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Brazier Part Deux

posted Jul 8, 2017, 12:50 PM by Freydis Egilsdottir   [ updated Dec 26, 2017, 6:28 PM ]
For years and years we used our round portable brazier, made from the largest, thick wok we could find in Vancouver's Little India, and a folding, detachable base with our ravens done in scrolled round stock bars as filler and support. It was lovely and worked very well; but as we weren't expecting to ever do any SCA camping again (and didn't see any opportunity for any other period Norse camping in the foreseeable future) we left it with friends in BC. Of course, now that we are back in the SCA, and enjoying it a lot (the people of Ruantallan are absolutely lovely), we need some sort of portable camp fire, both for cooking over, and for sitting around in the evenings. And getting the brazier shipped over to Nova Scotia from BC is proving a wee bit of a challenge, as the bus can do it but is really expensive for something that large and heavy, and shipping it other ways is slow and of course requires coordination of schedules.

Our brand-spanking new old brazier!

So this is a marvellous opportunity to do something different to replace it. We looked at a lot of different brazier designs, both Norse and SCA (Pintrest really is useful for that kind of thing), and eventually came up with one we liked, something completely different.

What We Liked About The Old One:

-Super portable
-Looked good
-Very contained; we were occasionally even allowed to use it during fire bans

What Could Be Improved:

-It was just a little too low; the bottom was I think 12" or so off the ground, and while the grass beneath would not catch fire, it would dry out and wither. Also, one had to bend over a lot to cook on it, which is not ideal for middle-aged backs and knees (or when small kids and/or dogs are about)
-There wasn't any way to hang pots or tools over it; it needed a separate tripod (which we didn't really have--well, okay, we did have the tripod as you can see, but not any means of hanging anything from it)
-There wasn't any work space around it; all prep work had to be done elsewhere unless I wanted to bring a chest over, which would (a) get in the way and (b) get messy

Last year or the year before we got a nice, tall, free-standing two-burner propane cook stove on sale from Canadian Tire, which is absolutely fantastic for making coffee in the mornings (boils our 30-cup percolator in about ten minutes instead of the hour and a half it takes over the fire); but which one can't really grill meats over, and which is isolating to use. Yes; we get all the nearby work space one could wish for, and nearby pot and utensil storage; but it's in the kitchen tent, the interior of which is currently almost entirely mundane, so not a space people hang out in. So whoever is cooking on it (me; it's me) is in there by themselves while everyone else is chatting in the tent. Also, of course, it's not really a good tool for hanging out around to warm up on cold nights.

So! We looked at loads of designs. We wanted something that would pack up relatively small (we have a truck and a trailer; but we like to limit dead space), but that would go up easily (ideally with one person); would have the working height be at a convenient level; have at least some work surface nearby; and have the ability to hang pots at variable heights. In addition it needed to be reasonably period for Norse (or at the very least, not glaringly mundane, which of course the propane stove is). And what we ended up with was a design that is apparently originally based on a fire-box depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry:

Image of a cook fire from the Bayeux Tapestry

As you can see, in the top half of the picture there, there is some kind of raised, semi-enclosed platform which is holding the fire. Anchored on either side is a spit, depending from which, above the fire, is a pot.

The SCA seems to be interpreting this (especially Norse and Anglo-Saxon personas) as a Norse A-frame supporting a box, of either wood or metal (when filled with sand, the wood is perfectly safe from the flames), with the ridge pole providing a point to hang pots and tools. A variation which looks lovely but would be less portable for us has a large wooden frame that is filled in with sand or earth and resting on the ground containing the fire.

So we went with that, and boy howdy, are we pleased with the results!

Our new brazier in use at War Camp

Our new brazier in use at War Camp

The vertical legs are the old bottom beams from our Norse tent (in the background; we replaced the beams last year and cut up the carved vertical pieces to make the legs of the table in the tent). The horizontal wooden beams at either end of the fire box are old pallet wood that we don't care about; it's just there to be a sacrificial piece of wood between the flames and the legs if needed (it was; I put too much oil in the griddle, which you can just see hanging below the lamp, and it spilled into the fire a bit with predictable results). The sides of the fire box used to be the leg-supporting bracket under a table from a primary school; we snagged it for the table top (which we used as a work bench); but the legs, at like 18", were too short to be useful to us so we tossed it into the scrap pile, where the legs remain. We spot-welded a sheet of 14 gauge steel from our armouring supplies to the underside for the bottom (spot-welded rather than a continuous weld both for speed but also to allow drainage when it rained--which it did, copiously, until everyone else left, and then it was predictably lovely for days on end); and Mikhail and Karl, with pliers and brute force, straightened out the lip at what is now the top edge to gain another half inch of height to the sides, as we weren't sure if it was deep enough to contain the fire properly (it was). Karl showed an unexpected talent for getting that reshaped edge nice and smooth!

The three pipes, on the two sides of the fire box (welded in place) and the ridge pole from which pots, chains, and utensils depend, are from a weight-lifting set-up we haven't used since 2009 but have dragged across the continent, so it's bloody well time it did something useful, heh. We did give them a fresh coat of black paint but it didn't stick well to the chrome so we'll have to redo it, possibly with some primer involved.

You can see one of the movable wooden counters in place to the right; the other one is hanging off the side of the box by its lip on the other side. I really, really liked them. One only needs quite a small fire for cooking (compared to the larger fire needed for a dozen people to sit around in the evenings), which means it only takes up about a third of the total bed. The second third is covered by the counters, which, being movable, means the fire can be built on the downwind side of the brazier so the work area isn't smoked out. The middle third is a great place for drying out wet logs and keeping food or water warm, and beneath the counters is a wonderful place to keep kindling and tinder dry. Larger firewood can get stacked beneath and still have some protection from the weather.

The griddle was made by Mikhail and Karl and is just more sheet metal, cut in a circle, with a small wedge cut out so it could be very slightly folded inwards into a very shallow cone, so liquids would more or less stay in place. A round metal rod sticks out the bottom an inch or so (required to give it more contact with the sheet so it didn't snap off) and is formed into a hook at the top.

The great thing about it was that we were able to make it 100% with materials we had kicking around, so it was super easy on the pocket book. Even that nice dished pot hanging over the fire was just a wok I had, but rarely used, with the handle knocked off, hanging from a three-part chain from a dollar store plant basket, and some larger chain we had kicking around for something or other. The only thing I actually bought for it was dollar store S-hooks!

The one issue we did need to resolve with the design was lateral stability. It tends to want to wiggle from side to side. We stopped that in our Norse tent with the X-shaped ropes you can see up the inside wall; but of course we can't do that here without severely impacting usability. In the end we made the two small legs you can see underneath by laminating some strips of heavy maple wooden flooring from a neighbourhood renovation together and using them as bracing, to create a sort of a tripod with the legs of the A-frame beneath the box. They attach to the box at their upper end with hinges, and for transport are folded up against the bottom and held in place by a bungee cord wrapped around the middle of the box. To use them, they are just folded down and wedged into place by stomping them into the dirt. Works well enough for now. Nice and stable, and doesn't block access to nor storage space for the firewood beneath.

So there you go: Our new brazier! I really liked using it. It's a very practical design, and it gets me out of the kitchen and into the living room, so to speak. You can see people sitting at the picnic table just behind me; I was able to still socialize with everyone else while I was cooking.

We do have a few finishing touches we want to make still; we want to cut the finials into something decorative (you can just see one of our raven finials sticking up past the far side of our tent), which is why they were left so long; and we want to fire up the forge (propane-fired, which Mikhail finished right before he had to ship out for courses for two months and hasn't had a chance to use since) and make some more period chains and hooks. The griddle's bar will also be replaced by some nice thin square stock with a nice twisted design in the rod and a nicely-worked hook at the top. We wanted to cook some steaks on the last night as well, and found a round grill we could hang from the plant basket chain over the fire at a thrift store; but we want to make a nice, period one of those as well. We'd also like to add notches up the sides to support a spit, which aside from roasting meats gives something to act as an anchor to pull the pot one way or another. I can slide the chain from side to side; but I can't push or pull the pot from its hanging position right now. I could also use a poker and some bellows! Good thing I have good lung capacity, ha ha.

We'll see how much of that gets done before the next event, in what, four weeks? Oh, lord...

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