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I’m Back

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Gorse flowering on Lynchmere Common

SO it’s not that easy to get rid of me after all?  Last time I looked it was the depths of Winter and now Spring has been rushing past in it’s usual way with a frantic list of things to do.

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Tidying up  after the winter work, plenty of maintenance and then straight into the summer season of events, courses, bracken management and charcoal making to name but a few.

Writing up blog articles never seems to come close to the top. We had the pleasure of a brief visit from Sean Hellman and Lucy this week. Sean’s inspired me to make a start on the mound of pictures and ideas I have to catch upon.

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With the sudden improvement in the weather charcoal is in demand again. So I have to stop this post and go deliver a few bags to our local hardware shop – Liphook Hardware.

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Back soon!

Season’s Greetings

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Frost on the Landrover window this morning.

Season’s Greetings! Last time I looked it was summer. 2016 has certainly been busy with plenty to post about but despite my good intentions it hasn’t happened. Where does the time go? No rest for even the slightly naughty around here?

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Silver Birch in Midwinter Sun on Lynchmere Common

With the busy summer season of craft demonstrations, shows and teaching over its back to the woods cutting trees, scrub and clearing up. It’s just as hard to keep up as there are a lot less hours in the day. It’s dark by 4pm in midwinter but the light from the low sun angle is glorious and helps to make up for the frozen fingers and toes a little.

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Where ever you are I hope you have a good break (if you get one) and best wishes for the New Year. See you there! Meanwhilst put another log on the fire and enjoy the fruits of all that labour.

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I like to think that there is a short gap between the end of the my winter season working in the woods and the start of my summer season of shows, demonstrating and teaching woodland crafts.The cutting and felling of trees does stop at the beginning of March to avoid the onset of the growing and nesting seasons. Though I rarely, if ever, manage to finish all the extracting, clearing, bundling and preparing of the wood before the bookings for my craft products and demonstrations are upon me.

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I do sneak a few days off at the start of March to blow away the cobwebs and try to prepare myself for the coming season. So a  few weeks ago at the beginning of March I snuk away for my beachcombing break with wet and windy walks along the Gower cliffs facing South towards Somerset across the Bristol Channel where I grew up.

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But thanks to an invitation for a ‘a cuppa’ in the woods with Paul Thornton – and I should have known better – it turned into something of a Woodsman’s holiday.  A Woodsmans holiday is like a Busman’s Holiday but muddier and wetter to make the Woodsman feel at home! Still a change is as good as a rest and I welcomed the opportunity to experience a completely different woodland as well as being able to just do some work without having to worry about it.

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Paul and his crew are responsible for the Welsh Wildlife reserves on and around Gower which includes some of the cliffs that I enjoy walking. I rarely venture into deepest Gower’s ancient woodlands and Paul’s crew were working in Gelli-Hir woods part of which is an ancient mixed woodland full of moss and lichen laden gnarly Oak trees.

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Unlike our open sandy wooded heaths and woodland pastures in the Western Weald of Sussex and Hampshire the Gower woods are smaller and folded into the deep valleys. The clay soil keeps them wet so a quad bike is a sensible way to extract cut wood without damaging the woodland floor.

Paul is a master of all trades and the wood being piled up will be used to feed the charcoal kiln hidden away behind the quad bike once the weather allows. ‘Gower Charcoal‘ is available all over Gower and is a great local product.

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Once I’d dried out and warmed up there was still time left to walk the enchanting Gower coastline looking for treasure. I don’t mean gold – to me treasure is anything that I find along the way including the view.

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Not my favourite time of year. Last time I posted we were enjoying the end of a warm Autumnal November. Now we’re at the end of a drenched December and January that seems an impossibly long time ago and everything is just so Wet!

It’s been unseasonably warm (I’m told we should learn to expect that as the climate changes) and that doesn’t help at all as all my carefully prepared stacks of firewood have been exposed to continually moist air.

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The must-have present this winter for the firewood hunter gatherer of the family is the book attractively entitled ‘Norwegian Wood’ a well written story of woodsmen, firewood and beautiful Norwegian piles of firewood stacked outside and covered in snow.

But here in the British Isles our firewood no matter how carefully split, stacked and dried during our relatively long summer is exposed to moisture laden gales – now replete with everyday names. Today we’re enjoying ‘Storm Henry’ at a relatively balmy 12 degrees above zero (C).

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The result – my carefully seasoned, split and stacked firewood is shockingly wet! Almost 30% on this piece of oak chosen at random from the stack outside my front door. That’s a lot more water in the log than I’d like to have – 300g of water in a 1kg log and all of that has to be ‘boiled’ off up the chimney. That’s all energy not available to heat the house, resulting in a cooler stove and potentially more tar blocking up the chimney as inefficient combustion at cooler temperatures mixes volatile chemicals and moisture.

So what went wrong? Nothing other than our British ‘maritime’ climate. We just can’t do Norwegian Wood over here. It’s too warm and too moist. Wood is hygroscopic – in other words – it will absorb moisture from it’s environment. If the atmosphere is above zero (C) and moist then dry wood will become damp. There is an equilibrium moisture content, and at a few degrees (C) with the relative moisture content of air up to between  90 and 100% (the air is saturated with moisture) as it has been for months now. Then my air dried logs will be returning to somewhere over 20% and perhaps as high as 30% depending upon how quickly the moisture is absorbed and how long it stays moist.

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What can I do about it? Not much outside. With so much rain and overcast days there is little hope of using the sun to dry the wood. Even expensively (environmentally as well as financially) kiln dried firewood will become damp in this weather. The same applies to the net bags of logs left standing outside filling stations or garden centres. If they weren’t damp when they were delivered they will be by now.

All I can do is ensure that I take my logs into the house and give them a day or two beside the fire (but not too close of course) before I burn them.

By chopping my firewood into smaller sizes and letting the warmth run through them I can reduce the moisture content to below 20% which enables a more efficient combustion in the stove as well as reducing the moisture released up the chimney.

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So don’t forget to bring your logs inside at least a day or two before you need to burn them, chop them up good and small (you’ll get warm all over again) and run your stove hot enough for efficient burning.  But most of all I hope your logs are nice and dry wherever you are burning them this winter!

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My favourite time of year. The light on the Lynchmere Commons is always special as the wall to wall green of summer turns to a riot of colour.

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The bracken turns a glowing copper dappled with the autumn sunshine

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All summer the leaves have been a monotonous shade of green and now they put on a show as they slowly reveal the silver structure of the Birch trees

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And then there are the sunsets! (this one was taken at the Weald & Downland Museum)

Sometimes I wish I could grab it and hold it but it’s so fleeting as the leaves are falling all around me and the sun is lower every day. My enjoyment is tinged with a hint of apprehension as winter approaches.

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The Grass is Ris!  and the mowing season is suddenly upon us.

When I am not attacking the bracken on the commons I am working around the edges of the meadows to control the invading bracken, nettles and thistles. Hard work but very satisfying in the spring sunshine.

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The beginning of the new mowing season is always a time for preparing the blade for the coming season. How straight is your blade?

I am always hunting for good blades and I have to go through a lot of nearly dead ones to find a blade which can be restored. One of the many challenges of working with the English Scythe is the age and the state of the blades. When they come to me they are inevitably in quite a bad state, though often not terminal as this motley bunch shows.

It’s not hard to put an edge on the blade and that’s about all you’ll need to start whacking weeds but restoring it’s grass cutting ability needs more detailed attention.

On their own the blades can look quite reasonable but when you put a bunch together on a flat metal surface things can look a little different. OK so I selected most of these blades because they need work but even so some of them look like they’ve been run over by a tractor, or even a steam roller rather than stored carefully in the barn.

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  The flat surface belongs to John’s Old Kiln Forge at the Tilford Rural Life Centre. I took the blades to show John and discuss the best methods for restoring them. We tried out a few methods on an old and very pitted blade.

DSCF3031Most of the work is with the blade cold to avoid losing it’s temper – or softening the hard steel in the blade edge.

DSCF3047It wouldn’t be a visit to a forge without a little heat though. Unlike the blade edge the tang is adjusted hot to prevent tiny cracks being formed which then turn into metal fatigue and failure of the tang under constant heavy useage. The blade is kept cool by dripping water onto it whilst the tang is heating.

DSCF3061As well as practicing on the old blade we also improved the shape of the blade edge on one of my workin blades. Time to put the blade to the test. The improvement in performance is noticeable – but still more work to be done.

I have a moribund blog called The Scythe Grinders Arms and I’ll be resurrecting this in the coming weeks as I work on my scythes to provide a place for devotees of the English blade and snead.

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……the Bodgers Ball 2015 that is. Every year hundreds of Greenwood workers get together in a field somewhere in the UK to share skills, catch up with old friends, meet new ones, compete, try out new ideas and to generally have a ball! This year we were invited to the heart of Sherwood Forest by the East Midlands and Derbyshire local groups of the Bodgers. Here is a quick romp through some photos of the ball as I saw it.

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I took my steamer to demonstrate steam bending a traditional English scythe snathe. Full steam up as Graham inspects the washing machine drum stove with the old petrol tank boiler mounted on top.

DSCF2882      Just as well I came fully equipped. It wasn’t long before friends moved in with lathe, shave horse and steamer all in use.DSCF2880

Sean Hellman didn’t bring a lathe and had to make do with mine to turn an egg for the egg and spoon race. He didn’t bring his chisels either – is that an axe he’s turning the egg with? DSCF2881   First time for everything, who needs chisels on a pole lathe for turning an egg. Not Sean!DSCF2892With the egg turned and a spoon carved the teams finished the race three legged. Crazy competition it could only be at a bodgers ball.

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Merlin from Somerset brought along a good selection of cross cut saws. Almost as fine as the Series 3 they are sitting on. Merlin is turning into a fine saw doctor especially with the big greenwood raker teeth on the crosscuts and if your saw could do with some TLC you can contact him in the West Country via the Cherrywood Project near Bath.

DSCF2887Power tools are banned for the duration of the Ball (not just for the insurance it’s also the ethos of the event) and the cross cut saws made quick work of any sawing needed as well allowing people to have a go.

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Moving up a step from the Landrovers Simon Damant came very well equipped with his ex fire brigade 4WD Bedford MJ. We were grateful for the stove when it poured down on the Friday night, though the various concoctions of calvados, distilled mead and blackcurrent vodka may have been partly responsible. Simon – you really must get some steps to stop me falling out of the truck next time!

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Fully equipped with a portable forge as well and some bags of charcoal to run the hearth.

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Simon gave a demonstration making a rams head hook and also took part in the half hour challenge where competitors have 30 minutes to make something saleable.

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Richard Roods emporium is becoming a firm favourite at the ball and it’s a rare event where I go home with less than I brought with me.

DSCF2856  This year was no exception as Richard had been putting aside knackered old English scythes for me all year. Avoiding lugging this lot back calls for desparate measures!DSCF2923-001

What’s all this then? Heretic?  Have I given up on the English Scythe? No, not at all. I just want the ironwork, the eye bolts, scythe rings, nibs and one or two of the blades for rebuilding onto my newly made snathes – the woodwork and especially the livestock (woodworm) are not welcome. Although this fire is mainly for effect I did burn up two snathes in steaming the new snathe which seems quite appropriate to me as the old is used to help make the new.

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Steve and Nigel hijacked my steamer to steam some rings of chestnut. Will they reveal what they are planning to do with them?

DSCF2927The climax of the weekend are the half hour challenge and the log to leg races on the Sunday afternoon. Simon and Kate joined me and we came a creditable third in the team log to leg race and I was very pleased to come third in the individual log to leg race. That just left cutting the cake and suddenly and far far too soon it was the end of another fine bodgers ball. Just another 360 days to go until the next one. But the Somerset Scythe Festival is a lot closer – only 4 weeks away. No rest  for the even slightly naughty around here…..

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