Archive for April, 2011

Suddenly Easter seems a long time ago! How did that happen?  Last weekend I spent 4 days demonstrating at the Weald & Downland Museum near Chichester. Last year on Good Friday my only visitor was a duck! The first time for some years that the weather has been good and it does make a difference both to my spirits and the visitors.

How do you like the view from my office window? This is looking across the museum from my pitch towards Poplar Cottage (which I think is a 16th Century labourers cottage). The lawn effect on the field is caused by the museum heavy horses which have been grazing it regularly during the winter.

Any Guesses on this Tree? I’m offering a bottle of Bodgers Gold (beer, in case you are wondering) for the first to guess it correctly, but only if you can collect it at the Bodgers Ball next week.

It’s in the garden of Poplar cottage. Here’s a close up, just to help you out.

Not one to waste a good day, here is the classic photo of Bayleaf Farmhouse in a clear blue sky. Bayleaf is one of the gems of the museum and is a Wealden Hall House which is now the centre piece of the museum farm and is surrounded by it’s separate Kitchen building (Winkworth), barns, graneries, stables, orchard, the hop garden and

Bayleaf has the woodshed to die for! Clearly this is what I am lacking at home. So much more useful than timber decking.

And ornamental log piles to match – you can see from the ends on some of the logs that they are all cut by axe in the coppice above the museum where Jon Roberts manages the woods by hand, with a little help from the horses now and then.

The Geese in the Orchard behind the farmhouse were having a morning lie in on Easter Sunday when I took a quick walk  around the museum.

There are always things happening at the Museum especially as Spring starts to wake up the site and I spotted this useful looking collection of machinery – I wonder what the plan is for this lot? The large machine at the front is stamped ‘The Original ACME’ – and looks to be some kind of press, but what’s the original ACME?

By the time I got back to my pitch Ian my neighbour for the day in the Smithy was just lighting the hearth. Somebody has made some nice new gate hurdles and note the Blacksmith’s totem pole with the stunning Green Man on the right.

Good sales of Rounders Bat’s, Rolling Pins and of course Dibbers kept me hard at it through the weekend and as a result I forgot to take many photos of me at work – but you don’t need that, I’ll let the surroundings speak for themselves

The warm evening glow on the side of the Smithy always means ‘time to pack up’ to me and I had to pinch myself just to check I wasn’t dreaming as it seemed more like August than mid April.


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The bluebells are coming on strongly in our restored Hazel Coppice (better than the Hazel unfortunately) and I stopped to take some photos on my way to make charcoal yesterday. It’s hard to capture the delicate colours and the sun was a little too weak to do justice but you get the idea, I hope.

The burn in my oil drums went well, no great surprise as the weather is perfect for it. With the long dry and warm spell having reduced the moisture in the wood significantly the burn is shorter and the yield is higher.

One drum burnt a lot slower than the others and getting bored with waiting I turned the heat up (opened up the vents around the bottom) and with the top shut down it produced an almost perfect ring of fire as the volatile woodgases were burnt off.

Very pretty to see – don’t try this at home. No really – to get the ring effect I shut the top of the drum down for a short time which suppresses the fire and the gases are collecting unburnt. Then on opening the top the gases mix with more oxygen and leap from the drum. Worthwhile wearing a helmet and gloves unless you like the singed eyebrow effect.  But it’s all wasted heat which would be better used in the burn – I need to move to a simple retort system in which the wood is baked in an oven and the gases are used to help improve the burn. But that’s another project!

Alright I admit it. This post is just an excuse to mix the photos of the bluebells with the flames – and I like the effect of the two very different textures and colours.

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It seemed almost too much to ask, for two old landrovers to behave themselves on two consecutive days. But it did happen and my ex-BBC 1960 LWB SII passed it’s test with more than flying colours – I almost thought I was dreaming when the tester told me ‘the brakes are pretty good!’ Anyone who has more than a passing acquaintance with old landrovers will know that getting the brakes to be ‘pretty good’ is quite an achievement.It’s been a few years since it passed the test with no ‘advisories’ – notes which are cautions rather than fails.

Only a few days ago things weren’t quite so well prepared on the brake front – here the front brake shoes are in the process of being replaced after a leaking hub seal covered them in oil. Over the last few weeks a lot of effort has gone into preparing for the MOT and I’ve been more than a little paranoid after the debacle last year led to me and my mechanic friend Richard spending several days trying to fix it after a failed test. I don’t have several days spare this year. I didn’t last year if truth be told and it’s one of the reasons I got behind with my polelathe work early in the season last year.

I use The Beast to carry my polelathe setup between shows through the season which is how it got it’s name – The Beast – short for Beast of Burden. Easter at the Weald and Downland Museum gave me a chance to bed in the revitalised brakes and passing the test is good news as I have two shows this weekend. The first is Beltain at Butser Ancient Farm on Saturday and then the Weald and Downland for Sunday and Monday. Then it’s off to the Bodgers Ball at Lower Brockhampton next week!

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Hey Presto – As if by Magic a Landrover appeared. With a number plate like PFF623 it has to be called Puff the Magic Landrover, or just Pff for short.  It did drive into the yard in one piece but it didn’t stay in one peice for very long. I bought it as an MOT failure and it wasn’t supposed to take long to fix it, but 18 months later and a lot more work than I bargained for, we’re making progress.

It might not look like it but this is progress, which on an old landrover means progressing to the next set of problems. We started with the chassis, moved onto the suspension, brakes and clutch. Almost the last to be fixed up is the electrics. Once I’d figured out how it had been bodged it’s finally rewired and working and my friend Richard took the rash step of booking it in for its MOT test – TODAY.

All old landrovers are prima donnas on the day of the MOT test and this one turns out to be no exception. The starter motor stuck just an hour before the appointment at the garage. Judicious application of Landrover Special Tool No1 (The hammer) unstuck it enough for us to get to the garage. Amazingly enough it started for the test just as if nothing had ever happened.

Passed the test with flying colours (thanks entirely to Richard’s hard work). Yippee! and now of course refuses to start.

Made in 1961 it’s a mere 50years old and the aim is for it to be a backup to my everyday landrover which carts my polelathe and all my gear between shows – which is a 1960 and 51years old this year and it’s MOT test is tomorrow! Double trouble!

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My show season has started with a bang, or more precisely a Heat Wave. The weather has been glorious for days and there has been no rain for weeks (you won’t need me to tell you this if you live in the south of England). With the light warm evenings there is plenty to get on and do and keep me away from the computer. I’m demonstrating at the Weald and Downland Museum over the Easter break and it’s been a lot more hospitable than last year when my shelter blew away and my only visitor on one day was a duck! Cue gratuitous Landrover picture.

I was also at the Museum during the week as a part of the Easter activity programme with my old lathe which is a good height for everyone to use, big kids and small.

Got to run now as I need to get plenty of turning done in preparation for the day. Rolling Pins and Honey drizzlers are selling well, so that will keep me hard at it on the lathe today.

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On Sunday I ran a course at the Rural Life Centre, a museum of village life, not far from me at Tilford. You can find it on the internet here.  It’s the first course where I’ve had to bring in all of the lathes to another site and on the day I managed to put together 3 lathes and 2 shavehorses (eventually). The museum has no pole lathes (but that might change before long) though it does have power lathe turners demonstrating regularly.

We had good company and good weather and I think everyone enjoyed the day. As usual a range of abilities and a range of experience and objectives for the day. Les is normally the brick-carver (yes a very rare and endangered species) at the museum and at 83 he’s still keen to give other crafts a go – well done Les.

The museum has a great little collection of tools, not enormous – but great quality, especially this collection of Moss edge tools, and I always try to spend a minute or two worshipping here. More on some of the tools in a later post.

Which leads me to some of the wooden buildings on site, including this little wooden chapel.

and some of the roundwood panel cladding the pavilion.

I started with the my two trusty old polelathe 2000’s set up on poles. By the afternoon, after a slight technical hitch, I managed to get my current lathe setup on a bungy for the first time and it was an interesting contrast to the 2 smaller lathes.

While discussing edge tools and their making this tidy little drawknife came out as an example of a blacksmith made tool reusing steel as it’s been made using an old file.

Here is a close up of the blade showing the old file teeth on the back of the blade. Sometimes blacksmith or DIY tools can look distinctly poor, though the look should not be taken as a guide to the performance of the tool, but this is a neat and tidy example of a locally made drawknife, and serves as a reminder that a brandname is just that!

I think the course was successful and everyone enjoyed themselves (a bit of good weather always helps) and thanks for all the help with the clearing up!

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I finally found a sliver of time to do some turning after a hectic few days of planking, forging, repairing old landrovers (more of that later) and some brewing. So what am I up to – surely it’s not a curtain rail?

No it’s as close to mass production as I get. I don’t make a lot of rattles – mainly because I’ve heard that to sell a babies toy it needs to be plastic, yellow and imported from China these days.  Believe it or not, there is a spec, but you have to pay a lot of money to buy it and I’d rather not get involved with CE marking my bits of wood. It just doesn’t make sense and its the normal operation of the law of ‘Unintended Consequences’ I guess. This law is generally kept in government buildings where it’s fed and watered amply to keep it in fine fettle and the rest of us in our place!

Enough of the rant (for the moment) I do occasionally make them and when I do I call them ‘Sussex Fiddlesticks’ which is, so I’m told, a local name. As I am teaching a course at the Rural Life Centre today I wanted a rattle or two as an example of polelathe turning to go with the usual dibbers, spurtles and bats. When I have good wood for them I often end up making 2 or 3 rather than wasting half the blank and by the end of the third one I’m getting the hang of it.

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