The Mavis Furnace: Casting in Albuquerque or how to build a furnace for almost no cost!

This autumn I was visiting my sister who lives just outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has a bit of land, so I asked her if I could build a furnace and do some casting there. I’ve built plenty of pit furnaces, so this time I wanted to build one that was above ground and a bit more visible. It would also mean that no one would trip and fall if they forgot where I put the thing.

First off was to get the basic materials: Clay, Sand, and Horse Manure.

I thought that the clay would be the biggest hurdle. However my sister’s neighbour happened to be a sculptor who works in both iron and ceramics. She went to her regular clay supplier and got a couple feed sacks full of dried clay for free! Potters who work at wheels, or work with kids end up with a lot of clay that is scraped off of workbenches and wheels that is hard to re-use. It’s often mixed consistency, lumpy or part dried. If they want to use the clay again, it has to be reconditioned. So, they take their sacks of scrap back to the place where they buy the clay and pay to have it put through the mill. Since it’s not really usable, some potters are willing to just give it away. So thanks to Liz Fritzsche, who does amazing and beautiful work in porcelain, I was able to get started.

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Dry clay

I threw some of the dried clay into a five gallon bucket and poured in enough water to cover the clay and let it sit. It was squishy and workable in a few hours. Next up was horse manure. A friend of a friend has horses, and they were grateful to have someone who would haul away a couple of barn buckets full. The final bit was the sand. My sister did have some beach sand that she’d bought for the garden, but I was more fascinated by the soil there. Her land is in the old Rio Grande River Valley, and the soil is a mixture of silty sand and a little clay that had been pounded to a powder. The soil was almost the consistency of dust. It mixed in perfectly and later I found the mixture was highly resistant to cracking.

The ingredients were mixed with some water, stomped, and adjusted. New Mexico is a lot drier than England, so I ended up adding more water as I worked. It was also nice knowing that it was unlikely for any rain to fall while I was working.

The silt/clay/dung mixture made a durable clay, and after I flew back to Minneapolis, I was please that the crucibles and moulds I packed in my check-in luggage survived airport handling.

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The Mavis Furnace: note the small tabs inside. These support the Teapot Stand.

The furnace walls are about 8 cm wide (about the width of my palm) and the inside diameter is about 25 cm in diameter. I let it dry for a couple days and then moved it over to an unused area behind a greenhouse where I would have more room to work. I set a small fire with cottonwood branches, fed it for a couple hours, and then let it die out overnight.

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Mavis the dog immortalised in a furnace!
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Mavis in a calm moment. Her nickname is the Dog-nado.

 

 

 

 

 

We all like to put some decoration on our furnaces. My students have done everything from dragons and demons to cats. I had been thinking about doing some imitation petroglyphs, but as I was working it just seemed natural to do a portrait of Mavis, my sister’s exuberant German Shepherd.

Finally I adjusted the mix to have a bit more of the silty sand and horse dung to make the teapot stand and crucibles. For more information about teapot stands and how they work in furnaces, check out my article on the Umha Aois website here.

Later I added more water to make the slip for dipping waxes in for the first stages of mould making. The silt made a wonderfully fine mould that picked up all the details.

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The Mavis furnace, teapot stand, and some crucibles

I had some cracking on the upper part of the furnace, and noted that the part that cracked was where I used the commercial sand. The silty New Mexico soil held up much better. If it weren’t so heavy (and probably not allowed) I would have hauled bags of it on the plane to use for more projects.

Both Mavises performed very well (Mavis the Dog is into barrel racing and advanced obedience classes).  I’ll be interested to see how it holds up over the winter. Winters in New Mexico tend to be mild, so I’m hoping that the Mavis furnace will be available for friends in Albuquerque to use for some time to come.

 

Here’s a very short video of the furnace in action.

 

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Journals and Books in Archaeology and Craft

Journals

Here are some useful links to academic journals on archaeology. I’ll do my best to make sure the links are current.

Many of the journals linked here are open access, but many aren’t. If you need to access an article, many public libraries do have free access to journals, in addition many universities in the US often allow public access to their libraries. Another resource is to check academia.edu. The site provides open access to articles, theses, dissertations, and conference proceedings.

Note that this is by no means an exhaustive list of the journals out there!

Archaeology

American Journal of Archaeology

Antiquaries Journal

Antiquity

Archaeometry

Assemblage – The Sheffield Graduate Journal of Archaeology (OPEN ACCESS!)

Berkshire Archaeological Journal (OPEN ACCESS!) Note that the journal runs from 1878 to 1980

British Archaeology (OPEN ACCESS!)

Cambridge Archaeological Journal

CBA Research Reports  (OPEN ACCESS!)

Current Archaeology

Derbyshire Archaeological Journal

Discovery and Excavation in Scotland (OPEN ACCESS!)

European Archaeologists 

Expedition

Ethnoarchaeology

EXARC (OPEN ACCESS!)

Internet Archaeology

Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

Journal of Archaeological Research

Journal of Archaeological Science

Journal of Archaeology of Northwest Europe (OPEN ACCESS!)

Journal of the British Archaeological Association

Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage

Journal of Conservation & Museum Studies (OPEN ACCESS!)

Journal of Heritage Tourism

Journal of the Historical Metallurgy Society

Journal of Irish Archaeology

Journal of Material Culture

Journal of Open Archaeology Data (OPEN ACCESS!)

Journal of Social Archaeology

Journal of World Prehistory

London Archaeologist (OPEN ACCESS!)

Medieval Archaeology

The Minnesota Archaeologist

Open Access Archaeology Journals (OPEN ACCESS!)

Oxford Journal of Archaeology

Papers from the Institute of Archaeology (OPEN ACCESS!)

PAST (OPEN ACCESS!)

The Post Hole (OPEN ACCESS!)

The Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society (PPS)

Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (OPEN ACCESS!)

Public Archaeology

Scottish Archaeological Journal

Scottish Archaeology Internet reports (OPEN ACCESS!)

Somerset Archaeological and Natural History

Surrey Archaeological Collections (OPEN ACCESS!)

Sussex Archaeological Collections (OPEN ACCESS!)

Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society

Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society (OPEN ACCESS!)

Visual Anthropology

World Archaeology

Yorkshire Archaeological Journal

 

Craft

Folklore

The Journal of Modern Craft

World Art

Books

These are a few of the books I’ve found useful. Again, it is nowhere close to being exhaustive, but I plan to update it regularly.

Note: Clicking on the image will take you to Amazon.com where I get a slight kickback if you buy anything when you visit the site (even if it isn’t the same book you clicked on). Yep, this is blatant monetising, but I don’t have advertising on the site and any source of income helps pay the bills for the site. That said, these are all books and authors that I have in my library and highly recommend.

Books on Craft in General

The Craftsman by Richard Sennett is the book to start with for understanding craft, how it works and how it is learned.

The Search for Structure by Cyril Stanley Smith is a joy to read. He explores structure, art, and craftsmanship from an engineering point of view, but also as one who sees the world as a work of craft.
One of my favourite quotes comes from this book:

I asked a blacksmith famous for his superior penknives to tell me the difference between iron and steel. “What’s the difference?” he replied. “What is the difference between an oak tree and the willow—they have different natures and one must adapt to them.” He did not accept the suggestion that some material absorbed from the fire’s charcoal might have something to do with it, and he would not have understood a word of any lecture I could have given him on diffusion, crystal structure, and phase transformations; yet he could make a good knife and I could not. (Smith, 1981, 348)

 

Books on the history of metalworking

 Ronald Tylecote is probably the author to start with when studying archaeo metallurgy. His work covers the beginning of metallurgy to the Industrial Revolution, exploring the development and changes in technology and experimental work with smelting and furnaces.

A history of metallurgy follows the development of metalworking from ancient Egypt (at the time he wrote, these were the earliest known examples) through Medieval Europe. Despite its age, this is the most comprehensive volume on ancient metalworking and a good start in learning the prehistory of metals.

The following two books are nearly identical. Don’t feel as if you are missing out if you don’t own both. Both are excellent references and the chapters are divided by metals, so all the information about copper is provided together, as is silver, tin, gold, lead, and iron.

Books on experimental archaeology

John Coles is the granddaddy of academic experimental archaeology. He did write the book on it, and back in the 1970’s worked to make it a more organised discipline. These books are excellent introductions to experimental archaeology.

Books on metalworking

Knowing archaeological metals is one thing, but knowing how to work with them, their practical properties, and hands-on experience is essential. These are the books that I feel are essential essential guides for practical metalworking.

Tim McCreight’s books are great bench guides that are well organised for quick reference. They are also great textbooks for metalworking.

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