Archive for October, 2008

Every October we hold a ‘Log Day’ on the Lynchmere commons to get rid of logs extracted during the year. The logs come from trees cut to keep the heathland clear, windblown trees and dead or diseased trees. We sell the logs as firewood although members of the society can collect a car-load for free. The day is always popular and this year more so given the price of fuel and more people putting in wood burning stoves.
On Saturday Robert, Stuart and I cut the last of the trees and extracted the wood with tractor and trailer whilst Felix and Seb manned the Kelly Kettle.

By the time we finished stacking the logs I estimate it was over 12 tonnes of cord wood (4 foot lengths) and another 3 or 4 tonnes of mixed wood. Cord wood is the traditional length for selling firewood and comes from the measure of a Cord of wood, which is a stack of 4 foot logs 4 feet in height and 8 feet in length – a volume of 128 Cu ft. The name ‘Cord’ probably comes from the use of a standard length of cord to measure the stack.

On Sunday a team of volunteers turns out to help marshal traffic, move the logs and take the money. We were also joined by Mark with his vintage Fergie tractor and saw bench to cut the logs for those who could not handle the cordwood – saving a lot of effort with the chainsaws.

Despite the bad weather it was very busy and it wasn’t long before we had a queue of vehicles waiting outside for their turn load up with logs.

The team worked hard and to our amazement the entire pile vanished in front of our eyes. It had all been taken by lunchtime. A very successful day, thanks to everyone who helped prepare and turned out on the day. Now the work starts all over again, there will be plenty of fallen trees to clear over the winter and the next log day is in February.


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I am not the fastest to get going in the morning especially when its dark and cold outside. There always seems to be plenty to do before I can leave, so at this time of year I tend to end up working into the twilight and sometimes by torchlight until I become accustomed to the early evenings again.For a couple of evenings recently the moon has helped out, casting a cold blue light over the work site and I couldn’t help trying to take some photos of the contrast with the warm red light from the dying fire..

There is a tawny owl in the woods very close to the site . As the light fades I sit in a chair and I can hear her (apparwntly you can tell because the females call the males ‘twit’ whereas as the males call to the females ‘twoo’!) as she moves round the fire.

It seems as if I’ve been on this job for ever and it has taken a lot longer than I anticipated but I’ve finished enough timber for various projects as well as bits and pieces for friends. There is still more to mill up but I’ve finished the work at the site for now and spent some time clearing up. Very little will be wasted as the offcuts will go to make firewood shelters at my charcoal site, if not for more chairs (they seem to be much appreciated by all, and I have a couple of orders already).
I’ve left quite some of the timber as ‘waney edge’ boards, a little different and more rustic than what you buy at B&Q, but I can rip them down later to square them off if needs be. Unwanted logs will go to the firewood pile on the commons and the last task is to move the sawn timber from the site to a more sheltered location.

It will take a few days to complete this in between other jobs, even with the help of the tractor and trailer.


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I wanted to turn a pair of egg cups and it was a good opportunity to test my newly re-tempered favourite hook tool. Despite the chaos of my shed I managed to make it to the pole lathe and get turning. 
With small items like egg cups and goblets they can be turned as spindles with the cord wrapped around the wood as it’s turned. This allows me to use my normal gouge and skew chisel to shape the outside of the wood and the hook tool is used only to hollow out the inside of the vessel. 
In this case I went a little mad and decided to turn a pair of cups from the same piece of wood – one on each end.

For the eagle-eyed amongst you, yes the work piece has got shorter in the final photo. Thats because the wood developed cracks. It’s some of the Wild Cherry that I have been using for a while and I had to start again having cut off the ends. But all’s well that ends well – and I do like the grain of this wood which makes it worth the difficulties of working.

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It would be more accurate to say that I didn’t temper my tools properly in the first place. This winter I am keen to make good use of my hook tools and so last Sunday I took time off from my planking project and went over to the forge at the Tilford Rural Life Museum.

The musuem is between Farnham and Haslemere. It may seem strange for Surrey to have a rural life centre but its well worth a visit for its extensive collections of tools and rural items. (Tilford Rural Life Museum ) They have a great collection of Moss edge tools (local blacksmiths and much prized items). They even have a big wheel lathe there that I have been told is useable. The collection was started by one of the founders of the Tilhill forestry company, which I assume started life on a hill in nearby Tilford. It would have been open heathland until Tilhill started – I hear that the original Tilhill plantation is now an RSPB reserve and being returned to heathland again.

Hook tools are often used by pole lathe turners for bowls and is one area where pole lathe and power lathe turners differ in the tools they use. The photo shows the first hook tools that I made a year ago for small items such as goblets and egg cups. I made a batch and one is really suited to goblets but its been hard work as I failed to get the temper of the tool right and its been losing its edge really quickly.


John and Nick are the blacksmiths who work from the forge at Tilford and John helped me to improve the temper on my hook tools. Sorry about the rotten photos John.

Edge tools are tempered by heating the edge to a specific heat and then quenching (or cooling) rapidly to ‘freeze’ the metal orientation at that temper. You can do this scientifically in an oven by setting the temperature, or it can be done as originally by buffing the metal to a dull shine and then watching the colour of the metal closely.

John decided to retemper the tool by heating it in the forge until it was bright orange or dull yellow and then quenching just the hooked tip. This allows the heat in the thicker stem to flow back into the hooked tip and you can see the colours of the tip turn. After some tests we decided to temper to straw just before the very tip turned blue. As the tip turned clearly straw and just before it turned to blue John then quenched the whole tool. Comparing filing of the edge before and after retempering the tool is harder than before. During the last week I’ve been using the tool and my impression is that it’s sharper and keeps its edge much longer – but sometimes all it needs is a good feeling, so its not an objective measurement.
It was also a Landrover day at the Museum so I got to park inside for a change. Here is a row of Series II Landrovers drawn up for inspection – most look immaculate, The tatty one at the other end is mine. Next year I am hoping for a prize for tattiest Landrover so I can win!


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The Lynchmere commons covers 300 acres of mixed heathland and woodland on the edge of West Sussex between Haslemere and Liphook. In 1998 the commons were purchased from the Cowdray Estate by a local society (The Lynchmere Society). At that time the commons were almost entirely very poor scrub woodland with only remnants of heath. Over the last 10 years a lot of progress has been made in clearing scrub and restoring areas of lowland heath with much of the work being carried out by volunteers.


I started working on the commons as a volunteer in 2000 to get experience in conservation work and as stress relief. I enjoyed it so much that now I help to manage the commons. Clearing fallen trees from paths and fencelines is one part of what I do on the commons. The wet weather this year has caused a lot of problems for trees. At some times of the year tree clearing can be on a regular basis especially with all the birch trees growing on the poor heathland soil (upper greensand of the Western Weald).


But the birch I cleared this morning had fallen because of a fungus in its roots. I think its a Ganoderma applanatum (or Artist’s Fungus) but I will be very happy to hear from anyone who can offer a more accurate diagnosis. Ganoderma rots the roots and base of the tree so it will fall very easily. You can see the bracket in the photo – brown top with white margin and white underside.


From the stump you can see the rot was quite well advanced in the base of the trunk (click on the image to enlarge it). Very little sound wood remained so the tree snapped off just above the base. This one went only a foot above the ground but when it pivots a few feet off the ground while being cut down its called a widow’s seat or barber’s chair , both references to the danger of being caught behind it when it goes.
As it happens I wanted some fresh birch for turning this week as I have some wood turning to do and some hook tools that were worked on at the weekend to try out. I managed to find a few lengths of the tree that might be useful for turning, the rest will go onto the firewood pile.

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It’s not what I’d planned to do today, but I just needed to sit by the fire this afternoon.

The pine project is taking a little longer than I anticipated, having been rained off over the weekend and with progress a little slower than I had thought. But I am now back on it for the next 3 days. I need to plank up another 10 logs, burn up the old brash and then tidy the site, as I will be onto other jobs for a while.

Having a good fire going is an invitation to sit by it, so all I needed was a chair. No time for anything elaborate but luckily I have a pile of pine offcuts and they need to be used one way or another. A simple way to make a seat is to take two large offcuts and bore a hole through one (the seat back) allowing the other to placed through it as a rustic seat. Generally the larger the offcut the more throne-like and eye catching is the eventual seat. Surprisingly enough they are very comfortable – this may be because of the slope backwards on both the seat and backrest.
I first saw one of these chairs placed at a local viewpoint in a chestnut coppice looking out over the Weald towards the South Downs. That was made several years ago by Colin when he cut the coppice. I will leave a couple here and hope they get as well used.


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This weekend turned out to be an exercise in extreme turning due to the weather. Normally I relish the Autumn celebration at the Weald & Downland museum, one of my favourite shows in the calendar. Saturday started with a frost in the morning and got windier and wetter as the day went on.

I was joined by Wayne and his son Olly who had brought both their bowl turning lathe and also a small lathe worked with a hand held bow and both were dressed up for the event to the delight of the visitors who braved the weather.

But by the afternoon the wind was rising and the intermittant showers became continuous. In the face of driving rain and gale force gusts of wind Olly took to an anorak but Wayne is clearly made of sterner stuff or………

The photos don’t really capture the force of the wind and rain. My shelter is not upto a full gale and started to suffer from the wind so I was unhappy to leave it overnight. Sadly I took it down and packed up on Saturday evening in the face of even worse forecasts for the night and Sunday morning.

However the experience seems to have given us something of a taste for extreme turning, perhaps an olympic sport for 2012 and the next venue is still to be decided!

Because of the rain I could not leave my wares out for long and so failed to sell anything – for the first time that I can remember. But as so often happens, just as I was totally losing motivation something interesting turned up.

This time the question was ‘Can you make a me a handle for a bronze axe-head?’ I’ve learn’t its best to go with the flow, and this sounded like fun. Besides I was suffering from the cold and wet and I needed a challenge. Before long I was talking to a weekend class who were casting bronze axe-heads to a 3000 year old pattern.

I started to make an ash handle and partway through was joined by the course members who watched the process. I enjoyed turning a handle for the axe head. I learnt about bronze age tools and we also had interesting discussions on the turning or spinning of early metal and the evidence, or lack of it, for bronze age wood turning.

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