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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Fri 23 Jan, 2004 1:29 pm    Post subject: bluing and browning         Reply with quote

OK, so here's a question I have had for a while- fairly straightforward- Is bluing/browning historically accurate for the viking/early Medieval period. Oakeshott, to my knowledge makes no mention of historical blades with this feature. I know it shows up much latter- say in the 16th C. but what about the early stuff?
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Sat 24 Jan, 2004 6:43 pm    Post subject: decorative tech         Reply with quote

Hello Jeremy

Good question. It is one area I find quite interesting. The finish and techniques used in period do not always equal those we find appealing today. The labor needed to accomplish the intricate surface treatments on high status pieces of the period make some of them almost out of reach today. While I think they would have been aware of the results one could achieve with those two processes it may well be they did not see them as appealing.

Blueing does have a nice color result but it is a heat process for that period. This may have limited its use in blade decor in that period. I would not be surprised to see its use, especially in contrast to silver or gold applications on hilts.

Browning is really arrested corrosion, if I understand the chemical process correctly and this would seem to be a process that would be a natural discovery in the use of steel/iron tools. I wonder if swords of this period would have been sufficiently low enough on the status scale to be seen as a good option for this process. I would say that the indication I have seen from the history and objects of the period is that they would have felt it a bit beneath the weapon. (This is all my humble opinion and would love to more evidence either way)

Peter may have a much better insight than I on this type of thing.

Best
Craig
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Tue 27 Jan, 2004 3:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you for your insights Craig- This gives me a direction to start thinking about viable options for my collection, but I hoped that more would respond to this post as I feel it is rather significant. With so much knowledge on this forum is there no one else who may provide some thoughts on the historical validity of browning and bluing on sword fittings?
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jan, 2004 12:37 am    Post subject: Re: decorative tech         Reply with quote

Craig Johnson wrote:


...Peter may have a much better insight than I on this type of thing.

Best
Craig


...Unfortunatley not. I agree with you Craig. There are very few examples of blued or browned medieval hilts. Most are corroded, and those that are pristine are generally polished. Few have original surface left.
In armouries it is not uncommon to find blackened hilts, but often this seems to be made in later times. (I may be mistaken about this; what is you opinion on this Craig?)
I know of a few examples of hilts that have a black patina that seems contemporary with the making of the sword. There is one pristine war sword (late 15th C) in the Skokloster armoury that has very dark blue or black cross and pommel. This looks like some kind of blueing, not an applied coating or browning.
There are other examples, but it is not something one will see on regular basis. This does not tell us how common this was back then, because of ravages of time and a couple centuries of polishing have eaten away most of the evidence.

Gilding is found on finer swords, of course. This is normally fire gilding (burning away a quicksilver amalgam, leaving the gold) but I have seen at least one exampe that looks like leaf gold applied to a red base painted on to the steel. This is the hilt of a late 15th C hunting sword with royal conection. The blade of this sword is intricatly ground and has etched decoration that is picked out in gold on a blued background, although most of this is now worn away.
This shows that blueing and gilding on blades is found at least as early as in the late 15th C.
Gilded hiltcomponents are often made of bronze as this takes gilding well.

I would think that many of the late 15th C italian blades with their mythological sceenes at the forte were picked out with gilding and blueing. Today they are usually polished uniformly steel bright.
It is worth noting that this decoration is found at the base of the blade and may extend in the fller halfway down the blade. As blueing is the result of heat to a temperature that would damage the hardening of the edge, this decoration is applied only to those parts that do not need a good edge hardness.
(I need to study this further).
I would like to know what methods were used to apply gold and achieve a nice blue background in a uniform way without damaging the hardness of the blade.
Dipping the tang and base in molten lead perhaps, while insulating the edges somehow?
These are techniques of the armourer that were put in use to make dashing suits for the high and mighty.

Looking at medieval art, steel is often depicted as very dark blue or black, but this might be artistic style rather than showing an actual truth.
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Jan, 2004 4:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you both for the information!
I was aware that gilding with gold or bronze or silver plating was used on some Viking/Early Medieval Swords. I wonder how thick this silver or bronze covering would have been. Please continue to discuss this facinating aspect. . .
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PostPosted: Sat 07 Feb, 2004 1:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mr.Johnsson,

I cannot really add much to your knowledge of bluing techniques for swords etc , except to say that the bluing occurs at about 330° C ( dark blue ) and that the amalgam of mercury used for the fire gilding process ,dissipates at about 357° C. If this is of any use to you?

The other thing that I wanted to mention concerned the depiction of armour in medieval manuscripts etc, I am led to believe that the reason that armour ,and iron generally, is shown as blue/black is because the original paint contains silver ,which has now tarnished over the years,and is not the result of medieval fashion.

Hope that this of help and perhaps of interest.

Regards,

Russ

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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Sat 07 Feb, 2004 2:37 pm    Post subject: trade offs         Reply with quote

Hello all

Yes, Peter, I would agree on the hilts. I think they would have used similar techniques to the armor decoration and if the blades were blued it does create a heat issue. I do not doubt many hilts were painted as well. There are some that have that hard black finish that is difficult to tell if it is a corrosive affect or some applied finish. I suppose one could even have had some type of baked lacquer finish on the hilt components?? speculation there.

Now I would also like to ask do you think the mid to lower end of the sword market may have left the hilts in a rougher condition then the we see in the museums. One of those things I have been meaning to study but is difficult to have time for. The rough from the hammer type finish may have been the low end of the market. These would have a tendency to be less well consrved over the years and after a short time would corrode well and then one could not tell if they were rough or not before the corrosion.

I do know of an example were corespondence between an armorer and the agent of a high end Princely customer and the armorer has to explain he can have it gilt and blued finish or hardened but not both. The old desire of the customer flying in the face of physics Laughing Out Loud Lucky we never run into that these days Eek!

Jeremy I believe the nordic decorators used fine incised lines filled with wire or pressured foil applica over this roughened bed as the norm for covering a piece. I do know some medium is usually needed between steel/iron when applying gold as it does not stick as well, as Peter mentioned. There are many different types of this decoration and I am not well versed on the techniques used by the craftsmen to do all of them. But they did use silver, copper, gold, enamel and other techniques.

I just know that when I get close to this stuff I am continually awed by the work.

Craig
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Sat 07 Feb, 2004 2:45 pm    Post subject: Blued Armor         Reply with quote

Allan

I wanted to address the issue of painted armor separately as it is so crucial to much that is misunderstood about armor finishes. A good deal of armor was painted and I think this maybe something that has mislead interpretation of images in the past. I do feel that some of the armor was definitely blued as I interpret some portraits as definitely depicting polished blued steel armor. I am afraid that in the past few centuries many painted armors have been cleaned and polished in there collections wether to enhance value or in a mistaken attempt to get to what was thought as the original finish polished steel. This limits our knowledge of what was done and how much the issue you bring up is a factor.

Best
Craig
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Sat 07 Feb, 2004 6:39 pm    Post subject: Re: Blued Armor         Reply with quote

Craig Johnson wrote:
I wanted to address the issue of painted armor separately as it is so crucial to much that is misunderstood about armor finishes. A good deal of armor was painted and I think this maybe something that has mislead interpretation of images in the past. I do feel that some of the armor was definitely blued as I interpret some portraits as definitely depicting polished blued steel armor.


Craig,
I've wondered about this, too. I think we often focus on plain steel and dark colored scabbards and grips. I'm of the opinion that ye olden days were more colorful than we usually think.




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Russ Thomas
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PostPosted: Sun 08 Feb, 2004 1:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello folks,

One of the things as I understand it with tempering armour etc,is also how long the item is kept at the required tempering temperature for. Dr Alan Williams* has suggested that mercury gilding could perhaps be done in as little as five minutes,and that the whole bluing and gilding process could be accomplished in ten just minutes.Now if perhaps the whole piece was extremely hard in the first place,then maybe this short period of heat treatment would not,perhaps, do sufficient damage to the overall hardness of the piece ? I suppose that this ,of course ,would also depend on the overall mass of the metal in the first place ,with say a breastplate not being quite so critical as a sword blade in this respect ?Just a thought.

As regards painted armour,there are a couple of sallets etc in the Royal Armouries collection ( Leeds ),that still retain their original painted finish,and I believe that there are also in the zeughaus in Munich ,a couple of earlier greathelms which also still retain evidence of painted finishes.However,the helmet shown by Mr. Arnow (which is a mixture of the greathelm of the Black Prince and the 'Pembridge helm' ),both these helmets were quite probably highly polished originally ,and in fact an almost identical helmet to the 'Pembridge helm', now in the Royal Armouries collection ,still retains much of its original mirror polish on the left side of the face.

Hope that this rambling is of some interest Worried

Regards,

Russ



* "The Royal workshops at Greenwich;a history of its technology ,15 11-1649", Dr Alan williams & Anthony de Reuck.

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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Fri 13 Feb, 2004 1:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Russ Thomas wrote:
...The other thing that I wanted to mention concerned the depiction of armour in medieval manuscripts etc, I am led to believe that the reason that armour ,and iron generally, is shown as blue/black is because the original paint contains silver ,which has now tarnished over the years,and is not the result of medieval fashion.

Regards,

Russ


Russ, I agree this can be true in regards to illumiations, but we see black or blue-black armour (and even swords!) depicted in tempera and oil painings as well. This is common in art both north and south of the alps in the 5th C.
It might still be an artisitc convention, but I think we see something depicted that was actually what the artists saw in many cases.
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Fri 13 Feb, 2004 2:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Craig!
Rough finish on hilts, as in left as forged.... A good question.
Obvious filemarks and pits from forge scale is seen some times of course, but can´t remember to have seen a hilt that was left completely unfinished. (Exept where a leather shape would have covered the middle of a cross guard)

It may be that some of the plainer viking hilts of all iron construction might have been left as forged, but then they were indeed very precisely forged. This is difficult to tell as corrosion has destroyed the surface.

I think file marks left plain and unpolished were sometimes more common than one might first think. This is seen even on weapons that are of higher qualtiy than common munition grade.
This is one of those points of authenticity it would be difficult to argue for in an expensive custom project... Big Grin
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Fri 13 Feb, 2004 7:18 pm    Post subject: Hilt finish         Reply with quote

Hello Peter

I would agree. Now that I sit back and look at what I wrote I guess the point of "forge" finish swords was more in my thinking of munitions grade pieces from the medieval period rather than the viking era swords. I get the inclination that they were still high enough status items in the Viking age that they would warrant a finish of some sort.

I definitely agree that the file finish would have been something seen far more often in period, both viking and medieval, as it was a separate trade in some regions. I do not know if it was continent wide but I have seen references to whitesmiths who filed or ground their items to a finish as apposed to blacksmiths. Not sure of the context of this as its been some time since I read it. I would guess it was the Low Countries, France or England in the context I read about.

The tools of the craftsmen from the Viking age and the Medieval period are very interesting as they would give a good idea of what the finishes and surface treatments would have been. I always wonder how fine a file were they able to make and what type of finish would have been considered, poor, medium, good, high end, and master piece.

Best
Craig
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Jeffrey Hull




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PostPosted: Sat 14 Feb, 2004 5:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I thought that there were some acids which could make clean steel blue, black or grey -- hence without need of temper-tampering heating. Could anyone correlate this? Thanks, JH.
JH

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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Sun 15 Feb, 2004 12:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Two files from the Mästermyr find, a traveling blacksmiths toolbox from around AD 1000:


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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Sun 15 Feb, 2004 12:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another file:


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Last edited by Peter Johnsson on Sun 15 Feb, 2004 2:30 am; edited 3 times in total
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Sun 15 Feb, 2004 12:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another:


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PostPosted: Sun 15 Feb, 2004 12:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And yet another. Note the cut dividing the file lenghtwise. It creates two files side by side. It seems one could file a surface and get a small elevated ridge...


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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Sun 15 Feb, 2004 12:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And last, a saw much like a modern hobby saw. It has a dismountable blade with fine teeth.


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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Sun 15 Feb, 2004 12:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A freind and fellow craftsman, Per Alnaeus, and I made replicas of some of these tools to be used in open air demonstrations of viking age forging techniques. It was great fun and a learning experience. These were held at the Island of Björkö, where the viking town Birka is situated. One of the summers we worked there an excavation of a forge was yielding interesting finds. We learned that very basic tools could beused to make replicas of the arrow heads and Tor´s hammer amulets that were dug up by the archaeologists every other day.

The hammers and tongs are not much different from what we use today, they only look nicer...
The files worked well. They did not clog up so quickly as modern files tend to do. The surface they produced was rather like that made with a scraper.
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