Where there’s a Will there’s a way (part 1)

Where there’s a Will there’s a way (part 1)

You may recall I mentioned a crazy caveman called Will Lord in my earlier post (Where it all began). Well this is the tale of my next meeting with this highly skilled and fascinating gentleman.

Last Christmas, I gave you my hearth …

Christmas 2017 was fast approaching when my wife asked me what I would like from Santa. I’d been following Will Lord’s Facebook page for a while and was aware of the various workshops he offered which included a three day bronze casting course. So I decided that a workshop would make a very nice Christmas pressie – thank you Santa! With that decision quickly made, a course was booked for February 2018. ūüôā

Incidentally, I booked myself in for three nights at Oak Farm Barn which turned out to be a delightful B&B. It was conveniently close to Will Lord’s cottage, my room was extremely comfortable and the cooked breakfasts were scrumdiddlyumptious.

It was a typical cold, damp February morning when I arrived at Will’s workshop for my first day of tutelage. I was greeted warmly by Will and was immediately presented with the tea making facilities which I quickly took advantage of. Whilst making my cuppa, I was introduced to my workshop buddies.

Lost in wax

After a brief introduction to the workshop, the first hour was spent talking specifically about lost wax casting.

Some of the items we could make.

We needed to decide what we wanted to produce and Will brought in a number of reference books to help provide inspiration. My colleagues opted for various things from socketed axe-heads to a stylised figurine of a boar. And after much deliberation, I settled on making a fertility goddess. I had only a vague idea of what I was after but knew for sure that she needed to look pregnant and have large breasts at the very least.

The remainder of the morning was spent working with the wax. I’d never used wax before and quickly discovered how tricky it was to bend to my will.

Carving the wax.

In the same way that early alphabets consist of straight lines and angles so they could be carved more easily, I think wax also lends itself to simple lines, edges, and geometric shapes. As soon as you try to make something more organically shaped – like a fertility goddess – the whole process becomes significantly harder.

I have to confess, if it wasn’t for Will’s encouragement I would have given up and chosen something simpler. But thanks to Will, I persevered. I needed a number of rough spherical shapes (belly/torso and breasts) for my figurine and ended up making simple moulds with tin foil and melted the wax into these. Once they had set I assembled them all together, “gluing” with molten wax. I then proceeded to refine the overall shape with knives and other instruments. Ironically, what I have summarised here in a few simple sentences took me all morning and beyond lunch time.

A good investment

One of the other activities for the day included building a traditional smelting furnace, using natural materials such as clay, grog, horse manure and deer hair. My colleagues began mixing up this concoction whilst I finished my wax carving. The same material was also used to invest the wax carvings.

 

The above video shows a little of the manufacture of the furnace and also features the final preparation of the fertility goddess. You can also see malachite ready for crushing in preparation for smelting.

Once the wax carving was complete (or as complete as it was going to get in the time available), a wax cup was glued to the end of the carving and the whole thing was stuck to a board. The carvings were then primed with a liquid refractory. This prepared the wax for investment whilst also preserving the finer details of the carving. A number of coats of primer were applied before the final investment. The investment material was then carefully applied, layer by layer working bottom up. It was crucial to ensure that the material was sufficiently pushed into every nook and cranny of the wax carving.

Finally, the goddess is entombed.

Once the investment was complete, it needed time to dry out overnight.

The remainder of the day was spent completing the traditional furnace and firing it up. Hand (bag) bellows were used to bring it up to temperature and we all took turns to work these. After some effort, the furnace was hot and a crucible containing copper and tin was placed within it. The bellows work-out continued. A fairly simple flanged axe head sand mould was prepared and readied for pouring. Once the bronze had become molten (after much “bellowing”), the cast was poured.

As a team, we had created a perfect bronze axe head using only primitive materials and a lot of elbow grease. It was a great sense of achievement.

Malachite

The final job was to cook the malachite which we had crushed earlier in the day.

Malachite is a copper carbonate hydroxide mineral which has the formula Cu2CO3(OH)2. Malachite was extensively mined at the Great Orme mines in Britain 3,800 years ago using stone and bone tools. Archaeological evidence indicates that mining activity ended around 600 B.C.E with up to 1,760 tonnes of copper being produced from the mined Malachite.

Wikipedia

The pieces of crushed malachite were placed into a crucible and set into the top of the hot furnace – further bellow work was required to keep the temperature up.

Cooking malachite

After some time, the malachite was tipped out to finish cooking directly in the charcoal where the copper could percolate down through to the bottom of the furnace.

Malachite furnace

Once the malachite was smelted we called it a day. The furnace needed to cool down and the wax investments needed to dry. There was no more we could do and time had run out. We all left feeling tired after a very busy and educational day. Despite the tiredness, I felt an air of excitement for what tomorrow would bring. To be continued …


My sincere thanks go to Will Lord for providing some of the photos and video used in this post and allowing me to reproduce them here. If you’re interested in any of the experiences that Will has to offer, you can find him at any of these locations:

https://www.will-lord.co.uk/

https://www.youtube.com/user/Beyond2000bc

https://www.facebook.com/willlordprehistoricsurvival/

https://www.instagram.com/will_lord_prehistoric_survival/

 

 

 

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