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Archive for March, 2011

First show of the season this weekend and I’m busy making some turned treen and garden products to sell. I’ve wanted to post on turning Sorbus wood for a while. That’s all of them, not just one but I only ever seem to have two of the three at one time. I’ve cheated a little as I have some old dry Whitebeam (Sorbus Aria), a load of Wild Service (Sorbus Terminalis) and recently some pieces of Rowan (Sorbus Acuparia). Turning the Rowan has reminded me just why this is probably my favourite turning wood.  This is the butt section of a small tree, no more than 10 inches in diameter at the base. Typically for Rowan it has a pale creamy wood except for a darker section in the middle.

Being Fresh the wood streams off the chisel in long ribbons and it has plenty of character in the grain. I can turn it all day, but unfortunately I also need to turn some of my fairly dry ash and sycamore so I’ll have to ration my pleasure.

So here are the three Sorbus woods. Wild service on the left, a dibber and a honey drizzler, Rowan for the rolling pin in the middle and a whitebeam dibber on the right (it ended up as a dibber as it was a bit too hard to do anything else with it).

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Only a few weeks ago, back when it was still very cold and wet and it seemed that Winter would last forever, was just the right time to get rid of the stack of firewood we cut and extracted on the Lynchmere commons over the year.

This timber is partly a by product of the heathland management but it mainly comes from the management of the woodlands where there is a steady supply of  dead and diseased Silver Birch trees. Silver Birch makes great firewood. It’s much better to cut the trees before they fall over so they can be used as firewood in the local community and every log that replaces a lump of coal or reduces gas or oil use is helping to reduce the effects of climate change as burning wood from sustainable woodlands (where each tree is replaced by a new one) is carbon neutral.

We run one day a year, the ‘Log Day’ when members of the Lynchmere Society can collect a boot load of logs free of charge. As you can imagine it’s a popular day and helps to make membership more popular in the local community. It’s a good deal for our members but I think coming and collecting some firewood, rather than having it dumped on the drive in a dumpy sack, also helps people to understand how important it is that our woodlands are managed properly and the product (wood ) used efficiently. It also reduces transportation to use local firewood – and helps keep locals people gainfully employed.

I’ve noticed that people don’t seem to connect up trees. woodland management and wooden products with the timber that they buy in the DIY centre. I can understand why people object to trees being cut down, but I don’t understand why they are still happy to buy cheap imported wood products transported halfway around the world rather than support improved management of our own woodlands. In a small way our Log Days are a tool to help connect the use of wood products with woodland management.

With the price of firewood rising and a permanent queue for installation of wood burning stoves this year was certainly no exception and I think probably more popular than ever.

Despite the terrible weather the best part of 20 tonnes of firewood disappeared in about 3 hours. Time to start all over again!

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No I’m not just about to feed this chair to the fire leg by leg. Nor is it an Ikea version of a Windsor chair – I know that because there is nowhere to fit the Allen Key. There is a continuous trickle of chair repairs coming my way. It’s not something that I’m overly keen to do – I’m still struggling to find time to finish my own first chair, but I approve of repairing chairs rather than disposing of them so I’ll help where I can by making new parts and/or stripping and repairing the chair.

Alison has been using this chair for a few years and it’s always been a bit shaky. But apart from a few loose leg joints and stretchers I was pleased to find nothing much wrong with it. After a quick clean up and some persuading with a wooden mallet (and a touch of glue of course) it seems as good as new.  It’s a very standard Windsor chair and many won’t like it because it follows the basic pattern but I like it’s simplicity and the standard of craftmanship is very high.

Taking a closer look at the legs you can see the bark of the tree still on the small flat which is a good indicator that these spindles were turned green from cleft logs rather than manufactured from sawn billets and most likely turned on a pole or treadle lathe.

Here’s another one I’ve been asked to repair. As I’m really, really tidying up the workshop (yes really, look at all that floor thats appeared from under the shavings) at the moment I need to get it done and back to it’s owner. It’s interesting just how different this chair is.  It’s been more of a pain to repair partly because it’s been repaired at least once before.

It’s one of a set and it’s probably suffered from being in a warm and dry environment in recent years which has loosened things up a bit.  Has anyone seen chairs of this style before? Any idea who might have made it?  It’s certainly very individual in design with its swept back, circular seat and double stretcher and no doubt this makes it more attractive – but is it a better chair? Not necessarily to me – it’s not, it’s as much about what its like to sit on as what it looks like.

The problem with the swept back angle ( typical in Welsh style chairs and this set might have come from Wales ) is that it increases the stress on the tenon joint in the seat base and thats where most of the trouble is in this chair, compounded as it is by the choice of circular seat base and the overly large mortice and tenon. Very much styling over practicality and although it seems chunky and strong I think it’s actually causing a weakness.

It is comfortable and I’d like it for reading in front of the fire, but then I’d probably prefer a larger seatbase and maybe arms (oh and ok, make it a rocker whilst you’re at it). I feel that this chair is a compromise which is not so supportive for sitting working at desk or table. I prefer the straight Windsor chair pattern for sitting at a desk and our Ercol kitchen chairs for the kitchen table, but then that’s why I drive old Landrovers I suppose, I do tend to favour a design that looks right!

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I can’t resist a few photos from my recent walks on the coast of the Gower Peninsula. It’s a spring cleaning of the mind as the wind and sun blow away the dark of the old winter to make way for the coming season.

These waders are Oyster Catchers and a fixture on the long sandy beach of Oxwich Bay with the rocky headlands of Three Cliffs and Oxwich Point at either end. They are often to be found having a quick snooze on one leg with their head tucked tucked in at the water’s edge.

The walk from Oxwich through to Worms Head is a succession of rocky headlands and small coves. A prehistoric landscape with the remains of old banks, ditches and forts on the tops of almost every point. This is the view from Paviland (above the famous cave) towards Worms head, the serpent like headland in the distance. I had lunch watching the fulmars flying over the cliffs but they were too far away and too quick to photograph well.

Beachcombing is in my blood. I have to check the tideline to see what has arrived. It’s a personal cargo cult! Not much rope this year.  But a stunning reminder of just how wasteful and profligate our society has become, the tide of plastic consumer packaging just thrown into the sea always amazes me.

I know that industry tells us that it’s more environmental to produce these plastic bottles than to wash glass ones – but they do tend to ignore what people do with them. We don’t need this stuff, please, please, please bring back reuseable glass bottles with a return on them. I could be rich then!

Another harvest from the tideline, seaweed. I’m sure that everyone on the beach at Oxwich thought me mad. One person even asked me whether I was going to eat it? I said no, but the answer is probably yes, just not directly. Last year we used seaweed based organic fertiliser on the allotment and this year as I had room for a bag full we decided to cut out the middleman and try digging in some seaweed ourselves. It’s a practice that’s centuries old in the southwest.

 

The gorse flowers are vibrant at this time of year and they must be one of the few sources of nectar for the first bees and butterflies starting to venture out.

 

Behind the beach at Oxwich is a system of dunes and behind that a wide marsh full of fresh water lakes and reedbeds. This variety of habitats makes the national nature reserve as Oxwich rich in diversity.  A new hide has just been put in, it’s a lovely view and I have no doubt that it will be popular.

 

I’d like to say that I spotted this reed warbler but actually it was a very helpful man in the hide who pointed it out and identified it for me, leaving me just to take this photo.

Having back for a few days I’m now deeply immersed in the pile of tasks I hadn’t quite finished before I left so it’s back to normal service on the woody front now.

 

 

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I’m away for a few days, on retreat, walking and beachcombing on the cliffs and beaches of Gower. As usual with the places I go there is only a very slow connection so I’ll be a little limited in the length of post I can manage for a few days (makes a pleasant change I hear you say!). I have managed to smuggle some pieces of Wild Service and Gean with me so I’ll also be doing some therapeutic whittling while I’m here.

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Driving my old Landrover around the M25 is never one of my favourite activities but as I’d been invited by Simon Damant to run a wooden rake making course for the National Trust at Wimpole Hall near Cambridge I found myself dodging traffic once again.  Simon organised the course as a part of the programme of activities at Wimpole and early on Saturday morning I started to set up by the large barn in the farmyard. The landrover felt at home next to the old Fordson tractors and as usual plenty of visitors mistook it for a part of the display.

 

Wimpole has a large working farm at the heart of the estate which is run as an organic rare breed farm and open to the public so as well as running the course we were a part of the display for the day. The cows in the yard were more than a little bumused at our antics though the visitors seemed to find it very interesting.

The weather allowed us to work outside rather than inside the barn and as we had a lot of work to do in the day it wasn’t long before everyone was hard at it making traditional wooden rakes.

 

I don’t normally use a the side axe to shape the rake heads, prefering to work with my drawknife, but Simon likes his axes and it was good for the students to do some axe work as well as relieving the queue waiting for one of the shave horses and drawknives.

I’m used to running polelathe turning courses and to me the rake making course is a natural extension of the same techniques but if you’ve not done any greenwood work before it’s a lot to master in a single day, so well done to everyone who managed to get the hang of cleeving, axing, shaving, rinding, sawing, drilling and bashing tines through the tine cutter.

With a choice of styles and sizes of rake to make everyone decided to make a full size (28inch head) hay rake with a split handle – which I know as a Sussex Style rake, rather than the bow or hoop supported head which I know as the Dorset style. but rakes come in all shapes and sizes from small garden rakes upto massive drag rakes.

 

There was an old drag rake in the barn and it makes one of my hay rakes beside it look small by comparison. As it’s name implies, with it’s heavy timber handle and head the weight of the rake makes it impossible to lift in use so it’s dragged along instead. I’m sorry about the poor photos but it was a busy day and taking pictures was not high on the priority list.

For those with a rake fetish this one has a head around 6ft in length with 12 tines set at around 6 inch spacing. The tines are 9 inches long, curved and sharply pointed. The handle (or stail) is made from sawn timber and braced. The head sometimes has a brace as well but in this case it’s massive enough (and heavy enough) to cope without one. Simon tells me that he knows it as a ‘corn rake’ which  may also give some clue as to its original usage.

 

As well as organising the course Simon also has plenty of other things to keep him busy around the estate – some of his silver spangled Hamburg chickens were in the yard close to us. While collecting wood for the course earlier in the morning I got a tour of the 2000 acre estate (by highspeed landrover) and also a quick visit to his bee hives, flock of Norfolk horn sheep, ferrets and his two Dutch working horses (which are all separate from the animals on the farm).

 

Starting a little later than the rest on the course Simon soon caught up – here demonstrating speed sawing of the rake stail (or handle). You won’t be too surprised to learn that he seems to do everything at breakneck speed- and for the last 4 years has been England’s champion scyther, last year cutting a 5m square in 1minute 15 seconds (I won’t remind you who was second fastest in 1min 23seconds!). You might wonder why we saw the stails instead of cleeving the split. There is a good reason – if the split runs off (as they often do) the two halves will not bend symmetrically, so sawing the split helps to avoid a last minute accident and improves the look of the finished item.

Part of the reason for the course is so that the estate staff can make rakes for use on the farm, in the gardens and for sale in the shop in future. I think it’s an excellent idea. There is only one rake making workshop left in the country that I know of, but that can give a false impression as there are plenty of rake makers about making and selling rakes locally and at shows. The idea that rake-making existed only as a specialist trade is very debatable (as it is with the chair bodgers). It is my opinion that, like all agricultural hand tools, they have been made and mended on farms and particularly on estates for a lot longer than they have been made in workshops.

 

There was even time for a little gratuitous polelathe turning  just to stop Simon from getting bored!

 

Though in the event we didn’t have time to get bored and I was a little worried that we might not get all the rakes finished by the end of the day. Getting so many sawn stails to fit with no accidents (snapped ends) was a little stressful, so I might try to do Dorset style rakes next time around!

If not the straightest of rakes they are no less useable for it and put to good use immediately in clearing up the shavings. I should also say that because of the time constraints, the straightness of the materials and the amount of skills to be learned we left the stails shaved rather than steaming, setting and then rounding them with a stail engine (a rotary plane designed to both plane and taper the stail).

I like them this way and to distinguish in future from the precision end of the market I might be tempted to call them ‘Rustic Rakes’?

 

Whatever you call them I think that they turned out very well and in the end we had 6 Rustic Rakes made and plenty of spare tines and bits for more rakes to come. I was very pleased at how well it turned out and I think everyone had a good day on the course. One of the rakes pictured here will even be in use raking asparagus on a local farm by the time I’ve posted this! I can add asparagus raking to apples and flax as new uses for wooden rakes!

Thanks to Simon for being a great host and for feeding me (nice pub) and finding me accommodation (even nicer hay barn) and to Peter Jameson for teaching me how to make Rustic Rakes in the first place.

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Off to make some rakes

 

 

I’ve been invited up to Wimpole Hall near Cambridge to run a wooden rake making course on Saturday. So I’ve been busy bashing the billets through the tine cutter. I’m looking forward to seeing Wimpole and though its the first time I’ve run a rake making course I’m sure some good rakes will be made!

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