Thorgir Carves

Photo by Karina Bates

" One of the changes during the Viking Age was the founding of new towns based on trade and populated by artisans. Here a blacksmith is constructing a combination workshop and residence, working on the building while he continues his trade. The forge burns charcoal, fanned by a double chamber bellows. Woodworking tools scatter the floor beside the built in sleeping bench. Norse houses almost always used the 'longhouse' plan, with a heavy timber frame supporting roof and walls. Choice of materials for those would be determined what was available locally. Here it is typical of a house in York or Dublin, with split timber, willow 'withy', and a thatch roof. "

House Overview Blacksmith Shop Living & building
Overview of the Town House... consisting of Blacksmith's Shop.. and Living Quarters

Many of the new Norse towns started as seasonal camps, then over the years expanded to become permanent settlements that attracted not only traveling merchants, but a new class of Artisans. These craftsmen produced goods that could be bought with the silver profits from Viking raids. The Norse would either create new towns or expand existing ones throughout the areas where they had influence: Dublin in Ireland, York in England, Hedeby in what was south Denmark, Birka in Sweden. All of these have proved significant for the wealth of archaeological evidence they have given us about daily life in the Viking Age.

(21) Building : This is a composite design, based on the kind of 'row houses' found at York, England and Birka, Sweden. Imagine this building under construction in one of the new trade towns, the owner working his trade by day and finishing the house in the evenings. The basic layout remains the timber framed 'long house' (In this version scaled down slightly from the archaeology, in York the houses were closer to 15 feet wide by 25 or more long. ) The interior is divided into two sections. The front workshop, in this case for our blacksmith, is earth floored. The walls are going to be woven willow saplings, called withy. Only one section is close to completion, the front wall still has the pole cross braces in place. The rear section has a plank floor, likely over top a dug out earth basement for storage (a common feature at York). The walls here are more snug wood planking, with a built in sleeping bench. Overhead a series of poles are lashed together for the rafters, over this reed Thatching is being placed to keep out the rain.
(Hedeby, Germany / 970 and York, England / 950's         pine, maple, reed thatch / assisted by David Cox)

(22) Withy wall, with Willow Pieces ready to weave into place. These might be covered by a clay and manure mixture called 'daub'.
(Non Specific                     various natural poles)


(23) Blacksmith's Forge: Charcoal was the only fuel used by the smith in the Viking Age. Huge amounts would be required, even a simple four inch knife would consume a pile that would fill a milk crate. Charcoal was created in the forest by specialized charcoal burners and traded or purchased by the smith in town. With good hardwood charcoal, it is possible to achieve welding temperatures in the 2400 degree F. range.

Bellows Stone : This soapstone block shields the bellows. In use, the fire would be piled up against the stone. Typical fires are about the size of a large apple in terms of effective heating area.
(Snaptun, Denmark / 1000                 soapstone / artist : Anne Graham)

Tongs : For holding heated metal.
(Telemark, Norway / mid 900's             forged steel                 Artifact in Full Circle)

(24) Bellows : The small two chamber type used in the Viking Age. Our understanding of the shape and size of period bellows is based on two carved images only. No bellows have survived from the period. Air is conducted from the Bellows to the hole in the Bellows Stone by way of short metal (or ceramic) pipes in this reconstruction linked by a leather Y.
(Composite Design / Viking Age             pine, leather)

anvil & tools

(25) Forged goods:

Rough Knife and Spear : This shows what the appearance of 'rough forged' items would have been before polishing and finishing (by hand!)
(Various / Viking Age                     forged steel)

'Pattern weld' sample : The best weapons were formed using a technique called 'pattern welding'. Layers of alternating hard and soft iron were welded, pulled out, twisted, then welded again to a solid bar. This bar would then form the core of a spear or sword. The alternating layers of differing iron effectively formed a 'spring' at the center of the weapon that allowed it to give slightly under combat impact, then spring back, instead of breaking. Only a master smith could accomplish this technique.
(Non Specific / Viking Age             forged steel alloys)

(26) Anvil and tools:

Anvil on wood Stub : Viking Age anvils were small, about 15 - 30 lbs. This anvil is a typical size. (Note that the artifact in Full Circle is actually a jeweler's anvil.) The anvil here is mounted at an awkward height - too tall for working if kneeling, too short to work standing!)
(Telemark, Norway / mid 900's                 forged steel                 Artifact in Full Circle)

Hammer (Note that the artifact in Full Circle is actually a jeweler's hammer.)
(Mastermyr, Sweden / 1150             reforged commercial, ash             Artifact in Full Circle)

Punches, for holes and cutting.
(Telemark, Norway / mid 900's         forged steel)

Nail Header, for spreading tops of nails and rivets. Link to Ship Rivets, Nails
(Mastermyr, Sweden / 1150             forged steel)

Currency Bars : This is the shape that wrought iron was purchased in. The blacksmith was unlikely to make his own iron from ore. The shape suited function :  The hole allows roping bars together for transport. The square section is the usable material. The flat paddle shape is a test of quality. Poor quality wrought iron tends to splinter when hammered thin.
A special note: These are the only forged objects in the exhibit that are actually made of antique wrought iron. Compare the surfaces on the flattened sections to see just the same quality test that is described.
(Buskerud, Norway / Viking Age         forged wrought iron             Artifact in Full Circle)

(27) Leather Apron.
(Non specific                 cow hide)

Rivets: See description under Bondi.
(LAM, Canada / 1000             forged steel                 Artifact in Full Circle)

Nails : Notice distinctive square pointed shape.
(LAM, Canada / 1000             forged steel                 Artifact in Full Circle)

Cup : see description of Bowl under Bondi
(York, England / 900's             maple (?) / commercial)

(28) Slack Tub: see description of Bucket under Bondi
(Non Specific                         oak, steel / commercial)

(29) Cloak : Rectangular cloaks were worn by both men and women. One difference in style : Women clasped the cloak at the throat, while men typically clasped the cloak under the right arm. This to expose and leave free their sword arms.
(Non Specific                 wool / artist : Vandy Simpson)

Iron Brooch : This simple circular broach is a reproduction of one found at Novgrod, Russia. This type is called a 'pennannular' broach.
(Novgrod, Russia / 1000             forged steel)

(30) Oil Lamp : There are a number of examples of soapstone oil lamps. Burning fish oil or fat with a small wick, these lamps cast a smoky and dim light. Rather than thinking of these like modern lighting, compare them to a 'night light'. Candles of bee's wax were expensive and not for normal daily use.
(Shetlands / 1000             soapstone, leather / artist : Anne Graham             Artifact in Full Circle)

tool chest

(31) Tool Box : This box is based on the Masterymr Tool Box, found in Gotland, Sweden. The box contained a complete set of Blacksmith's and Carpenter's working tools. It was found in isolation in a bog, an area that had been a shallow lake in the Viking Age. One interpretation is that it may have been dropped when an itinerant craftsman fell through thin ice!
Note that all of these tools have been intentionally dulled for safe handling.
(Mastermyr, Sweden / 1150                 pine, steel / artist : Brad Markewitz)

Woodworking tools:

Fine Axe : For trimming timbers. Viking Age axes are all punched from solid bar, rather than the folded and welded method common to the Colonial period.
(Mastermyr, Sweden / 1150             forged steel, ash)

Adze, for detail shaping of joints and finishing planks.
(Mastermyr, Sweden / 1150             re forged commercial, maple)

Straight Draw Knife, for shaping handles and dowels.
(Mastermyr, Sweden / 1150             forged steel, maple)

Curved Scorp, for shaping bowls.
(Mastermyr, Sweden / 1150             forged steel, maple)

Saw: For detail cuts. Saws during the Viking Age are all small fine tools. It was beyond the smiths' art to create the large saws we are familiar with. See Split Log below.
(Mastermyr, Sweden / 1150             re forged commercial, maple)

Molding Scraper,: For cutting decorative edges. In the modern age a router is used for this.
(Mastermyr, Sweden / 1150             forged steel, maple)

Chisels, straight, gouge, bent neck.
(Mastermyr, Sweden / 1150             forged steel, maple)

bit and horn

(32) Spoon Bit : In its holder, for boring holes. The size is about right for boring the holes sued to fit the wattle upright poles into.
(Mastermyr, Sweden / 1150             forged steel, pine)

(33) Timber splitting with tools. The Norse split out planks rather than saw cutting them as we do. This requires a source of large, straight timber that is free from knots. The process is far faster than hand sawing. (Use of a pit saw in the latter Middle Ages could utilize much poorer quality timber.) Spit planks are far more flexible under load, making them ideal for ship hulls. Over the Viking Age there is clear indications from ship planking that much of the available good quality timber had been consumed.

Split Log and Planks, of pine and oak.

Felling Axe.
(Mastermyr, Sweden / 1150             re forged commercial, ash             Artifact in Full Circle)

Metal and wooden Wedges.
(Speculative                     forged steel, maple)

Wood Mallet.
(Non Specific             maple)


(34) Wood toys: The presence of a child?

(Greenland / Viking Age             pine / artist : Randy Markewitz)

(Trondheim, Norway / Viking Age         fir / artist : Randy Markewitz)

Pan Pipes, from York, England.
(York, England / 950                 maple / artist : AG. Smith)

(35) Drinking Horn : see description under Bondi
(Non Specific                     natural horn, leather, tin alloy)

(36) Wood Bowl : see Description under Bondi
(York, England / 900's         maple (?) / commercial)

Wood Spoon
(Non Specific                 maple (?) / commercial with carving by S. Strang)

(37) Carving Knife : This is a specially formed carving tool. It was normal for almost everyone to carry a simple knife. Men's versions had the distinctive 'seax' shape, with its straight bottom edge. Women were mare likely to carry a slimmer blade about four inches long (like a modern paring knife).
(York, England / 900's             forged steel, antler)

Plank : Split maple with runes . The upper is the man's name 'Kettil' (KITIL). The lower is the 'FUTHARK' - the letters of the Norse runic alphabet.
(Non Specific                 maple)

(38) Water Pail : Clean drinking water was an extreme problem, especially in the new Towns. Although these were almost all located on rivers for transportation, a neighbour upstream was emptying slops buckets (or worse) into the same stream you would draw your water from! See description under Pail in Bondi.
(Non Specific                 pine, steel / artist : Gary Stephens)

(Hedeby, Germany / 1000's             cherry (?) / commercial)

for more information on the Viking Age...

Unless otherwise indicated - All Images and Text - © 2003 Darrell Markewitz