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Archive for August, 2011

My visits to the bodgery last week were squeezed in between bookings for demonstrating and teaching polelathe turning at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum (of which more later) but I am very grateful to Derrick for getting full steam up and pushing me to make the missing part, namely the comb,  for my comb-back windsor side chair.

The steam chambers are simple plastic drainpipes heavily lagged by old carpet and braced with battens. The steam source is a wallpaper stripper or kettle heating element in a plastic water reservoir.

Having steamed the beech comb for just over an hour we placed it in the jig and applied the pressure using a simple pipe bending vice.

Once bent the comb stays in the jig until it’s cooled right down.

Now I have the comb and the back sticks all I need is the time to finish the assembly!

My chair was only one of many on the production line during the week and I counted parts of at least a dozen chairs and stools in progress and perhaps equally enjoyable was the sheer diversity of style and design.

Derrick and Veronica are working with Este on her Elm seat base. My side chair is unconventional in that the comb and seat base are made from beech rather than elm. My choice, and entirely because I have access to beech that I planked up a couple of years ago from fallen trees on the commons. Elm rarely comes my way, let alone in chair seat diameters.

Derrick is something of an Big Elm connoisseur. For example the new workbench in the workshop is one huge slab of elm.

Somewhere in a store not far away there is a stash of monster Elm planks, but as this is valuable stuff I shan’t reveal it’s exact location nor it’s owner. At least not until I’ve had a chance to save up and raid my piggy bank!

Thanks to Derek, Veronica, Sue and all at the Stratfield Saye Bodgery for the help and encouragement!


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The last week of August is Full Steam ahead – literally – at the Bodgery. Where Derrick kindly allows a group of chair makers of varying talent and experience to invade his workshop.  This lovely set of spindles  is destined for a child sized chair – unfortunately not my work, but it does inspire me, and is one of the reasons I enjoy taking part in this week at the bodgery. Unfortunately demonstrating and courses on the weekend before and the coming bank holiday weekend have limited my ability to join in this year – and I’m keen not to make the same mistake next year!

Derrick has had something of a clear up and change around in the workshop and it enabled 9 of us to work on various parts of stools and chairs at the same time. As always the floor is liberally carpeted in shavings – we keep telling him that there is gold in them there shavings !

I’m making some sticks, spindles and the comb for the back of a Windsor chair.

For making the straight sticks a shaved blank is turned down using a rounding plane. Derricks Ashem crafts rounding planes were getting plenty of use making sticks for a range of chairs.

At this point Derrick and I noticed that our Ashem crafts planes are very different. It looks as if one is an earlier design – but which one?  I think it’s Derrick’s and he thinks it’s mine (on the left). A Quick google reveals that Derrick is right and mine appears to be an earlier design.  Does this make it a collectors piece? And why did the design change?

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The traditional hay making season is almost over  but it’s brought with it a peak in demand for hay rakes this year and I’ve had a few orders to fulfill.

I’ve recently taken to using a giant pencil sharpener (otherwise known as a veritas tapered dowel cutter) to put a consistent taper on the end of the tines and it does make the rake look neater.

I’ve mainly been making the split handle style – which I call the ‘Sussex Rake’

But I do sometimes make the rake with the bow support which I call the ‘Dorset Style’.I was taught to nail the bow onto the handle, but I know that some people pass the bow through a hole drilled in the handle. I suspect that there are as many variations in style as there are rake makers!

Even though its very fresh cut the hazel hoop will rarely adopt the sharp radius needed for the hoop without breaking so some gentle persuasion is necessary, gradually working the bend into the wood bit by bit until after a few minutes it will take the curve without breaking. Of course you could steam it to achieve the same result as I do over my knee.

I enjoy making and using rakes. Over the coming year I’ll be experimenting with some adjusted designs more appropriate for garden use and also for bracken raking. There are few rake making workshops left in the country which might give the impression that wooden rake making is a dying craft. But I don’t believe so, around Sussex, Hampshire and Dorset there are plenty of rakes being made in a wide range of styles by woodsmen, coppice workers, greenwood workers and estate workers who hand make their rakes alongside other products and supply locally as they always have done. In my view the future of wooden rakes lies more with these woodland workers than in workshops. But then as a woodsman and a self confessed  jack-of-all-trades I am biased and banging my own drum here!

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Working with a scythe is an enjoyable experience in its own right, but there are fringe benefits as well. One of these is that you tend to end in special places with a scythe, whereas with a strimmer you’ll be stuck on a verge somewhere.

The recent scything course I gave to the South Downs National Park Volunteer Ranger Service (bit of a mouthful that) was no exception. We started off in the workshop but soon adjourned to practice on some thistles in a nearby meadow, part of the Woolbeding estate.

The meadow is right by the river Rother near Midhurst. Looks more like a peaceful stream at this time of year, though the 10 foot drop from the meadow to the water level gives some idea of how it can flow during the winter.

I should have been taking lots of photos of the mowing, but on this improvers course the team had got the hang of it quite well in the main and I was captivated by the ancient parkland oak trees in the meadows. Large trees with the fabulous gnarly shapes and wide spreading canopies that come with growing out in the open.

Back to the mowing. With this many thistles the job should really be more topping than mowing as cutting the thistles is more important than cutting the grass. That’s normally the case with using scythes in conservation work. I started using a scythe on bracken (when I was 16) and I get to use them on bracken, brambles and weeds far more often than I get to mow a meadow for haymaking so it’s useful to look at different ways of working.

Oooh, now this will be the gratuitous Landrover photo then, dressed up to look like a serious comment on scything technique. Now how does that song go? After me…

….One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow, one man and his Land Rover went to mow a meadow.  Two men went to mow, went to mow a meadow, two men, one man, and his Land Rover, and his other Land Rover…went to mow a meadow…..got the picture yet?


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The High Street is not my normal habitat these days. But I came  to see Mervyn Mewis’ excellent display of his woody creations at Godalming Museum ‘Out of the Woods’.

I rate Merv’s skills very highly and I think the combination of  Trees, Wood and Music is compelling.  The exhibition is a  great mix of  wood shapes and textures.  The natural shape, grain and character of the wood plays a big part in Merv’s work. Sadly I only had my phone camera with me so the photos leave a lot to be desired.

The exhibition will stay on at the Museum throughout August. If you are in the Godalming area don’t forget to take a look!  There will also be a range of activities and events (mainly Saturday’s) throughout the month based upon Mervyn’s Exhibition, trees, music and wood. Take a look at the museum website here for details – Godalming Museum – Out of the Woods Events.

But as well as a tree surgeon and woodworker Merv is also a talented Luthier and for me the instruments that Merv makes and plays are the icing on the cake. You may have seen or heard Merv playing them with Catherine as a duo – if not they will be playing in Godalming on Saturday 13th August (details on the museum website).  They are traditional instruments and you don’t get to see them very often let alone hear them played. I think this one is called a Bowed Psaltery?

The Hurdy Gurdy – I would love to have heard this one being played but unfortunately it was on display in the cabinet.

……..and the hammered dulcimer. Well done Merv an excellent exhibition. But the music didn’t end there because when I spoke to Merv the day before he reminded me to bring my guitar…..oh dear…..

Somehow on the way back to the station I found myself in the Star with Merv and the dulcimer, Catherine and the rest of the Monday evening folk session. As far as I can remember I’ve not played folk music anywhere other than around a campfire at a woody event before. So playing  in a pub with other musicians was quite an event for me – a real Coming out of the Woods for me as well.   They were very kind and tolerant to put up with me! I really do promise to do a little more practise, and if only I could remember all the words…….

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The new cruck framed house at Swan Barn Farm (the National Trust basecamp in Haslemere) is taking shape rapidly. It’s at the stage where all of the main timbers are up and there is not enough yet to obscure the view of the geometric puzzle that it forms. It’s also probably the best climbing frame you can imagine – but we won’t talk about that!

To help raise funds for the build the Trust is selling sponsored shingles. These clefts of chestnut will become a part of the roof and have been loveling hand made by staff, visitors, volunteers, students, locals and just about anyone that can be pressganged into the task. There were plenty being made at the weekend when I took part in an open day on the site to publicise the building and also the use of local sustainable wood in its constuction.

Justin Owen was showing people how to make chestnut palings and lathes. I’ve made a couple of replacement froe handles for Justin recently and apparently both have failed. It took his colleague Tony Tyrell only a couple of days to bash the last one off the handle! Ooops!

 

I was surprised. But talking it over this seems to happen a lot. Though the wood I chose was fairly dry, it seems possible that the wood was still too green. Maybe the Ash needs to harden for some years to withstand the hard wear inside the eye of the froe. I do remember from talking with Clive the local tool handle maker that he stored his ash for years before using it to make handles.

Any thoughts ? I am going to look through my old pile of dried up ash blanks and see if I can find something to experiment with.


Time for a wholly gratuitous tractor photo. This old fordson named Bessie lives at Swan Barn Farm. She has a very powerful winch fitted and was used by the trust for decades to pull down and extract trees but these days there is not much call for her services. Useful anti-theft deterrent – No seat!

There is more about the Show on the Swan Barn Farm blog. Dave Elliot has also posted some surreal photos of the recently closed A3 through the Devil’s Punchbowl – the road to nowhere, as the long awaited Tunnel opened last week.

 

 

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