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Archive for July, 2011

Sometime I am going to learn to publish shorter posts. But not yet, though at least this one will be long on images rather than text so you can always just scroll through the pictures. I’ve spent most of the last week at the New Forest Show which takes place in the heart of the New Forest between Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst. Having taken my bicycle and gone down early to sort out my pitch I was rewarded with some time and good weather to get some exercise in the forest.


The New Forest is a forest in the true sense of the word, in that it’s not all dense woodland, with lots of areas of  grazing, rough pasture, woodland pasture and open heathland in addition to the ancient woodlands, mixed woodlands and inevitable plantations. The mosaic of landscapes is part of what makes the area such a special place.

Mind you there are some big trees there. I had to put a car into this photo just to give a sense of the size of some of the big firs and pines along the Rhinefield ornamental drive.

Alongside the drive is a small arboretum. I was disappointed that it seemed full of such ‘exotic’ species as Norway Spruce and Douglas Fir. I even spotted a small Western Hemlock that seemed to have seeded itself from an adjoining plantation, but in between were some interesting trees. Any ideas about this one?

Passing through one woodland I couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong for a while until I realised that the whole oak wood had been defoliated, probably by a similar caterpillar attack to the ones we’ve had on the Lynchmere Commons for the last couple of years. At first the trees look completley bare, but a much closer inspection reveals the start of some lammas growth, that is a new flush of leaves. The lammas growth is certainly late but perhaps thats an intentional reaction by the tree to ensure that the caterpillars have all left the scene and avoid losing the regrowth as well?

Pedalling along the back road I was amazed by the size of this burr on a large birch tree. Almost the same size as my bicycle. Oooooh, Errrrr!

Ok the tree in the arboretum was unfair, though if anyone honestly said to themselves Cherry Birch, then they are welcome to a bottle of my Bodgers Gold when we next meet up. But whats this one ?

Here, just to make it nice and easy. First one to reply gets a bottle of my Bodgers Gold to be handed over at some convenient place.

I stopped off for a look at the Knightwood Oak, at least 600 years old and the largest oak tree in the Forest, despite having had a few limbs chopped off in recent years. Hard to get a perspective of the tree, but it’s about 25feet in girth.

It has its own special enclosure these days, but it’s still not easy to get a feel for the size of the tree and unlike many parkland oaks (Dave Elliott posted on a cracker recently – The Queen Elizabeth Oak – on his excellent Speckled Wood blog) it has grown upwards in the woodland so it has less of a spreading habit.

On the way back I stopped for a while to enjoy the atmosphere of the woodland. I couldn’t help thinking I was being watched……..

And just possibly I was….. I suspect that the tree spirit in this tree might be related to one of Robin Fawcett’s tribe from the Epping Forest?

Some interesting slabwood bench designs around. But unfortunately more on the looks than the comfort, I can’t really understand why the back is set so low and upright, a little more height and slant and it would have been a fine bench, but perhaps we’re not supposed to linger?

It’s hard to get such a large expanse of forest perfectly managed and there is always something that will be not to my taste. The amount of cordwood stacked and left to rot by the side of the rides was astounding and very annoying to a woodsman like myself.

I’m not against leaving wood – here is a great example – but failing to extract cordwood because it’s not a full lorry or forwarder load is wasteful and needs to better managed. The FC used to issue licences to extract the ‘brash’ as firewood but stopped the practice citing ‘insurance issues’ ie Health and Safety, as far as I remember. I think if we are to become more involved with our woodlands then this is a practice that should be reintroduced.

Anyway I had a really refreshing and enjoyable time cycling through the New Forest and a change is as good as a rest they say!

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Am I losing it or is July a little early for ripe Rowan Berries? Arguably they could do with another week or two on the tree to fully ripen but no ne has told our garden birds that.  I’ll be lucky to get much of a harvest in a week’s time when I get back from the New Forest so I’ve taken some early and bagged them in the freezer – more on what I plan to do with them later in the year. The moon crept into the picture which is appropriate as Rowan has such a reputation for being a mystical tree.

It’s that time of year again – I’m not sure why I demonstrate at the New Forest Show, I don’t much like crowds. But as the big shows go it’s better than most, and I have something of a love/hate relationship with it. It’s a chance to meet up with people and of course to camp in the New Forest.  Dick Apps demonstrated at the show for decades before me so it must be alright. This was Dick showing me how it’s done at the show in 2009. Gods of the Internet willing I may be in touch from the show.

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The day arrives to install the green Oak (and Sweet Chestnut) bench I’ve christened the BenchMark. I designed and made it using local timber I’ve milled up with my Logosol chainsaw mill. It’s begun to lurk in the yard so it’s time to attach it to another Landrover for the short drive up the road to the Parish Church where it’s going to be installed at the bottom of the Churchyard.

The site selected for the bench is at the wild flower end of the churchyard with great views. I think the bench will fit in very well here and I hope the customers will be happy with it!  The first job is to dig out the holes for the legs – as it’s a two leg design and I’m a bit concerned about the load it will need to take the legs are going in deep. Alison highjacked my camera at this point – you may notice an improvement in the quality of the photography.

I had some second thoughts about digging deep holes in the churchyard, I mean over a thousand odd years who knows whats where? But luckily this section was until recently a part of the adjacent field. Richard helping me out, wasn’t quite so certain though! But all we found was the natural Greensand bedrock of the area.

On the sloping site it took some trial and error to get the lie of the bench just right as the site slopes in two directions but we got there.

Job done. Time to give it a good test drive. Very comfortable even if I do say so myself. I’ve made the back rest from an oak board which has warped to give it a natural curve, always a risk, but in this case it fits the back very well.

Michael and Anne Tibbs (who ordered the bench on behalf of the church) joined us and gave it the seal of approval. They were very keen to have a bench designed and made locally with local sustainable timber, and extremely patient as I had to fit the work in around other commitments. So  I am delighted that they like it so much.

At this time of year the churchyard is a quiet haven and a riot of wildlife as much its been managed as a wildflower meadow and I think it’s beginning to pay off and the results speak for themselves.

Though I think these might be garden escapes rather than wildflowers but the bees and butterflies were enjoying them just the same.

The view from the bench looks out from the churchyard over the local folds and through the Weald towards the South Downs in the distance. I’m looking forward to coming up here to check on the bench and enjoy the view on regular occasions.

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Not a  nice flat luscious part of a hay meadow, my quarter acre was an unloved rough old patch of grass tucked away in a corner of the Weald & Downland Museum. Complete with anthills, molehills, rabbit holes and plenty of woody shrubs moving out from the hedges. But still, there’s nothing better than a challenge!

Getting stuck into the job the farmyard chickens certainly appreciated my work – and the less said about the toad the better – it was a very close shave!  All the visitors to the museum were also impressed and the mowing took a lot longer due to the amount of time I spent leaning on my scythe and talking about the tools and the grass. Try doing that with a strimmer!

The fearless chickens clearly had no concept of a scythe – any closer and I’d have been wearing a lucky chicken foot!

Finally cut the grass! Sadly not even a quarter acre by my estimate, probably closer to an eighth but it made up for it in toughness.  Just time for a quick walk around the museum to catch up with people and have a quick look around.

For some reason I picked a great day for the work and the museum was quiet before the weekend with a big rare breed show on the Sunday and a forecast filled with rain.

The old toll house stands at the original entrance to the museum. It’s a lovely building in the afternoon sunshine but quite bare in photographs, so very helpfully someone had left a red and blue cart in just the right place.

The cottage gardens are a riot of colour at this time of year. This one is besides Poplar cottage, the timber framed thatched cottage just beyond my patch of grass.

Time for the gratuitous Landrover photo. The aim of cutting the grass is to make hay (though on a rough patch like this the hay would be none too good) so you normally do it whilst the sun shines – and hopefully whilst the sun will stay shining for a few days. But you can’t always get it right and when the rain threatens the hay can be piled into haycocks temporarily to prevent it all getting soaked. My last job of the day was to cock it all up – and then the rains came!

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Just to add to the mountain of work I seem to have taken on my triumph in getting Puff the magic landrover through it’s MOT test was short-lived as she soon started to live up to her name – puffing like a goodun’ but blue smoke in this case. Possibly the valve stem seals but that would be too easy wouldn’t it?

With the head off it became clear that the pistons are more than a little bit loose in their bores. At least new rings required and possibly a rebore (Eva – if you are reading this I think I need some advice from your other half and possibly it’s a job for his firm! Send me an email as I’ve lost yours – please!).

The head looks alright. Though it needs a good clean off and a rebuild with new valve seals.

Meanwhilst it turns out that I have a spare engine. Well it used to be a spare landrover, though it’s been known as the ‘Red Shed’ for many years now. Time to find out if this has a better block – and as luck would have it – the bores seem in better condition and Richard my Landrover Guru has already reconditioned the head. Getting the engine out will be fun, but as I am breaking the landrover around it the access will be ok. It’s a late model Series III and it’s going into an early Series II so there will be some work to do in mating it to the Series II gearbox and it seems the waterpump is siezed………. well at least I won’t get ‘bored’ too easily.

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Well, I am a little tardy with the second part of my bowlhook making article. But I’m going to assume that it’s better late than never. I covered the sourcing of the metal (old car springs) and the straightening and preparation of the rod earlier. You can find the article here Forging again – I’m talking more bowl hooks. A very quick disclaimer – I am not a metalworker, nor a metallurgist. My basic understanding is enough for me to make basic tools that I use as a greenwood worker and I am describing the process as I use it – not necessarily correctly!

The business end of the tool, the hook, is formed by tapering out the end of the rod until there is a flattened surface about an inch in length and an eighth of an inch in thickness. Though the dimensions are all a part of the development and sometimes they will vary depending upon how I plan to use the hook.

To work the metal most easily it needs to be at a bright heat, more than red, a very bright orange – but not yellow. The next step from yellow is when the metal starts to burn and turns into a sparkler. Very pretty but you’ve ruined it and will need to start again. Steel will do this very easily – I assume that results from the carbon in the iron, so be careful.

Before making the tapered end it’s a good idea to make the tang on the other end of the tool. This gets me into the habit of beating a taper into the metal before I mess up the first of the hooks and also to learn to gauge how quickly the hearth heats the steel to the right temperature. It doesn’t really matter if the tang turns into a sparkler.

I persuaded my Blacksmith friend, John, to make one of the tapered ends to compare his work with my attempts, whilst Robert another blacksmith looks on – no shortage of advice there then!

John’s tool has much better definition and evenness in the shape and is less dented – and as you’d expect he used a fraction of the number of hammer blows that I did to achieve the same result. But mine is certainly useable and the point of this comparison is to show that you can achieve a perfectly useable result for a tool without needing to be a professional blacksmith.

At this stage the tapered ends are cooled very slowly by the edge of the fire – perhaps about 30minutes to cool down from cherry red and are not quenched except perhaps just to ensure its cold enough to handle. By cooling it so slowly the iron is annealed which keeps arrangement of the iron and carbon in the material so that the metal is at it’s softest, important for the next stage.  While one tool is cooling the next one can be worked. You should just about be able to see one iron in the fire and one just to the side of it cooling down.

With the steel annealed the bevel can be added to the tapered end of the tool. If the metal is soft enough this can be done with a file, though not all steels will soften enough for this, as I discovered and this bevel was added added by a flap wheel disc on a grinder. The bevel angle is somewhere between 20 and 30 degrees.

The most critical stage is to form the hook on the end of the tool. You only get one chance to do this and subsequent attempts tend to result in a less than perfect shape – though the hook might still be quite useable. The tip needs to be at orange heat (it will heat up very fast when its this thin) and then swiftly bent.

Having spent hours preparing the ends you are suddenly faced with a minute of work which is either going to work or ruin it. So don’t rush it at this stage. I originally used a pair of pliers for this – but I can’t find a good pair again and have taken to forming the curve around another piece of iron rod.  Notice that the curve is offset which helps the use of the hook on the inside of the bowl, so the first bend is on the shank backwards (which I do with pliers) followed by tapping the end gently around the former.

The final stage is to temper the tool. Correct temper will ensure that the tool keeps a sharp edge, but is not so brittle that it breaks too easily.

It’s a two stage process. First the tool is heated to an orange heat, hot enough that the iron and carbon molecules form a material known as Austenite, and not surprisingly this first stage is called Austenising. The tool is rapidly quenched in water or iron to trap the iron and carbon in this form – at this point the steel is extremely brittle and unusable. If you knock it hard it should shatter -but don’t try it with the tool you are tempering!

The second stage is to reheat the tool to a precise temperature to balance the characteristics of  toughness with brittleness and this is tempering the steel.

To do this precisely an oven is a good idea. There is another, less precise method which is to guage the temper by reference to the colour of the steel. This needs plenty of light and a bright polished surface on the tool. A blowtorch is a good way to do this. Using the hearth is probably going to be the least precise method for guaging the temper but it was a bright day and I was keen to try this for once as virtually all blacksmiths would have used this method originally.

There is another madness in my method – and that’s because I don’t actually know the constituents of my material. I know it’s a hard spring steel as it remained too hard to file even when annealed. Also the springs cracked on the vehicle rather than sagged. So for this temper I am going to err on the side of softness to avoid a tool which might break on the lathe – and the downside is that I might have to sharpen more often. But even when annealed it was fairly hard so I think it’s the right way to go with this steel.  Since I have enough of the steel for dozens of tools I can afford to take time to learn this by experiment, so it’s of less importance to me to be able to accurately determine the temperature.

Initially the bright polished end of the tool is silver but you soon see a yellow or straw colour creeping along the shank. But this is still too brittle a temper. Somewhat anti-intuitively the steel is tempered softer as you continue to heat it. I am holding the tool so that the shank receives most of the heat in the heart of the fire and the heat is then moving along towards the tip – the tip will reach temperature really quickly as it has very little heat capacity.

The tip reaches a blue temperature – as soon as it starts to turn blue I quench the tip to prevent it overheating and oversoftening. However it is only an approximation as the tool would need to be held at the correct temperature for some time to ensure that as much of the steel as possible is converted from its brittle form (and why an oven would be an improvement) but with an unknown steel I think it’s a good enough way to start out.

So that’s it. One rusty car spring converted into a range of potentially very useful lathe tools. On this occasion I managed to reform a couple of tools I was unhappy with as well as make a prototype curved knife for bottoming the bowls in a very full day.

I am very grateful to the blacksmiths at the old Kiln Forge for allowing me to disrupt their day. We ended in the traditional way by heating some water on the hearth in a giant ladle for a good hand wash.

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The weather was non too promising on Friday as I made my way a few miles southwards to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park for the South Downs Woodfair. But in the event it had stopped raining and though windy I got to set up in the dry and spend the evening preparing for the show.

Thanks to Toni Brannon the Hampshire Coppice Craftsmen Group put on a great display of the things you can do with rods, poles and cleft bits of  round wood. With 11 shelters all in a fetching shade of green canvas the group looked well organised, rather unlike some of the characters lurking within!

It’s not easy to photograph a horseshoe shape of stands a hundred yards across. I’ve got most of the display into this one and as a bonus it forms an S, apparently a pleasing natural curved shape, but you might have to use your imagination to find it.

At this time of year the summer season of shows and events is in full swing and I’m very concious of the danger that my posts become a pedestrian progression of places and people rather than the working with wood that I hope to write about.  So I will take a slightly less serious look at the event in this post.

But getting out of the workshop and showing people what I do is an important part of my work as well as a great opportunity to meet other greenwood workers doing similar and even stranger things and share ideas. This event is a great one for doing this as I get to meet and work with talented greenwood workers some of whom I haven’t seen since last year.

But first things first. With the pace of events and having had a tooth extracted earlier in the week boiling the kettle was the key thing to get me going in the morning. I’ve never got on with gas stoves (having been brought up on paraffin) despite their convenience and the Volcano Kettle runs on my shavings so it’s about as sustainable as you can get. For anyone who is not aware of them the kettle is a waterjacket around a central flue with the small fire lit in the base and it can be fired on just about anything – plenty of rumours that they also work on Yak Dung!

Some things caught my eye and I particularly liked the simple approach to the display of gypsy pegs and baskets.

Sorry I didn’t manage to catch the peg maker in the act, I think it was Phil? But there’s no doubt that they do work.

We’re all a bit mad (we have to be) but our real basket case is Dave Lister who is going from strength to strength with his trug making.

Not content with just the gardening market, Sandra – the research and innovation department is planning a new range of trughat’s for next year’s fashion.

In amongst the variety of new trugs were these old slats. Apparently a part of a half-bushel trug that Dave recently restored for a customer. It had been in use daily use for over 35years and as they are so large they tend to be dragged rather than carried.

Darren, John and Paul in deep contemplation ? Of what, we aren’t quite sure, must be one of those hurdling things. Caption anyone?

Chris has clearly used a stock knife to make tent pegs before.

It must be tiring work though!

Amongst other talents, Les is our flower arranger.

And we had a visit from Bill, the current photo pin-up of the Hampshire Coppice Craftsmen Group. Though I have to say it wouldn’t be the same without Les’ Landrover as a backdrop.

Not quite last, and possibly not least, is Paul. It’s always a pleasure to be with Paul at a show. I almost said work with, but that would be pushing it a bit as that chair does get to do most of the work.

Likewise there is always a lathe – but where’s the bodger when you need him?

Anyone who attended the event will know that there was a lot more than the coppice group there and the usual complement of bright shiny kit including a few mobile bandsaws. I was very taken with this crusty old woodmizer which clearly works for a living and spent the show producing boards, including spalted beech, using logs from woods surrounding the show site, the Queen Elizabeth country park. I expect this wood would have gone to waste otherwise, not even made firewood. A really good idea and I noticed a lot of people carrying boards away and few coppice group members loading up at the end of the show.

I think we put on a good display for the event and it seemed very popular – I was surprised to see so many friends and neighbours – so I hope it went well for the organisers and will run again next year.

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