Archive for September, 2010

A couple of years ago I built a simple lathe in my shed which has turned out to be quite useful for both bowls and spindles. It’s really a chunky spindle lathe with taller poppets and accommodating a toolrest for the bowl tools. This year I decided to evolve the shed lathe into one that can be used at shows – or at least to try. Three versions of the lathe later and it’s settling into something that I am getting used to and which seems to fit the bill – and I wonder where the time has gone this year!

Since it’s a pole lathe for bowls as well I’ve christened it the ‘Bole-lathe’.

Having refined the lathe bed (I posted on making the first one on my chainsaw mill) when the first one cracked and overcoming a set of legs that were too small I finally ended up with the size and shape I wanted.  I initially used the poppets from the shed. But in between the last few shows I’ve managed to produce a new set which are improved and I hope are as good for bowls as spindles without being a compromise that represents the worst of both.

The wood for the poppets came from the same log as the lathe bed but squared off on the chainsaw mill. The final shape of the poppets was cut out by chainsaw and cleaned up with simple flat chisels. Then the holes for the wedges were drilled using a 1inch bar augur.  This augur bites really well and drills holes through oak very quickly, you only need to turn the handle the lead screw pulls the bit through the wood. Once you get an augur that works this well you know just how bad the rest of your collection are!

The hole to take the centres was drilled out by a brace and bit. Here both poppets are wedged onto the bed back to back to minimise errors in the drilling.  It’s a lot harder to align the brace and bit I find and I didn’t get it as straight as I would with a bar augur – if I had one the right size I would use it in preference.

One of my earlier versions of this lathe suffered from a lack of stability in turning spindles but this one does the business – bigger legs and a wider angle have improved it no end – and it seemed to cope well in the recent log-t0-leg races at the APF

The centres were turned down on a bench grinder. One problem that crept in was some slop in the centre that is threaded and adjustable. I’ve cured this by chiseling out a hole in the poppet to take a nut and gluing it in place – much reduces any slack and with another nut up against it the centre is fully locked into position.

When changing over to bowl turning I make two changes. The first is a support for the tool rest which locates into two peg holes on the side of the left hand poppet and the second change is to take the drive cord down through the centre of the lathe bed to the treadle – and as the treadle has a bar halfway up it I thread the cord round the bar reducing the length of the treadle and improve the power on the drive to cope with the bowl inertia.  I realise my description is not too helpful, but I don’t have any photos of this arrangement at the moment so I’ll need to remember this for the next outing.

The result is a much refined version of the lathe in my shed and the obvious compromise with this lathe is its size and weight. It’s a lot heavier than the Mike Abbott polelathe 2000 which has served me so well for 5 years.  But it does seem to be doing as well for bowls and spindles though I will need a few more outings to really get at home with it.


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For my first time at the APF show I drove up to the Cannock Chase show site overnight and arrived at around 7:30 am, if not bright then at least early. The show site is massive, being miles from one end to the other. I joined the queue of bright shiny 4WD’s and immense forestry equipment entering the site. There were plenty of marshals available and for some reason they all seemed to know where I needed to go before I even asked. Was it the 50year old Landrover or the little spray of leaves still on the tip of the fresh birch poles I took up for spares that said ‘Woodland Crafts area’ ?

The cold, tiredness and a hectic schedule of demonstrating and racing meant that I didn’t have a lot of time for taking photos – but I’ll do the best I can with those I did manage to take.

Arriving on the woodland crafts patch I found it still deserted except for a ton or two of ash ready for the turning races – freshly felled for us by Larry and Granville who were also demonstrating in the crafts area.

It didn’t stay deserted and before long I was joined by a dozen turning and greenwood companions on the APT&GW stand.

To one side of my pitch was Dave Jackson, a coppice worker and polelathe turner from Malvern and one of the fastest turners in the West! Here Dave is replenishing his stock of Gypsy flowers.

On my other side was Barn (Barnaby Carder) who had hitched to Leamington before getting a lift to the site as he is still pedling (as a pedlar not a cyclist)  his way around the country making and selling his spoons. He thinks he’s made over 600 on his journey so far and I can believe it.

Barn is not only a talented greenwood worker but he’s also good at working the crowds and he was able to hold an audience – not a bad skill to have when selling a spoon makes a difference between eating or going without.

I finally got to meet fellow blogger Richard Law of Flying Shavings in the flesh and it was well worth the wait. Richard is immensely capable, has a number of strings to his bow and is quite possibly the nicest Yorkshire man I know (and yes Richard I do know some others!). At the show he was demonstrating carving greenwood bowls. Quick off the mark Richard has already written on the show on his blog and its well worth a read.

Throughout the 3 days of the show the APT&GW puts on log-to-leg races.  In the morning a team race and in the afternoon the individual races. For team event a team of 3 race to make 2 chair legs from an ash log by cleaving, shaving and then turning the billets and 2 of the turners must do some of the turning on the legs. We picked the team members from a hat which was a great way of running the event – I ended up with both Barn and Richard for the second team race and here Barn is holding the first leg for Richard to copy rhe beads onto the second leg. The races are quite frantic and there is plenty of scope for working up a sweat as the teams were turning in times of 12 minutes and under to make 2 legs.

Having finished the race and had the legs judged for quality (which attracts time penalties) we had the traditional ‘peg leg’ photo taken.

The individual races are quite a commitment and despite telling myself it’s just a race I found myself becoming seriously nervous in advance. It didn’t go according to plan and on the first race I managed to get the froe stuck as the billet failed to cleave neatly in half.  Then once on the lathe the cord snapped – I think I managed to cut it with the chisel. Because disasters always strike in threes the disaster was compounded by the support for my pole collapsing. Somehow I still managed to complete 2 legs and hand them in before the 20 minute deadline.

The afternoon race on the third day of the show is billed as the ‘World Championship’ all of which further helps to build the tension. Despite the nerves I managed to produce 2 legs quite fast, I think it was just under 12 minutes before penalty points – which considering my lack of experience at racing seems a creditable effort. And did I mention I am now ranked a mere 8th in the World? Thanks to my crowd for all of the support, and to Colin Hampton and the Chestnut coppice crew who turned out to shout plenty of abuse and keep me going,

Sadly the weather was less than glorious and downright bitter on occasion. Dave Jackson shared my little fire bucket and kelly kettle and even sacrificed some old gypsy flowers as kindling when the storm made lighting the fire more of a challenge.

I was delighted to have quite a few friends as visitors on my pitch over the three days. Here Andy Coleman from Somerset and a fellow Scyther as well as a greenwoodworker has a go on my recently built pole-bole-lathe.

As well as racing during the day each of the demonstrators on APT&GW stand put on a demonstration of a green woodworking skill or helped to run a ‘have-a-go’ lathe. I demonstrated making hay-rakes and here Jim Steele puts on an excellent demonstration on assembling a Windsor Chair.

Sean Hellman and I managed to get in a short impromptu cross-cut saw demonstration with the help of Barn to stabilise the log whilst we ran through it. It was well worthwhile and a good experience for me to try the 2 man saw with someone who can actually use it well. We’re hoping to do a proper demo at the next ball, and who knows perhaps a race?

What with the demonstrations, races, visitors and so many excellent fellow demonstrators the time flashed by and I really don’t know quite where it went. I didn’t get to see much of the show or spend as long as I would have liked with others on the stand but we certainly made a few chair legs though. There is a gallery with more photos from the show here.

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Just back from the APF show

In the last 3 weeks I’ve spent 11 days at shows demonstrating the polelathe and selling my wares.  An hectic pace, partly caused by the biannual APF (Association of Professional Foresters) show at Cannock Chase north of Birmingham and a 180 mile trip from home in West Sussex. Having got back in the early hours of this morning it will take a while to sort things out and to catch up with sone of the posts I should have written in the last weeks.

In the meantime here are just a few of the chair legs produced by the polelathe turning races at the show which included the World Championship – a somewhat ironic title as the occupation appears to be largely limited to the UK at the moment. OK I didn’t win but looking on the bright side I did take part, I beat my personal best by a long way and I can consider myself ranked 8th in the world – err, maybe – but let’s be charitable here 🙂  – until the next APF show in 2 years time!

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Yes, always unable to resist the cheap pun on a  title to attract a few hits to the blog. Though I imagine some will be disappointed as this sign on Alan Walters display refers to traditional Sussex firelighters (pimps), a roll of individual bundles of birch spray made from the baled (faggots) of birch and under the pole and canvas shelter (or bender).

Friday morning dawned cold and bright with the low autumn sun lingering at the low angles before creeping into the woodland canopy. It was frosty in the morning but the sun set the tone for the show which seemed both busier and better than before.

A lot of effort went into setting up the Sussex and Surrey Coppice Group area at the back of the woodland walk and it seemed to pay off as our reward was a lot more interest from our visitors who found the usual suspects and a lot of new ‘extras’ in our area. Here Will Wallace and Roger Day are setting up Will’s cruck framed show shelter.

Graham and Clive were carving spoons amongst other demonstrations over the weekend.

Amongst the usual suspects Andrew was busy making his excellent hurdles.

Though normal service was soon resumed (oops now I will be in big trouble).

Pete Boule joined us to demonstrate his fine hay rakes and baskets.

Amongst the new attractions which were a hit, Roger ran a cross-cutting demonstration with a two man saw which enabled children and visitors to have a go and then write their name on the offcuts for a small fee – well done Roger.

As always the display of landrovers in the coppice group area drew admiring comments – they just seem to fit into the scene.

and they weren’t the only ones on display as these chainsaw carved beauties were on the main field – eeriely adopting the same pose as Graham and Mick’s landrovers above. Mick got to modify one of the these  – photos will be in the gallery page soon.

One of our spar-makers is absent! Philip Hardy chose to demonstrate spar making at the show this year, here noticeable by his absence but with deftly posed hat and hook.

Mick Stanton, our resident edge tool maker, started the show with a wide range of greenwood working tools and these didn’t stay on the stand for long. Not surprisingly – as I wrote recently about the performance of his hand adze for chairseat shaping here

Just beyond our area in the woodland was Frankie Woodgate’s horse logging demonstration (I do like the horse drawn forwarder with it own little diesel powered hydraulic loading crane and it would fit equally well behind my landrove I think).

The lathe performed well with a little work on the toolrests and it spent the first two days on spindle duty making a succession of rolling pins and rounders bats.

Before turning to bowl turning on the last day as my stock of bowls became depleted by an interested crowd who were equally keen to buy for a change.

Not enough room here for all of the photos from the show so I will be putting up a separate gallery in a few hours (with any luck) and I’ll post the link or otherwise find it by going to the gallery tab at the top of the blog.

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Away at the Weald Woodfair

Just back from the Weald Woodfair at Bentley wildfowl and motor museum near Lewes. As ever a great weekend and this time it appears an even better show with bigger crowds than for some years.  I am sorting through the photos and will post soon, though I am also busy restocking, repairing and preparing to leave tomorrow for the APF (the countries largest wood show) where I shall be taking part and competing for last place in the World log-to-leg championships.

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There is an Autumnal feel in the air. But what a great summer its been and the heather on the common is still looking good. I’m sure it’s been going longer this year or perhaps it’s still a delay from the bad start to the year – but everything is starting to turn purple and brown. So much more attractive than the all pervading green of high summer.  This is my favourite time of year,  bitter-sweet just like a good apple. Sweet as I enjoy the gentle sunlight and warmth and bitter because the uncomfortably early sunset remind  what’s just around the next corner.

The Fernhurst Furnace heritage weekend was all the better for the gentle autumnal weather but I will have to leave more details for a short while as I’ve been busy working on the commons in preparation for a visit from the Sussex Heathland forum today, a pressing matter (apples are on my mind) and leaving for the Weald Woodfair at Bentley near Lewes this weekend. I certainly have plenty to catch up with on my posts.

The show season is reaching a climax now with a frenzy of woodfairs and autumn shows. I will be back for only a day or two becore I leave for the APF (Association of Professional Foresters) show the UK’s biggest woody event of the year but there are only another couple of dates after that and it will all be over by mid October.

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My original grand design for the birch perch was to strip some birch bark to seat it. I’d still like to try birch bark but it’s a bit ambitiuos for my first attempt and so after a year with a temporary top of a couple of slats I finally gave in and decided it was worth gaining experience with seagrass after all.

One reason for choosing to do the seating now was the opportunity to learn from experience and I learnt a lot from having both Veronica and Sue to help me with this one.

It all looked good at this stage – nice and square, though appearances can be deceptive as we discovered when we got right into the middle. The seagrass that I bought online was so thin that we decided to double up on each  turn which seemed to work very well.

The finished seat looks good and it very tight – partly because the seagrass was dampened before we used it, so it does pull tighter as it dries and this counteracts the slackness which I have heard as a criticism of this material for seating. Time for the birch perch #2 so I can practice my newfound skills I think, and I need a bodkin or so it appears.

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