Archive for June, 2010

The Sussex & Surrey Coppice Group are holding their annual ‘Hands On Day’ this Saturday 3rd July at the site of the Fernhurst Furnace near Haslemere.  It’s an opportunity to see, exchange information and try out a range of coppice crafts and products. Activity starts from about 10am with a tool auction somewhere around midday. But the chairman puts it better than me so I’ll hand over to Mr Sinclair:

For those that have not attended before here is the general outline:

Demonstrations are ten a penny; this is an opportunity to actually say’ I fancy trying that’ and getting your hands dirty.

This is a chance to try new techniques and meet/’network’ with other coppice workers, as well as discuss forthcoming events such as the Earthburn (two-tier, 12-15 tonnes charcoal burn, not seen in the UK since 1995) and associated courses running for a week from August 11th, and the South East Coppice Conference 6th – 8th October, to name but two.

It is not restricted to full, or even part-time coppice workers, like-minded friends and family are most welcome.

Outline schedule::

Arrive Friday evening or Saturday morning as you see fit. Friday evening will be setting up and self-catering (you can do this throughout if you prefer). Camping is the norm and bring your own drinks.

Saturday @ 10.00 we kick off

12.30 we have a tools auction where pretty much anything goes from water-bowsers to tree-tubes

13.30 BBQ lunch with proper vegetarian options, soft drinks etc. provided by the SSCG

14.30 we get our hands dirty again

18.30 BBQ/Hog Roast/vegetarian options etc provided by Dave Rossney, Esus Forestry, at £5.00 /head

then eat drink make merry and camp the night or leave when you feel like it.

Sunday – clear up and clear off!

There will be water on tap and loos, including disabled access on site. We hope to have New Forest Ice Cream on sale during the day, essential in my opinion if the sun is out!.

It promises to be a great day. Who will win the cleave a paling competition?

and will  Mr Jameson feel the need of a blanket to keep his legs warm again? or was it to spare us the sight?

So if you feel like popping along – drop me a line and I’ll send you directions.


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Somehow we chose one of the hottest days of the year (on Saturday) to hold a volinteers work day up at Mare Barn to clear the back of the yard, dismantle an old fence line and to start putting up a new fence line for a small orchard.

Fence gone, hazel cut back and just the butt of the large red oak left to be dismantled.

Some of the old fenceposts were in good shape. We’ve carefully rolled up the wire for reuse and extracted the posts using one of my high-lift jacks and a strop. the vertical lift from the jack pulls the posts out with ease.

Fresh chestnut posts from the coppice just beyond the fields. Hard work as the soil is now dry and like concrete, and the temperature soared to 30 degrees.  Here we will be planting a small community orchard over the winter with 2 or 3 dozen traditional apple trees – mainly old Sussex varieties such as Knobbly Russet (from Midhurst), Bramshott Rectory (from bramshott only a couple of miles away), Sussex Forge and so on.

So some relaxing scything in the shade seemed a good reward. Yes we reward our volunteers with more hard work! Here Dave joined us in the afternoon and was keen to experience the joys of scything. Hopefully he’s now hooked.

..and of course we Cocked It Up! If you mow the grass for hay on the wrong day and it starts to rain before its ready to take in then a quick way to preserve the hay is to make a haycock which helps the water run off the curing grass. Hence to Cock It Up, is when things don’t go according to plan! I have heard other explanations for the phrase but this one seems to make most sense to me.

I got out a polelathe that I keep at the workshop in the barn. It’s made entirely with wood planked up from the commons, birch and scots pine.  Seb kindly helped me set it up and manned the lathe during the evening.

We finished off with a barbeque for the volunteers and members of The Lynchmere Society to celebrate the handover of the barn and the fields – it’s not often you get to take on the stewardship of a 17th century wealden barn and 50 acres of traditional hay meadow and pasture, hedges and woodland belts.  And then around the bonfire which worked well at keeping the insects at bay. No point in leaving until we’d finished the beer – local of course, Golden Bine and Best from Ballards at Nyewood who are celebrating their 30th anniversery this year.

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I’ve been slowly getting on with a job using my Logosol chainsaw mill. A couple of years ago a large oak, not a native, possibly a red oak, fell over at the back of the barnyard up on Lynchmere ridge. It was a nasty job as it lodged in ash trees and hung over a well used local footpath. I managed to clear the tree and have slowly worked it down to the bottom of the trunk. It’s not straight enough to be first class wood and it seems quite knotty from the outside. Added to that it fell over because of an infection in the roots to I’m expecting some decay in the butt.

I was wondering whether these defects might actually make it better for using as chair seats – firstly because the twisty grain will make it less likely to crack? and secondly because of the character of the wood. It’s just a theory and quite likely to be wrong. I know its still quite likely to bow and/or to crack up the centre – there seems to be little way to predict it, you just have to try it and see what happens a year or two later.

The first problem is just to get it onto my logosol mill. My first attempt seemed to be going well but then the weight of the log snapped the welds on the platform on the back my Massey Ferguson tractor. Thanks to Richard and a rapid introduction to arc welding it’s time to have another go.

Success this time. It’s a big log, over 2ft in diameter and rolling it with the canthook is on the edge – a difficult procedure.

The tractor hydraulics cope admirably and offering the log up to the log bench on the mill went well.

Log in place. Now how to cut up such a beast and what will I find inside it? It is by far the largest log I’ve had on the mill yet. I notice in living woods there has been some talk of using mini-diggers for this kind of work, but I doubt a mini-digger would cope with this size of log and I would have thought that more people would have access to a tractor with a 3 point linkage.?

The only option to start with is to cut off the top as the log is too big for the bench, but I should be able to resaw the top later and the top is just about handlable on its own. The 25inch bar on the saw only just cut through the top of the log, and it was quite a struggle even for the powerful Stihl 660.

Here’s the grain in the log. This is as far as I managed to get so far.  The mill does produce an excellent finish. on the wood which surprises a lot of people when they see it – keeping the saw sharp is a key here. One reason why I stopped at this point in the heat of the day and I will finish the job in the next couple of days. Meanwhile I am thinking about the best way to put the cuts in to try to extract the most stable wood from the log.

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The Scything and Smallholders weekend is on this Saturday and Sunday at Wimpole Hall Cambridgeshire. Looks like it will be a good weekend and the flyer promises free admission. It is somewhere I would really like to visit but because of other commitments I can’t go this year. Shame as I would very much have liked to beat 1:15 seconds !

But if you are in the area and at a loose end why not pop over and help tham cut the lawn – you can see they need the help.

For more information you can find the flyer on the bodgers website events page here. I know that there will be at least one pole-lathe turner,  the APT’s very own Simon Lamb,  on hand in the craft demonstrations.  Here is Simon in action at the Bodgers ball. Ooops, I seem to have only pictures of his setup without Simon – So here is Simon inaction I think I meant so you can admire his shave horse instead.  Simon and I both took part in our first log to leg race at the ball and Simon far outshone my attempt to come last – I will do better next time when we will both be seasoned veterans !

Whilst I can’t make it to Wimpole this weekend which culminates in the 3rd Eastern championship I will be there in spirit and am planning to arrange some team mowing at the Lynchmere Societies volunteer day and bbq on Saturday instead.

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…Dear Lisa, Dear Lisa, There’s an ‘ole in my bowl, Dear Lisa an ‘ole! And no it’s not the hole that’s supposed to be there. I made a few bowl blanks just before the hot weather arrived and used some sycamore that looked as if it had interesting grain – always a risk as I am discovering.

The blanks that I didn’t manage to turn at once have been hiding in shavings on the floor of the shed and yesterday I picked a fairly wide but shallow one to turn.  I am very pleased with the shape and the grain looked good. but as I reduced the walls of the bowl inside I began to notice a flaw that did not go away until…

This bowl now has a feature in it. The close up does rather maximise the problem though and once finished the hole is hardly noticeable, though I suspect it might be rather noticeable when hald the milk from your cereal ends up in your lap.

once spilt from the core the hole is at about 12 o’clock 4/5 of the way up to the rim and quite hard to see at first but once you know its there it’s unavoidable. As I really like the shape of the bowl I am tempted to sell it as it is – without trying to fill the hole. Does anyone have any experience with this form of flaw, what did you do? and did you sell the bowl?

I immediately slapped some of my local cold pressed linsed oil from high barn oils (also goes well in salads – end of commercial plug) just to prevent it getting any worse in the hot weather though I have yet to shave out the remains of the core. There are no signs of any other problems and it’s so small (less than a mm in diameter) that plenty of linseed might just plug it! I think of it as a feature rather than a defect  – what do you think?

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In amongst all the other things going on at this time of year  it can be hard to find enough time for polelathe turning. I don’t like it when I bounce from show to show with no time to work on my turning inbetween. So it was doubly pleasing on Sunday to be back on my pitch at the Weald & Downland Museum and to have managed to do some work in preparation as it was Father’s Day which is one of the day when I do some ‘have-a-go’ sessions.

I find doing ‘have-a-go’ sessions is more tiring than working on the lathe all day and you need eyes in the back of your head so I don’t do a lot of it. But it does allow me to have a longer chat with visitors and I am always rewarded when it turns out that somebody is thinking of taking it up and ‘having a go’ is all they need to motivate them to build their own lathe, use it better, or to book onto a course.

Thanks to the Beeb Mastercrafts programme the courses at the Weald and Downland museum are all booked up. Which reminds me – there is a new tutor on the courses at the museum – yes you guessed it – it’s me! Another task to fit into the schedule, I’m happy to take it on and look forward to it, but sad that it’s happening because the longtime tutor at the museum, Jonny Morris, is very ill. Jonny learn’t from Jack Hill at West Dean and was a founder member of the APT – my first experiences on the lathe and with greenwood were under Jonny’s guidance so I do know what a hard act I have to follow.

I normally sell  reasonably well during have-a-go sessions. Probably for a number of reasons as people might want a memento, or the extra time allows them to evaluate their purchase more fully – I never pressure people to buy, I think it’s counterproductive for me. But it’s more important to have made the right items in advance as I can’t make to order during the day.

I still have some Olive Ash left and despite my natural tendancy to hoard it I am turning it as fast as I can in the hot weather. It’s a delight to turn and makes the normally unremarkable Ash into something quite special -very good for rolling pins.

I think  another factor in selling is having some ‘wow’ pieces on the stand. A difficult thing to achieve as I am also concerned to ensure that my sales tables don’t detract from the demonstrations and presentation of the stand so any wow pieces need to be small and fit in. I’ve always felt that  some bowls would do this for me and I now have a small stock of bowls for sale each of which has a lot of character.  They aren’t priced to sell quickly and at some shows they aren’t priced to sell at all – particularly if there is a power turner just around the corner.  So I don’t know if its good or bad that I sold both of the large spalted bowls on Sunday – now I do need to do more bowl turning before the next show – so it must be good, but it will be hard to fit it in, which is bad!

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Just in case you haven’t noticed I’ve been doing quite a lot of scything recently.  Originally I used the scythe for cutting bracken and I still do, but recently I’ve been doing a lot more grass mowing and last year discovered the West Country Scythe Festival on the Somerset Levels near Muchelney  – This is the last post on the subject for the moment  – honest!

The big fellow in the loud shirt is George Montague from Stogursey in Somerset. Last year George powered his way to second place, though he did bend his blade in the process.  This year George looked to be even fasterand more powerful, fast enough to challenge for first place and he started the finals in fine style mowing in great swathes….

…..But what’s this?  Confident enough to down a pint during the finals?

No, sadly for George his blade broke about halfway through the final. I’ve never seen a blade tear in half like this one did and it put George out of the running.

John Fenn examines the broken blade, which I suspect only helps to confirm his view that you can’t beat a good English blade. But English blades have not been made since the 1960’s and imported Austrian blades are currently the norm. They are about two thirds of the weight, a factor which turns out to be decisive with the amount of power George can bring to bear.

If we can find George a blade that even he can’t break then next year should turn out to be even more interesting.  Especially since John Fenn mowed his patch in 2:20 using an old English scythe and tells me that he has managed 1:10 in practice.

Just in case you haven’t had enough of the scything – then there is a gallery page with most of my photos on it. Just click on the gallery tab at the top of the page or follow the link here:

Photo Gallery 2010 Scything Championships

Now it’s back to the greenwood as I have a show at the Weald & Downland Museum tomorrow.

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