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Archive for January, 2011

Back in the Autumn I rescued some Wild Service Tree logs from an old diseased tree that had to be felled. It’s rare wood these days and I’ve been making bowls and turning some spindles from it but there were some logs from the butt end that were too gnarly and fluted to cleeve. They’re not going for firewood so I put them aside to plank – and there they stayed.

I’ve modified my M7 Logosol Chainsaw mill. As it comes the logbed is 7 feet wide and the rail allows logs upto 17feet to be processed. But I rarely need to work longer than 8 feet and often have odd short logs to cut down, so I’ve modified the mill to work with a log bed of 4feet (actually it will accept logs a minimum of 42inches) and I find that I tend to use it much more in this configuration (called the woodworkers mill by Logosol). For logs shorted than 42 inches I can workaround by using an oak plank as a bearer.

 

The modifications involved drilling two new holes in the single guide rail (two are used for the full M7) to accept just two of the tubular braces from the M7 setup and three holes in the 7ft bar that spaces the front of the leg bed legs. I’ve left this bar at 7 foot so that I can set the mill back to the full spec M7 when I need it. Which is just as well because I need it to mill up a big pine tree that’s windblown on the commons and I plan to take some long posts out of it.

 

Back to the Wild Service Tree. I enjoyed using my Stihl 660 and the new Stihl 25 inch picco bar that I am using seems a big improvement. The 25inch bar is the longest one they make for the pmx piccochain and has the advantage that it produces 1/3 less sawdust than a standard chain and bar. Or put it the other way a standard bar and chain produce half as much waste again so it rips through the wood very efficiently. The small kerf and the power of the saw mean it’s not being strained too much.  Rescuing logs like this is always a gamble and to my surprise most of the wood looks good to use (and some looks really good).  The disease has left some interesting grain rather than having gone to far.

 

I was worried that a lot of the planks would end up like this one, too far gone to be of much use but most of them seemed useable at this stage (though I won’t be counting my chickens until they are seasoned).

 

Not a bad result from some fairly dubious logs. I’m not absolutely sure what I’ll be using the planks for yet – it depends upon how well they season (cue gratuitous photo of my little old MF135). They’ll be stacked up on stickers (inch sticks) for at least a year and then turned into an assortment of stool tops and boards most likely – and possibly a few plates in the meantime.

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I used to shovel ..it all day long (metaphorically speaking of course) for money.  I’m a lot happier now that  I work in the woods and today I was shovelling manure for enjoyment. Not just to get warm, though with the temperature below zero and a biting cold North wind it was about the only way to get  warm short of felling some trees. But the main reason was to collect a trailer load of manure from a local stables as a fertiliser – low in road miles this delivery, they could hear me start the tractor at the barn and had the coffee on by the time I arrived!

 

Plenty more where this trailer load came from. It’s on its way to the new community orchard we are planting up by the barn. Although I have more than enough to do at the moment, I couldn’t quite stop myself from getting involved in an orchard project.

 

Luckily unloading was lot simpler than loading though I didn’t keep as warm doing it!

 

Time for a gratuitous landrover photo – and yes I’m still driving it with the sides up and the door tops off. Now you can see why I used a tractor to fetch the manure (it’s even got a stereo in it as well as a heater!) I’ve already worked out a planting plan and collected the first batch of apple trees from a local nursery, Blackmoor Nurseries,  which is a part of the Blackmore Estate near Selborne where they have hundreds of acres of apple trees in production. With any luck we’ll be planting the first of the trees in the next few days so I’ll write about it when we do and on the apple varieties that I’ve selected.

 

 

 

 

 

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Cleeving some of the Hawthorn I recently acquired after it fell into the lane I am not really surprised to discover that the centre of the log is pretty far gone with decay.  The cleft has good colours, ranging from yellow at the outer through to a deep red at the core so I can’t resist giving it a go. It looks as if there is enough wood to turn a blank and there may be the bonus of some good spalting patterns as well.

 

The wood has a very dense grain and is not easy to shave even in it’s wet and slightly spalted state. The wood also gives me an opportunity to consult my copy of Herbert Edlin’s classic woodland crafts in Britain to see what uses he gives for Hawthorn.

Edlin says ‘In colour the wood is pinkish brown, darkening to a deeper red-brown with a narrow zone of pale yellow sapwood’ which shows well here on the rough turned cyliner. The wood turns surprisingly well and with it’s very dense grain gives an excellent, almost polished finish, just from the chisel.

 

What to do with it? Edlin is not much help telling us ‘The stems are usuallly too fluted and irregular for any purpose except hedging stakes, walking sticks, knobs, rake teeth, mallet heads, cudgels or tool handles.‘  Though reading it again as I type it out I notice he mentioned ‘cudgels’ a great old word, but not a very socially acceptable use these days I suspect.

As it happens I was thinking of trying it for some priests (fisherman’s clubs) and maybe some small mallets. I hadn’t thought of using it for tool handles – and it might make some extremely attractive, and therefore saleable at a premium, chisel and file handles. Must be worth a go.

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I acquired this rather different looking hook from the collection of the late Barry Plant. Barry’s ability to acquire tools was legendary and he did have an eye for something different as well as the tat that we all seem to gather.

I bought it on spec because it felt good and seeing part of a makers name  ‘WHITEH’ which I assumed was Cornelius Whitehouse I thought it would be good metal. At the time I was told it was a Sussex Bean Hook. I have found no similar examples so far. Though it is closest to the Kent Pattern Brushing hook in my reproduction of the old Fussells catalogue which is a bit of a blow.

Any comments from the billhook cogniscenti?  If not I am going to stick with Sussex Bean Hook for now.

 

Looking more closely at the makers mark I notice that it’s not Cornelius Whitehouse but seems to be GILPIN & WHITEHOUSE. That’s a surprise to me, being a fan of Gilpin. Can anyone provide some of the history that led to these two famous names coming together?

 

I’ve been gradually honing it to reasonable sharpness though I’ve only used it for threading (cutting off side branches) poles until the weekend. I found myself with only the bean hook in the Landrover having left my Elwell in a tractor and decided to try it on some birch. Nothing to lose.

 

Rather to my amazement it worked well. Better than well!  The long blade allows me to add a flick to it’s momentum and being thin it slices like a knife. I’ve always struggled to cut upwards with a hook when I am cutting young birch but the bean hook works like a dream allowing me to cut upwards without stooping.

 

It’s like magic, suddenly I can cut upwards easily. Good for my wrist and good for my back at the same time. It’s leapt to number 1 in my favourite billhook list. So is it a Sussex Bean Hook and how did Gilpin & Whitehouse come about? Answers please on a postcard, or leave a comment below.

 


 

 

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Warning – this post contains subjects of a topical nature and even links to The Guardian, but no flashing lights. If you are not interested in access to our woodlands – then look away now!


I enjoy walking through woodland and I don’t think I am alone in this. There is something immensely calming about wandering through the trees, a sense of freedom I don’t get from walking along roads or in parks. It is similar to, but also very different from walking in open spaces such as mountain, moorland or on our fabulous coastal paths.

I took these pictures yesterday whilst working in parts of the wood, thinking about issues of woodland ownership and access which have become very topical recently.

Our government is having a clearance sale. By an accident of history it has found in its attic an organisation called the Forestry Commission and the deeds to (ownership of) 18% of English and Welsh woodlands. You can almost sense the pound signs in their eyes in the rush to capitalise on these assets!

But why am I worried? We are being told that ownership is not an issue, regulators and regulations can ensure that private owners manage the woods to at least the same level and that access rights are maintained.That sounds fine doesn’t it?

If only it was that simple. As is so often the case these days, you can’t take a statement, particularly a political one, at face value. The simple truth is that access rights are not the same as the access policy operated by the Forestry Commission. Access rights don’t include bike and horse trails and maybe limited to rights of way only where the woodland has not been dedicated under the CRoW (Countryside and rights of way act). With private ownership may come fences, ‘Private’ signs and the ironically titled ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’.

Rather typically I can’t find the DEFRA news release, but you can read about it and a response here.

I can see ways in which the current access policy could be retained and even extended by transferring the woodlands to local or charity ownership. Policitians are hinting that they’d like to see this – but the problem that I see is simple. Money.  Access policy is not compatible with selling to the highest bidder and this plan is all about raising money, not about improving the future of our woodlands.

How do I know this? Well recent experience with limited sales in the 1980’s and in the last few years have led to curtailment of access rights by private owners. Yes the FC have been quietly selling woods while we weren’t looking and Rigg Wood in Lakeland is a case in point. You can read about the consequences for using Rigg Wood here. Bear in mind that if this can happen in a National Park, then it could be a lot more serious around the corner from you.

You shouldn’t take my word for it. There are some very good articles on line which give food for thought. You can read these articles in the Guardian by John Vidal here and this week by Andy Wightman on the opportunity to put the woodland in the hands of the public. You’ll find plenty more once you start looking.

I think doing nothing is no longer an option. Access to land and the future of our woodlands are too important to leave to leave to the short term demands of politics, or to the vaguaries of a market and certainly not to the wealth of landowners. I don’t normally sign petitions and not ones from professional campaigners but in this case I don’t know how else to get the government to take notice. You can find the petition on the 38degress site or go via the SaveOurForest website.

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January is  peak season for cutting Birch and the rush is on to get it cut and on the ground in neat piles, known as drifts, before the buds start to swell and the catkins form. Birch from the Lynchmere commons gets used for beanpoles, peasticks, horse jumps at race courses (you may have seen some of our Birch on TV!) and for traditional besom brooms – if you’re not sure what a besom is, it’s a traditional Witch’s broom or perhaps more these days a ‘Harry Potter’ broom.

Here are some drifts I cut earlier. According to a local historian, information from the census records of around 100 years ago reveal there were 38 broomsquires (the local name for a broom maker) and their families living in the parish.

They would have needed a lot of birch to keep them busy and it seems that the broom making would have been one of the main ways in which the commons were managed or harvested. I am keen to use as much of the Birch as I can and I particularly like to see it being used for the crafts that original shaped the landscape.

So I was pleased to met with Ben Headon from the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum who came up today to collect a load of birch for making besoms at the museum. Here Ben threads (removes side branches) from the rods with a billhook and cuts the longer rods to size for stacking on the pickup.

Ben does a lot of woody work at the museum. Over the years he’s made a lot of hurdles and other greenwood structures but recently he’s making a name for himself as a wagon restorer and wheelwright. Ben’s working on an old Hop wagon and a Gypsy Caravan at the moment. It was good to catch up with Ben and I look forward to seeing his work next time I am there.

We ended up with a load each, though mine is the Birch which is too twisty for besoms and  is on its way to rejuvenate some of the dead hedges around our hazel coppice areas.

The rest of the day soon disappeared into a myriad of small jobs, clearing trees on paths, cutting firewood and filling potholes in tracks,  and  I could swear it wasn’t even lunchtime when it started getting dark. But it was good to be out working in the woods on such a calm, bright and cold winters day. No doubt I shall ache all over tomorrow.

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I’ve been quiet and trying to get the shed organised this week after the excitement of the weekend. Just as I thought I was getting things under control Robert passed onto me some fresh but knotty lengths of Ash (Knotty Ash – no I won’t go there either).  I really ought to get better at saying No!  This wood is going to take hours to sort out, but I have a cunning plan….

 

At the same time I happened on some gnarly Hawthorn lying in the middle of the road – literally – as a tree fell and blocked the lane only a minute before I arrived on the scene. I did my civic duty and fetched a chainsaw to clear the road – isn’t it amazing how little patience people have when you are clearing the road for them? You would think they’d be saying thank you rather than swearing ?  The wood was fairly diseased but I couldn’t resist these lumps with the red staining in the grain.

I’m not sure that any of the hawthorn will be good for turning but some of the  branchgnarliest wood will make good mallets.

Even though it’s knotty Ash there are lengths that look like they will be useful. Too short for spindles but I do need some Ash for bowls (not from choice – I find Ash very difficult to turn as bowls ) and also for rake tines. I’ve tried to reserve the straightest bits for the tines as I tend to wast a lot of time banging wood that’s not straight grained enough through the cutter and getting poor results. We shall see!

Looks as if I will be busy bashing this lot through the tine cutter! Now I’ve got to find somewhere to stash it – just as I was managing to clear things out! So I’ll need to get it turned into bowl blanks and tines as soon as possible. At least it will be keeping me warm when I prepare it, warm when I work it and then warm again when I burn the waste.

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