Archive for September, 2009

After a very calm week on the Gower I feel almost ready for the fray again. Although the weather was quite overcast most of the time there was hardly a breath of wind (very unusual) and the water was totally clear.

As was the visibility with Lundy Island in the middle of the channel unusually clear.

Even the islets of the edge of Lundy were visible. Normally being able to see Lundy clearly means its going to rain (and if you can’t it’s already raining) but this time the rain held off.

Walking in the Dunes behind Oxwich beach we followed a flock of young Goldfinches who were stocking up on seeds from the fast food flower stalks.

More by luck than by judgement I caught this one alighting on the stalk.

With the good weather beachcombing was in short supply, only broken fish crates and no rope at all.

Yes you guessed it. Whilst walking to Port Eynon to check on the ice cream quality, some vintage tractor spotting in the boat park just behind the beach, An impressive 10 vintage tractors arrayed with their boat trailers on Saturday, with the Massey’s in the Red corner….

.,,,and the Fordsons in the blue corner. Hmmmm, who is saddest…… the owners who line up their tractors carefully in the boat park, or those who photograph them?

Whereas Oxwich beach only boasted this Leyland, but with imaginative rope storage.

Physically I am back, but mentally I am still standing on the rocks gazing out to sea (and failing to catch any fish). Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.


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Back Soon

I’ve been demonstrating with the Surrey and Sussex Coppice group at the Weald Woodfair for the last few days. I didn’t have time to post all the craft articles from the Furnace show the previous week before it was time to leave for the Woodfair. Long shows are always very tiring and towards the end of the season it can become a struggle to get through the last few. I need some time to relax, so the posts will have to wait until I get back from the Gower peninsula in South Wales next week.

Will it be sunny like this ?

Or stormy like this?

Either way it won’t matter to me and I should manage to get some beachcombing in. When I get back I will post more from the Furnace – blacksmiths, and chestnut post and rail as well as on the woodfair.

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Wayne Batchelor, a fellow Sussex member of the Association of Polelathe Turners (APT) is a keen reenactor and on the Sunday was demonstrating with the Living History group. He brought his small bow lathe and was busy making drop spindles which is hard enough to do, let alone on a bow lathe.

He also had a fine colleciton of carved spoons with him

Somehow against my better judgement he persuaded me to have a go on the bow lathe. Each to their own, it’s not my idea of fun – as the roles of hands and feet are slightly reversed from the polelathe – but then I have an old landrover to carry my stuff and there is no doubt the bow lathe is very compact. Working out how to brace the chisel one handed and prevent chattering on thin work like drop spindles I did not manage to master in 5 minutes.

Then back to my pitch in the woods. You could almost call me a bodger with a very small stack of chair legs.

But I spent some time bowl-turning when I could get away from the production of dibbers (still very popular even at this end of the season – clearly a recession buster) rounders bats and rolling pins.

Butser Ancient farm were demonstrating at the show and Fergus was smelting copper using a charcoal furnace and with a clay lining. Unfortunately the wooden pipe from his bellows (something like a tuyere on a forge) burnt through when the clay cracked. I had a go at making a replacement using a birch stool leg that was to hand,

The main effort was to drill through the end grain using my brace and bit, unfortunately the only bit of the right size I had with me was damaged so we had to work a little harder. Though a proper bodge job we got there in the end and the new pipe worked well, though I didn’t manage to get free from my pitch to see it in action.

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Stephen Allberry makes fine handmade chairs and furniture from his home workshop in Rogate near Petersfield. His chairs really are handmade, he doesn’t use any power tools. He’s not too difficult to find, indeed you can’t miss it, his polelathe is in his small front garden right on the A272 as you pass through the village.

Stephen brought a selection of chairs and stools to the show, the armchair at the back is primarily made from Hawthorn with cherry for the arms. The wood he uses is all local and quite often what would otherwise be waste from woodland management. You can see from these chairs that Stephen likes to let the natural shape of the wood work with the design, and the resulting chair is very comfortable, indeed almost too comfortable – if you sit in it you might not get up again in a hurry.

I was very interested in the method Stephen has developed to join the elm bark strips when weaving the seating of these post and rung chairs. We had to turn the chair upside down for a better look. I’m developing the strange habit of turning peoples chairs upside down for a closer look these days. The ends of the bark strips are joined in the same way as leather with a slot and key approach, which works whilst the bark is supple and once dried is rock solid. Much neater than using knots.

When I interrupted him he was working on a pair of back legs for another side chair using a very neat miniature spoke-shave.

Here you get a better appreciation for the size of the spoke shave as Stephen and Dave discuss it’s merits.

You can find Stephen and his chairs on his website Fyning Unplugged.

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If you thought Bowyers were sausages – then think again. The ancient craft of bow making is alive and well, or kicking at least judging by the talented bowyers that I have encountered in the last couple of months. At the Furnace this year Dave Mercer joined the woodland craft demonstrators and we were entranced by the depth of understanding of the wood and its properties that is encompassed in the process of bow making. Here Dave is just about to start work on an ash blank that has been stored for a couple of years before it can be used.

The sheer range of different bows was fascinating, not just the different types of wood that can be used but also the wide variations in design of the bows, some of which date back many thousands of years.

Dave demonstrates a lovely ash bow with a relatively low draw strength, so that even I could draw it (my apologies if my knowledge of technical terms for archery is inadequate).

These two ash bows that Dave was working on are both based upon archeological discoveries that are thousands of years old, one from the Somerset levels and one (I think I’ve remembered rightly) from a similar bog in Denmark. What interested me was the different ways in which the bow is designed to cope with the pull and how each bow is designed to bend in different ways.

Dave knows a thing or two about wood, especially yew, as he is also the Reserve Warden for Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve on the South Downs above Chichester. Kingley Vale includes an amazing yew forest, one of the finest in Western Europe, as well as 14 scheduled ancient monuments, so it’s fitting that a Bowyer should manage it.

This graceful little bow turns out to be made from birch and is to an american indian design, and of course we couldn’t resist having a go with it. Go on the birch!

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The Sealed Knot always put on a good show for the Fernhurst Furnace weekend and this year was no exception. Sir Marmaduke Rawden’s regiment of foote is a part of the Sealed Knot’s Royalist army and spend the summer re-enacting the famous civil war battles. Although a small group, about 50 or more re-enactors, come to the weekend it’s a case of quality rather than quantity. This year the living history group established an authentic camp right next to the arena which further added to the atmosphere of the event.

Demonstrating in the woods I don’t normally get to see much of the Sealed Knot demonstration but this year I took time off to watch as much of the spectacle as I could manage, though as it meant leaving my stand unattended I had to rush to and fro a bit. The action starts with the pike and musket men marching into the arena from the campsite to the beat of a drummer.

Then the audience are introduced to the role and weaponry of the foot soldiers , an opportunity to show off their drill with the pikes and muskets and the two small cannon to much shouting of orders and banging of feet and arms. There were twenty four commands for the loading of the muskets alone which took some minutes when performed in this way, though only about 30 seconds when each soldier was allowed to reload in their own time.

Then they set up for a skirmish, or minor battle, involving all of the elements in which the foot soldiers attack the cannon. The cannon are the highlight of the show, certainly the loudest part, and they are a tangible demonstration of the weapons that the Furnace and its cannon casting pit made over it’s 150 year lifetime. Although there was no large battle at the furnace during the civil war, it was in use and there were elements of both armies in the area and there might well have been skirmishing.

The skirmish opens with a loud volley of musket fire. These are matchlock muskets appropriate to the period. The matchlock is fired using a hemp taper or ‘match’ soaked in saltpetre that each soldier must keep smoldering. The matchlock was cheaper to produce than the flintlock and could easily be repaired by blacksmiths while the flintlock required a locksmith to fix it. We proved this a couple of years ago when Robert was asked to repair one of the musket mechanisms on his portable forge.

The cannon reply with a barrage. Well a barrage of smoke and noise even if it was only two guns.

The pike soldiers advance towards the cannon.

Leaving those who have fallen as they go and closing ranks to fill the holes.

The slow rate of fire from the cannon was always going to mean that they were overrun and their crews were rapidly despatched by the decimated pike and musket men.

The audience thoroughly appreciated the informative entertainment. At the conclusion of the skirmish those still standing reform before the final command, The Dead May Rise…..

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A few photos from the Fernhurst Furnace show at the weekend. I took some photos of the craft demonstrations and the reenactments which I will post in following articles, but first a few general photos of the site and show.

The Sealed Knot in the shape of Sir Marmaduke Rawdon’s regt of foote, gave an excellent show with musket, pike and two small cannon loud enough to keep us awake through the day.

I have found a way to turn bowls on my transportable lathe, though it works better if I rough off the worst of the blank before the show. It certainly seems to add more interest to the demonstration.

We spotted this excellent and original Landrover Carawagon in the car park.

Alison seemed impressed by the handbuilt cooking and living quarters in the rear. Carawagon was an early competitor to Dormobile and features a similar lifting roof, but the dormobile vw conversions rightly turned out to be the most popular and are the best remembered.

One of the good things about the show is that the organisers are firmly committed to local produce like the South Downs Lamb (supported by the South Downs Board), which are roasted over a fire by a local farmer. The South Downs breed of sheep is a hardy rare breed and over centuries has shaped much of the landscape around the downs. Until recently in decline the South Downs Lamb initiative has helped bring local producers and retailers together bringing local food back to public awareness, increasing the numbers of South Downs sheep and helping to maintain the landscape as well. Just shows what can be achieved when we try.

The beer is provided by Ballards Brewery , a local microbrewery from Nyewood (http://www.ballardsbrewery.org.uk/). We were graced by the presence of Fran the head brewer which led to a rather in depth investigation of Ballard’s Best, Hop Bine and Nyewood gold – award winning ales – together with much discussion of the ancient arts of milling malt, mashing and sparging.

To my delight Fran and Uncle Jo pronouncd my own ‘hammerhead best’ brewed specially for the show to be excellent, praise indeed. Also Fran’s special chilli beer – which needs an award all of it’s own, well more of a health warning really.

We made the most of the beer with impromptu entertainment from a versatile array of craftspeople and artistes.

All finished off with the remainder of the lamb roast, marshmallows on the fire and a night cap of 5 year old Sloe Vodka. Shamefully I crept off to bed in the hope of doing some work the next day, leaving the party in full swing.

Early next morning the campsite was extremely quiet and deserted.

But it wasn’t too long before the blacksmiths were going at it ‘hammers and tongs’ and all to the smell of bacon frying.

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