Copper Smelting

will probably say more about how he learned to smelt copper and cast copper axeheads and swordblades, at some point.

The really cool thing is that he agreed to teach me! Whoohoo! If he can show me how to do this trick, I will have two (count ’em, two) history labs that we can do in the nice weather next fall. If I can experiment with glazes on terra cotta flower pots this summer, I can pick up a winter history lab, too. All I’ll need at that point is a Roman one…

Back up. Let me explain.

As and know, my school is full of energetic, hands-on kinds of kids. Teaching them to do stuff is SO much better than lecturing at them all the time. A couple of years ago, I developed a laboratory experiment on making clay tablets and writing on them using three different techniques — drawing pictures, impressing pictures, and abstracting pioctures — to make written words. It worked pretty well, I thought. I didn’t do it this year because the art department seemed constantly overwhelmed, though. A department chair leaving, a new one starting, and a first-year teacher in the department all make for hectic-ness.

Next year will be better. H will be up to speed, and LS is pretty cool, and we’ll have the chance to do some interesting history-related art-projects. (It would be better if I could come up with two or three art-projects that I could purchase the materials for, and make the students do, particularly 7th grade. There are five or six windows in my classroom; for example, I can get some of that translucent tissue paper and they can make “stained glass windows” for the unit on the middle ages.)

Anyway, back to the copper smelting. Apparently the kiln is perhaps 2 1/2 to 3 feet high, and not even as large around. You dig a round hole and erect a kiln around it out of clay; fill a crucible of a certain size with copper pipe and scrap metal; use a couple of bellows for a half-hour to blast the coal/charcoal, and voila!, you have enough copper to make either seven small axe-heads, two larger axeheads, or a sword. Bill says it always takes about a half-hour.

So, figure this for a three-day project. One day to build the kiln and let it dry (two kilns?). One day to make seven axeheads. One day to make seven more. That’s 14 axeheads, which then need to be polished and sharpened, maybe mounted. And the kids will see how very easy the labor is, and how efficient ancient tool-working can be. Heck, they can build the kiln and work the bellows, and learn how hard it can be at the same time.

So… clay tablet project. Check. Copper smelting project. Check. Update: I’d want to run through this project once or twice this summer. I want to be able to do it reliably by September, and that requires seeing do it once, and then doing it myself, in front of others, perhaps with Bill as observer the second time. Maybe I can do it at the BSA camp? Talk to pat this morning.

The next history experiment is the three flower-pot project. Take three flowerpots. Paint one with pictures and geometric patterns in black glaze. Then paint the background of the pictures and leave the geometric patterns and images in bare red on a second pot. Then paint the third flower pot with black, red and white, to simulate the three-color pottery of later Greek eras.

I’ll have to experiment and see if you can fire flower pots with glaze, and not even complete glaze but only partial glaze. If it works, I’ll have three history lab projects. The last one I’ll have to think about, but maybe I can get some wooden swords made and we can run through a day of legionnary training.

Except that would be good for them, and it would nearly kill me. Building arches? More complicated. I’ll have to think on this.

Anyway… figure the copper smelting for the end of September, and the clay tablets for early October. That way, the ninth graders have two genuine projects to show off to their parents before Parents Weekend in mid-October. It’s always about what the parents need to see, isn’t it?

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10 comments

  1. Re: When I have a bit more time…

    Color me interested. Yes, I’d be very interested in seeing any materials you have related to the emergence of bronze technology….

    Thanks for the good conversation earlier. It was very helpful in processing just how important the script for SpiritFire needs to be on my priority list these days.

  2. Re: You’re welcome!

    awesome – i forwarded Bill the lj notification thingydoo for the dates – he’ll be stoked =)

    yes, i might just have to stab at a poem with some answers…

  3. You’re welcome!

    Will you ask your husband to put me on his schedule to teach me copper smelting and tool shaping?

    I’ll arrange it through the school, the school will buy the supplies (clay for the kiln and copper scrap) and give him some sort of stipend (either for himself or for the museum).

    I really want to move on this.

    Good dates are Saturday, June 18; Sunday June 19; Saturday July 2 or Sunday July 3; Saturday July 9 or Sunday July 10; Saturday July 23; or Sunday July 24; Saturday July 30 or Sunday July 31. August is more open, but it would have to be a weekday.

    If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask. Can you work the answers you understand into a poem sometime soon? 🙂

    • You’re welcome!

      Will you ask your husband to put me on his schedule to teach me copper smelting and tool shaping?

      I’ll arrange it through the school, the school will buy the supplies (clay for the kiln and copper scrap) and give him some sort of stipend (either for himself or for the museum).

      I really want to move on this.

      Good dates are Saturday, June 18; Sunday June 19; Saturday July 2 or Sunday July 3; Saturday July 9 or Sunday July 10; Saturday July 23; or Sunday July 24; Saturday July 30 or Sunday July 31. August is more open, but it would have to be a weekday.

      If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask. Can you work the answers you understand into a poem sometime soon? 🙂

      • Re: You’re welcome!

        awesome – i forwarded Bill the lj notification thingydoo for the dates – he’ll be stoked =)

        yes, i might just have to stab at a poem with some answers…

  4. When I have a bit more time…

    …ask me about the History unit I created that discusses the technical and social implications of Bronze (i.e. how Bronze got made and how that discovery transformed ancient societies). There’s some fun stuff in there.

    later
    Tom

  5. When I have a bit more time…

    …ask me about the History unit I created that discusses the technical and social implications of Bronze (i.e. how Bronze got made and how that discovery transformed ancient societies). There’s some fun stuff in there.

    later
    Tom

    • Re: When I have a bit more time…

      Color me interested. Yes, I’d be very interested in seeing any materials you have related to the emergence of bronze technology….

      Thanks for the good conversation earlier. It was very helpful in processing just how important the script for SpiritFire needs to be on my priority list these days.

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