About the Primitive Method

Welcome to the Primitive Method. This blog explores the metalworking practices of the medieval period, using experimental archaeology and analysis of extant texts. My focus is primarily on precious and non-ferrous metals, but there are elements of chemistry, toolmaking, and many other crafts that cannot be avoided in this line of inquiry. I am particularly interested in the chaîne opératoire of the workshop, and what it teaches us about the working lives of goldsmiths, metallurgists and alchemists.

There are dozens of distinct techniques, each depending on other tools and technologies. When artefacts are examined, the methods of production can be determined, and these are suggestive of the context in which the artisans worked – the tools they needed, the materials they had access to, and the scale of their workshops. Visualising the information is an important way to understand it, and to that end, I have produced a flowchart that details some of these links (Click the image to view the PDF file). This is an ongoing project, and there is a great deal more to add. Our medieval forebears had a surprising range of skills.

FlowchartNone of this would be possible without the writings of ancient practitioners. I am indebted to the the treatises of Cellini and Biringuccio (from the Renaissance), the unknown authors of the Mappae Clavicula manuscripts in the first millenium AD, and most of all, Theophilus, the 12thC author of On Divers Arts, who speaks across the centuries, and has so much to teach us.

Sharing information and expertise is the ultimate purpose of the Primitive Method. If you have questions, ideas or suggestions, please leave a comment, or get in contact on the email address below.

I am available for public speaking, consulting, manufacturing and experimental archaeology. I have worked with organisations including the Wellcome Trust, UCL’s Institute of Archaeology, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, and also appeared on the TV series Museum Secrets. My historical work is built on a decade of contemporary goldsmithing experience, and I pride myself on a pragmatic approach to complex projects with short timescales.

Contact details:

Name: Jamie Hall

Location: Midlands, UK

Phone: 07970 667712

Email: admin@primitivemethod.org

Twitter: https://twitter.com/PrimitiveMethod

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Johnson February 18, 2010 at 17:03

http://www.archive.org/stream/silverworkjewelr00wils#page/n9/mode/2up was an excellent source for me, and there are tons more old books in the archive.org library.

However, you probably won’t find much from the middle ages :o)

I have tried to keep my studio as primitive as possible, but speed sometimes outweighs aesthetics on some things. I have the diagrams for my old charcoal soldering oven that I used to have, before I had to give up the room to lapidary equipment. Oh well, C’est la vie

Good luck, and I look forward to watching your blog.

gerhardt holdmann May 2, 2010 at 16:46

your worck is very go0d!!
scuz my englis..)
all the best

tom arnold June 12, 2010 at 01:16

Hi Jamie, This sounds like an interesting direction to go. I’ve read Theopholis and Cellini and it seemed to me that if I unpluged all my electric tools, I would be working pretty much the same way they did. Have fun and let us know how you progress. Tom Arnold

James Miller June 29, 2010 at 06:54

Hello Jamie,
I am a traditionally trained goldsmith, I like to promote the traditional methods of manufacture. As long as there is daylight I can work all day without the use of electricity. My Grandfather taught me hand engraving, I was apprenticed for nearly six years and taught by goldsmiths and silversmiths who themselves had been indentured apprentices, some were taught at Garrard the Crown Jewellers when Garrard actually had workshops. I love taking a sheet of metal and forming it into shapes using techniques that have not changed for centuries. If you have not seen my work just google James Miller FIPG, I also have had a book published showing my work.
I wish you every success with your career, best regards James Miller

Jamie Hall June 29, 2010 at 08:10

Thanks for you support. I feel a little humbled, looking at your work – it’s quite amazing. I can tell you do work for Garrard – it’s a very distinctive look that those pieces require. I did a short course with a polisher called Stephen Goldsmith; you might be familiar with him, he used to work for Garrard.

If you read this reply, I’d love to interview you for the blog, on how the trade has changed. Although my dad has been in the trade since the 70’s, he’s self-taught, so I’ve always felt a little isolated from the grand tradition of the jewellery industry, and maybe that applies for many of the young designers and manufacturers coming up through the ranks now.

If you would be interested, please email me:

James Miller July 3, 2010 at 10:48

Hi Jamie,
Have you seen the book by Oppi Untracht called “Metal Techniques for Craftsmen” as it shows many examples and techniques of old metal crafts from around the world. It is published by Robert Hale, the same publisher who published my book, ” The Work of a Master Goldsmith;A Unique Collection”.
Regards Jim
James Miller FIPG.

Adrian Smith August 13, 2010 at 18:34

Hi Jamie
This is very interesting and I wish you good luck with your project. I will add your blog to my Blogroll.
Looking forward to hearing how you get on

Kind regards

Laura Cunningham October 11, 2010 at 07:14

Fascinating article. modern jewellery seems to me to be so uniformly perfect that it seems mostly cold and characterless. Looking forward to seeing some of your creations.

Jamie Hall October 11, 2010 at 10:38

Hi Laura. I’ve just taken up an artist’s residency at Loughborough University, where I’ll be researching and making using archiac techniques. Watch this space over the next 6 months – a lot will be happening.

Tamizan January 6, 2011 at 15:31

Fascinating stuff.
Check out http://www.societyofjewelleryhistorians.ac.uk/default.htm
although maybe too modern for you!
and also Andrea Cognetti : http://www.akelo.it/
who is a master of granulation and is interested in Etruscan jewellery.

James Eason April 22, 2011 at 17:03

It’s exciting to find works like this. I myself was wondering the other day how to make tin sheets and this has given me some ideas. Thanks for sharing.


Jamie Hall April 22, 2011 at 18:46

Hi James. I’ve not done any experimenting with tin – do let me know how it goes. I like the look of your site. I’ve tweeted it (you can follow me @primitivemethod if you are on Twitter).

If my work is interesting to you, I’m sure we can arrange something if I start filming some of my work.

mike kersley May 13, 2011 at 09:33

Hi Jamie

I thought that you would be interested to know that there is a wealth of free to download PDF versions of old text books on the metal arts [including fred holmes engraving], design and design methods at http://www.archive.org.

good luck

hertfordshire uk

jamiehall May 18, 2011 at 18:14

Thanks Mike. I’ve had a look on there before, but it’s always good to have specific authors to search for. There’s so much, it can be hard to know what’s worth downloading and printing!

David Wendelken May 29, 2011 at 05:22


Thanks for sharing your info with us all.

My wife and I are putting together a website for those who are interested in medieval crafts. We’re focusing on metalwork and pottery first, with other crafts as they are needed to support those.

We’re starting off with an annotated bibliography for pottery and metal plus a list of resources for training, tools and materials. After those are up and running, we’ll start loading up How-To articles and annotated photos of museum pieces or our own work.

I hope you’ll drop by now and again.

I’ve taken your idea of a skills diagram and another idea the Precious Metal Clay folks did on certification. Part of each skill definition will include skill tests and evaluation criteria for success. That way, people will know how well they are doing. But we aren’t charging for the test criteria. :)

jamiehall May 29, 2011 at 07:14

David, I’ve looked for an email address for you, but couldn’t find one on your website. Please can you email me: primitive(dot)method(at)yahoo(dot)com

We can have a decent talk about how we can help one another.

Maria Whetman February 28, 2014 at 12:09

Hi Jamie,
Do you have any of those giant A0 flowchart posters I could buy from you? I’d love to put one up in the workshop where I teach. I’m also currently doing some work for my Masters sourcing leftover surface and alluvial cassiterite from my local environment, refining and smelting it into Tin stock to work into jewellery / objects, I have been visiting life-long experts in Cornwall who have been teaching me ‘the old ways’, so your own website about historical working techniques is also very interesting to me.
Great work and great site, I look forward to looking at it more now that I have subscribed.

paul heyfron August 21, 2014 at 22:07

Hi jamie i have found an item of jewellery which i am having trouble identifying it appears to be gold with twisted gold string
which led me to your article about wire making in the staffordshire hoard. This helped me understand how it had been made I have handed it to museum but they seemed as lost as me to what century it had been made in due to the design pattern. Is there any chance I could email you a photo for your view please. The item has been damaged and some of the gold string has come away and its very symmetric in design.

Anne Winnall September 1, 2014 at 05:21

Hi !
I am wondering if you may be able to help me. i am trying to identify the value of a small pendant of tin jewellery. It appears hand made because of its unevenness… it is basically circular in shape with a goat like animal in the centre, On the back side in the centre is a slightly raised rectangular shape(very small) that has what appears to me to be an indented stamp of a stylised animal. At the bottom of the piece still at the back is another very small rectangular slightly raised strip with three symbols a space and then tin…..possibly KL3 TIN.
Any ideas?

Sandra Wilson September 23, 2015 at 12:12

Hi Jamie
Was wondering if you would be willing to share a link to this website https://woodentools.wordpress.com/ and encourage people to hit the survey page link and answer 5 short questions. Would be good to talk to you more too about this research and maybe see if there would be opportunities to discuss it further and your potential involvement in it.

N May 16, 2016 at 08:48

Please NEVER encourage people to add the little air escape channels down to the bottom and sideways to edge. VERY very dangerous because likely to leak hot metal. Always take them round and upwards!

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