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Archive for October, 2011

It’s not unusual for the old cartshed I use as a workshop to get in a state over the summer. A growing layer of discarded shavings, part finished and abandoned projects as much of my work is outside or between shows. This year has been worse than most and I’m having trouble even getting to the lathe in the corner. So there is nothing for it, a rainy but warm sunday is dedicated to providing an environment I can actually get to under the debris.

Eight hours of hard labour later and there is something of a transformation. Up a couple of notches from dire to just messy I think.

As a bonus I’ve also generated several large bags of  designer firewood and kindling from abandoned lumps of wood now too dry to continue. But nowhere to store it – a tarp will have to suffice.

And yes lurking on the bench on the left is an engine. Just one of the many projects keeping me busy at the moment.

Partway through my first total rebuild of a landrover petrol engine. I’d like to claim the credit for all of the work but I can’t and I have to thank Gary and Richard for Boring, Grinding, Skimming, Stripping and Rebuilding! Should be finished in the next few days (famous last words) as I’m looking forward to using the landrover over the winter though progress will be balanced with woody work.

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With a lot of apples you need a big press or a lot of presses or both. At the New Forest Cider Pressing weekend on the New Forest Cider Farm in Burley we had both and the bonus of great weather over the weekend. This pile of apples ( and you are lucky you can’t smell it on the internet – ripe would be an understatement!) is Kingston Black, the holy grail of cidermakers. By the end of the weekend you’ll find you grow to quite like the smell of smoke and fermenting ripe apples, though it’s an acquired taste.

Despite taking part as a woodturner it won’t surprise you to know that the cidermaking is the major attraction for me. I had to work hard to finish pressing my own apples before leaving for the show.  So the weekend is a great opportunity to finish off the season by talking to more cidermakers than you are ever likely to see in one place, taking in some history and consuming plenty of the product – all in the pursuit of knowledge of course –  as well as turning a bit of wood. It’s more than a little bit indulgent, but in this article I’m going to look at the role that wood traditionally plays in pressing apples and I’ll save the greenwood part of the show for the next post.

There were several presses working over the weekend and all were either manually powered or assisted by steam engines. This steam driven press is trailer mounted and has a mill (or scratter) in the center with a press on either end so that one can be loaded whilst the other is pressing. A great example of the type of mobile press used in Hereford and Gloucestershire at the beginning of the 20th Century.

As you can see, though the metalwork is the key to the moving parts, the press itself is largely wooden – and for good reason – as the cider apple juice is very acidic and full of tannins so will corrode iron if it comes in contact. So wood is used for the press, the tray and originally for the troughs and barrels though plastic and stainless steel have largely taken over these days.

Even the tools would have been wooden – a good wooden shovel was in use on one press. Typically the apple pomace (shredded apple pieces the size of peas) are pressed in cheeses, formed in a wooden frame and held together with hessian, cloth or even straw, built up on top of each other to the capacity of the press before all being pressed together.

You can never have too many presses. Over recent decades many old cider presses have decayed outside or in barns and cider houses and with barn conversions, it’s not unusual for them to be discarded as the apples they used to process are left rotting or the trees are grubbed up. Often only the metal work will survive, so how do you restore a vintage press ?

Over the weekend a team of cidermakers, sawyers and carpenters showed us how to restore a big wooden press.  Here’s the wood in flatpack form, but you’ll need more than just an allen key to put it together. First up is the Stenner rack saw, again driven by a belt from a steam engine,  to convert the oak butt into the big beams needed to take the pressure of the press.

This is a twin screw press and the screws are mounted up through the base of the bottom beam. Even the metalwork is too heavy to move by hand, one screw is almost in and the other is offered up with the help of a telehandler.

With the screws mounted in the bottom beam the top beams await mortice drilling (by chainsaw) to fit onto the top of the press.

By Sunday afternoon the press takes shape. While the beams are persuaded onto the screws the racksaw is busy milling out the timber to make the tray and boards to operate the press.

A great idea to rebuild the press at the show – as all of the woody The press didn’t quite make it into operation by the end of the weekend, but it wasn’t far off and I found it a really interesting demonstration of the skills needed to make, and also to keep these presses in operation year in and year out.

There was a very similar press to the one being rebuilt that was in use over the weekend which I understand was itself restored about 20 or so years ago – though it certainly looks as if the woodwork is older.  It’s mounted on wheels and has a winch to assist in the raising of the top beams. So now you know how to do it there’s nothing to stop you making a press for next season?

Of course you might not want to start with such a big press, and that’s fine there are plenty of smaller presses around, or you can make your own to process the juice from spare apples from a couple of trees. The small fruit press and mill by Vigo are well made – though you pay a steep price and it’s not to hard to make up one yourself if you are so inclined. I started with a similar size of press but I soon built a bigger one though I am still (just) getting by on the Vigo scratter.

All too soon, apples pressed, cider drunk and even some wood turned – but that will have to wait for the next post – it was time to pack up and leave. A great weekend, lovely show and the very best of company – I’m very grateful that they all put up with me. I’ve learnt a lot and I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Before leaving Burley and fighting my way back to Sussex on the M27 I stop at Picket Post on top of the hill for a few minutes to take in the view and in the tranquility I enjoy the afterglow from the hard work of the weekend – not such a great sunset this year, but it’s become something of a tradition for me. 

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The final show of the season for me is the Annual Cider Pressing weekend at the New Forest Cider Farm, Burley which is on this weekend. Link to more information is on the side bar of the site at the moment or visit the new forest cider blog.

 

If you are near to the New Forest it is worth a visit. A great little show with proceeds to charity and a last chance for nostrils full of fermenting cider apples, wood smoke, coke and steam. As I don’t need to make stock now I am planning to relax, enjoy the event and turn a few bowls I’ve been thinking about.

 

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This is a long post so feel free to browse through the picture – or perhaps you’ll want to go and get a cup of coffee (or cider if it’s the right time of day) and soak up some of the atmosphere of the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at its best with a tale of threshing, woodland crafts, some turning (but not much) and plenty of apples. The Autumn Countryside Show is one of my favourite events, a celebration of many of the things that mark out the rapid change in pace of the seasons and preparations for the long winter to come.

Some weeks ago the wheat on the museum fields was harvested, stooked and then stacked in a traditional rick ready for threshing.  With the weather looking changeable the threshing team started early, working hard through Friday and both days of the show to get all of the wheat threshed.

The wheat grown at the museum is a traditional long straw variety (triticale) with a much longer stem than a modern wheat variety which makes it useful for thatching straw. The threshing machine has an extra unit to sort and bundle the long straw so that the thatchers can store it whilst the shorter straws are discarded and baled.

I think it’s very unusual to see a threshing machine working all weekend and really rare to have two working at the same time. I particularly liked the way that Ben used one of the museum waggons as a part of the threshing display.

Normally I demonstrate on my own as I find two polelathes can be a bit of a crowd, but the Autumn show has always had wood at its heart and this year we decided to put on a bit of a show. No longer ‘Billy-no-mates’ I was joined by friends from the Sussex & Surrey Coppice, Hampshire  Coppice and the Polelathe turners and Greenwood Workers groups.  Thanks to everyone who turned up – it was a pleasure to work with you.


If you read the posts on this blog occasionally you’ll be no stranger to most of the talented greenwood workers who came to demonstrate at the show, so I won’t go through everyone even though they do deserve it for putting on such a great display. Thank you!

The traditional Chestnut lathes that Justin, Tony and Freddie make for many building projects were particularly appropriate to the museum and it was great to have them with us at this show.

First time at the show, Martin, Chris and Catherine aka ‘The Special Branch’ added some willow weaving activities for children.


Wot no pegs? The recipe section of the Horticultural Marquee needed pegs, so thanks to ‘the special branch’ we soon had it pegged with some simple but very effective twig pegs. Hardly a big issue, but it’s simple skills like this that are so rarely used today. It’s not that we can’t do it, virtually anyone can make pegs with a twig, a  knife and some wire, but we don’t respect these skills anylonger.

Melvyn made an impromptu appearance to make liggers for the day. And yes I did include this just so I could use the word ‘liggers’ which are the long thatching spars used at the top of the roof to bind the thatch together.

Alan Waters spoilt us all with an excellent freshly baked apple tart on Sunday morning. Thank you Alan! There will be more on the subject of apples at the show, but first…

The Hurdle Making Competition. A great event, which is fast becoming a fixture at the show, takes place on Sunday together with the (thatching) Spar making contest. Luckily the weather held up, though it was extremely windy on the Sunday during the competition.


This year somehow Rosie (Alan’s apprentice and responsible for keeping Alan in line) was persuaded to take part – not an easy thing to do, I remember the sheer terror of the first time I took part in a polelathe turning log-to-leg competition. Rosie managed to find a quiet spot at the back of the area and as she’s none to keen on cameras I had to pretend to be taking a photo of the tractors in the ring (OK so not much pretence needed  – a fine example of a field marshal by the way).

I am often asked if I make hurdles, somehow it’s seen as the epitomy of a rural craft, but as a woodturner I am well aware that it’s just one step too far for me, though stepping on it is something that Rosie demonstrates here with fine style.

At the other end of the competation area Robert (from Wiltshire) is getting there with his hurdle. He claims to be an amateur and amongst his many amateur skills Robert also makes fine cider and country wines, which we sampled over the weekend. A good opportunity to compare notes on apple milling and pressing.

All done. To my inexpert eye a fine example of a wattle hurdle. But the judging is tight and points are lost for using loppers and not having enough twists. Still as Rosie said, it didn’t come last!

Meanwhile back at the farm, up in the courtyard the apple mill and press are busy pressing something like a tonne of apples over the weekend.

We got to taste some of the product around the campfire in the evening, the two year old cider seemed to go down very well together with plenty of music and singing.

Most of the apples are from the West Dean estate adjacent to the museum though the apples from the museums own orchard are great traditional varieties.

Julian tells me that they managed to press about 80gallons of apple juice, and quite a lot of it was given away as samples but perhaps 70 gallons will be fermented on to make cider, which will be ready for drinking in a couple of years.

The show is very much an end of season marker for me, so as we packed up it was auspicious to have such a fine sunset, marking a great show with great friends, to say goodbye for a while and look forward to the coming season as we all return to the woods.

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