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The Bodgers Ball – the largest national coming together of Bodgers – aka greenwood workers – is this coming weekend. This year around 500 of us will be on a field next to Wimpole Hall near Cambridge.

Last year, together with Julian Bell and the Sussex group of the Bodgers –  I had the pleasure of hosting the Ball at the Weald and Downland Living Museum near Chichester.

Here is a behind the scenes photo tour of last years Ball  – 2018 – giving you something of a flavour of what we will be doing this weekend at Wimpole.

By the way – as the event has grown over the years – it’s now a 4 day event including the two days of craft courses before the Ball – it’s less of a sit-down-meal-and-a-ceilidh-in-evening-Ball affair  and more of a giant skill share with competitions and events. This year the saturday and sunday will be open to the public to come and find out what bodgers do all weekend.

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First thing to go up is the marquee – a 160ft x 40ft traditional canvas and pole marquee in this case. Big tent.

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Next up – some wood to turn. In this case some ash logs had been delivered to the museum woodyard from a local woodland and the museum timber crane, newly restored timber trailer and one of the Shire horses delivered the logs to the field.

In Style.

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‘Peter Jameson’ and ‘Top Dog’ are not words you expect to go together. On this occasion Peter excelled himself helping to get the very impression pit-saw-on-tower going for courses and demonstrations.

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Meanwhile in the Big Tent Ade ‘I Just Wanna Turn Bowls’ Lloyd teaches a course.

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…….and the Hazel basket makers course….helping to redefine Parkinson’s Law for Bodgers….work expands to fill the time and space available for it!

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Up in the woods above the museum the charcoal burners light the earth clamp – by standing on it and pouring embers down the flue. Don’t try this at home folks!

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Our lovely Bar Sign – thanks Clau –  ‘The Firkin Froe’ – a firkin being the 9 gallon barrel that draught beer is still served from in the UK, though steel and rarely wooden these days.

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One of the demonstrations in the field. 20 years ago – 1998- the last time the Ball was held at the Weald and Downland Museum Mikail Schutt visited as a Journeyman and demonstrated adzing a finial. We prevailed upon him to do the same again with his ‘old hoe’ and he held us spell-bound – talking, measuring and adzing away for 40 minutes.

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What do Ball Organisers do with a few spare minutes? They whittle their time away of course – Julian Bell and Clau Cecil whittling in the rain.

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Jeremy and Gerald. Just a couple of clog makers. Now there is a sight you won’t see every day? Gerald Getkate is a Dutch Clogmaker – the wooden clog blanks visible on his horse – Jeremy Atkinson is an English Master Clogmaker – the English clogs having leather uppers and wooden soles where as the dutch clogs are typically all wooden,

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David Saltmarsh using his original cordless drill on a medieval style oak stool an entry for the stool making competition.

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Just one of the several ‘avenues’ of craft displays and demonstrations  – most of this lineup is the Sussex Group of the Bodgers – the home team for the Ball. Thanks everyone for all the hard work you put into making it a fantastic Ball.

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Hundreds of craft items on display in the Big Tent over the weekend – the craft competition is tough and there is plenty of prize money on offer.

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and there were the races. Here the winning Sussex Team competing in the log to leg race. In the team race 3 members race to make 2 identical chair legs from a single log. Penalty time is added for flaws and deviations from the ‘golden leg’ by the judges. We take things seriously us bodgers!

 

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Over the weekend 14 stools were made – designs suitable for use in one of 4 museum houses – by teams and individuals. The stools were judged by Julian Bell (Curator) and Lucy Hockley (Cultural Engagement Manager).

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Every year we have a cake to celebrate the bodgers ball – cut after the prizegiving by the winner of the Best in Show award. This year our amazing cake was made by Jen – Julian’s better half – and celebrated the wooden links with the Museum.

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Everything – even the good things – must come to an end. And so it was with the Beer and the Ball.

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Leaving only the clearing up. Which would be a lot worse if it wasn’t for the Bodgers Zero-Waste policy. If you bring it – you take it away with you. Leaving behind just the grass – except – who left that old kettle and stove on the grass? Guess who?

Amazing how quickly it comes around to time for the Bodgers Ball again. Maybe I will see you at Wimpole this coming weekend?

 

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‘Tis the Season

Apologies for my prolonged absence. Far too much doing this year and not enough writing.

And now ’tis the season………. to eat and drink far too much. Best avoided by a spot of Landrover maintenance I feel.

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For many years my afternoon naps under a Landrover have been totally undetected.

While Alison was On-Call as a first responder I snuck out to do a quick job. But I think lyimg under a Landrover on Christmas Day might have blown my cover a bit. It was a straight forward job – refit a rebuilt prop-shaft that’s been waiting for months now for me to get around to it  – and strangely therapeutic.

So whatever you have been up to today I hope you manage to enjoy yourselves!

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Steve Wright Cert Arb RFS (1954-2017) 

– Selling his vast range of welly boot racks and other assorted coppice products at the Weald & Downland museum’s Autumn Countryside show in October 2017.

Steve died suddenly just before Christmas. I knew him as a member of the Association of Polelathe Turners & Greenwood Workers and latterly the show and event organiser for the Sussex and Surrey Coppice Group.  Steve worked tirelessly to promote awareness of the countryside, the environment,  woodlands and coppice crafts.

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I worked alongside Steve at the Weald & Downland museums Autumn Countryside show in October. Where his specially converted 130inch extra longwheel base landrover, his pride and joy, part vehicle, part forestry workshop and part armoury,  was a integral part of our woodland crafts display.

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Steve works to keep up with demand for his products

For some reason I mainly have photos of Steve’s Landrovers and his backside! Those that knew him and those that worked with him at shows, events and in the coutryside will remember that both Landrovers and backsides were an endless source of banter. Steve didn’t suffer fools gladly, but his keen banter was always there as much to encourage us as to deride out shortcomings!  Never short of a suitable adjective,much of it derived from his military days and about as incredibly un-PC as you could imagine.

Steve was most passionate about countryside management, woodland management and crafts. We shared many evening fires debating the complex web of environmental issues, often over a meal including some protein that Steve had procured. Like his other interests: Landrovers, tools, arboriculture, Steve was a master of firearms and a talented deer stalker. Never failing to provide something for the pot, even if he had to stalk a local shop for it 🙂  Like everything else, if you were interested and took it seriously Steve would share his vast knowledge of firearms with you, even if it was only to help maintain our ancient air-rifle.

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Most appropriately Steve’s last journey was in a spotless, gleaming silver 127inch Landrover. As he emerged on a cold, wind-swept, dully and rainy January morning we could just hear him saying ‘What are you lot bleeding standing around outside for then? Bugger That! ‘

Inside was standing room only whilst outside the cark park was jam packed with a motley crew of assorted pickups and 4×4’s rarely seen outside the woods. That so many should come out of the woods on a dank January day to remember  Steve says it all really.

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!

Omubazi Mike

Green woodworking enthusiast that loves to create and to pass on his skills and knowledge.

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