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Archive for February, 2009

I made progress on my next pole lathe in between other jobs today.

I managed to get the wedges fitted into the poppets. The wedges are made from offcuts of oak, left over from when I ripped the rails out of an oak beam.

Then the holes in the poppets were drilled using a 1 inch forstner bit (that’s a big round wood drill to you and me) in a power drill and opened out to accept the wedges using hammer and chisel.

It’s a lot sturdier than bolting one of my single bed lathes to the uprights, so it’s a promising start.

With the poppets wedged into the rails I can mark up the position for the centres and cut out a platform for the workrest.

Time to hunt around for some studding and metal fittings to turn into the centres.

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I’m making a new polelathe in the shed. The single bed (polelathe 2000 – as in Mike Abbott’s book ‘Living Wood’) designs that I have used before are light and easy to carry around the shows but as a consequence suffer from the lack of stability especially for turning larger wood.

There isn’t so much a design for this lathe as a set of ingredients, being the uprights in the shed and the wood to hand.

Having defaulted to a 4 inch spacing between the rails (the upright in the shed being a 4 inch post) these poppets are going to be big and heavy. No danger of these going anywhere in a hurry.

To find the wood a suitable oak log was retrieved from the firewood pile. Then a small chainsaw created the basic shape for each of the poppets.

The chainsaw was quick but not particularly accurate amd there are no rightangles to be found. So the poppets are slid into the rails for the fit to be levelled up and then marked up for fitting the wedges.

Still not decided on how to fit the centres and workrest, but I’ll fit the wedges first and sort out the metalwork tomorrow.

There is a risk inherent in not having decided on the final design yet, but I quite like not knowing how it will turn out. No doubt I am making mistakes, but it’s one of the basic ways to learn and I am far too impatient to wait until I’ve designed the perfect lathe.

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The task for the volunteers working on the commons this Sunday was to attack a large patch of young Rhododendron plants. Commonly referred to in conservation circles as ‘Rhodie Bashing’.

The site is on Stanley common, the furthest south of the 3 registered commons that make up the Lynchmere commons and close to Liphook. The common probably derives its name from the nearby Stanley farm which has been around for long enough to have an entry in the Domesday book.

Introduced into England around 1760 and originally cultivated for their ornamental nature these large shrubs have become a common sight, not just in large gardens but also scattered through woodlands.

Rhododendron (Ponticum) or common Rhododendron is a very aggressive and invasive species. Once established it’s hard to eradicate. It will regrow from the roots very strongly and if you manage to remove the roots it will often re-emerge from the vast quantities of seed that it leaves lying dormant in the ground.

Sometimes it seems that all we ever do is cut, slash and burn, removing plants with abandon. Lowland heath is characterised by its very poor soil, created over the centuries by overgrazing and the constant removal of most plants. The resulting acid and nutrient poor soil generally favours the rare heathland plants but the Rhodies will thrive here and very quickly crowd out the native species.

The number of plants grows rapidly as the seed spreads across the common, so its best to attack the problem as early as possible.

Unfortunately Rhodies are well established on neighbouring lands, the Forestry Commission site at Iron Hill, for example, and this means that removal of the plants will be a constant activity for the foreseeable future as it spreads across the boundary.

The site we were working on is particularly thick, and is regenerating from seed left behind as a very large group of rhodies, which I’m told was known locally as ‘the cathedral’, were removed several years ago.

We did not clear the whole site, so will be back again. I may also visit with the tractor and swipe later in the year as we no longer use chemicals on the common and it will be necessary to repeat the treatment until they get the message.

To help with the work I drafted in a few friends as volunteers for some exercise in the fresh air. Special mention must go to Hannah for moving such vast amounts to the bonfire that she occasionally blended into the surroundings, here seen camoflaged as a Rhodie. Also to Adam, for not chopping off his dad’s fingers with the loppers and for help with poking the fire.

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The first part of the new pole lathe to take shape are the rails for the bed of the lathe.

In this case I’m using an oak offcut from some chainsaw milling which I’ve ripped down with a circular saw to create the two rails.

A little work with my old record plane to remove the worst of the bumps on the tops of the rails.

The next job will be to create the poppets to run between the rails.

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Excitement in the lane recently. But not quite the ‘unexploded bomb’ claimed in the local rag. So I feel the need to set the record slightly straight.

The Lynchmere commons were used extensively for army training in both the first and second wars when Canadian troops were based at nearby Bramshott Chase. As far as we can tell the training in the first war was primarily trench warfare and traces of these extensive practice trenches can still be found. During the second war the manoevres on the commons included tank training and again the Canadians were based at Bramshott Chase.


We have found remnants of old iron temporary roadways in one area of the commons, probably the result of practicing for D-day. It’s not far from there that Hilary recently found a 2 inch mortar round. It looked in good condition and at first it seemed very hard to believe that it had lain there for over 60years.

Once we’d identified it as a potentially dangerous piece of ordnance Hilary called the police, and they said ‘Sorry this has got nothing to do with us’. So we called the gas board, and they said ‘Sorry………’ Well not quite the famous comedy sketch, but very nearly.

It was hard to get anyone to take it seriously and one suggestion was for us to ‘pop down in the car with it’ !

Once the police actually arrived, it only took about 20minutes for the bomb squad to be called and get here from Aldershot. They identified it as an expended 2 inch smoke/incendiary mortar round. Apparently its very hard to distinguish from an unexploded HE version. That would really spoil your day so they are not to be played with. Their advice was very firm and clear. If you find one, Leave it where it is, Don’t pick it up, Tape off the area and call them out.

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When I started this site (forgive me – I don’t like the term ‘blog’) I thought it would be an endless stream of short bits and pieces related to polelathe turning and greenwood working. At the moment it’s turning out to be a little different in nature.

Probably inevitable at this time of the year. Demand for polelathe products is at its lowest and there is a lot of work to be completed in the woods before the spring. It’s always been like this, Traditionally winter was the time for working the woods and coppices while the spring and summer were used for making the products from the wood.

Another factor is that I took down the pole lathe normally mounted in the shed to use for a training session. In its place something else seems to be appearing. I say something else, as it’s not yet entirely clear to me how its going to end up.

I want to fix problems stemming from the lightweight nature of the polelathe 2000 design for good and put in a spindle lathe that can be developed to turn bowls satisfactorily – in due course. At the moment I can spend an hour or two on it at a time, as I squeeze it in between other jobs and yet more landrover repairs.

The shed is an open fronted cartshed at the bottom of a neighbours garden. It’s actually marked upon the first series ordnance survey map, although from the state of the corrugated iron and poles it’s been rebuild incessently over the intervening time. Apparently it really was used as a cartshed housing the wagons for the local carter, whilst the other shed here was the stables. Shedheads love it. I have made the current interior of benches, cupboards and shelves entirely from pine planks salvaged from the common and milled using my chainsaw mill.

The temperature in the shed during the day has been between 2 and 4 degrees (centigrade that is) consistently for weeks now which also limits my ability to get useful work done.

But on a warmer theme and to forestall managing a whole piece on polelathes. Last week I was introduced to another tradition and a local delicacy, Sussex Pond Pudding, by my neighbour who quite aptly happens to be our pond warden.

It’s a classic English steamed suet pudding with treacle and lemon – apparently the originals were baked around a whole lemon – and when cut open the juice escaped to form a pond around the pud, hence the name. Quite delicious in the winter.

I hope to get the new lathe into use inthe next few days, as I am suffering withdrawal symptoms, not to mention being behind on a number of commissions. But I have yet to work out how I will do the metal work.

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The long spell of cold weather we are having down South has caught people unprepared, at least in terms of firewood. Demand seems to be rising fast. No doubt also stimulated by the high cost of energy and credit crunch.

Birch makes good firewood, and thats lucky because when we are managing woodland or restoring heathland on the Lynchmere commons we are mainly cutting silver birch. A lot of it has grown as scrub and needs thinning out gently to improve the quality of both the woods and heath.

The wood used to be sold to contractors (mainly for pulp) but by the time transport is included it’s not very valuable and they tend to deal in whole lorry loads (an artic load is around 20 tonnes of wood depending upon density and moisture).

In my view transporting the wood around the country is plain daft. I have copies of old weighbills from South Wales and Yorkshire. Even Slough (where there is a biomass power station) is a bit far if there is a use and demand for it in the local community. For the last few years we have been selling the cordwood directly as firewood.

This year we have experimented with managing the felling and the extraction using our own volunteer resources on the principle that many hands make light work

The first task was to fell the trees, and we managed to combine this task with running a refresher course for our chainsaw users. The trees don’t always come down cleanly and can ‘hang up’ in other trees. Getting them down safely is an important skill and worth practicing on a training day.

Extraction is the technical term for moving the logs out of the woods. Some pretty fancy, and expensive, machines are used, skidders, forwarders, yarders and so on. But we used the tractor, trailer and a gang of enthusiastic volunteers. Who needs a timber crane when you’ve got this lot?

As its a heathland site we burnt the remaining brash that is too small to be used for firewood. This stuff is too old to be used for pea-sticks, bean poles or besoms otherwise I would have bundled it up for later use.

Not so long ago it would have been bundled into faggots for kindling if it had no other use. I haven’t quite succeeded in persuading people to take faggots home yet, so it cooked my baked potatoes and Andy’s sausages instead.

The thinning will give the trees enough room to grow and also encourage more plants to grow underneath.

Another aim of this work is to create a wildlife corridor through the tree belt and join up two recently restored sections of heathland as a part of the ‘Serpents Trail’ a long distance heathland path through West Sussex.

The next day bedlam ensued as people queued for the firewood. I didn’t even manage to take a picture until the stack of logs had almost disappeared.

As we shifted a few tonnes of cordwood in only a couple of hours, it seems that burning wood is coming back into fashion. Burning local wood must be better for the environment (and the economy) than burning imported Russian coal?

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