The weekend of the 18th & 19th of January will forever stay in our minds as the Weekend of Alchemy, a magical insight into the world of fire and molten metal.
We were led on this Bronze Age adventure into the realm of the old gods by our guide and tutor Neil Burridge. Neil has decades of experience as a Bronzesmith and Swordsmith, a true craftsman striving towards mastery of the ancient technology of Bronze casting.
He began at the beginning, chronologically, leading us through the archaeology and chemistry of copper and tin, the key components of bronze. This involved smelting the metal from their native ores in a charcoal furnace powered by bellows.
This was followed by our first casting experience, a replica of Oetzi the Iceman’s copper axehead. We stacked the crucible, placed it within Neil’s Snake-Pit furnace and piled up the charcoal. As the flames took hold, we all saw visually and felt physically the temperature roaring up to around one thousand degrees centigrade. To give it the last push up to the desired temperature of around 1150, we started a gentle, rhythmic pulse on the bellows.
Then the real wizardry began. Neil cleared the charcoal, reached into the furnace and withdrew the glowing crucible. He then poured the golden liquid into the closed mould.
We took it outside and prised open the box to reveal what lay inside. A perfect deep metallic-orange copper axe.
We then repeated the process with a mixture of tin and copper in the crucible, going slightly hotter to make our bronze. This was poured out into an incredibly ingenious mould to form our socketed axe.
The final quest, was an attempt to make bronze using a furnace and crucible similar to that utilised during the Bronze Age. It was a much more involved process; carefully stacking the charcoal, bellowing with more fury, watching the flames change colour… Real magic.