The weather did it’s best to dampen our spirits at the Merrist Wood college Summer Show on Sunday. It rained. Then, just when you thought it was all over, it tipped down again. But in between the showers we managed to make the best of it in our little woody corner.
Although it’s not a very woody show I do get to see a few old friends and a few new ones as well, particularly the students I taught polelathe turning earlier in the year.
You never quite know who will turn up. This year I had the honour of a visit from Anthony Cooper, a besom broom maker for many years at Loxwood in West Sussex. We compared notes on the use of my drawknife and he told me of the times when he used to supply 40 or 50 dozen brooms upto London, by the lorry load.
Today it is getting a lot harder to find suitable areas of birch to cut for brooms. One consequence of the recent push to restore heathland is that grazing, cutting and even spraying are often used where once the birch would have been cut for brooms. If you can find the birch, then finding somewhere undercover to store it can be even harder, as a lot of the old barns which would once have been used are now conversions! A fascinating opportunity to talk about a craft that’s now quite rare.
To keep warm there was always the option of the oil drum charcoal kiln, organised by the countryside courses staff and students, which smoked us gently through the day. Thanks to Brian, John K, Clair and all for making feel welcome. And of course to Derek and Spanner for keeping the massive show on the road and bringing in the hordes of visitors.
While on the other side of me Mick Stanton fired up his transportable forge to demonstrate his blacksmithing talents. We are lucky in SW Surrey, W Sussex and NE Hampshire area to have access to a number of excellent blackmiths, but it’s a case of use them or lose them! Mick is a talented blacksmith and specialises in edge tool making. You can find him online here ( Mr Fraught-Wrought )
Mick Baker was there to demonstrate making cleft chestnut gate hurdles. Mick has a collection of working hand tools that is almost second to none. Many of the them are tools handed down through his family. If you’re not sure of a tool or how it was used, expecially for hedging and coppicing then Mick will be able to set you straight.
It’s always a pleasure to talk a load of billhooks with Mick and this year was no exception.
The sun did shine on us occasionally. For me it turned out to be a bit of a spurtle and rolling pin day and it kept me busy making more stock.
If I’m turning a nice looking/feeling piece of wood then I don’t like to waste it and sometimes make little items from the waste at the end of the billet. Door knobs, light pulls, cotton reels and sometimes little handles which I sell for taking the straing when you are carrying plastic bags full of shopping home.
Today I sold one as a handle to hold onto a lure for a bird of prey, a harris hawk apparently. Clearly I need to go upmarket with my handle making. They are now ‘handles for hawk lures’, but can also be used to carry your shopping home!
Next Monday Derek has somehow talked me into demonstrating at the Surrey County Show, one I’ve managed to avoid until now, not least because it tends to pour with rain.