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Iron, How Did They Make It, Part III: Hammer-Time (acoup.blog)
175 points by dddddaviddddd 57 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 23 comments

One thing (among many) I really enjoy and admire about this blog is the way he goes “under the hood” of historical scholarship while still condensing complex topics into a blog post. We hear about primary sources, things we simply don’t or can’t know but can guess at, some of the state of the debate, etc. His writing gives you a sense of what a historian does in a way that many history books don’t.

Besides just being interesting in and of itself, I think it raises an important caution for laypeople. It’s easy to read a secondary source and take it as authoritative, while having no idea where that source falls in the wider conversation. Consider how high school students are taught very different things about the civil war depending on what state they happen to grow up in (not trying to raise a shitstorm, it’s an example). It’s hard to evaluate anything you read when you don’t know what you don’t know.

In the age of the internet, I would hope even schools would be pointing their students at primary sources, but I'm an incurable optimist.

Plato complaining about doxophiles, "lovers of opinion" (ca -375): http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%...

I really love this blog (and support the author on Patreon).

His writing falls a little bit more on the academic side but is still entertaining and easy to follow (although quite some time is required ;) ).

What I like in particular is that he mentions when we simply don't know things and why we don't know them(e.g. because some materials don't last that long).

The problem with cannons eventually ended up being solved by just making a big, slightly irregular piece of metal and then boring a precise hole down the middle of it.

There was also another technique called spiral welding in use in the Middle East and Central Asia that apparently worked pretty well. IIRC when the British captures the Bengali cannons after the battle of Plassey they were very impressed by the tubes if not the carriages. They ended up spiking them because the bore widths weren't standardized but they could fire further than the English cannons.

> Blacksmiths were one of the few professions who could make their own tools and consequently any experienced smith would likely have a wide range of tools produced to fit his needs and preferences.

Just like software engineering

But software engineering has an even more special characteristic: easy and accurate tool duplication. That's why our tools are so much less personal than those of a historical blacksmith. Combined with liberal licensing this ease of duplication easily makes software engineers less connected with the tooling they use than any tool user before them. Sometimes (often?) we wouldn't even know the exact version of the tool we are using (no, "latest stable" isn't an exact version)

Oh it's my favorite time of the week again on HN! I truly love these blogs. Someone last week posted this[1] documentary which I think more people should see in connection with this series. But I'm still collecting questions, which I may take to Quora or SO at some point but I'd love to know how did we get started with (i.e. discover) this process and how does it differ from steel. Apparently we will learn about the latter in the next blog though, so I can wait on that.

[1]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuCnZClWwpQ

Nice post, but the author acknowledges that his terminology is wrong. What he is calling "hardness" is actually called "toughness", hardness is resistance to penetration. There are a few typos. But other than that, this is an excellent post.

If you're reading this Bret, that is some terrific research and writing! Thank you!

I'm going to join Patreon for the first time in order to support Bret, that's how much enjoyment I get out of his blog posts.

> "... which may have left those who finished their apprenticeships ('journeymen' in the parlance), stuck in subordinate positions until age and death opened up space in the local guild for a new master."

The "journey" part of journeymen is because they would usually travel around instead of waiting for space in the local guild. Compare the (nominally white collar) postdoc.


(I still see wandering journeymen, in traditional garb, from time to time.)

> "Instead, many early iron cannon were build up using hoop-and-stave construction..."

Compare https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mons_Meg#Construction

(I learned about Mons Meg from the Corries' interpretation of Bonny Dundee, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24617941 , a tune which deserves an electro or metal cover, but doesn't yet seem to have any.)

    Stop, hammer time!

    Go with the flux. It is said
    If you can't weld with it
    Then you probably are dead.

video of the process (I think) https://youtu.be/zsywnQJMJEk

edit, better vid from another comment: https://youtu.be/RuCnZClWwpQ

O people, look how hard it was in ancient times!

Hail the blast furnace!

And all the versions of how you get the excess carbon out of that pig iron.

But even today, about 8% of global iron production is by direct reduction. As coal use is phased out, this will rise, and eventually all iron will again be produced without blast furnaces, possibly using "green" hydrogen as the reducing agent.

He really needs to proofread.

The author has a massive problem with people from HN stealing his work without attribution.

It's very much in his interest to have a crappy first draft hit the front page here and fix it up after that.

Any examples of his work being stolen and HN being the cause?

Well you can search his name and "Hacker News" on Twitter. Here's an example: https://twitter.com/BretDevereaux/status/1307080975151697921

Probably the best way to view is searching the headline though, it's some brazen content thievery, some even copy comments like our own in there.


I want to know how first posting all the typos protects against plagiarism.

Certainly easier to identify plagiarism, although with something so specific it's probably not hard to detect anyway.

It doesn't at all of course, but it clearly makes the quality of plagiarised work worse, if you perhaps look into it more you'll see these sites and how they operate. The author has mentioned this before publicly and specifically noted it was due to HN exposure.

Absolutely hilariously how people found my original comment so offensive as to gray it out, was simply repeating something anyone can find in 3 seconds on Google.

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