Stephan of Silverforge: Explorer of Material Culture

Late 14th century daily life has been my primary focus for the past thirty years, though I have produced work from other eras. Production began with armor and includes jewelry making, metal casting, wood work, and more as well as medieval cookery and brewing for my family. Back in the day, I participated in period dance – to the point of dancing in Italy as part of a tour (IKR?) What follows is a portfolio of more recent tangible projects.



Some Silver Brooch pendants


The Silver Brooch is the ‘entry level’ East Kingdom arts award. One of my lady wife’s apprentices was getting presented with the award, and so I crafted one for her. Despite it’s name, it is not silver but pewter. I wound up making a number of these, one for each of her apprentices and ten for the kingdom coffers.

This was a bastard of a mold, and I am very happy to say that there will be an -extremely- limited number of these. Because of mistakes in the carving and a place where the mold broke, I wound up spending a great deal of time filing, playing ‘find the brooch’ in the gob of pewter.

Tokens for the coronation of Tsar Ivan and Tsarina Mathilde

I was asked to produce the site tokens for the coronation of Ivan and Mathilde. They wanted a ~11th century Rus theme, and their arms. Their arms were easy – his include a scorpion, and hers a rabbit, so that’s sorted. The 11th century Rus part was a bigger ask. I wound up with a single-sided round token with an integral barrel for a hanging cord based on what little I was able to find – 11C and Rus are not areas I know well. Oh, and I put a crown over the top because coronation. Seemed like the thing to do.

As is usual form me, the mold is carved in soapstone. In this case, 300 were cast, plus a few I’ve snuck here or there for people – The event had -way- more attendees than were expected (almost a factor of 2!) so tokens sold out quickly.IMG_3008


Something that got out of hand…


A while ago I posted some silly images of my family at Pennsic, goofing about and reenacting a number of famous historical artworks.

Well, you can now buy a calendar.

Yeah, I know. I’m scratching my head on this one too.

For what it’s worth, we get a whole $2 per calendar, which will go to my daughter’s college fund if we ever make enough that it actually pays for the calendar we got for my mother.

It’s a strange feeling knowing that people have your image up on their walls.

A New Laurel Wreath

My latest laruel wreath was a Christmas present commissioned for the good lady who asked me to participate in the Pennsic A&S warpoint a few years back. I was deeply honored by both the invitation to be an East Kingdom Champion (I still giggle when I say that) and by the commission itself. This is the fourth in the series of wreaths, and I think I have the process down relatively well, but each one brings it’s own challenges.

As with the others, it’s made of brass sheet and wire. I like to make each one a little different, so this one has the leaves all the same size as opposed to having smaller ones in front and larger in back. I really like the look of this – I think the size range of the other wreaths is a little large. The recipient of this is not a large person, and I wanted something somewhat more delicate, so I went with the smallest sized of the leaves.

I began by cutting 32 lengths of 14g brass wire to ~5.5″ (depending on the size of the end leaf). There are eight leaves each top and bottom on both sides. Using a bench mark (literally a mark on the bench) I measured the rough length of the ‘short’ side of the leaf and stem piece, folded it over, clamped it flat with a pair of ViceGrips, and opened it up with flat nosed Jeweler’s pliers. This gave me a nicely pointed leaf shape.

I have a printed template that I did up on the computer as my ideal form, but because it’s a hand made product, there is an organic variation from leaf to leaf which I really like. Very few things in nature are mechanically straight or actually symmetrical, so some casualness in the shaping adds to the look of the final leaf.

I started with one long stem with leaves at both ends. This forms the central spine and sets the size of the final wreath, so while the leaves take up a certain amount of wire each, the length between them varies on a wreath-by-wreath basis.

Once all the leaf loops were formed, I soldered on rough-cut rectangles of sheet brass using jeweler’s solder formulated for brass, and a plumber’s peizoelectric torch with a flexible hose hooked up to a BBQ-sized propane tank. As you can see in the picture below, sometimes the solder blobs across the sufrace of the leaf, which I can remove later in the process. The operative is that there is a good solid join between the wire and the sheet. When everything is polished up, the joint should be invisible.


Leaves shaped, soldered, filed, and ready to solder to the spine.

After soldering, they went into a mild acid bath to remove any remaining flux. Then the sheet was trimmed to match the outline of the wire, and filed so that the solder line was gone. In some cases, I filed through the solder entirely and had to make a new leaf, which is annoying but not tragic. The photo above shows 32 leaves soldered, filed, and bent to lie in place on the central ‘spine’. In the future, I think I’d like to have a ‘softer’ bend where the leaf stem joins the central branch. The hard angle makes it easy to process, but I think looks too angular.

Once I had all the leaves soldered and filed, including the central ‘spine’, I soldered the side leaves to the spine, working from the end toward the middle so that I could control the spacing between any given pair of side leaves. This means that I regulated the spacing as I went and any ‘slop’ wound up center back, which is ok by me. Spacing is more or less set by where the wire is bent up away from the bench in the picture above – that bend touches (or nearly so) the bend where the leaf stem springs away from the central spine.

Working from the ends, I soldered all the leaves on. Then, I went back and clipped the leftover wire to length and, using pliers, folded the leftover together and down to the spine, so that the end of the wire more or less met the Z bend of the next leaf, which matched the bend where the next in line springs from the spine. In this way, any given pair of leaves has ~3/4″ of solder to the side of the spine, then a Z bend, and ~3/4″ of solder to the inside of the spine. This reinforced the spine considerably, but can be somewhat challenging to solder. I laid everything flat onto a soldering block, with stainless steel plates and cracked bits of fire brick covering joins I wanted to preserve, but exposing the area to heat.

Once all the leaves were completely soldered on, I took a length of 1/8″ brazing rod, annealed it, flattened it slightly, trimmed it to length and pointed the ends. This was then soldered down on the outside of the spine both as extra reinforcing and as a means of visually finishing the piece. All of this was done flat on my soldering surface, using heatsinks and bits of firebrick to minimize heating to the leaves, which could cause the solder there to soften and release.

I think in future, I want to lay another pair of leaves center back which, like the central spine, has leaves on both ends. I think that would close up the spacing a little more and make for an all around cleaner solution. I’d also like to try setting the first pair of leaves back a little more from the end ones to make a single leaf over the forehead rather than a trio.


Soldering complete, ready for cleaning up and final shaping.

Once everything was soldered down and I had a chance to catch my breath  (I enjoy soldering, but it’s high-adrenaline.) I gave the spine an initial curve and started the polishing process. For this I used a Dremel tool with a ~1/8″ diameter bit of wire in it that’s been slit lengthwise for about 1/2″ with a jeweler’s saw. I took pieces of sandpaper ~1/2″ by ~2″, and slid one end into the slit, then curled the remaining sandpaper around so that when the Dremel spun, the sandpaper flapped against the piece. This worked well for polishing, but was pretty destructive to the sandpaper, and flung little bits of sandpaper all over the shop, including in my face. Using this, I started with 220 grit to get off the solder blobs, then 400 to hide the scars from the 220. Once the whole thing had been brought up to 400, I used a blunted chisel and a light hammer, working on a softwood block, to chase in the veining and give the 3D modeling on the leaves. Any weak solder joins will pop in this phase, which can be pretty annoying because there’s no fixing it unless you are willing to re-sand a whole lot of the thing.

After the leaves were all shaped, I went back in with 120 grit and put a final finish on everytihng, then did final shaping on the stems and getting the shape of the spine dialed in. I’m always afraid of work-hardening the wire and cracking off leaves in this step, but everything is pretty well annealed by now and I haven’t lost one yet.


The final wreath, ready for it’s close up.

My initial forray into coining


I made several hundred coins recently for an event in Endewearde with a gambling aspect. For this I produced 500 ‘ones’ coins and 100 ‘fives’ coins, using a shared die with ‘ENDEWEARDE’ tooled into it for one side and either an ‘I’ or a ‘V’ on the other.


Both were 0.75″in diameter (or so – more on that later…) and were struck in ~1mm metal of either copper or pewter using dies made of 1018 steel tooled with handmade punches crafted either from re-ground commercial alphabetic punches or from shaped masonry nails.

The design is more ‘in the style of’ than an explicit copy from a period piece – if nothing else I’m not sure ‘Endewearde’ was a word back in the day, but it is in the Current Middle Ages.

The dies are 1.0″ diameter steel rod, which was cut to length, turned on a lathe to put a flat (but not smooth) face on it, then smoothed with 220, 500, and 1200 grit sandpapers. (Shout out to Master Derien le Breton for his class at Pennsic!) Once smooth, I began by scoring a notch to follow for the ring of punch marks around the perimeter. At the time I didn’t have a jeweler’s graver, so I couldn’t make a really good notch, which can be seen on the ‘I’ side of the copper coins pretty vividly. The Endewearde side I managed to fake it more or less ok. The ‘V’ side I cheated and turned it in my lathe. It’s really nice to have that track to follow when punching the ring of dots.

I should also mention that the first die I cut was (of course) the most complex one. Which looked terrible, and I ground it smooth and tried again. Take two is ok, but has room for improvement.

In the class that I took from Master Derien, he had a steel bolster he used when striking. I don’t have that, but I did have a cast iron stake holder and an anvil with a hardie hole, so I ground the back half of the bottom die square so it would socket in to these. More on this later too.

Once the dies were cut and I was either happy with them or too lazy to re-re-make them, I needed to prepare my flans (the chunks of metal you throw between the dies – the coin larva). I had bought a 3/4″ arch punch (the arch connects the cutting head with the handle so cut pieces can fall out) and cut all my pewter blanks and struck them with relatively little effort. I used a small steel mallet to strike, and worked sitting down. Each coin was struck 3-4 times, realigning the dies each time – after the inital hit, you can feel when things click back into place, so it’s fairly easy (if tedious) to reset and strike again without producing a ‘double-struck’ coin.


Just a note – pewter is much softer than copper.

IMG_2928I got 100+ flans cut in pewter. I got 38 cut in copper before the arch punch broke. Looking at the remains, it seems that one side had been welded with almost no penetration, so it was really more of a surprise that it lasted as long as it did. I cut the other side free, and proceeded to cut my copper sitting on the floor so that when the cutting head bounced around it didn’t have a long fall to the concrete floor. I supported the sheet to cut on a pewter ingot I had lying around, positioned the cutting head and blasted it 2-3 times with my larger steel mallet. I managed to get ~75 flans before my legs would go to sleep, and I’d stand up (eventually) to strike all the flans I’d prepared, rinse and repeat. Oh, yeah – and I broke my stake holder, so I tranferred everything to the hardie hole in my anvil. More on that later.

IMG_2927A ordered a new, better, arch punch but it took a few days to arrive. When it did, it turns out that their idea of 3/4″ and the previous punch’s idea of 3/4″ were different. Which was annoying. Since I wasn’t making coins of a fixed weight of metal so much as tokens akin to poker chips, it was ok but still.


IMG_2931I don’t know if I just had particularly tough copper (I’d ordered ‘dead soft’) whether my punches were dull (I cut myself several times on them) whether my metal was too thick (~1 mm) or whether I’d offended some god, but I had to cut into a pewter block – I tried a poly cutting board, end grain hickory, and end grain ash and the metal just mushed into them without cutting through the copper. Once I had a bunch cut, I had to bring them back to more or less flat using a shot-filled plastic mallet. I found that striking the flans fresh-from-the-punch didn’t get a really good strike, but even a little flattening helped out immensely. I used a relatively soft mallet so as to neither mar or work harden the flan too much. I had tried using a flat-faced autobody hammer, but that thinned and hardened the copper too much for my liking.


When striking, I used a pretty weighty 6# or so steel sledge and a sleeve made of 1″ inside diameter plumbing pipe. So you know, 1″ outside diameter steel rod rattles about in 1″ inside diameter plumbing pipe. Two rounds of duct tape was enough to provide a fit that was tight enough without being too tight.


I’m not entirely sure what the magic combination was, but sometimes I got a beautiful strike and sometimes not so much. I made a point of resting the mallet on the top die (for muscle memory) before striking, being on the balls of my feet, with bent knees and tight abs. I tried to be at full arm extension, with my hands such that the hammer face was flat to the back of the top die. Etc., etc., and so forth. Sometimes the stars alinged, sometimes not. I also noticed that the original punch, being a shade smaller than the new one, was much easier to strike – that extra 1mm of metal made a world of difference.

IMG_2933Because my hardie hole is ~7/8″ and the bottom die is 1″, there wasn’t much shoulder around to prevent the die from getting driven deeper into the anvil. Which, of course, it did. I wound up putting a random bit of steel under it to prevent it sinking further, and once I was done striking tried to tap the die back up to remove it. Which served to pein the die over on the bottom, completely locking it into place in the anvil. So now I guess I need to cut it down close to the level of the anvil and drill out enough to weaken it so I can drive it through, or otherwise crack it the hell out of my anvil.

Some more laurel wreaths


Wreath for Mistress Katheryn Fontayne.


Wreath for Master Vettorio Antonello.

If you’ve poked around on this page before, you know that I’ve made one of these in the past. These were variations on that theme.

The basic structure is still the same – a wire loop with sheet soldered to it to make a leaf like shape, then ganged together to make a wreath. The details on these ones have changed a bit from the original. These are both using 14g wire – a little heavier than the 16g of the original, and a lot more sturdy feeling. The sheet in these was 26g as opposed to 38g, which made a huge difference – the original I had to remake several leaves because I ground through them with the Dremel equivalent of a Scotch Brite. My primary concern initially had been weight, and I produced a wreath that didn’t feel like it was there at all, but also (to me at least) felt very frail. These are a bit heavier but much more solid feeling, and because of this I could put a finish on them that I’m happier with.

On Katheryne’s I tooled in veining on the leaves with a blunted chisel, and on Vettorio’s I left them smooth. I like both looks, but they make for very different effects.

The main difference structurally from the original is that I expermented with different mechanisms to attach the leaves to the central ‘branch’ of the wreath. On the original, the pair of leaves over the temples were connected by a long length of wire, and the other leaves by shorter pairs, which were then soldered to that central span. This resulted in a wreath that lacked the internal structure to support itself, which annoyed me. So a length of 1/8″ brazing rod was soldered down the length of it as a reinforce, and also served to tie the design together visually as well as structurally. But that was untidy engineering in my mind, so I tried some variations.

On Katheryne’s I left the ‘tails’ on each leaf around 5″ to 6″ long, and soldered them along the length of the central core, adding one pair ‘in front’ of it, one pair ‘beside’ it, and one pair ‘behind’ it, then repeating the cycle. The most efficient way to pack round things forms a hexagon, with six outside and one central, which what I was shooting for here. This meant I could have a good long stretch for the solder to bond one to the other, making for a strong joint which had no actual mechanical attachment other than the bonding of the solder. The down side to this arrangement was that each pair of leaves sprang from the central ‘branch’ at a different level – some in front, some level with, and some behind the center. Which meant that nothing was in line with anything else, and the piece was very wobbly when being assembled. To try to hold the leaves in place so that they could be soldered, I bound most of it with a very thin brass wire, which worked great but looked pretty mediocre in part because the oxides from the soldering process couldn’t be removed without sanding away a significant part of the wire. My wife Astrida had the idea to wrap another layer of wire, but this one also being used to hold down pearls. This both blinged it up and hid the nasty, discolered, wire wrap from view. The pearls definitely completed the look and made it more in line with Katheryne’s personal style.

With the other wreath I tried a different approach for attaching the leaves. All of them got soldered directly to the side of the central spine, proceeded alongside for ~0.75″, then bent back to make room for the next pair to be added directly to the side. Because they were now behind the ‘front’ wires, they could nestle into the two valleys formed by the ‘front’ three wires. So each pair of leaves had ~0.75″ directly to the side of the central spine, a ‘Z’ bend, then ~0.75″ behind it, but also up against it’s opposite leaf pair.


This way each pair of leaves lay flat on the work surface for initial soldering, which was strong enough to allow me to bend things into shape for the initial soldering of the next pair of leaves. Once two pairs were soldered, the tails of the first pair were clipped to ~0.75″, bent into place, and soldered over the join of the second pair. In this way I could continue almost like a zipper around the length of the wreath. In this case, the final two pairs of leaves were also on a single wire which made soldering them in place a whole lot easier than they would have been as individual leaves. So the back left and back right lower leaves were one unit, and the back left and back right upper leaves another unit.

Engineering things this way made the wreath self-supporting, but for the sake of the visual completeness, a spine of 1/8″ brazing rod was added as well.

I think this is the ‘correct’ solution for how to construct these things. I am very pleased with all three of the wreaths, but each addressed or exposed a different set of problems and I think I now know how to construct any more of these I may be asked to make.

And now for something completely different…

This Pennsic, we seem to have gotten into an art historical photo series that kinda spiraled out of control.

It started with a picture of Helena and me at breakfast. I had taken a shower and had my hair up in a turban, which I took down at the end of breakfast. With the plate that had had bacon on it and the desert palette of my towel, the following happened:

Pennsic Jesus

Apparently Helena practices looking like a Renaissance angel, which will surprise no one who knows her.

Then we did The Head of John the Baptist and Salomé, which was much more staged and planned out:

Salome & John the Baptist

And then we started to include inspiration images: Judith and Holoferenes

Judith & Holofernes

The original is by Artemisia Gentileschi


Phyllis riding Aristotle. (It’s tough to see, but Astrida has tippets made of toilet paper we nicked from the Portos.)


The original is a bronze ewer in the Met:


From a Tacuinum Sanitatis on vomiting:


The original:


Samson and Delilah: Samson_and_Delilah_2

One of the people in camp had taken apart his helmet liner, that was padded with horsehair which was a pretty darn good match for my own.

The original is from the Wenzel Bible (folio 21) in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek:


I think the star of the show is this one:


Based on Vermeer‘s Girl with a Pearl Earring


Mad Moll Cutpurse:
The Hours of Charles of Angoulême. Drunk old woman being carted home with stolen booze:
And finally, The Land of Cockaigne:
Original by Bruegel:
We had meant to take a final picture, based on Sigismondo Malatesta’s army preparing to decamp, from the Hesperides manuscript (Bodleian Library. Canon. Class. Lat. 81, fol. 49v), but packout at Pennsic is always chaos. We got this picture instead. I am actually looking out the center hole at the camera.