The little shop of strangeness...
Hans had the buggy ready to travel but a short time later, and after downing a second mug of cider and visiting the privy, I was able to continue. I felt much better physically, and when Hans mentioned the tincture, I thought to ask about it.
“I hope I did not waste it,” I asked.
“I am not worried about that stuff,” said Hans. “It is not that expensive. Now what is it they told you?”
“The grinding wheel frame had come,” I said, “and it had those wooden 'bearings' like you spoke of. I told them how I'd done my own asking, and I spoke of how they were usually hard to turn, and how that was a big problem.”
I paused to sip from my mug, then continued.
“So everyone becomes quiet, as if I'd said something that isn't supposed to be said,” I said, “and then Georg speaks of one where he was apprenticed, and how hard it was to turn, and then how those using it yelled at him and called him lazy because he wasn't turning the thing fast enough, especially at first.”
“I had to turn that thing for my grandfather,” said Hans, “but he did not yell at me. He would have me rest, and look at the wheel some, as he knew it wasn't much good that way. He did not have the knowing or the tools to do that part better, so it had to be endured.”
“They didn't bother,” I shrieked. “They just thought they could m-mistreat those boys! How are they supposed to learn anything if all they get is yelling and c-curses...”
I stopped in mid-sentence, for the nature of those curses dawned upon me. They were not mere imprecations, but something worse.
“Yes, and what happened then?” asked Hans.
“Georg said that was done with all of the boys where he was being trained, and the c-close-man was the worst for it,” I said. “Is there thought to be a connection with 'close' work and nasty behavior?”
“I am not sure that is the case,” said Hans. “Why, did they talk as though it was?”
“Y-yes,” I said, “and if that Hieronymus fellow acted like a witch, then how am I supposed to act? Like an, uh...” I wanted to scream, for the feeling of evil was difficult to endure.
“Yes, like someone,” asked Hans. “What kind of someone?”
“What is an especially nasty and evil witch called?” I asked.
“I am not sure there is a word for such a person,” said Hans. “Besides, I think you did a good job with your words there.”
“How much tin can we get?” I asked some minutes later, “and what can we melt it in?”
“I think you want a lead-pot and dipper for that,” said Hans. “I've found that hardening stuff I have, and I think this place might have more, so that you have plenty.”
“Uh, what will they do while I'm gone?” I asked.
“I think they might work on those things they can do,” said Hans. “I think they have two or three sets of buggy parts that need doing, though I wonder about those any more.”
“Uh, why?” I asked.
“I think what you do has gotten out some,” said Hans, “and they might want you doing the forging as well as the fitting.”
“Is this like with what they tried to use as an axle for that stone?” I asked. “That piece was worse than usual, as it had a lot of slag in it and it was really soft.”
“I am not sure,” said Hans. “I know that what you work on is liked a lot, and it makes the usual stuff coming from there look to be scrap. At least, that is what people say.”
“Hans, I almost never use that soft stuff the way it comes,” I said. “More often then not, it gets blistered at least twice, and more times than that if it's going to be used for tools and knives.”
“Now what is this of blisters?” asked Hans.
“That's what happens when I put the iron in those containers and run them overnight,” I said. “They are a different color and look as if they have blisters all over them.”
“Do you file those off, or what?” asked Hans.
“They go away when the stuff gets welded and forged to shape,” I said. “I usually forge-weld them twice between each session in one of those containers, and two or three times before, and then two or three times after. The bars tend to shrink more than a little in the process, and I think slag accounts for much of the shrinkage.”
“That might be why they want you doing the forging, then,” said Hans, “as that is a lot more than the others do.”
“If I go by the last examples I've seen,” I said, “they just forge roughly to size straight from the bar, and any more, they don't forge more than they absolutely have to.”
“That is not good,” said Hans, “as you have too much work as it is. Why do they do that?”
“Part of it is for closer fitting,” I said, “as I had spoken of the matter, and so they leave more metal there. I'm not sure why they leave more metal everywhere, though.”
“I might be,” said Hans. “In the fourth kingdom, they do as you do for your tools, only not as much. That is not common up here, so they must use more metal to make them strong enough to work right.”
“More dead-soft metal,” I muttered. “I try cooking those things as much as I can after I get done filing them, and I use brass sheet in them so they work smoother.” I paused, then said, “do those things tend to wear rapidly?”
“I am not sure,” said Hans. “At least, I am not sure for most.”
While Hans had spoken of this 'second-hand store' being to the west, he had not spoken of its distance from home, and after roughly an hour and passing through two towns, we came to a third town. This example was the smallest one I had seen yet, with but twenty or so houses and shops, a Mercantile, and a Public House.
“Where is the place itself?” I asked.
“It is at the other end of town,” said Hans. “It might not be a Mercantile for size, but they have all kinds of things in there, and that is for the front. The back place has the good stuff.”
“Uh, flints?” I asked.
“Those and lots of things,” said Hans, “especially if they are made local. Not all of what they have has been used before.”
Hans paused, then said, “I saw some mould blocks the last time I was in there.”
“Are these already cut, or..?”
“I think that is what they were,” said Hans. “There was a small box full of brass pieces, and it looked to be decent brass.”
The shop soon showed – it was an obvious 'shop', with the usual overhanging second story and stouter-than-normal door – and as Hans pulled into the place's yard, the aura of 'dire poverty' seemed overwhelming, at least until we came to the door. I followed Hans inside, and there, I was stunned.
Not only did the place seem bigger than it was on the outside, but its floor-to-ceiling shelves were crammed full of more 'things' than I could believe existed – and, with very few exceptions, they seemed in good condition, if otherwise well-used.
Hans soon pointed out some of the exceptions, these being a tall stack of bent and wobbly tin plates. I wondered as to the price, and more, how many of them I could take. As I thought, however, I had a gnawing question at the back of my mind.
“Uh, I asked about scrap tin at the shop, and...”
“Yes, you asked about that stuff,” said Hans. “I suspect they weren't about to fetch it for you, either, now that I think about it.”
“Why?” I asked. “It's just tin, isn't it?”
“Yes, I know that,” said Hans. “You were talking of using it for something other than the common, too.”
“Is this why they just 'let me' go fetch the stuff, as if it's not 'normal' tin I need, but something that's 'special' in some way?” I asked.
I paused, hefted one of the plates, then asked, “did Hieronymus do things like that?”
“I think he did,” said Hans, “though with him, it was hard to say. That might be another thing that is troubling them, as you speak of things as if they were common, and they think them otherwise.”
“But they are common, aren't they?” I asked. “I need some tin, that hardening stuff you spoke of, and some, uh, copper scrap cut up fine, then a lead-pot with a cover, and overnight in the stove with a slow fire to make this bearing metal. I might need to weigh the ingredients out carefully and melt the tin first, as some of these plates have what looks like, uh, corrosion on them.”
“That sounds like chemistry to me,” said an unfamiliar voice, and when I looked in the direction whence it came, I was surprised to see a woman that resembled Anna's 'older sister'. She seemed to know Hans well, but when she looked at me, she said, “now I heard talk about a lead-pot with a cover. I just might have one in the back here, as well as some cleaned tin and those other things you spoke of.”
As I followed Hans back though the shelves, I wondered how far back they actually went. The building was about ten to twelve feet wider than the jeweler's shop, but after walking what seemed an age, we came to a counter at the rear. The woman went around it, and then into a cloth-covered doorway with Hans and I in tow. I saw what looked like a kitchen ahead in the usual arrangement, and as she paused at the stairs going down, I thought to ask about her house.
“Hans spoke of the back room,” I said.
“That's down here,” she said.
“H-how big is this place?” I asked.
“Bigger than it looks from the outside,” she said. “I'm glad I still have some relatives, as only three people still lived after those pigs finished with our town.”
“And she was one of those three,” said Hans, “so she lost her family, and inherited this place.”
At the bottom of the stairs, I was surprised yet more, for the upper portion's shelves seemed repeated for configuration and number, and as she led through the shelves, I wondered what next would show – at least, until she came to the end of the place.
There were two of those 'kilns', each with its iron-bound door and sacks of charcoal nearby, along with cylindrical 'ingots' of metal, some of which were obvious tin, and others, what appeared to be lead.
“Are those t-tin?” I asked.
“Yes, those are that stuff,” said Hans. “I think they've been melting a lot of plates recently so as to have that much.”
“About five month's worth,” she said, “and I'm glad my cousin lives upstairs with his family, as this place is a bit much for one person to look after.”
I thought to go exploring while Hans did his bargaining – he wasn't like Anna that way, thankfully – and within moments, I found a cast-iron container about six inches across and slightly less deep. The resemblance to a dutch oven was astonishing, and as I brought it out, I noted its overall finish: it was fairly close to that of cookware where I came from. I wished the machines at the shop were done as well.
“Now that is a good lead-pot there,” said Hans. “I think you might want that one, as those bearing things do not sound like they are bullets for casting.”
“Bearings?” asked the woman quizzically. “What are those?”
“Like those wooden things for holding grindstones,” said Hans, “only of metal. I hope his idea comes good, as that is a big grindstone, and those wooden things will not work with one that big.”
“Will, it, uh, smoke the bearings, and then get loose?” I asked.
“The common ones do not do that,” said Hans, “but that one is a lot bigger, so it might.”
“Uh, crash through the wall and run people over, and start fires wherever it goes?” I asked.
Hans looked at me, then shook his head, saying, “I am not certain that one would do all of that, but I think your making certain it works right is a good idea.”
I set the pot down, and resumed looking. I thought to head back to where I had found the pot, and to my surprise, I not only found a 'dipper', but also, another 'pot'. This one was about an inch smaller for diameter and about two inches less deep. I brought it back as well.
“Why is it you need two of those things?” asked Hans.
“That bearing metal doesn't much care for lead,” I said. “At least, I think it doesn't much care for lead. I'm not interested in learning the hard way about rolling thunder, thank you.”
“What is this about thunder?” asked Hans. “That stuff comes when there is lightning. Now how can it roll?”
“I do not want that wheel getting loose,” I said. “I can just see that thing come rumbling up the road and mashing someone, and if it takes three people lifting it, then...”
“I would be most careful with such a wheel,” said the woman. “It's bad enough when the common-sized ones escape.”
“They escape?” I asked.
“The smith's shop had one,” she said, “and I think they let it go too long, as it escaped from the shop while they were using it. I had to jump out of the way to avoid being hit when it tried for me.”
“Yes, and what happened next?” asked Hans.
“It decided to leap like a hare,” she said, “and it hit a buggy in the side. That buggy needed a long stay in the carpenter's shop before it was right again.”
“Uh, are there some brass blocks?” I asked.
“Those are back in the corner,” she said. “I've had no takers for them, and I have little idea as to their proper use.”
Upon examining some 'samples', however, I realized they were perfect for bullet moulds, as they were all neatly sized, and seemed square and flat. I offered to buy as many as she would sell, and she proved willing to sell them all.
Our trip back home seemed a bit slower than our way out, for some reason, and as I looked at the sullen gray skies, I wondered just how much longer it would be before the snow began. I then thought about what needed to happen regarding work.
“I wonder if I can use one or two of those small lanterns at the shop?” I asked
“I think you should, especially now,” said Hans. “The days are getting shorter in a hurry, and with what you need to do there, you might well need to stay there longer than the sun gives light.”
“That, and I only have to worry about me then,” I said. “That seems to be a bigger issue now than I thought it would be.”
My return saw the beginning of the lunch period, and as I resumed working, I thought to stop and look around carefully. I noted something strange at the rear of the shop. I went to look closer.
Not merely had the grindstone itself been brought in, but also a coil of thick and somewhat 'hairy-looking' rope. I felt the bristly rope, and as I turned, Georg came to me with what looked like a lump of rust in his hand, or so I thought at first. Another look showed it to be a pulley of some kind.
“Can you fix this?” he asked.
“Most likely,” I said. “What is it – a pulley?”
“It is,” he said, “but it's gone bad, and I think it never was that good. We'll need two of them for that grindstone once you get it ready to mount, and possibly one or more for the drop-hammer.”
“When you said 'turn' regarding those, did you mean by a crank, or by other means?” I asked.
“The only ones I have seen used cranks,” said Geog, “with one person turning it, and the other grinding.”
I shuddered, then said, “that drawing didn't have those details, did it?”
I then recalled that Georg had needed nearly a minute to decipher my drawing, even when it was done with care; he had spoken of a wagon wheel, and he had also spoken of his inability to 'figure matters out', even with lengthy pondering.
“Is your knowledge of those things limited to your experiences turning them for other people?” I asked.
To my utter surprise, Georg said, “it might not be quite that limited, but it is not much more. Not all shops have those things, and of those places that have them, the usual is to have only the most skilled people do the actual grinding.”
“Where you were trained?” I asked. “The close-man, and the two people that were most like him for temperament, and everyone else either cranked it or stayed clear?”
Georg shook his head nervously, and muttered something that sounded vaguely like an oath of some sort. I felt sufficiently bothered that I said, “would you like to learn how, once I get the thing set up? By the way, it won't use a crank, but a treadle, and it won't be hard to turn.”
“What is a treadle?” asked Georg.
“You've never seen that little thing I use to make drills and reamers, haven't you?” I asked. “It has one, and the grindstones like this where I came from had them also. Besides, those cranks on the side like that are dangerous.”
“How?” asked Georg. He seemed to be asking for everyone in the shop except myself. I wondered how he could not see the problem of a flailing handle just waiting to gore someone. Grinding wheels were dangerous enough without that problem.
“That handle is just waiting to get someone and hurt them,” I said. “I could just see myself walking by that thing when it's turning, and have it...”
The nervous looks that I got were such that I wondered again if I had spoken the smith's version of heresy, until Georg said, “I had to spend three days at home after that thing got me once. I think that had to do with why I wasn't allowed to do many of the things in that shop.”
“Were you hurt?” I gasped.
Georg nodded, then said, “that happened at least once to nearly all of the boys. One boy had it happen twice, and I think it got him good the second time, as he never came back. They thought it no loss.”
“And those who didn't get 'poked'?” I asked.
“There was only one,” said Georg, “and they seemed to treat him a lot better.”
I shook my head, and said, “an accident just waiting to happen. No thank you.”
I stayed after for a short time filing scrap copper until I had collected a small sack full of filings, and that evening after dinner, I weighed out the quantities needed for 'bearing metal' in the basement when I wasn't helping Hans with an extraction.
“What is this stuff here?” I asked, as I chopped up some peculiarly thin and knotted roots.
“That one goes to that stuff Anna uses for bad injuries like that man with the broken bone coming out of his leg,” said Hans. “That one was started by my grandfather, and I've improved his process a little since I got the good glassware.”
“How long does it soak?” I asked.
“Usually for five days, with gentle heating each day and cooling each night,” said Hans, “and then mixing the juice with some other things. I then evaporate the stuff to dryness by letting it set, weigh it, and then add the best aquavit I can find.”
Hans paused, then said, “I saw this odd thing that looks like a strange reamer on your workbench. What is it for?”
“I should be able to cut a bullet mould in the next few days,” I said, “and that 'reamer' is one of the tools I'll need. Before that, though, I'll need to get that grinding wheel set up. How are those mounted?”
“Those use hard lead, like what printers use,” said Hans, “and I have a sack of that stuff around here. I'll need to run more bullets sooner than I thought, as I thought I had more than I do.”
That evening, I tucked the covered pot in the stove along with a small lump of beeswax and a stub of a tallow candle, and then a moderately large load of wood around and on top of the pot. I pulled out a smaller pair of tongs and left them atop the stove to remind myself prior to going to bed.
In the morning, I removed the pot, and when I checked the contents, the silvery gleam of the stuff spoke volumes. I tossed another small lump of wax and clapped down the lid as the aroma of wax suffused the kitchen.
“Now I need to let that stuff cool,” I thought. “I'll need to make up the bearing boxes soon.”
'Soon' was rapidly approaching, for by that morning's 'guzzle', I was cutting up thick brass 'sheet' for the 'boxes' between forging stints on the shaft. I suspected I wanted the finished piece to cook for a while, and as I filed it, I sighted carefully along its surface. It needed to be smooth, flat, and as true as possible, and using one of the longer steel scales helped more than a little.
I knew I would need to fit a crank-arm to one end, and therefore, I filed a small square place. This latter was quite difficult, so much so that I knew the final finishing would need to wait for after hours, just like more and more of what I was doing.
It was also becoming more and more apparent that I needed to 'delegate' matters for the 'usual' things. I had no real idea how to do that beyond laying out 'examples' as had been volunteered for the first three knives.
“That might be wise,” said Georg when I spoke of the matter, “as the number of orders still is growing. If you mark the pieces oversize, then it might be helpful.”
“Oversize?” I asked. “How much oversize, and with what?”
“About the width of a finger, so you can use chalk,” said Georg. “That shows up well, it's cheap, and you've managed to get thinner lines than most do with that stuff.”
“I have to trim some anyway,” I thought, as I bowed to convention, “and at the least, it makes the pieces easier to handle. Maybe I can write instructions on some of the copper sheet, like 'anneal and quench after cutting'?”
By the end of the usual shop's day, such thinking had indeed born fruit: I had a small stack of ready-to-carburize billets and rough-filed brass fittings; I had sent out a sheet brass pattern to the carpenters for 'common-size knife handles'; I had drawn several rounds for saucepans and pots using chalk and string; and I was ready to begin the work that demanded real concentration.
I found two long pieces of thick brass 'bar' and cut grooves in them with a chisel, then mixed a thick paste of coarse black sand and tallow. I used up all of my clamps holding the two blocks together, then clamped them in a vise and began turning on the filed flats of the shaft with a wrench.
I turned the shaft several times, then removed it from the vise. When I took the clamps off, I noted a number of high spots on the shaft, as well as places in each groove, and I filed the one and chiseled the other. I then thought to tin the grooves.
Reassembly with more of the 'grinding paste' went rapidly once I had cooled the bars, and when I next checked the shaft, there were fewer high spots. The brass pieces needed no further attention, and once I'd wiped the shaft and added a little more of the paste, I resumed 'grinding'.
After several such 'cycles', I had a shaft that seemed fairly straight and round, and I put it in one of the forges heaped high with charcoal. Meanwhile, I began forging out the 'crank-arm', and here, I had an idea.
I used one of the pattern-welded billets, forged it such that it was bent like a hairpin, and then fetched two 'mandrels', one round and another square. I was going to try welding the piece with two openings.
The first one involved the round mandrel, and while the steel was still hot, I drove the thing out through the hole in the anvil. I was astonished more than a little that it actually worked, so much so that when I welded both sides of the square piece, I thought, “maybe I can do an ax. Why not try a small one?”
While the second forging cooked in the coals, I forged and filed a mandrel such that it was the oval shape I recalled for axes, and then I took a billet and forged it thinner and wider. I knew the 'ax' in question was going to be small enough to raise some eyebrows.
“I need to start somewhere,” I thought.
The result of the forging, however, was a slim-looking blade about two inches across, and as it sat in the coals, I brought over the 'oil' for quenching. I wasn't looking forward to the smoke that would result from a 'fat-quench', especially from a sizable piece like the shaft.
The smoke was worse than I'd expected, as it filled the shop full of choking eye-burning fumes from the grinding shaft alone, and only once it had partly cleared could I assay the other pieces. When I had smoked up the shop again, I staggered out of the front door, and was astonished at the steadily darkening sky. I could 'feel' rain about to come down, and I hurried home but minutes later once I'd loaded up the forge with the cooking containers and more charcoal.
I had the rag-wrapped 'crude-forged' ax-blade in my hand, and once home, I bathed hurriedly. I could tell something of a watery nature was going to come down out of the sky, and as I piled the side of the stove with firewood, Anna looked at me strangely.
“It's g-going to r-rain,” I said.
“Hans said that was likely,” said Anna. “What is this thing you brought home?”
“W-what thing?” I said.
Anna then showed me the 'ax' head. I had laid it still wrapped on the workbench.
“Uh, that's the first one,” I said. “I had to make this one piece for the grindstone, and it came out well, so I thought to try a small one. Is it, uh, passable?”
“It isn't done,” said Anna, “so I don't really know. This part looks fine, even if it isn't as smooth as some I've seen.”
“I didn't 'smooth it up', I said, “as it was an experiment. I might grind it smoother once the stone's running.”
The ax-head was a topic of discussion during the latter portion of dinner, as I had stoned it lightly overall and sharpened the edge to a modest degree before drawing the temper over a jeweler's lamp.
“Now this is a good head for a hatchet, if a bit small,” said Hans. “When did you do this?”
“This afternoon,” I said. “I was making another part, it came out better than I expected, and I did that one in something of a hurry as an experiment.”
“I can get a handle for this thing before this rest-day,” said Hans. “How big of one does it need?”
“I'm not certain,” I said. “The ones that looked like that where I came from” – I looked around at the 'plaster' and recalled the name for such material where I came from – “had handles about as long as my forearm, or perhaps a bit longer. They weren't quite as long as the one on the hatchet.”
“I think you might want one the same length as the hatchet had,” said Anna, “as I heard you working on that one. You were not using files, but stones.”
“Yes, and why is that?” asked Hans. “Was it too hard for the files?”
“I tried one,” I said, “and no, it didn't bite much. Given I used the same material as I did for the crank-arm and quenched in, uh, oil, I'm not surprised.”
“Why is it you are not surprised?” asked Hans.
“That was the common stuff out back,” I said. “It wasn't one of the better grades of metal, even if I had 'processed' it like usually.”
“What is this crank-arm?” asked Hans a minute or so later. “Is it for that wheel?”
I nodded, then said, “I plan on setting it up like that lathe. Those cranks like that are dangerous.”
Anna nodded, then said, “they might not be as dangerous as some things in a smith's shop, but I've set more than one broken arm because of carelessness around grindstones.”
“Apprentices?” I asked.
“Two were apprentices, and one was a grown man,” said Anna.
“Are you certain it was carelessness,” I asked, “or was it just described that way?”
“I never thought about it,” said Anna. “I just set the bone and told them what to do, like I usually do.”
“I think you might be right, though,” said Hans. “I didn't know about grinding wheels escaping until Maria spoke of one trying for her, even if I knew about those cranks being trouble that way.”
“How long are these cranks?” I asked.
“About as long as that hatchet handle, so you can turn them with both hands,” said Hans. “My grandfather taught me how to do those, which was to only touch them when they were not turning, and the same for turning loose.”
“They don't do that in smith's shops,” said Anna. “They put those boys on them by turns so as to keep those wheels turning their fastest.”
“I'd best put a freewheel in, then,” I said. “I can just see someone's knee getting busted by that treadle.”
I had read about the hazards of 'old-tyme machining', but now I was having to actually deal with them; this work was amply hazardous, even with mechanisms hidden 'behind closed doors' and with knowledgeable people doing it, and with the people at the shop the way they were, it was...
“Is that why?” I squeaked. “They didn't have this stuff before, because it was too dangerous to use?”
“I doubt that,” said Anna. “Talk has it they knew but little, and what they knew was mostly false.”
“Uh, like with the furnace?” I asked.
“That is not the only area where they do not know much,” said Hans. “They know what they know, rubbish and all, and that is what they know.”
I had bearing boxes to do after dinner, and once the four of them were soaking in vinegar, I thought to run more 'thimbles'. The previous small batch had 'gone missing', and when I was in need of a break, I thought to ask Hans about them.
“Those I sent to Korn,” he said, “as they make those he had look to be scrap. I think you should make more of them.”
“Y-yes, as I need some for my own use,” I said. “I'm going to need to get going on musket-barrels as soon as I can, and that needs to have all of the new equipment running first, including some that hasn't shown yet.” I paused, then asked, “do you know anything about those?”
“They are not commonly done up here,” said Hans. “Beyond that, I am not sure. I can ask some people and find out. Why, do you need to make one?”
“At least two or three,” I thought. “I was surprised those mandrels came out as readily as they did.”
“That is good, then,” said Hans. “I finally got that sand I spoke of, and it is washed good, so it should not cause trouble for you when you cook that stuff.”
“Washed?” I asked.
“That is what masons do with their sand,” said Hans. “It tends to stick together good otherwise, and that is not what is wanted for mortar. Then, I found this old pie pan for the stuff.”
I fetched the distillate that I had used for cleaning the lathe's parts, and set up the 'sand bath' under the fume hood. Once I had lit one of the jeweler's lamps and moved it under the pan, I turned it down as low as possible, and put the pan I had used for cooking the last batch on the sand. I nestled it down as well as I could, and then poured the distillate in the main pan.
“And now for a piece of candle,” I thought, as I began looking for a tallow candle stub.
The stuff began fuming gently within minutes, and I stirred it carefully. Even with over a week's sitting, the stench was still appalling, and once the 'bubbles' started, I began stirring faster. I thought to turn off the lamp.
I blew the thing out, and fished it out, even as the fumes began to slowly dissipate, and when I looked at the stuff, it had again darkened. I touched an awl to its surface, and then rubbed the stuff between my fingers. It was 'oily', but not tormenting.
“That stuff looks a bit like Waal oil,” said Hans. “What is it like?”
I handed him the awl, then said as I resumed stirring, “feel it. It feels really oily, and I would bet this stuff would work good for keeping rust off off of tools.” A brief pause, then “and if there was some way to confine those fumes and condense them down, I'd feel a lot better.”
However, as I was ready to jug the stuff, I noticed that one vial of uncorking medicine, and I thought to add some. To my astonishment, it seemed to mingle and then dissolve in the hot 'oil'.
“H-Hans,” I gasped. “I mixed some uncorking medicine in this, and it dissolved.”
“How is that?” asked Hans. “That normally makes a mess.”
“W-watch,” I said, as I dropped in more with my awl. “I think if you do it when it's hot, and only add a little at a time, it seems to work.”
“Yes, it does do that,” said Hans, as he watched me stir the liquid rapidly. “Now you will want to filter that in a clean rag, as I can see some stuff in there, and it does not look good.”
The clean oil – it now looked like motor oil where I came from, and felt oilier yet – went in two of the larger vials, and the rag was kneaded with another to make two 'less-smelly' tallow rags. I left one with Hans, as I suspected he could use it.
“Good,” I thought. “I was just about out of that stuff. I wonder if I can make a 'still' for it?”
I went upstairs shortly thereafter, and worked on thimbles until bedtime. My latest rag seemed to be the best deep-drawing lubricant yet – it worked better than tallow – and after running the one batch and starting on another, I thought to check the finished batch.
“These are better than the first ones,” I spluttered. “Why?” There was no answer beyond the obvious one of a new lubricant.
After 'bagging' the batch of finished thimbles, I went to the privy, and once out, I found Anna yawning as she lit a wax candle for the table.
“Your blanket came today,” she said, “and I was able to get a new pillow for you. You should be more comfortable now.”
The blanket was astonishing in both its color – it varied from green, to brown, to gray – and also, its thickness, that being nearly half an inch thick, while the pillow was easily twice the dimensions of the former, and also much 'fluffier', so much so that I fell asleep with astonishing quickness.
The new bedding seemed to help at work, also, for I was able to concentrate somewhat better during the normal shop's day, and between working on the 'usual' things for which we had orders, the slip-roller, and the grinding wheel, I was quietly focused on my work. I still had to answer a lot of questions, especially about the pulley I had dismantled.
“What was wrong with it?” asked one of the boys. “I thought you could fix it.”
“It was not merely very rusty,” I said calmly, “but it wasn't made terribly well to start with, and it was badly worn. Besides, it looked a bit small for that rope and that grindstone, so I'm making the ones I'm making about half again as big.”
I paused, then said, “I take it I need to finish the two of these before we can put the shaft in the grindstone. Do we?”
“No, we don't need that,” said Georg. “not for the shaft, anyway. I can go round up some people, and we can put it up so you can pour the lead.”
That didn't happen until after an unusually long lunch which I had finished half-way through so as to resume work. I knew my one lead-pot wasn't nearly big enough, and only by borrowing Hans' could I get enough volume. Once I had both of them heating in a forge, I wondered as to what would be used to support the wheel. I would need access to both sides, as well as its periphery.
I soon learned I would also have to do all of the thinking, as the extent of Georg's knowledge was limited beyond the actions implied in the statement 'get more people'. He could manage that well enough, if not much more. I did not envy him his task.
I found that as part of the thinking, I had to not merely arrange the barrels, but also tell everyone what to do, much as if they were small and somewhat stupid children with a penchant for clumsiness and an abiding tendency to be unaware of everything except the wheel and its massive heft.
As I wheedled, cajoled, and nearly burned myself on the nearest forge trying to keep the scuffling men from hurting themselves and each other, I felt as if the resulting mess was all my fault. Faintly in the background, I could hear a droning singsong cadence – it sounded like chanting – as well as harsh roared commands and the cracking of a multitude of whips. Over all of this horror was the sound of a multitude hoarsely screaming as if in the fires of hell, and my ears strained to hear the gunfire that I knew would come soon.
Once the others had gone – everyone in the shop other than myself was exhausted, and had wobbled out of the door in the direction of the Public House – I learned that my work had just begun. I was a nervous wreck, and as I sat down on a stool to think about the next part and try to calm down, Hans came in the door.
“Now what happened to all of them?” he asked.
“That wheel,” I said, as I pointed to it. “It was awful, Hans.”
“Why, did you have to lift it?” he asked.
“No, they did,” I said. “There was no way I could have lifted it, as I had to move around and keep those people from knocking the barrels over and getting lit on fire – and that was when they were doing good!”
“That sounds about right for them,” said Hans. “Did you have to treat them like small children?”
“Y-yes,” I sobbed. “They seemed to lose all of the smarts they had. I had to do all of the thinking, then order them around as if I was a...”
“Yes, you had to tell them what to do like something,” said Hans. “What was this something?”
“No! I don't want to be a witch!” I shrieked.
“I wish I could say that for those people,” muttered Anna as she came in the door with a dirty cloth sack. “They all are working on getting pickled, and this time, it isn't just the people from the shop.”
“Why?” I gasped. “I know that thing was heavy, but what... Was it how I was acting?”
“I doubt that,” said Anna, “as I stopped and watched the whole thing, almost. I was on the way to the greengrocers then, and I saw how they were, and I saw how you were.”
“How was I?” I asked.
“I would have thumped those people with a pole had they behaved that way with me,” said Anna, “and I would have started with Georg. The nerve of him, expecting you to do all of the work like that.”
“But I was not lifting the thing,” I said. “There wasn't room for me.”
“I saw what you were doing,” said Anna. “You had to keep Dirk out of the forges, and then lift up that barrel when Johannes kicked it over, and then keep the apprentices from getting crushed, and keeping them all from tripping over their own feet, and tell each person what to do as if they had no brains in their heads, and that for the whole time.”
Here, Anna paused, then said, “and now you look as if ready for a rest-house. Here, let me get you something to drink.”
After a mug-full of cider, I felt better, and I began to think about how to put the rod in and hold it upright. My thinking was to get a wooden piece for the bottom of the hole, make a hole for the axle, wire it in place, and then use a piece of wood for the other side. I then began looking for the axle.
“Where did it go?” I asked.
“Where did what go?” asked Anna. “I think your pots are about ready for the lead, as they seem to be smoking a little.”
“The axle,” I asked. “I need to get a piece of w-wood...”
“Close, but no Geneva,” said Hans as he came in the shop from the rear. “Wood will catch fire with a big one like this. I think I found something that looks likely here, as it has a hole and some old lead on it.”
“Where did you find it?” I asked.
“It was back near where that big thing had been sitting,” said Hans. “I also found some other things there, but they are all rust.”
“What other things?” I asked.
“I think they were the metal parts to this thing,” said Hans, “and they looked bad. This part was brass, so it was still good.”
“I'd better check them, then,” I said, “as I might have done this stuff wrongly.”
“I would not bother,” said Hans. “This piece here is almost a finger-width's thicker than this hole, and I know your work is better than that rubbish back there.”
Anna came over to look at the axle, then said, “Hans, it isn't just that. Look at how smooth and straight that one is.”
“Yes, I saw that,” said Hans. “That one back there was bent like a snake.”
I used one of my saws to enlarge the hole, then filed it for a close fit and wired it in place. I began looking around for a stick, until Hans came with the 'crank arm'.
“Just put this one in place, and block it up with firebricks,” he said.
“Hans, I have to make certain it's centered,” I said, or that wheel will hop all over the place when it turns.”
Hans looked at me, shook his head, then said, “no, just fetch the bolt for this one. It will be fine unless you turn it fast.”
“Hans, that is a much bigger wheel than your grandfather had,” said Anna, “and I asked about those today. The greengrocer said the bigger they were the better they had to be done, as he said those big ones like that cause trouble.”
“Yes, and what did they do?”
“He'd heard this of a friend who'd gone down in the fifth kingdom house once,” said Anna, “and he spoke of grindstones escaping now and then.”
“Did they mash people?” I asked.
“That, crash through walls, and start fires,” said Anna. “The axle-blocks were especially bad for that, as they turn them fast and stint the grease.”
“Do they make them out of w-wood?” I squeaked.
“I am not sure what they make them out of,” said Anna. “I know what he said, and I think you're right in wanting to be careful with that one.”
After getting the piece in question 'wired in place, and 'luting' the brass piece with clay, I put it in from the bottom. Hans took hold of it, while Anna tied the shaft in place with wire. I then had to get it as close to center as I could.
While I did so, I could hear Hans and Anna putting the lead in the two pots, then stirring, all the while speaking of the heat of the forge.
“Is it important to stir that lead?” I asked.
“Yes, so you get that gray sandy stuff off of it,” said Hans. “I put a bit more of that hardening metal in each of these, so that lead will be a bit harder than the usual for printer's lead. I think Anna is right, as I'm only now seeing how big that one is.”
“Uh, nearly twice the diameter, and twice the thickness of what you recall?” I asked.
“It is not quite that big,” said Hans, “but it is closer to that than what I thought it was.”
“Hans, I think he's actually right,” said Anna. “The one your grandfather had was used when he got it, so it was smaller than usual for a smith's shop.”
Once I had gotten the axle 'centered' – I felt inclined to pray, which I did silently – I went to the forge. There, the dipper was being used to stir the two pots.
“No, I'll need to use tongs,” I said, “and I'll need to do this myself, so neither of you get hurt, hopefully. I just hope it doesn't leak from where I put that clay.” I then fetched the tongs.
The first lead-pot poured well, and it took most of the second pot's contents to fill the 'socket' and hopefully clinch the stone to the shaft. I just hoped the thing wouldn't be too out of balance.
“Now where is it I can pour this lead?” asked Hans.
“Uh, in this dish,” I asked. “Why, is it a bad idea to leave it in a lead-pot?”
“Yes, if you plan on casting bullets later,” said Hans. “You do not want hard lead for those things, as that stuff does not work in a musket.”
“At least that is done,” I muttered. “Now I need to do the bearing boxes, and then work on that one rivet swage, and some tongs...”
“This one is as bad as anything,” said Hans. “Anna has gone home, and I will go once these lead-pots are cool enough to take them.”
“Which one is bad?” I asked.
Hans showed me the remains of the pulley, and I said, “and three copies of that pulley, though those are going to need lathe time, as will both pair of tongs.”
“Are those to have bolts?” asked Hans.
“Those especially,” I said. “Both crucible tongs, and mould tongs, and then the axles for the pulleys – oh, and pins for a swage, too. Those other things will need to wait until I get this stuff put right.”
I then realized what day it was – Friday – and said, “is that why they're all in the Public House?”
“Not this early,” said Hans. “Normally, they would go there about two hours from now. If you have stuff that needs doing at home, you might want to come home with me, as that will be better.”
The nature of much of what I needed to do was such that I realized Hans was right, and after gathering up the pieces I had worked on in a cloth bag – it was a big bag, and only as I filled it did I realize how much 'homework' I actually had – I followed him home. I thought I looked like an uncommonly filthy tramp, and only after I had bathed and put my clothing to soak did I actually 'calm down' the rest of the way.
Other than times with Hans gathering wood, helping with skinning a deer he'd shot, church, and helping with the ongoing work in the basement now and then, I worked on tools for the shop. By Monday morning, I had poured the four bearing boxes, made several more, fitted the bullet-tongs and cut a pair of mould blocks partly, finished soft-fitting that one customer's gunlock, and turned, threaded, and lapped three pulley axles.
Hans had not had a chance to get the 'ax' fitted – the carpenters had skipped out early due to 'too much grindstone' – and when one of them came in with both 'ax-head' and an obvious handle blank, he said, “what gives with this ax?”
“That one was an experiment,” I said. “I know it's a bit small, but I had never done one before, and I'd just done another part for that grindstone that said I might be able to make one. Why, is it bad?”
“Other than maybe needing a little time on the grindstone,” he said, “and its size, it's the best one I've seen.”
He paused for a moment, then said, “on second thought, its size is mostly a problem for using it to cut timber. It's about right for wood-gathering, especially if one is traveling. Now how do you want this handle?”
“Didn't Hans speak of it?” I asked.
“Yes, and he first said it needed to be as long as your arm,” said the carpenter. “Your arms tend to be a bit longer than the usual, and I wasn't certain if he meant the part nearest your hands, or the whole arm. Then, when I asked more questions, he said to make it the usual length for hatchets. I knew then he should stick to chemistry.”
“Uh, why?” I asked, even as I had an impression.
“He doesn't do much wood-cutting, does he?” said the carpenter. “I've heard you cut the stove-wood to size more often than either of them.”
“I might at that,” I said. “Try sixteen inches from the bottom of the head to the butt, and shape it like, uh, this.” Here, I drew a graceful curve on a slate and handed it to him. “Use what is common for ax-handles, and if you need your spokeshaves stoned, bring them in. I should be able to, uh, fit it to the head passably.”
“I don't know what you did to those things, but they've still sharper than usually,” he said.
“I'm not sure whose of those I cooked,” I said, “but there was one bit that was softer than the others, and I put that one in to cook for a while before I sharpened it.”
“That must be the spare,” he said. “You cooked it? How? Anna has spoken of your cooking, and how bad it is.”
“Food, yes, I'll agree,” I said. “I put it in one of these containers we have with powdered charcoal and let it set for part of the day, then quenched it. It actually took a good edge after I did that.”
I was even more surprised when he came back less than an hour later with both handle and slate. I tried fitting it into the head, and noted that the handle was still a trifle oversize. Otherwise, it was as I had drawn.
“That shape isn't the easiest to do, but I tried swinging it,” he said, “and when you do more axes, I think I'll cut the handles to that shape.”
“I'm not certain when I'll be able to do more of them,” I said. “I'm really buried in work right now, and until I get this stuff done, I have no spare time.”
In the days that followed, however, I seemed to have spoken too soon, for my hard work of the previous week seemed to pay off spectacularly. The bearing boxes fitted readily with but little scraping and shimming; the pulleys went together quickly, and worked extremely well; the foot-treadle was less troubling than I thought it would be, even without a freewheel; and the grindstone turned very freely.
The grindstone's chief problem, however, was one needed to either have an unusual build, or have a helper pump the thing, as the treadle was outside the frame of the wheel.
“At least this one isn't particularly dangerous,” said Georg, “though it takes getting use to regarding turning the thing.”
“I may have a solution for the future,” I said, “but at least, it's usable now. I should have that slip-roller together soon.”
I paused, then asked, “the door to the, uh, oven?” I asked.
“They had to mix more mud for those bricks,” said Georg, “as we used up all they had, and the weather is such that they've had trouble getting to where the mud is found. That rain we had recently didn't help.”
“When did we have rain?” I asked.
“A few nights ago,” said Georg. “I think it was saving the stuff up, as it woke me up when it started coming down, and I was afraid for the stove.”
“Uh, why?” I asked. “Leaky stovepipe?”
“No, it was coming down into the stove,” said Georg, “and it sounded like a big and angry snake.”
In the succeeding days, I began putting the slip-roller back together, and here, I had the first problems: not only were the pins very rough for the rollers, but they were also out of round and off-center. I had to true them up with files, then 'lap' them such that they were round. The results, while much better, made for nearly an eighth of an inch clearance, and I thought to try my idea of 'strip' bearings.
Those proved to not merely be easy to fit, but also easy to make, and I suspected that they would work well for the remaining shafts. I also had to answer more questions.
“I never heard of tinning brass pieces like that,” said Johannes as he turned the roller with a wrench, “but now it turns easily. Why did you tin them?”
“That was this special bearing alloy I made using tin, this hardening metal, and copper filings,” I said, “and I read about it years ago. Those will turn more readily as they break in.”
“That grindstone already does,” said Gelbhaar, “and you were right about that treadle. Even one of the boys can get that thing going fast enough to scare me, and I'm glad you grease that thing every day. Why is it you have those rags tied over those boxes?”
“Because I don't have the oil cups made yet,” I said, “and while I do use that fourth kingdom grease, I thin it out some with the latest batch of distillate I boiled. It makes it easier to dispense that way, as with that grease, I either need to make a special tool, or I need to take the bearing boxes apart to grease them.”
“I thought you did that,” said Johannes. “Supposedly, that is what is usually done with grindstones, or so I heard recently.”
“Wooden b-bearings?” I asked. There was no answer, at least at the shop. All I had to go by was my recollection of what I had heard and my concerns over the huge wheel escaping to run amok.
Fitting the ax-head took but a short amount of time whittling and then inserting a carefully filed brass wedge. I followed this with a short grinding session at the wheel, where I alternately pumped and ground on the edge. The inertia of the huge wheel was tremendous, so much so that alternating like I did actually worked, and once I had 'cleaned up' the head, I felt able to sharpen it fully and stone it slightly smoother once home, which I did.
At dinner, Hans announced he was ready to run bullets, and after cleaning the mess – I still took the plates to the counter for Anna, though she insisted on washing them herself – I went down with the tongs and the mould. My 'lead pot' was already downstairs, or so I thought.
Not only was my lead-pot downstairs, but it had been 'set up' on firebricks under the fume hood next to Hans'.
“I did not want the stuff heating until we were down here,” said Hans, as he began spooning charcoal under his pot, “so now, we are down here, and I can start these things.”
“Charcoal?” I asked.
“I do not have a forge here,” said Hans, “so I must make do with bricks and charcoal like this. I have some distillate that I set out to dry, though I am wondering about trying that sand-bath thing.”
“Distillate?” I asked.
“Yes, to get the charcoal lit,” said Hans.
“No aquavit?” I asked.
“I need to make a trip over to Paul's soon so as to get more,” said Hans. “The roads are soft enough that they have trouble hauling the usual amounts of hay in that wagon, so they must use buggies now. They will need sleds when the snow comes.”
“Sleds?” I asked.
“Yes, these wooden things with copper runners on the bottom,” said Hans. “Willem has an old one. It might not hold much for weight, but when the snow is down, it works better than a buggy, and the horses manage easy. I've heard it goes almost as fast as our buggy does when it has uncorking medicine.”
Hans paused, then said, “I have no idea what you did with that tallow, but that buggy is still quiet and rolling smooth. I have only had to dose it twice since.”
“Uh, you saw what I did,” I said. “Beyond that, I have no good explanation, even if I have something that might work well for dosing.”
Hans had finished 'stoking' his lead-pot, and was now loading up mine. I hoped we would still have our hair when he lit off the charcoal.
“Yes, and what is that?” asked Hans. He was finishing the charcoal, and was putting away a black-stained cloth bag.
“That distillate I cooked with some of that fourth kingdom grease,” I said. “I made up a little so as to dose that grindstone, and I'll need to make up more of it once I make the oil cups.”
Hans now had a small cup and a dropping tube, and after he had dosed the charcoal, I thought to take cover.
“Here, why don't you try lighting this stuff,” he said. “You need to practice that some.”
“And get blown up?” I gasped.
“That should not be so much trouble,” said Hans. “That is not fresh stuff, so it should not try to raise the roof.”
I brought out my flint and steel with misgivings, and Hans showed me how to 'strike a light'. One held the steel in one's 'slow' hand, and used the 'fast' hand to flick the flint across it. It took me a few tries to get anything remotely resembling a spark.
“See, I thought so,” said Hans. “You need to practice that a lot, as matches are not common up this way.”
“There are matches?” I screeched.
“Yes, down in the fifth kingdom,” said Hans. “They should be called trouble, as they shoot flaming stuff when they light, and sometimes they explode.”
“Uh, do all of them do that, or just some of them?” I asked, as I flicked another feeble spark into the air to vanish within inches.
“I have only seen them twice,” said Hans, “and both times, they were trouble. The forth kingdom market has these strange things that are like candles made of metal, but those are even less common than matches in that place.”
“And the next time you see one of those things,” said Anna as she came down the stairs, “I hope we have enough to buy one. They make...”
Anna stopped in mid sentence, and yelled, “no! You will blow the house up!”
“Now how is that to happen?” asked Hans. “I dried that stuff for over a week.”
“You did?” asked Anna. “I could smell distillate, I saw those pots, and I thought you'd used stuff straight from the jug.”
Anna paused, then said, “and why you want him practicing like that is a mystery.”
“W-why?” I asked. “This is how things get lit, don't they?”
“Yes, if you do not have candles handy,” said Anna. “There are lots of those down here.”
I then shot a spark that flew half-way across the basement, and nearly dropped my flint in surprise.
“What was that?” asked Anna.
“I think he might be ready for lighting those things,” said Hans, “as that was the first good one I have seen. The others would have had trouble lighting priming powder, they were so weak.”
I thought to try again, just to be certain, and this time, the flaring spark shot just over Anna's head. She ducked involuntarily, then said, “I want to keep my hair, thank you. Aim those things at those places over there.”
While I had somehow 'achieved ignition', my aim was still none too good, and it took three tries to light Hans' fire. The huge billow of red flame nearly singed my hair, even if it did not erupt with explosive violence, and when I thought to try again, I noted my fire was burning fiercely also.
Thankfully, the flames died down quickly to comparatively feeble reddish tongues of flame, and within moments, those fires were out and the charcoal was lit.
As the lead-pots heated – Hans said they needed to give off their smoke before adding the lead and tin – I thought to examine my bullet mould to make certain it was indeed ready to try. As I smoked the pieces over a candle flame, I heard Hans putting pieces of metal in each pot, then steps came closer.
“What gives with all of those pieces to that thing?” asked Hans.
“This is for the hollow base,” I said, as I showed him the pin, “and this part here is the sprue cutter. I have this mallet here to knock it aside. The other pieces are the tongs, which detach, and the mould blocks themselves, along with their alignment pins. This one came out fairly well, and I hope its bullets work well also.”
Hans seemed uncommonly impressed, so much so that he said, “I found some more printer's lead, in case you must mount more grindstones.”
“What did your grandfather have one for?” I asked.
“He sharpened tools during the winter,” said Hans.
“That big one seems a bit coarse for that,” I asked. “What did he sharpen?”
“Plow points,” said Hans. “That, and smoothing them after they'd had more metal put on them. Those things need touching up a lot, especially if the field is new and has a lot of rocks. Most of them around our house had a lot of rocks and old metal in them, so he had a lot of work over the winter.”
“The lead?” I asked.
“That stuff took some doing to get more of,” said Hans, “as someone got the rest of what she had the day after we got some. Most Mercantiles will only sell one or two of those things to each person that tries to buy, as they are speaking of it being scarce.”
“And that one store?” I asked.
“They get lead scrap,” said Hans. “A lot of people do not use their cut-off pieces, as they think they are bad, and so they save them up and sell them to tinkers or second-hand stores.”
“I always remelted those,” I said.
“A lot of people do, but some do not,” said Hans. “Most people run bullets during the beginning of the winter, so we might try again during Festival Week. She's likely to have more of the stuff then.”
While I had thought Hans bullet mould to be past due for retirement, he seemed 'oblivious' to its worn and battered condition. When he dropped his first few bullets, I thought myself vindicated, but when he dropped his next one, I was stunned.
“Ah, it is has warmed up,” he said, as he filled his mould again with my dipper. “Once that one cools, we can cut the top off.”
“How?” I asked.
“With this old chisel my grandfather worked on,” said Hans. “He had to grind it for a while so as to get the shape right.”
The chisel in question seemed ancient, with a rust-tinged 'patina' of age and what might have been grime over the whole of its surface. The patina was much less marked near the edge, where it had been ground carefully on one side for a distance of nearly two inches. The other side had a 'typical' chisel cut, which was a good deal more obtuse than I liked. My chisels had a more acute angle.
Hans demonstrated once he had run a few more bullets. He said his mould needed to cool a bit every dozen or so, and the increasing 'frosting' of the dropped bullets spoke of that being likely.
As he cut the sprue off of the first 'good' one, I asked, “where did you get that mould, and why aren't they matched to the gun in question?”
“I got that one at an estate sale,” said Hans, “and it might be an old thing, but it was better than many others I saw then. Then, muskets seem to be of two sizes, at least for most of them. The smaller is more common up here, as lead tends to be hard to get.”
“Now?” I asked.
“Now is worse than usual,” said Hans. “Then, there is the bigger musket, like what Paul has for swine. He uses that one seldom, and uses his usual one more.”
Here, Hans paused, as he finished the sprues. He put them in a tray, and dumped them back in his lead-pot before speaking.
“Then, there are ones made specially for elk and things like them, and those vary some for size,” said Hans. “I had one once, but I sold it after I'd shot it a few times.”
“It wasn't very good?” I asked. I wasn't certain if this was the 'roer' Anna had spoken of.
“It worked good,” said Hans, “and it carried good too, as I only missed twice out of eight shots with it.”
Hans paused again, and said, “and every time I hit something, the game was not the only thing on the ground. I was too, and I was really sore.”
I thought to try the chiseling the next time, but as Hans resumed running bullets, he said, “I think your lead is ready. Why don't you try that thing after I put some more charcoal under the pots here.”
The first two bullets I cast were wasters, which did not surprise me; I recalled that as being normal from years ago. When I dropped the third one – it was a bit more involved than Hans', and the flying sprue got his attention when it fell into the lead-pot with a splash – Hans was agog.
“What is that thing there?” he asked.
“A bullet,” I said, as I closed the mould and found the dipper.
“It looks a lot better than any I've ever seen,” said Hans, “even if it looks strange.”
After dropping another few of the hefty slugs, Hans said, “now you might want to make a mould for balls, too, especially as yours lets you change blocks easy.” He paused for a moment, then said, “now how do those things load?”
“First, one smears the grease grooves” – here, I pointed as I moved the latest sprue into the pot with an old spoon – “with a mixture of tallow, beeswax, blacking, and, uh, uncorking medicine. Then, one slips the thing in the barrel base-side down.”
An instant later, however, I thought, “why did I speak of the bullet lubricant that way?”
“What, no patch?” asked Hans.
“This type doesn't need them,” I said. “The bullets go in a wooden block with bored holes, and then one uses a special short ramrod to start them down the barrel. The regular one is used for the rest of the way.”
I paused, then said, “the bullets will weigh more, shoot further, and cause much more damage when they hit.”
“You do not say,” said Hans with evident interest. “Those northern people sometimes wear sheet iron, and if those are like you say, it might well make holes in that stuff. I wonder if that idea would work in those guns Willem has?”
“I'm not certain,” I said. “That type of bullet only works well in rifled weapons, and I'm not certain if his guns are. What are those like?”
Hans took a slate and drew what resembled a Civil War cannon – with slightly smaller wheels, a much longer barrel with a straight taper, and a cylindrical portion for the rear of the gun. The barrel spoke of a need to achieve a high muzzle velocity, and Willem's description of a charging Iron Pig spoke of why one wanted maximum 'punch'. An animal that could absorb two solid close-range hits from artillery and still advance spoke of uncommon determination and a vitality that would not be denied.
“Those take the friction igniters?” I asked.
“Yes, and I am about ready to make a batch of them up,” said Hans. “I have almost all of them cleaned good, and I have most of the chemicals. Then, there are the jugs.”
“Jugs?” I gasped. “Are these like what Paul tossed?”
“That is one type,” said Hans. “There are others, and my grandfather taught me about those. I combined the two for traps, and those work good for swine and witches, if you string them up right.”
“How well do those friction-igniters keep?” I asked.
“That is trouble with those,” said Hans. “They go bad from dampness if they are not used. I have to make fresh ones every month or two during the swine-season, so the cannon-shooters know they will work.”
“What about dipping them in the wax from those candles I have,” I asked. “That might help them keep better.”
“I think I will try that,” said Hans. “If it seals them better, they should work longer, and maybe work better, too. Even if they are fresh, there still are some bad ones.”
After I had cast another dozen or so slugs, I thought to 'chisel' the balls Hans was turning out. I noticed that he had some 'wasters' among his supposed good ones, and was going to point them out when he began carefully checking them. I wondered why what was in his bag was so 'bad' when he said, “I will be glad to use up those bought balls I have left, as those were not very good.”
“Bought?” I asked.
“Not everyone casts their own lead,” said Hans. “Some people are afraid to try it, so they buy their stuff ready-done. It costs a lot more, and the balls are commonly not as good.”
“And those?” I asked.
“I got them in trade from someone a while back, and I had not had time to do this earlier in the year.”
Hans then noticed the slugs again, as well as the mould itself. It had become a nice brownish color, such that the venting grooves showed better.
“What gives with those grooves like that?” he asked.
“Those help the bullets fill out better,” I said. “With yours, I doubt it needs them, as it doesn't seem to fit as closely. I could try making more tongs and moulds once I get caught up at work.”
By the end of our 'lead session', Hans had cast nearly a hundred bullets, and I had managed perhaps forty. I thought to weigh the bullets on Hans' scale, and to my surprise – and his – the bullets I had cast weighed nearly twice as much as his.
“These things here are nearly fourteen marks,” said Hans as he held one of the gleaming slugs, “and these balls are about seven and a quarter, or a third of an ounce.”
“Grains?” I asked. I recalled that being the usual bullet weight-unit where I came from.
“These balls weigh about a hundred and fifty of those,” said Hans, “and those things you have there almost three hundred.” Hans paused, then said, “I'd like to see you load up one of those things.”
'Loading up' a musket with one of the shiny lead slugs was something of a quandary, and I used the old spoon over a candle to melt beeswax, tallow, a touch of blacking, and three drops of uncorking medicine. I stirred the resulting 'mess' with a small brass rod, and once it had hardened, it had Hans looking at it.
“That is a mess,” he said. “Now how will it work on those bullets?”
I thought to touch it, and to my surprise, it felt tacky. I thought to move my fingers together, and nearly yelled.
“Hans, this stuff is so infernally slippery I have no idea what it is,” I squeaked.
Hans then felt it, and began muttering, much as if he'd had lessons from Anna on how to sound disgruntled – or so I thought until he said, “yes, that is so. I think you might want to make up more of that stuff.”
However, when I stuffed the greased bullet in the bore, Hans resumed muttering, until he yelled for Anna to come. I wanted to hide, and when she came running, she said, “now what is it?”
“Remember when you spoke of bullets that looked like hard cheeses, and how you had no idea how they went in the gun?”
“Yes, I remember that,” said Anna, “and...”
Anna picked up a bullet, then looked at it with huge eyes.
“No, dear,” I thought. “It isn't the magic pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in Eire.”
“He made that mould there,” said Hans, “and it makes those things like you have in your hand. I thought they went in pointed-end first, and they don't go that way.”
“How do they go?” asked Anna.
“The end with the hole goes in first,” said Hans. “There, the flat end. That goes in first. Then, no patch.”
“I had no idea it was possible to make something like this,” said Anna, “and I thought the only type of bullet that went in guns was a ball. Do these fit?”
“Yes, and tight, too,” said Hans. “Then, they use that grease there.”
“Where did you get fifth kingdom axle grease?” asked Anna.
“That is not what that stuff is,” said Hans. “It has tallow, some of that wax candle stuff, a little blacking, and a few drops of uncorking medicine, and it is slippery as anything.”
Anna felt the grease, then nearly squealed. I thought she would steal the spoon, if I went by her eyes.
“This is just the thing for sticking drawers,” she said, “that, and regular buggies.”
Anna then looked at me, the bullets, and then the spoon all in turn, and said, “now why did you make bullets like this?”
“Firstly, I've made them like that before,” I said, “and balls aren't the easiest thing to make if you want them perfectly round. Then, I read of weapons firing bullets like this.”
“Yes, and what were those like?” asked Hans.
“Trouble wasn't half of what they were,” I said. “The bullets were so destructive that if they hit an arm or leg, they had to cut it off to have a chance of saving the person's life, and if the bullets hit solid anywhere else, the person usually died. They made balls, even bigger ones than what the cannibals use, seem worthless for killing.”
“How far away were they?” asked Hans.
“Twice the distance of the longest shot I've seen either of you take,” I said, “and those bullets were nasty at that range.”
I paused, then said, “I wonder how these things will work?”
“We go wooding tomorrow,” said Hans, “so we might find out.”
The soil of the roads had turned a darker shade, and the tacky surface and near-complete lack of standing crops in the fields made for wonderment. I had loaded the other musket with a patched ball, and in this case, the ball needed a thinner patch. It took some digging in Anna's 'rag collection' to find a suitable piece of cloth, and smearing it with the black 'mess' I had transferred from the spoon into a small tin made for wonderment when I slipped the thing down the barrel. It went down noticeably easier than with straight tallow.
My 'ax' worked exceptionally well on the thumb-thick twigs, and as I chopped, I stopped often to listen. Both Hans and Anna kept their weapons near to hand, and once when I stopped to look and listen, I heard something over in the trees nearest to Anna. I walked over to her with the ax in my hand to point it out to her.
“What is it?” she whispered.
“I'm not certain,” I said, in the same tone of voice. “It seems really big. Do you have that one I loaded last night?”
She nodded. Not two seconds later, I heard a crackle. Hans turned, even as the trees seemed to crash apart and a huge fully-horned animal seemed to abruptly materialize not forty feet away to Anna's right and ahead. It spotted Hans, and began pawing the ground as if to charge.
Anna didn't wait; she drew to full cock, leveled down, and fired. The booming roar of the musket and the billow of smoke were such that I wondered where she had gone – until I turned to my right and saw her sitting down on the ground. I stepped over and picked her up.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“I t-think so,” said Anna, “even if I'm a bit sore. I wasn't expecting that gun to fire when it did.”
“Sore?” I asked. “Where?”
“Mostly my rear,” said Anna. “That gun kicked more than it usually does.”
As if in a dream, Hans suddenly appeared, then noticed Anna wiping her posterior.
“That elk is down,” he said, “and I have cut its throat. We had best leave off getting wood, and get that thing loaded up.”
“Elk?” I gasped.
“Yes, and a big one, too,” said Hans. “That will make for lots of pies at the Public House.”
As we sectioned the huge animal, I wondered if we could carry the thing – and more, if I would need to walk home.
“Yes, I think you will need to walk,” said Hans. “at least this is not too far from the house.”
“Hans, that ax,” said Anna. “I would not show it to the publican.”
“Why?” I asked.
“He will want one like it for butchering,” said Anna. “It cuts better than any ax I've seen, even if its head is small, and it doesn't matter what it is that it's cutting. I saw how it works on firewood.”
As we walked home – both of them rode, as my comfortable walking speed was now as good as my best of a month ago – Anna spoke of the coming winter, and also, the bullets I made.
“Everyone will want those things now,” said Anna.
“You forgot, Anna,” said Hans. “Those will not work with the usual muskets. They need to have those grooves cut in them.”
Hans then asked, “now why is that?”
“Those grooves make the bullet spin,” I said, “so it flies straight. With a ball, it isn't quite so important, but with those other bullets, if they don't spin, they tumble – and then you do well to hit anything at all.”
Once home, however – the publican spied my ax, tried swinging it, and nearly came to blows with Hans before the latter spoke of it being 'an experiment' and 'needing some testing' – Hans spoke of the shed and its immanent construction.
“When is that to happen?” I asked.
Hans went to the rear door, looked, then said, “I think we might start as soon as Anna has some meat from that elk, and we have our lunch. You might want a nap, as walking that way must be tiring.”
I went upstairs, as the sense of warmth there was greater, and only when I was gently shaken awake did I actually wake up.
“It is time for lunch,” said Hans, “and I knew you were tired, as you went to sleep right away and I needed to wake you.”
At lunch, the smell of meat was thick and heavy in the air, and when Anna lifted the lid of a large pot, she said, “I'm glad we have that much fresh meat, as building makes for an appetite.”
“What is in there?” I asked.
“I did not just get two pots full of elk,” said Anna. “I got some more potatoes, so I made up a big pot of stew. I'm glad of it, too, as the weather is getting colder fast.”
“Does building involve nails?” I asked. I'd recalled seeing them in the church building, and had found a few among my tools. I didn't fancy making them in numbers.
“It does,” said Hans, “but not for this part. That shop has not made them recently, and I doubt they would have you doing them.”
“That is obvious to me,” said Anna, “as nails are expensive, and they are time-consuming to make.”
“How are they made?” I asked, as I recalled my modest 'assortment'. “Bent pieces of wire?”
“That seems something of a trade-secret among those that make them,” said Hans, “and how they are made seems to vary some, depending on who they are for and who makes them. They usually need some glue to not crawl out of the wood after they have been there a while.”
“Crawl out of the wood?” I asked.
“Yes, things made with nails go loose,” said Hans, “unless you use glue, or you treat the wood with this stuff I make. Then, they stay good for a while.”