Day 2 of crafting (14.07.15)

Mark Griffiths

Today I would attend to the vessels outside, roughing out the form with an axe. I switch between the Iron Age replica and my small carving axe, beautifully made by Robin Wood. The Robin Wood tool is perfectly balanced, and for a relatively small axe, has a wide cutting edge. It is both fast and accurate. In contrast our Iron Age replica has a far greater width, this is evident when viewed from the top. The extra width is a result of its socket handle construction, it dulls both the accuracy of the axe and its ability to remove surgically fine slices. This being said the performance of the replica axe, even with its limitations, has been impressive. Get the angle right and it will remove substantial amounts of material.

Styled from typical period tools found around Northern Europe, our replicas have been forged with a sleeve into which the wooden handle is fitted. I had shaped two handles from seasoned Ash timber, one for the adze and one spare. And for the axe I had used the crotch of an air dried Elm branch, its natural shape forming the angle of the axe head.

Most early tools (and arrow heads) shared this same method of forming an Iron sleeve around the handle. In later examples, as forging technology developed, wooden handles were set in a more substantial opening in the Iron casting. The inherent strength of this design allows for a wedge to be driven into the handles end, so securing it in place. This simple, yet effective, pattern is still found in contemporary tools.

I was consciously a little gentile with the replicas as we needed them to last for the duration of the project, and hopefully beyond. The branch handle on the axe was proving to be tough and able to absorb some punishing blows. I suspect this was due to its form following the natural pattern of its growth.

The handmade Ash handle, being used on the adze, was not fairing so well. As the tools head struck the timber it embeds in, the carver then tended to use a prizing action to remove it ready for the next blow. This puts a tremendous strain on the connection point of handle and adze. We soon found that after three or four blows the adze head would simply fall off, no matter how tightly it was fitted. And then, after a particularly hard session from an unnamed member of the team (Dr Ben Gearey) the handle failed altogether, shearing off at the socket joint.

Ben told of how on certain digs piles of broken rocks would be unearthed, these were hammer stones, simple tools used in construction. In areas where the rock is soft the piles will be naturally larger, a few blows the stone breaks and it’s discarded for another. To us this need to re-attach a tool head after a few strikes feels like a frustrating flaw in its design, to the pre-history woodworker this may have just been the way you used the tool?

Brian and (with some reluctance) Ben were set to work hollowing out the Vessels centre, while I concentrated on shaping the outside. It was fascinating to see how we automatically worked around each other, proving that it could have been possible for more than one maker to have worked on the Pallasboy. We speculated on the possible relationship, either two master craftspeople, master and journeyman or master and his apprentice?

At the end of a long day our Pallasboy was surrounded by a carpet of alder chips. It is decided to leave this spoil for the duration of the week as it stands as a visual representation of the effort behind our work. I soon discover just how important waste and daily rubbish is to archaeologists, as it tells the unguarded story of daily life.

Time to head back to the hotel and rest my hands, more of the same tomorrow.

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