Archive for December, 2008

It’s New Years Eve and time to look forwards to the coming year as the nights grow shorter and the seasons prepare to start their cycle once again. I noticed that the birch buds are already starting to swell (although the recent cold spell should have held them in check) and the tops of the trees are starting to turn a characteristic faint purple.

At this time of year I start to look forward to the coming spring and the show season starting again.

One of the highlights of last season was attending the New Forest Show for my first time. For many years (and decades) the polelathing pitch at the show was more than filled by Dick Apps. With his pole lathe and caravan he became something of a legandary figure at the New Forest and other shows.

Despite the rain there was a good crowd (mainly for the band – an offshoot from the wurzels, known as the New Forest Plonkers – rather than for us, it has to be said).

This year the Hampshire Coppice Craftsman Group was present in force. With hurdle makers, broom and pimp (a kind of birch firelighter) makers as well as many as four pole-lathe turners on hand to fill the gap left by Dick. But it’s hard to fill his shoes as I learned once the show started and I had to field constant questioning on his whereabouts and health.

We were delighted that Dick was able to join us on the Wednesday and we even managed to coax him into showing us how it should be done, when he had a go on my lathe for a while.

Dick was able to stay around long enough for me to get the benefit of his advice. It was a real pleasure and I look forward to attending the show in the coming year.


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For a couple of hours on Boxing day we went for a quiet walk on the Lynchmere commons.

The weather was cold and clear. The icy Easterly wind only just starting to blow

The commons were used for military training during both world wars and many of the lumps and bumps relate to trenches and earthworks from these times. On this walk we wanted to inspect the trenches and start to untangle the military holes from those left by more ancient and more recent users of the commons.

Exploring quiet corners of the common we came upon some magnificent birchpolypor brackets.

The sun started to disappear very swiftly and the cold advanced

So we retreated from the trenches back to the log fires and a cup of tea.

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Season’s Greetings

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I found myself making charcoal last week. It’s a bit strange but I do sell a small amount of charcoal around Christmas and the New Year. Perhaps its global warming?

This year I didn’t have enough left over so I needed to make a few bags more. I make my charcoal in old 40 gallon oil drums using birch cleared from the commons as a part of the heathland management. So it’s local and quite environmentally friendly in comparison to the vast quantities that are shipped into the UK each year (it also burns hotter, faster and is cleaner without being impregnated with chemicals) .

To make a few bags I only needed to burn a couple of bins but despite my best attempts to start earlier in the day I ended up doing the whole burn in the dark.

There was something quite satisfying about burning so close to the winter solstice. The tawny owl that lives in the woods came to keep me company.

In the dark I could not fill in the time with other jobs and unaccustomed to doing nothing during a burn I ended up trying to take photos of the bins.

I make charcoal in old 40 gallon oil drums. I choose to do this for a couple of reasons It doesn’t require any investment (buying a purpose built kiln can be expensive) and I can make the charcoal at the end of my working day, the burn taking only a
couple of hours.

It is quite easy to do demonstrations for visitors and encourage others to do the same with waste wood. Unlike a big (8 foot) kiln which takes over a day to burn you can seal the oil drum after a couple of hours and then safely leave it to cool and come back the next morning to unload the bins.

While the bin is lit the aim is to burn off all of the moisture and volatile chemicals until you are left with pure carbon which is then sealed up to cook in an oxygen free environment using the retained heat of the fire.

If you don’t seal the bin in time you will just be left with ash as the wood burns away entirely, and if you stop too early not all of the wood will be carbonised completely and large ‘brown end’ will be left.

During the latter stages of the burn as the vents on the bin are slowly shut down volatile chemicals can be trapped and if the lid is lifted without care they can literally explode out of the bin (don’t try this at home!).

Being bored I kept looking to see how the burn was progressing and tried to capture this effect on camera whilst waiting for the burn to finish.

Several attempts to take a photo as I lifted the lid failed. Partly due to the ferocity of the flame and partly due to slightly singing my hand having taken my gloves off to work the camera. But you can see from the shape of the flame in this final photo taken after the initial explosion of flame from the bin that it’s actually the volatile gases burning outside the bin.

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I hadn’t planned to do much on the pole lathe today but it was a little too cold to wield a spanner easily and so a bit of greenwoodwork to keep warm was a bonus.

Turning to keep warm is an opportunity to do a few simple jobs that I otherwise don’t get around to. The piece of birch my hand landed on said chisel handle to me, and I need a few big handles for bowl hooks. Given that I’ve just managed to break one hook I could do with putting the rest onto handles.

Just about any long round shape will do for a chisel handle as long as its comfortable to hold. There is a traditional shape for the handle which has a gentle curve with a waist about halfway up. Length is upto you and for bowlhooks it seems that handles well over a foot long are the norm. They provide the leverage needed to keep the hook steady on the wood.

Once the handle has been turned I drill a suitable hole in the end and then heat the chisel (held in a vise) with a propane torch until its almost red hot.

Then lower the handle firmly, it fills the hole and then burns its way further into the handle. Finished off with a few sharp taps on the chopping block while its still smoking slightly.

This handle has turned out to be attractive as the normally plain birch is two-tone coloured where the tree had rot in it.

Another bowl hook is ready to do battle, all I need is time to prepare the next blank. But for now I am warm enough to do some of the other jobs on the list today.

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Winter is our busiest season on the commons as we carry out much of the heavy management work whilst the animals and plantlife are dormant or absent for the winter.

During the week we have been scraping one of our ponds that had become silted up and choked up with weed.

A couple of years ago we scraped the adjacent pond and the improvement has been clear. A recent survey found rare plants such as bog pimpernel starting to return.

While I like to use hand tools digging the pond out by hand would have been a little too challenging. But luckily we know a ‘man who can’.

Robin always has a few more toys in his box than I do (or so it seems). So he came in for 2 days to help us out and scrape the pond, part of the ditch feeding it and restore the nearby bridlepath with his excellent mini-digger under the expert guidance of Hilary our pond warden.

It might seem a brutal approach but I am told that the pond life will benefit come the spring.

Now if only we could teach all the dogs not to run through it (and people not to throw in things) then it would be a perfect new home for all things amphibious or aquatic.

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Polelathe – Bowled Over

It’s been an ambition of mine to start turning bowls. I’ve been planning to build a bowl turning lathe but space and time have been against me recently. So I decided to have a go on my normal lathe. Luckily Robin Wood had just posted on the bodgers forum how to make a simple mandrel (the cylinder with the cord wrapped around it) by turning the end to be a tight fit into a 1 1/4inch hole drilled into the bowl blank.

If you haven’t already been there you can find Robin Wood’s excellent blog here at http://greenwood-carving.blogspot.com/

Just making one bowl has shown me where a bowl lathe need to differ from a spindle lathe. For now I just ‘bodged’ the work rest. But I need a sturdier solution as any flex in the work rest magnifies the ability to dig into the wood. Likewise my goblet hook tools are a little thin for bowls and add to the flexing.

I found the outside of the bowl the hardest part to turn possibly because my tread is set for spindles and doesn’t allow me to maximise power so the gouge is pulled into the wood rather than through it. I have a lot to learn, and need a lot more practice.

It’s not very pretty but it’s a bowl. I think I will call the finish ‘dug’

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