Thursday, June 13, 2013

From Scratch?

The cast glass is here! The cast glass is here! Things are going to start happening to me now!

I know preppers get a lot of shit with their doom-monger end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-is-a-coming reputations, but I can sympathize with them. A lot of them are just planning for emergencies. Considering retail stores carry only three days worth of food, it makes sense to prepare for a two to four week delay in the supply chain. Any longer than that seems pointless though. If conditions are such that you need a year's or a decade's worth of supplies, I figure that will be the least of your worries.

But I appreciate the just-in-case attitude. I myself am a prepper, but in a different way. Some people collect things, like wristwatches or Bugattis. Me, I collect skills. I figure that puts me way ahead of most preppers that are just stockpiling (but I'm guessing most also value survival skills). Me, I value not survival skills, which really for a generalist scavenger/predator such are ourselves is almost second nature and easy to pick up, but civilizational survival skills.

So, when uglyblackjohn mentioned that I make stuff... from scratch, well, that isn't exactly true, but it makes for a good exercise. What if I did want to make one of my bronze pieces literally from scratch? What would be the ground rules here?

Well, actually, in post-apocalyptic world, with all of our trashed stuff laying around, metals already smelted and purified, tools at hand, probably some fuel and generator and electricity available, well, that's just too easy. How about we eliminate the majority of conveniences that the modern web of technology places before us? I'm figuring setting the wayback machine to partly 1830 or so, with bits going back to, say, 5000BCE.

That means, here I am, 20 miles west of Chicago, with no tools, no metal, no coke or coal or oil or gas, no electricity, and I am to make a bronze critter. What do I got to do?

I'll need metal, for starters. A kiln or furnace. A smelter. Wax. Tools. Fuel. That's the minimum.

Let's start with metal. The bronze we use is Everdur, 94% copper, 4% silicon, 2% manganese, a marine bronze noted for it's resistance to corrosion. Aside from public works, it's also used for ship's propellors among many other things. I can't make that. I can probably make the old ancient bronze which is 60% copper, 40% tin. Where would I find. Here where I am, bedrock is a good hundred feet down underneath glacial till, clay and sand, and the bedrock that is there is limestone. Not much use even if I could get to it. The clay and sand I will take, as I will need that for my kiln and/or furnace.

Well, guess what, I don't know where there is a ready source. It would seem that knowing skills is not enough, knowing other people that do know this shit would be better. (So, where's Mister Dee Ray Metallica when you need him?)

It seems my do it yourself project has already evolved into a do it with others project. Funny that.

Well, actually, I do know the UP of Michigan has very nice veins of copper, parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota as well. I might have to google where I can find tin stone ore, but as it so happens, younger brother spent some time on Isle Royale in the middle of Lake Superior (he is fascinated with moose and wolves), and he told me there are both copper and tin mines on that island. Great!

Not so great! How the fuck am I going to get there? I could a raft out of logs, but, uh, hmm, ship building is not in my skill set. I can ride a horse, so that's gets me up to the shore of the lake at least in short amount of time, and let's haul shit without ruining my back. I just have to find a horse, and then find someone who can help with the boat.

Okay, let's assume somehow that all worked out and here I am back in Illinois with a couple dozen pounds of ore. (One the assumption that I only need about two pounds of bronze). Do I know how to smelt copper and tin? No. Shit. Better find someone who does. Let's assume I do.

I suppose I'm going to have help out making the smelter, which I would assume could be done in a sealed sagger in a wood fired kiln just like you make wootz steel. So, I can make charcoal. I can do that. I can build a kiln from sand and clay. Where do I get the tools?

Some tools I could make out of wood, but I would prefer metal. I don't have any metal. Perhaps a handaxe, or a stone chopper. I don't how to knap flint. I suppose I could learn it, but I'm told it's harder than it looks to get a good stone tool. Jesus, I've pushed my tech date back two million years, haven't I?

Alright, so let's say I got my stone axes, and sicles, and blades, and knives, and I've cut wood, and carved tools, and dug clay and heaped sand, and my connections have provided me with ingots of bronze, and I'm ready to go, right?

I need wax to shape for the lost wax process (which, thankfully, I know how to do using the Old Skool process still used in West Africa of dipping wax into a clay slurry and sprinkling with sand to make a stucco, dry, repeat, then fire out the wax). I currently use microcrystalline wax, which is a petroleum byproduct made by skimming off the solids from a vacuum distillation process. I got no petroleum. I got  no still. I got no engine to create a vacuum. I don't how to make any these, not easily. By trial and error, sure.

Maybe instead, I should use bees wax. That I'm sure I can find. Probably got stung a lot, but...

Okay now I'm set. Ready to melt metal and cast my piece. And all it took was a few years and either a lot of barter, or a lot of labor, probably far more labor than I had ever anticipated.

Modern society rules.

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