First confession: this is not going to be strictly a replica of the Oseberg tripod. It’s going to be a near-replica–a little heavier-weight but clearly recognizable.
By the way, you should check out the video that goes along with this article. Things will make a lot more sense when you see the process.
The Oseberg tripod is made of three square-section iron rods joined by a single rivet at the top, heavily twisted for decoration and having three talons at the bottom of each leg. Here is a link to the museum’s photo of the original item. There is a very fancy chain associated with the tripod; we’ll leave that for another day.
Before we launch into this project, we need to ask a common but important reenactment question: Who are we trying to represent?
The high cost of iron during the early medieval period is well known. The Oseberg tripod we are trying to replicate is made of iron. It would therefore have been an expensive item. And it was, after all, found in the burial of a queen (or two). If we are representing common folk, a fancy steel tripod may be out of place.
As an alternative, we could lash together three or four straight sticks and support our cooking pot from that. We could set the pot directly onto the coals or on a stone placed in the cooking pit. Just because there is one tripod in the Oseberg ship burial does not mean that every household had a tripod. As far as I know, the Oseberg tripod is the only one surviving from the age. It may well have been the only one ever.
I’m starting with 1/2-inch square bar (12mm square), three pieces 60 inches long (about 152cm). The Oseberg original appears to be much lighter weight and shorter but I want this tripod to be a bit taller and stronger for usability. This could certainly be done with 3/8-inch square bar (9mm square) and only about 3 to 4 feet long (1 meter, give or take). Along with this, I’ll be using some 3/16-inch square bar (4mm) for the hook and 1/4-inch round bar (6mm) for the rivet.
The first operation is to twist the bars. The Oseberg tripod is twisted precisely “bejesus” times. So don’t hold back. Twist away. Twist as many times as you can or “to taste.” You will get the best results if you can get an even heat along the rod; hot spots will tend to twist more and cold spots will twist less. Leave about a foot (30cm) at the top and twice that length at the bottom.
Then we need to spread the top of the bar to basically double its width and reduce the thickness by about half. I round the corners of the bar before I start flattening. Look back at the photo of the Oseberg tripod; the top ends are kind of pointy. To my eye, that’s just one more hazard in the camp so I round the ends. Blend this back toward the twists so that the flattening and thinning is gradual. All three bars need to be about the same so that they will bend uniformly when we come to our final step.
Next we will make the claws for the feet. (For a simpler solution, you could just point the bottoms and move on.) We need three claws. My solution for cutting three claws is to first spread the end of the bar and then cut it into thirds. With these large and awkward pieces, I don’t try to make these cuts on the hardy or with a chisel. I use an angle grinder with a cutting wheel. Spread the claws apart, point the ends. Two claws point to the “outside” (away from the fire when the tripod is set up) and one toward the “inside.” The “inside” claw needs to angle upward because the leg itself will be slightly angled when the tripod is standing.
I prefer to rivet the bars together while they are straight. The long bars are awkward and this operation is hard enough without dealing with the bend. The rivet goes through the three bars and terminates in a ring underneath. You will hook a chain on this ring to hold up a cauldron when the tripod is in use. There are two approaches: (1) make the ring first, then rivet the legs together or (2) make the rivet head first, then pass it through the legs and make a ring on the bottom. In the video, I make the ring first.
The final operation is to bend the bars to about a 60 degree angle. Heat the section of bar above the twists, then place the riveted end in the post vice and bend slowly. You don’t want to overbend in one spot; it’s a mess to straighten out at this point. Take your time. Get the heat where you need it.
I had been working on my forge, trying to improve the burner efficiency just before I started this project. I was…less than successful. So when I put the bars in initially to do the twists, my two burner forge was operating at about 1 burner and a half. This gave me a very uneven heat across the length that I wanted to twist. The result was uneven twists. Not a terrible thing; the Oseberg tripod is rather uneven, too. But not what I wanted to produce.
Riveting the legs is always a challenge. If you make the ring first, you have to put a head on the top without crushing the ring. I tried putting a heavy bar through the ring and setting the ring in the hardy hole but I ended up mangling the ring anyway. On a previous tripod, I was moderately successful clamping the ring in the post vice and peening the head cold. Next time, I will make the pin out of larger stock, leave a mass on the top for the head, put the pin through the legs and make the ring last.
And finally, don’t do as I did in the video and get in a hurry to set the tripod up. The rivet was still hot and I managed to bend it while twisting the legs into place. Better to wait for everything to cool.
This tripod turned out pretty nice. I made this for a friend and now I’m comparing it to my own–which was one of the first projects I did when I built my forge–and thinking I need to “up my game” and rebuild my own tripod. I need to get those burner problems corrected first.
I still wonder if there were other tripods. The Oseberg tripod is the only one I have ever seen. And there is still the question of whether I should have a tripod for my “average Viking” representation. As long as I’m setting up the big a-frame and camping with a large group, I plan to carry the tripod and use it in the communal cooking area. When I camp “light” and only pack a small tent (or none), I’ll be using my smaller pot and setting it directly into the coals.