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Archive for May, 2009

I joined in the activities in the woodyard at the Weald & Downland museum on Thursday. Luckily I missed the all day torrential rain on Wednesday and although a little moist to start it was a pleasant day in the woods.

I was there to make besom brooms and put into practive everything I learnt from Alan on the recent course. Ben and John were aiming to make charcoal in an oil drum as a demonstration so it was a bit of a bus man’s holiday for me. The oil drum is a quick demonstration in comparison to the large kilns or an earth burn and it will make charcoal in the small quantities used in the museum work to fill in between other burns.

You may have heard of horse logging and even oxen logging. This week was donkey logging as the donkeys hauled out poles for the hop field and delivered loads of split firewood to the houses.

This english oak frame being put together has given me a few ideas for the new garden shed I’m designning, although not on quiten the same scale and probably not with the complicated joints. which I’m told are dovetail lap joints originating from Germany.

Ben was working on various wagon parts and John made a birch whisk for the tudor kitchens in between the donkey logging and charcoal making. The birch spray had been boiled for hours the day before to help remove the bark. This picture was taken before the head was trimmed.

And of course nothing much can happen in the woods without a fire.

I did actually get to make a few brooms despite my interest in all the other activities in the yard. For the next 3 days I will be demonstrating in my normal pitch by the smithy at the museum.

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On Saturday I was demonstrating at a new local event, one that we hope will become a regular fixture, the Heathland Wildfire Awareness event at Haslemere fire station.

Heathland fires are a regular problem at this time of year in Surrey and Sussex. Many are small, but with a breeze and the right conditions the heath can burn fiercely turning into a dangerous and destructive inferno.

I’ve not tried to demonstrate on tarmac before and it was a bit of a challenge but it all went off well in the end.

There was an interesting range of displays including the animals and plants that colonise or graze the heaths as well as the crafts and products from them. The HCT displayed snakes and lizards, and Dave Elliot (who supplies me with bees wax) had some of his bees there and gave a talk. Unfortunately I was busy on my stand and couldn’t get to the talks. Hopefully next year.

We had a small fire last year , the result of people camping on the common overnight and not taking care to put out the campfire.


I have a friend who used to tell me it was good for business, but not many people are building and selling fire engines to replace those lost in heath fires.

OK, I admit it. It was all an excuse to take pictures of Haslemere’s fire engines, including their Landrover seen here with the monster new machine intended to cope with the heathland terrain. In fact when we were clearing up I noticed that what with the red landrovers, green ones, brown and blue ones, it seems admission was by landrover. Mine was by far the oldest though.

Well done to Mark Busby and Haslemere Fire Station for organising an excellent event. We’re looking forward to next year’s show. Now where was I….Pew, Pew, Barney, McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grub…………………….

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No, we’ve not gone mad. But if I’ve got this right, the class of Camelsdale primary school that was let loose on the Lynchmere commons on Friday is called ‘Wolves’. I had one bin burning when they arrived and then we opened up the three that I’d burnt the night before to find the charcoal.


The artist’s charcoal worked well and it was a hit with the class. I particularly liked this selection of pictures drawn on one of the boards I use at the site.

We went to find some more willow sticks to make more artists charcoal as the had class managed to use most that I’d made. We finished with a group photo on the trunk of a windblown birch tree.


Once the Wolves had left I was able to get on and burn the rest of the bins. The breeze was quite fickle and kept changing around. When it does this the smoke can get hung up in the trees creating some fantastic effects with the sunlight.


With all the bins going it was time to relax for a bit and cook my favourite meal – all day breakfast in the woods.

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Everything’s going green, or is that growing green. In just a few weeks so much has changed on the commons. The brown colours of winter have burst through the riot of spring colour and now are moving into the mass of green-ness that is summer. It seems much harder to take good pictures as everything just turns out green.

Now that there is plenty of lush vegetative growth the cows have been let loose on the commons. They have been off over the winter to let the vegetation recover and avoid overgrazing.

This year the cattle on the commons are very young and extremely inquisitive. They are attracted to noise and activity. While I was splitting wood and then setting off the charcoal bins on Thursday evening they browsed around me for a couple of hours.

The Shetland cattle are very well suited to browsing the wide range of vegetation and seem as happy grazing through the young birch, gorse and holly as they are with grass. No doubt it’s their background coming from the Shetland isles where they evolved to cope with little to forage other than heather during the harsh winters.

In our experience the cattle soon learn a wide and varied taste for plants on the common. We’re very interested to learn which plants the cattle browse during the year and are encouraging everyone to record and tell us when they spot them grazing.

The afternoon was windy and sunny which pushed the smoke from the charcoal bins through the woods creating patterns with the light.

In preparation for a visit from a local primary school on Friday I decided to try making artist’s charcoal using some willow cut recently. After packing tightly into a tin and binding with wire the box was placed into one of the bins once it was burning well.

As usual time flew by and it was close to sunset before I was able to shut down the last of the bins for the night. The intention was to be able to empty the bins for the school visit as well as set off another burn while they are there.

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I’m going to get my posts a little out of order. Over the last few days I’ve been quite busy including a number of shows and events which I have yet to post on. But today was the Surrey County show and Merrist Wood invited me to demonstrate polelathe turning on their stand and to represent the countryside management courses on one of which I teach polelathe turning.

I know the award winning team, Derek and Spanner, are expecting me to put up a post this evening and I’d hate to disappoint.

I’ve not attended the Surrey County show before, and to be honest I’ve steered clear of it as its a bit big, commercial and a lot of hassle for a one day show. But Derek talked me into it, and so today was something of an experiment.

Despite dark skies and an early rain shower the weather brightened up and it was a hot day, ending the run of bad weather for the show in recent years.

I prefer not to hog the limelight, so I hadn’t been expecting the pleasure of a ‘star’ turn with a radio mike, working against the clock to do a solo log-to-leg race. But one good turn deserves another as they say and in the end things went very well.

A log to leg race is where we start with a round log, split out a blank and then make a chair leg on the lathe as quickly as we can. Normally we make 2 legs together, but on this occasion I made one leg for each session.

There were several of us with short slots, including Keith, shearing some of the college flock of black sheep and Zak with chainsaw carving.

My favourite tractor at Merrist Wood, where it’s known as Number 6, was used to make a giant crane game for the kids. Just like the old arcade games but a tonka toy version. There was a queue for this game most of the day. Here Joe is helping the children from the safety of the cab pick up and move the brightly painted pieces of wood.


The Merrist Wood College stand won a first place at the show and well deserved congratulations to Derek, Spanner and the whole team who put on a great show for the crowds. It was great fun to be a part of the team.

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I came back from the bodgers ball with more than I bargained for.

Is it a new eco-friendly roof box for vintage landrovers?

No. it’s another project that I will need to fit into the next few weeks somehow.

It turns out that Barry was halfway through making a coracle.

But in true Barry fashion it is a strange mix of the modern and the traditional – sort of a modern coracle, or as Alison told me – ‘the moracle’.

I quite like the pink baler twine, but I think the softwood plank will have to go. The stitching of the fabric around the sides remains to be completed and then tarred.

An excuse to make a paddle or two I think.

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Minus one shed


Sheds are important. Demolishing one is not to be undertaken lightly. For one thing its taken me weeks just to empty it. Our garden is very small (lucky my office is 300 acres nowadays) but the current 8×6 is not much of a shed particularly now its dwarfed by the massive garden room the neighbour has built behind it.


Unfortunately the builders employed by the neighbour put in the footings a little close and as a result the corner of the shed has rotted through, rendering it fairly useless and it’s gradually caving in as the rot spreads.


Taking it down I realised just how thin the wood is and I really don’t have much use for any of it, other than as kindling for the fire at my charcoal site. As it’s treated wood, more treatment than wood in fact, I won’t be burning any of it indoors.


We’re planning a new shed in its place. The design is still a little fluid, but most of the timber has been planked and it will replace both the existing sheds at the bottom of the garden. My first serious construction project so I’m a little worried about making a mess of it.


So today the phase one started and the first shed came down. Once it’s gone I can get to work to dig out the base and lay the foundation blocks for the new one.

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