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Archive for October, 2009

When I heard what Christopher (my nephew) and Rich(my brother in law) had been upto with some discarded computer and mobile phone parts I thought I should let them have some space on this blog to tell us how it works…so thanks Christopher and Rich, I’m off being distracted by some Landrover maintenance so meanwhilst… cue…..

A big fan…..of dried apple….


One way to prolong the shelf life of fruit and vegetables is to dry them. If they are dried until crisp and brittle, they will keep for a very long time indeed. If they are partly dried, but still remain pliable, they should still keep for at least 2 months or so.

Drying can be done in an oven with the door partly open (110 Centigrade, Gas Mark 1/4). That should take around 8 hours for apple rings. But it can also be done in an airy room, in which case it takes several days.


This year, the apple drying season happened to coincide with replacing a noisy computer fan. In an inspired piece of recycling, the old fan was connected to an unused phone charger, and used to blow warm air from the radiator over the aple rings. The charger provides enough power for the fan to be effective, but it turns slower than in the computer, so it runs smoothly and quietly. The new fan assisted drying seems to reduce the drying time by at least a day.

Discolouring of fruit, like apples, can be prevented by dipping in either lemon juice (3 Tablespoons in 1/2 Litre water) or Ascorbic acid solution (1 Tablespoon crystals in 1/2 Litre water) before drying.

So the steps to making dried apple rings are:

-choose unblemished apples
-peel, core and slice into rings (less than 5mm thick)
-dip in the lemon juice solution and drain
-dry apple rings on wooden kebab skewers
-store in an airtight jar
-regularly check and discard if there is any sign of mould

Thanks to Rich and Christopher for showing how apparently redundant computer and phone parts destined for landfill can actually be used simply for something useful. Add a solar array and it would be sustainable as well. I have a cunning plan for using this system to help some paint dry – should be worth watching 🙂

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A load of bowls…

A comment from Paul Atkins on the Bodgers forum (a really useful resource for all those greenwood questions you didn’t know you needed to ask) has prompted me to take some photos of my recent bowls – bearing in mind that my recent bowls =almost all my bowls. The bowls here are from Sycamore, Birch and spalted birch. The one bowl I made from Gean (wild cherry) was sadly stolen at the Weald Wood fair. Still something of a complement I suppose.


I foolishly made the assertion that I’d been turning 9 inch bowls using chainsaw starter cord on the lathe mandrel. In measuring the bowls I discover the largest one so far is 8.5 inches. What a dissapointment. Still it’s not the size that counts. Perhaps I should measure them in cm to make them sound bigger? No, I can’t bring myself to do that.


I only turn local English native woods, preferably from trees I’ve felled myself. It’s become a bit of a thing. I’m breaking the rule at the moment as I’ve just rediscovered some American Black Walnut which has been lurking in the yard for around 3 years and it’s still surprisingly soft and wet when turning. The wood came from Kew Gardens when I demonstrated there with the APT and they let us have some of the wood from the fantastic tree which had fallen over. Worth breaking the rule for I feel.


I hope to finish the bowl on Saturday (it’s in a plastic bag overnight to prevent it dring out) but there are a lot of distractions. It will be interesting to see how the colours of the wood turn out.

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Distractions Abound

I’ve been distracted by lots of urgent jobs recently. Some are quite small but others are proving troublesome and prevent me from getting on with more important work on chairs and bowls. A typical distraction that did get fixed recently was a seal on the hydraulic ram for the trailer we use on the commons.

It’s not been dismantled in decades and it took Richard and I some hours to get it off and even longer to get at the seal. But it will be good to be able to use the trailer over the winter, at least Roy will be pleased with me. Fingers crossed this is one distraction that won’t need doing again for another few decades.

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I spent this weekend working on the Lynchmere Commons with a group of volunteers from Southampton University Conservation Volunteers (SUCV). They worked with us earlier this year and somehow we managed to convince them to come back for more.


The Weather on Saturday was appalling. The kind of determined rain which seems light for a short while but after a couple of hours has completely saturated everything. But I brought out the splitting axes and some determined firewood splitting soon got things going.


The task for the day was to clear an area of birch saplings opening up a path and we got stuck into the work.

The felled saplings were used to reinvigorate one of our woven dead hedges protecting a new hazel coppice area.


A good fire helped to drive off some of the moisture over lunch and we sat in a circle steaming with gloves suspended on sticks to dry out. With an effort we managed to light one bin to show the charcoal making process and demonstrate how to make a simple charcoal kiln with an oil drum.


On Sunday the weather was entirely different and we worked amongst the big pines up on Marley common to clear scrub from regenerating heathland and make an access track for future work parties.

I demonstrated making half sized besoms and some of the group had a go themselves before we went for a walk to look at the South Downs from the edge of Marley Common in the fading light.

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The New Forest Cider pressing weekend is a well kept secret held on their cider farm at Burley. A case of cider meets steam with some added wood. Please excuse the indulgent photos and as I am still trying to recover I will largely let them speak for themselves.


No photos of vintage tractors, I think I was distracted by the array of steam lorries and engines.


At the end of the season it was something of a relief to be down-sizing without my shelter and for the first time no pole lathe.


Squeezed into the small field behind the farm shop were at least 5 cider presses and scratters (the mills for pulping the apples) mainly run by steam. The smell of apples already fermenting was in the air. This fantastic mill featured a steam driven scratter and a steam driven press on either side.

Proudly displaying its heritage on the side.


There was a strong contingent from Gloucester at the weekend and I assume this press came up with them


On the greenwood front we put on a good show. Peter Lane and his assistant Peter were rattling off hurdles. Hurdling goes back in Peter’s family for generations, he has a fascinating knowledge of how and when each copse was cut and seems to operate as much by feel as he rives the rods.

Here Paul Vodden shows his tine cutter in use.


Rod Poynting also brought a down sized display. Treadle lathes are his speciality, still foot powered but with the work piece continually rotating they are the direct ancestor of today’s powered lathes. Rod also displayed his superb ash chair which won an award as last week’s Cranborne Chase woodfair.


Back to the cider. This outfit came from North Somerset (Cleveland) and their pressing from last year won the cider tasting contest on the Saturday evening. Prizes awarded by Rosie, of ‘Cider by Rosie’ fame. Over the years Rosie’s Dorset cider is responsible for a number of my friends falling down events. Needless to say I don’t remember much of the evening which was a cidermakers paradise.

Sunday morning brought a lot of leisurely breakfasts and a few horse voices

and Morris met Steam


Despite the distractions I managed to make a couple of rakes. I hadn’t intended to sell my first rake but Simon persuaded me to part with it for raking flax on their farm in Gloucestershire – after extracting a promise of a lifetime guarantee. Thats the trouble with cider.


The Apres-show. You may have noticed the number of living wagons in the photos, a feature of the show. So leisurely was the pace that it was quite hard to drag myself away and just for once I was not the last to leave. That would have been hard. A big thank you for Chris, whose wonderful wagon this is, for inviting to this gem of a show and to Peter Jameson for his endless advice and wisdom….and on the rakes. Provided I recover by next year I will be back.

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Just in Tine

I am Mark the Rake for the weekend at the Burley Cider Festival in the New Forest. A novel experience not to be taking a pole lathe but making hay rakes is a skill I’ve wanted to acquire for a while and with the wisdom and help of Peter Jameson I hope to make a couple of reasonable rakes this weekend (and to sample the local brew).

For rakes you need tines, and they need to be seasoned. These tines were made just in tine to be seasoned on the woodburner this evening. I think its called ‘Just in Tine manufacturing’………..

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One of the last shows of the year, the Autumn Celebration at the Weald & Downland museum is one of my favourites and this year was a good one. I was joined by John and Wayne from the Sussex group of the APT (association of polelathe turners and greenwood workers) and they stayed on for the Sunday while I was busy at the blackmoor apple day.


John and I were mainly spindle turning whilst Wayne demonstrated bowl turning and spoon carving so our pitch was busy all day and with Waynes small bow lathe as well there was plenty for the visitors to see and do.


Next door at the bottom of the show field the threshing drum was busy devouring the straw rick with the gentle chuff of the steam engine


The thatching wheat is grown on the museums own fields and harvested earlier in the season. The threshing drum separates the grains from the corn ears and then the grain is collected whilst the chaff is rejected out of the pipe. The short pieces of straw are separated from the full length straw and bailed,

The full length straw is good for thatching and the machine produces bound sheaves which are then piled up. This straw is going straight onto one of the museum cottages, Gonville, which is being rethatched. I was amazed to see the ears still on the ends of the straw, though now empty after being threshed.


Up in the farmyard Julian was busy pressing apples. Both fresh juice and 2 year old cider were available for tasting, the cider was quite excellent.


Meanwhilst up in the woods above the museum the autumn sunlight played on the trees…..


…..and Jon prepared an earth clamp for a charcoal burn. The lengths of wood are carefully arranged around a central void. Once the earth is piled over the wood the central hole is used to pour in hot coles and start the burn. The size of the clamp is designed so that the burn will be completed in around 24hours and the clamp opened up before the end of the show.

I was pleased to see Wayne using a traditional bow saw, one of the late Barry Plant’s giant collection of tools, many of which have found their way into our boxes and are now in use. He would be pleased. Many thanks to John and Wayne for joining me on the pitch, putting on an excellent show and for holding the fort on Sunday.

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