of about 10 minutes but here’s the beauty…the results were very predictable. I have found that by working like this, it is very easy to control how much wood I was removing and from where. I have had no unexpected grain being lifted and little risk of going through the side walls (so far). It is still slow going but generally,  I am content with this development. Time will tell.

As things set right now, I’m about 3/4 of the way through hollowing out the first half of the quiver. I have about 5 hours of work into it with a tool in my hand, spaced out over a long period of time. One thing I have determined is that if Roman-era woodworkers had access to modern grinders with carving blades attached, they would have used them. I am seriously considering picking up one of those blades but if I do, there is no way I will truly appreciate the work of those that have come before me. I would also lose renewed understanding of wood structure and how it works.

Still, bloody tempted.


Bucking a trend

In some circles, there is often a veil of secrecy surrounding what people are working on. I’m talking about within the Arts and Sciences community.  This is most prevalent when people are preparing to enter (a project) in the Kingdom A&S competition but it also happens with our Queen’s Prize Tournament (a non-competitive A&S event geared towards less experienced/recognized artisans). Don’t even ask about the secrecy of the WWF as it is on its own level. What I have tried to understand is, why keep secrets?

One of the reasons I’ve heard for this is a desire to have a “Wow!” moment. I suppose this is natural for many people. Many of us enjoy seeing people’s heads turn and jaws drop when our work is revealed. It would be a great boost for the ego, no doubt.Some revel in this. Fine. I’m don’t think I am one of these but hey, whatever floats your boat.

I have been told by some that they are secretive because they don’t want to give some kind of advantage or hint to other competitors. The idea being that if competitor A discovers that competitor B is forging some tool as part of their entry, they (comp A) had better up the game by smelting their own iron ore before they make a similar tool (textbook one-upmanship). I guess since I don’t “get” A&S competitions (right up there with judged sporting events, just stop) I am not able to “get” why this is a consideration. But, it is for some.

Some people think their projects are some kind of PhD thing where competition is fierce and other makers/researchers are cutthroat thieves. Ummm, ok? More glory to them, I suppose. (A whole lot of us need to lighten up).

Having said all of that, why do I feel some small need to keep my A&S doings remotely quiet? I’ve got two projects brewing that I haven’t talked about very much. I know one of my issues is that I am slow in my work. Really…slow. Remember that pole lathe? Yeah, like that. Glacial. My fear is that I will talk about what I’m doing and someone (anyone) will come along and say, “That’s cool. I want one of those for my kit, too”. Then,over the course of a weekend, they’ll build or make it. Why does this matter? Shouldn’t I be thrilled that I’ve inspired someone else and gain someone to talk to and share ideas with that has real experience? That would be the right and noble thing, right? The truth is that I am left thinking that the project isn’t that important anymore and I walk away from it. This nearly happened with my pole lathe when someone told me, “Person A built a pole at such-and-such event from a log. It took him an afternoon”. That was one of the more discouraging things I’ve ever heard.

The other thing that gets stuck in my head is that if I talk to others about what I’m planning, they usually try to help by steering my efforts. This could be as simple as loaning me a tool or providing me with a source I didn’t know about previously…and these are awesome things! It is when the talk turns to, “You should do this thing with your thing. It would be amazing!” that I get frustrated. That, and the inevitable, “We have no evidence that they did/knew/had this” and thereby dismissing my efforts. This one causes me to lose my shit because it assumes that the speaker knows everything there is to know about a certain topic. It becomes especially frustrating when the speaker is one of the more knowledgeable people in their field. I mean, if you want to say there is no evidence of Vikings having used duct tape to repair their sails, that’s fine. I’ll give you that. But, a better approach might be, “I’ve never heard of X doing Y. Let me know what you find or can you point me to a source?”

Despite all of this, I have decided to share what I am currently working on. I do this because I like to think what I’m working on is pretty cool, has merit and will certainly offer a different perspective on a couple of things. I think that is worth more than any wow factor or well-meaning helpers causing me to want to claw my eyes out. At least, it is for me. Besides, since I will not/cannot-bring-myself-to enter any sort of competition or tournament any time in the forseeable future, I need some place to put my stuff out there. I would like to do this beyond a post or two after KA&S or QPT followed by deafening silence as often happens.Besides, a lot of people cannot attend the events mentioned and thus don’t have the opportunity to see/learn what is out there. If I don’t blog about it, my work will be in the same boat.

Currently, I have two real projects on the go. One has to do with glass beads from the viking age and the other is all about quivers for archery. I don’t have much to share regarding the beads just yet. I have picked the brain of the guy who REALLY understands the data and come up with a good plan of attack but, I have no beads yet. Suffice to say that in the SCA we don’t “do” viking beads very accurately. More on that one later when I have something to show you.

The quiver project has excited and frustrated me. It all started with wanting a more plausible or accurate quiver for my dishevelled Norseman persona. All anyone ever seems to talk about are arrow bags (as “shown” on the Bayeaux Tapestry), arrows being tucked ino ones belt and the bag variants found upon the (very much not Norse) Mary Rose.This has been frustraing. When you step outside the Norse and Europe, you can find very different designs like the fan-like quivers used by the Mongols and Tartars or basket-woven ones from the Orient (to name two). “Cloth bags, belts and ground quivers are all we have from early Europe”, is what I’ve been told. That’s fine on its own, but there actually IS more to see and learn from.

First, there is the leather artifacts found at Haithabu. These were published in Die Lederfunde von Haithabu by Von Willy Groenman-vanWaateringe in 1984. Since this was published in Amsterdam, I assume it was written in Dutch. Honestly, I don’t know. For my purposes, it doesn’t really matter because I have something of a translation available (more on that in another post). The point is that we have an extant example of leather quivers (thinking is the artifacts are from two quivers) from the 11th century in the heart of the Norse culture (thereby disspelling the idea that all we have are cloth bags, belts and ground quivers). I will begin patterning it over the next few days so I can recreate it. This will be a real challenge for me as I have never patterned anything and my knowledge of leather work is minimal. Still, it’s a cool starting point!

I’ve also found and article which shows fragments of a wooden tube. The way the tube was found amongst arrows, the remenants of a bow and, human skeletal remains, clearly indicate the tube was a quiver. This find is from the 4AD at Nydam. Earlier than my typical area interest but hey, an all wood quiver! It really earns bonus points for having been turned on a lathe. I mean, how can I not attempt to recreate this? There are other details about it that I will talk about later as I gather pictures and put thoughts to page. (Remember my post post about splitting a cherry log? That was the start of the wooden quiver).

I’m unsure exactly where this quiver project will lead me. At this time, I have these two quivers to work on and I’ll probably do one of those fan/horse quivers from the Monguls. I’ve also found a few examples from feudal Japan which I’m trying to gather more information on. Anything I were to do with them right now would be pure conjecture.

Through all of this, I want to accomplish a few things… I want to show that we have more than cloth bags, belts and ground quivers, that other finds are NOT purely ceremonial (which I have also been told) and then, try them out! I am curious if there are pros and cons of different styles beyond simply material availability.

So there, I’m sharing. After this long, rambling diatribe, aren’t you glad? No more of the “SOOPER SEEKRIT” stuff. To each their own but I am very happy to buck that particular trend.


I’m feeling pretty lost in my SCA life lately and I don’t know what to do about it. The past 6 or 8 months have been hard to understand. Maybe there is nothing for it but to avoid eye contact and keep my head down but that’s never been my style. Or, my strength.

I’ve seen people do things they said they would never do and I feel disappointed and somehow, betrayed. I’ve lost a lot of respect for some people over this. Integrity seems to depend on convenience or opportunity.

I’ve seen decisions made that boggle the mind. This in itself is not a horrible thing but when there is no avenue for understanding available, these things stew. I wish I had the tools to treat things like “water off a duck’s back”. I wish my brain worked like that. It does not and it never has, ever. A lot of therapy and an assortment of medications haven’t made a lot of difference when things really boil. There is one pill that helps in the short-term but it makes me numb. It is only a last resort type of thing.

I simply do not understand our award system. I have written in for people and been told, point-blank, “XYZ will never be considered for award ABC”. What? Why? How can I and others see the worth of an individual, be able to document their deeds and actions and yet be summarily dismissed? This is about the time I get told, “It is up to the Crown”. I suppose this is technically true but it REALLY reeks of a cop-out. Sure, it is how things may have happened in the ages we focus on but I would suggest that asking for input from the populace is something that would not have happened “back in the day”. Can you imagine a King or Baron going before their subjects to ask them how they feel about the taxes they pay? And yet, isn’t this exactly what we do by having an award recommendation system? Is it the intention that we treat these things like political campaigns to bolster support for our “candidate”? Gods, I hope not. Recent political campaigns tell me this would be a very bad thing.

I see people undertake tasks or projects in order to gain personal notoriety. I just dont understand this. Every one of us appreciate a pat on the back for a job well done but if the reason you are doing something is FOR the pat on the back, something is wrong. That seems too  self-centred for a group which espouses chivalry, largess and  humility. Then again, I am not a Knight or any other form of Peer. Nor have I been around this thing since the rocks were cooling so, what do I know? I guess I just give more worth to discovery, learning how things were done in the middle ages and sharing those things. Maybe pretty , shiny things are more important and I, once again, just don’t get it.

I see all of things and more. From people using my (freely given) shoulder to cry and lean on, I know I am far from alone. I have been told, “If you don’t like it, win Crown”. This is one of the most condescending things I’ve ever been told in the SCA. The suggestion is that one must either have a wicked sword arm or be friend/partner/spouse of someone who does or shut up. Of course, the other approach is to become an officer on one level or another. Some people do not have the material or organizational skills to do this. What other option is there for them (us)? I suppose they/we/I could start another political campaign.

Maybe there is nothing for it but to avoid eye contact and keep my head down. Great.

I feel pretty lost and disillusioned.