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Archive for July, 2010

Normal’ish’ service should be resumed now as I’ve just returned from a busman’s holiday at the New Forest Show. It’s full on work really, but as it’s not commercially viable abd with the bonus of a few days camping in the Forest. I count it as a woodsman’s holiday otherwise I can’t easily justify it.

Thank you to all of the Hampshire Coppice Craftsmen’s Group who put up with me for the duration of the show and especially to Alan and Jo Waters for being such good company with their traditional pimps, faggots and benders (he says knowing full well that the hit rate on the site will go through the roof just by mentioning the words pimps, faggots and benders) which in this case are traditional coppice products. The Sussex Pimp is a round bale of 25 bundles of birch firelighters (just to the left of the sign in the picture), a faggot is a larger bale of birch – often used in ovens – and the bender is a traditional woodland pole and canvas shelter.

Sadly I didn’t seem to be such good company as Alan promptly fell asleep despite the crowds and the band playing. I guess a good charcollier can always catch a quick nap and he is probably saving up for the upcoming Earthburn in Ashdown forest in a few days time – all visitors welcome – excuse the blatant plug!

A new development at this year’s show. The emergence of  Dave the  Trug Dealer ! Pssst, wanna buy a trug? Is nowhere safe these days?

Dick Apps, a long time polelathe turner who demonstrated for close on 30years at the show, turned up on Wednesday and couldn’t resist showing that he hasn’t lost his touch. With immaculate timing he turned up just as I furtively applied a quick sandpaper finish to a rolling pin. Sorry – but I find even with the best finish I can achieve -that they sell quicker and at a higher price with a quick sand and then a burnish. Needless to say there was a quick round of ‘I say, Is that shark skin you’re using!’ . Thank you Dick and I look forward to seeing you looking just as well next year.

A little challenge turned up along the way. A new lure handle for one of the falconry team – not too difficult and it’s always interesting to do something a litle different.

I spent most of the time working on a few bowls. This one is ash and I made life quite hard for myself as the wood is fairly dry and the blank far too big, too deep and nothing like circular enough,

I am pleased that the lathe worked, though disappointed by how slowly I worked – I shall be hunting down some fresher wood to try instead. A challenge with all the wood I stored for bowls rapidly seasoning in the hot weather. The lathe was quite stable with the bowls but very unstable for spindles – so some futher tweaks are needed.

Plenty of greenwood on display in the ‘Old Time Farming’ section of the show and I shall be putting up a gallery of pictures shortly. These tent pegs were part of Terry Heard’s mountain of product. Nice one Terry.

I did get out a bit on my bike to wander around the forest between Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst, necessary for me to escape the crowds and noice inside the show. These burrs would delight a turner but then it’s a shame to cut down such a natural totem pole and good that the FC left this one in place. It will take me quite a while to recover  but I think I might just be back again next year.

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A new bed and legs

Time to get ready for the next show, the New Forest Show, where I will be demonstrating with the Hampshire Coppice Group. Having had quite a run of events and with very little prepared there is not enough time for all the jobs I need to do, so why not do something else instead? As Robin Fawcett said on his treewright blog recently – – ‘Life’s what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans’.

So why not build a new lathe instead? I’d like to be able to do more bowl turning at demonstrations but my original lathe isn’t study enough and the height of the poppets above the lathe is quite limiting. With very little time available I decide to just build a new bed and legs for the poppets I use on my lathe in the shed.


First choice is whether to bolt it together from 4×2 or mill out a bed from a log. As luck would have it I had a half oak log stashed away which is relatively seasoned, though perhaps a little too small for the job. We’ll see. I decide to mill out the slot using my Logosol chainsaw mill. The original slot is cut freehand and then the log placed on the mill.

Certainly cuts a neat slot – though I didn’t get it completely central. How did that happen? It’s never good to be in a rush with a job. But I have learnt a lot from doing this and am already planning a bigger and better version.

A couple of hours elatter and the the poppets are mounted in the new bed with 4 birch legs.

No arrangement for the tool rest and supports yet – I will have to make that up as I go along as I’ve run out of time. With the bed a shade too small and the legs a tad too thin I’m not sure how well it will work – I’m going to find out later today when I get down to the New Forest Show site between Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst. Time to go and fix the exhaust manifold on the Landrover before I can leave.

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Sad news – and rather poignant. Jonny Morris was a green woodworking tutor at the Weald and Downland Museum for many years – and he started me off on the Polelathe. I was both delighted and sad when Jonny recommended that I take over his courses after he fell sreiously ill earlier this year.  It turns out rather poignantly that he died on Tuesday whilst I was teaching one of his courses at the Museum, and as it happens we were talking about him .

Although I didn’t know him well I certainly benefitted from his gentle encouragement. He started me off in the right direction – very much ‘if it works for you’. If I remember rightly Jonny was a pupil of Jack Hill’s at West Dean and he was an accomplished furniture maker. He worked as an instructor and woodland manager at a centre in Ashdown Forest and in the aftermath of the ’87 storm, upset by the waste of wood from fallen trees he took up polelathe turning and green woodworking.

He was a founder member of the Association of Polelathe Turners, though he certainly wasn’t a purist  about greenwood and when I first met him he was no longer involved with the APT.

I look forward to carrying on the tradition with the polelathe courses at the Weald and Downland Museum, proud that he recommended me and I hope that he will be looking over my shoulder from time to time.

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Somehow while I wasn’t paying close attention my calendar seems to have filled itself to the brim. So much so that for the last few days I’ve been teaching 3 polelathe courses and demonstrating at a show at the Weald & Downland Museum – not that I am complaining – it’s just been a little hectic. Now I have a few days to recover,  but also a list of urgent jobs to do, and to prepare for the New Forest Show.

As a rule I’ve not been doing much teaching, preferring to concentrate upon demonstrating and making turned items for sale. Jonny was the original Tutor at the museum and he started me off a few years ago.  I’ve  not seen him very often and knew he was not well but recently he’s become very ill – so I’ve only just taken the courses on and   have had to shoehorn them into my calendar. The first course on Saturday was  a one day introduction to Polelathe Turning and Greenwood working – or is it Green Woodworking I’m never quite sure.  All of the students (five on this course) did very well and left having made a simple turned item on the polelathe. Enjoyable, but I always find teaching hard work and still a show and 2 more courses to go.

The Rare Breeds show on Sunday is the largest show of the museum calendar and this year it attracted well over 5,000 visitors. Avery busy day. It was good to be able to spend the day turning after running the course on Saturday and I was able to start early having spent Saturday Evening setting up my demonstration.

For a one-day show it’s very busy with animals and visitors arriving early -another reason why I setup the evening before. to avoid the chaos.

Though by the evening peace and quiet returns.  No rest for me yet as I will be back on Monday and Tuesday for two more polelathe courses.

The weather on Monday was a scorcher! I knew that I would have 6 students from London Metrolpolitan University on Monday and Tuesday, but no more. In the event it turned out that they are all students on various furniture restoration courses from what was the London School of Furnishing, until it was rebranded. Greenwood working with froe, axe, drawknife and the polelathe was a new and different skill from their more typical maquetry courses!

We had a lot of fun, and despite the sweltering weather everyone managed to make a turned item  – with a clear predilection for clubs, bats and mallets…….hmmmm.

I was warned that the Tuesday course would be a lot more competitive. Perhaps the hot weather calmed things down but after an energetic start they all settled into a good pace. The museum was very quiet for most of the day with the polelathe course as the main attraction for visitors. Even the ducks seemed very interested in our progress.

The enthusiasm even extended to a quick try in the sawpit with Simon banished into the pit as bottom dog and Adeline getting to try being Top Dog.

The museum has a set of lathes, most of which were built some years ago to a traditional design and are only used for teaching, so they don’t benefit from regular use and they could do with a little tweaking up over the next few months. We used 5 of the museum lathes and one of mine for the course.

We did well in the afternoon and one again the theme of clubs, mallets and beaters seemed prevalent

though we also had spurtles, a honey drizzler and even a mushroom. No doubt the good weather helped but everyone seemed to have a good time on the courses – though it was hard work doing so many courses and a show in close succession.

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Coppice Week at Ashdown Forest (11th – 15th August) is  a gathering of Englands finest coppice craftsmen from six counties to teach their skills in making products from coppiced woodlands.  Course tutors including Owen Jones (oak swill baskets), Jeremy Atkinson (Clog Sole making), Alan Sage (Chestnut Hurdles), Terry Heard (Tent Pegs), Hazel Hurdles (Neil McLaughlin) and ‘join-in’ Besom broom making by Stan Card. Subsidised (and I do mean subsidised – if your are associated with coppice or greenwood work look at the RDPE prices) places are available see pdf file below and/or contact

Jo Waters on 07786 515460 or by email at wildwoodcoppice@btinternet.com

This is your opportunity to gain a fascinating insight into the world of coppice crafts and a unique experince. The centre piece of the coppice week is a massive Earthburn, run by the Old Man of the Woods himself, Alan Waters, which is also running as a training course.

The Earthburn will be a gigantic double storey 15ton clamp which has not been seen in the UK since Alan last ran one in 1995 at the Weald and Downland Museum (sorry about the quality of the photo but I wasn’t there and this is a photo of a photo). Keen that the skill of making charcoal in an earth clamp should not be lost in the UK,  Alan and Jo run an Earthburn every year which is lit on the 11th August St Alexander’s day, the patron saint of Charcoal Burners.

The end result on Sunday 15th will be a massive pile of charcoal – about 2 tonnes. This is something that doesn’t happen every day or even every decade. An Earthburn is a tremendously evocative thing to see, somehow quite primeval especially at night.

This was Alan’s Earthburn in West Dean Woods last year –  I don’t know the Ashdown site but it’s worth a visit just to experience the peace and tranquility of the Earthburn -you can visit without taking part in the courses. You can also help with the Earthburn without booking onto the course. But if you are tempted by the courses it’s worth booking without delay as there are very limited spaces –  You won’t find such a high quality group of tutors teaching in one place  – and did I mention the subsidised prices ? – even a coppice worker can be tempted!

Here is the flyer for the event

Coppice Week at Ashdown Forest – Poster_SAv2

and here are the details for each course

Coppice Week course fliers_Sav2

and I almost forgot – here is a link to a map for the location

http://www.streetmap.co.uk/map.srf?X=543075&Y=132410&A=Y&Z=120

I aim to be there demonstrating over the period and hope to see you there. If you can’t make it then I am aiming to post on the blog as the Earthburn proceeds – technology allowing – perhaps St Alexander will help me out!

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Wildflower Meadows

Today being the 15th July and St Swithun’s Day prompted me to write a little about traditional wildflower meadows. I don’t know how true it is but I am often told that the summer holidays from mid July through to the start of September match the haymaking season when virtually everyone could be expected to help out with the harvest. The holiday season remains but a lot has changed in our meadows.

I’ve recently become involved with the management of some traditional  fields and haymeadows alongside our mixed woodland and heathland on the Lynchmere commons. A haymeadow bursting with wildflowers is a common image of the English countryside, but sadly it’s a very rare sight in reality today. The mechanisation and intensification of farming practice in the 20th century means that only 5% of our traditional haymeadows remain and there is  very little to prevent these from further decline.

A field like this one, with patches of bird’s foot trefoils and black-knapweed is a poor field in modern intensive agricultural terms. For the wild flowers to flourish the field needs to be left at least until mid-July and more liely August before it is cut for hay, which conflicts with modern agricultural practice, and a good hay meadow would often take decades to establish. The vast majority of  traditional meadows have been ploughed, seeded with rye-grass, fertilised and weedkillers used to remove unwanted plants (one mans weed is anothers wildflower).

Most ironically these fields are referred to as ‘improved’ whereas in ecological terms they are badly degraded with such low biodiversity that they are almost monocultural. Or their use has changed or they have just been neglected.

That makes these fields on the Lynchmere ridge very special as they have been looked after by the same farmer, Peter, without being ploughed or ‘improved’ for at least 50 years. This year they have been  a riot of colour and a botanical survey in one of the fields recorded over 70 species of plant.

But the wildflowers are only the start of the story. Wildflowers attract wildlife and they exchange nectar for the chance of polination by bees, butterflies and all manner of insects. Cutting the hay late or in stages not only allows for the wildflowers to set seed but it also provides food for all levels of the food chain.  as well as habit for nesting animals to raise their young.

I was going to have a good rant about the problems with modern farming, but I will leave that for another day and restrict myself to saying that Bigger is not always Better especially when it comes to the size of fields, tractors and the overdraft to pay for them. It’s a shame that small mixed farms with small tractors and equipment to make small bales are not more valued. Here Dave is admiring John’s trusty International and Massey Ferguson Baler and discussing the technicalities of haymaking on small farms – just right for nipping out and getting some hay in while the weather allows.

With only 5% of our traditional hay meadows intact is it any wonder that the bees, and the birds are struggling to find the right habitats? I don’t have a lot of spare time but I will be doing as much as I can to help ensure that these fields are not ‘improved’ anytime soon and that they continue to be managed and used as Peter wanted.

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After a couple of years of absence the Hampshire Woodfair returned – this year at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park on the South Downs just below Petersfield. I joined a strong showing from the Hampshire Coppice Craftsmen’s Group to demonstrate on the polelathe. We had a dozen demonstrations including Charcoal burning, thatching spars, besom making. tent pegs, walking sticks and a few where I managed to take half decent photos (which was hard with the strong sunlight and deep shadows under the shelters).

Matt Melton from the South Downs Green Wood Centre showed us how to make oak shingles and finished the day with some timber framing.

Dave Lister has been working hard on his trugs, having been taught the traditional design by the Sussex Royal Trug makers.

It’s a great way for Dave to diversify from hurdle and spar making and I am particularly pleased to see the trugs made with traditional white willow and chestnut – I have heard rumours spread that you can’t get the wood any longer in England – perhaps to justify making them with imported Eastern European wood ?

But Dave’s trugs show that the traditional willow and chestnut construction is still the best.

Meanwhilst back on the polelathe it was rolling pin day – soon selling out of my small stock of rolling pins. As usual the lathes drew plenty of attention and interest and I had an assistant for the day 🙂

From being almost unheard of suddenly polelathe bowlturners are creeping out of the woodwork everyway I turn (no pun intended).  Well maybe –  but there are probably still only a handful that are selling their bowls with success. It’s not easy to sell them at a price that is reasonable and I have only just started. I am still experimenting with the shapes and woods that I like – and that the customers appreciate.  I originally thought the larger bowls would be unlikely to sell and really would serve as a ‘wow’ item on the display stand. But it seems that they sell best, despite the higher prices – particularly with spalted wood which helps them stand out.

And did I mention that I had an assistant for the day (oh the power of the blog!). In truth I was delighted to be able to work alongside Mike Abbott for the day.  Yes, that Mike Abbott.  Apart from last years Scythe Festival our paths have not crossed before and it turned out we have plenty to discuss in the world of green wood, scythe snathes and coppice crafts.

As is traditional with assistants –  Mike beat me thoroughly at the log-to-leg race. But then he did invent it! Thanks Mike for being so gentle with me. I seem to be jinxed at the log-to-leg race – on my first attempt at this years bodgers ball I managed to cut my cord, something I’ve not done for a good while. This time the supports for the pole collapsed in the middle of the race – bringing the whole lot down. Hopefully it all adds to the entertainment.

Paul Vodden jumped into the gap and joined us to demonstrate how to make a decent brew.  Not easy to jump into Mr Jameson’s shoes at late notice but done with style.

Well done Paul, I have to say those rakes are coming on really well – but now you’re living in Dorset perhaps you could leave the Sussex handles to us?

As usual I didn’t manage to get out much being kept busy on the lathe most of the day. But lower down the field I could hear the sounds of battle emenating from the aptly named Were-odd encampment.

Of course I can’t finish without  a mention of the Landrovers at the show. The award this time goes to Les Brannon’s trusty SIIa SWB here being loaded up again at the end of the show. It was a great show, well organised and with a good quality of demonstration and stands. Thanks also to Jo and Paul for introducing me to ‘Swift One’  from Bowman’s Ales.  It certainly seemed busy to me and I hope that encourages the organisers to do it again next year when I think it could stand becoming a weekend long show.

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