Saturday, 8 September 2012

Getting on a bit.

I get some odd requests.

"Can you carve a stone age style lamp, as authentically as possible, using only locally available materials, using the original methods?"

'Course I can. But it's going to take some weeks. The main words I'm looking at here are 'authentic' and 'original'. The discoveries of  oil lamps are mainly oil stone shale or soap stone, both of which are soft and easily worked and polished, and much later variations are wooden.

Something like this. This is clay, and more ornate.

The very early examples were carved using whatever tools were to hand. Reindeer or bovine horn that had been hardened.

The basic idea is that you need a bowl, with a channel leading off it. The bowl would be filled with tallow, which is animal fat, into which is laid dried wicks that can conduct the fat by capillary action - the fat soaks the wick. That the wick burns is incidental. The fat or oil soaks up the wick and the heat vaporises it, and the vapour burns.

In other words, it's a captive candle. They're stinky, smoky, and I love them. There's a very strong possibility that the soot they produce led to early art and communication.


So why is it going to take weeks? Notice that phrase 'local materials'. Here, it's sandstone shale. It's some millions of years old, and quite tough and can flake. Sandstone is absorbent, so I'm going to wax (another type of tallow) to soak and seal it.

Secondly, there's a remarkable lack of reindeer around here, and hardening cow bone from the butchers needs intense heat for hours. Neighbours don't like the smoke or the smell. Spoil sports.

Chisels and power tools are out. So I'm using this. A tungsten carbide shaping tool. Before you cry - oy, that's cheating. No it ain't. I'm using locally available materials and the hand tool available to me, just like our ancestor cousins, and weeks and weeks of patient forming.

Sure, I could whip out my dremel and chisels. I could knock out a replica in an hour. But I'd know I'd done that. Dunno about you, but the research, effort and patience has a much greater personal reward.

So I'll be sat in front of the telly, carving block on my lap, doing a tiny bit of the time.

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