Archive for February, 2012


During our recent cold snap the temperature reached -16C overnight, a very cold snap indeed for us in the south of England, and in the shed in the morning it was still -10C so a bit too cold for turning on the polelathe. Time to build up the fires inside and the quality of the firewood makes quite a difference to the ability to keep the house warm when its that cold.

I’ve found that the choice of  firewood for the coldest part of the year is well worth putting some thought into.  In recent years I’ve taken to putting aside some of my driest best firewood for the cold snaps when they come.

My mother was a talented caligrapher and some years ago she sent me a version of the old poem ‘Wood for Burning’  – and there is no smoke without a fire as they say – it’s as a good a guide to choosing your firewood as you can get, so here is her version again in case you missed it last time around.

(Caligraphy – Olive Allery 1928-2011)

All wood will burn and per Kg they all give about the same heat, but everyone has their favourite firewood.  Oak, Beech and Hawthorn are common favourites but why is Ash said to be the best?

I think the answer lies in the density and moisture content of the wood. The denser the wood the more heat it can release when it burns but in my experience the densest timbers can take years to season. When you try to burn them the high density of the wood slows the burning process down and if they still have too high a moisture content they burn even more slowly and don’t provide enough heat.

The obvious solution is to split and dry your firewood in the sun then store undercover for some years until you need it. That’s fine, but not everyone has enough Oak woodland or a barn for a log store to enable firewood to be stored for years in advance to season and dry. Knowing which woods will need less seasoning and can even be burnt green can be key to keeping warmer in the winter.

Winter felled Ash is relatively low in moisture content in comparison with other woods and it’s medium density open grain means it will dry faster than the denser woods – hence the references in the poem to burning ash wet or green.  Also it tends to grow straight grained, is easy to chop and split and it doesn’t smell bad on the fire so it comes out as a good all round compromise.

Mind you, I don’t get a lot of spare Ash – it’s too good for turning on the polelathe, so my favourite logs to burn are a combination of Birch with Oak or Beech. The Birch starts the fire and burns very hot and fast, when mixed with Oak or Beech the fire burns both long and hot. Oh and Birch does smell good on the fire as well!



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Turn a base for an altar cross. It’s not often you get asked to do a job like this so I’ve got to give it a go. What could possibly go wrong? I’m so engrossed in turning the base that I’ve not entirely thought through how the cross will be mounted. A short discussion with West Dean College who have made the cross results it arriving for me to do the mounting.

It turns out that the cross has a 4 inch long rectangular tang on its base. I’m not much good at drilling rectangular holes and my normal approach to this (in the case of a tool handle) would be to drill a round hole,  heat the tang and burn it into the base. I am a bodger at heart but I think a more subtle approach is definitely needed here.

The eventual plan, thanks to Alison for suggesting it, is to carefully saw off the top of the base so I can drill some pilot holes and chisel out the rectangular profile to fit the cross, then drill though the base to allow the tang and a threaded bar to be inserted and pull the assembly tight. As the cross is to be delivered the next day, I decided to test this on a practice piece which went well. Unfortunately the real top didn’t behave as well and split before I’d finished the first hole. This was always going to be a danger and  though superglue is tempting luckily the practice piece is just about (it will have to be) good enough to do the job,

The result is not too shabby. Nobody would know, except of course now I’ve told everyone! But at least it’s on straight.

Next day the cross is due to be installed on the altar in St Margaret’s a ‘tin tabernacle’ from South Wonston near Winchester  and recently re-erected at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum. Cue gratuitous picture of the museum in it’s February light covering of snow.

The building is fascinating in both it’s concept and it’s history. Tin tabernacles were supplied as flat packed kits and shipped all over the world – and not an Allen key in sight. Ikea eat your heart out!  The concept is that a light wooden ‘shed’ frame is pulled together by the corrugated iron skin sheets acting as a form of exoskeleton. This one is a really remarkably original example anf was first erected at South Wonston in 1909 where it served as a church for over 90 years.

That it lasted so well says a lot about how well the congregation cared for it and rather than see it dismembered they donated it to the museum. Many of them turned up for a small ceremony to mark it’s re-opening together with most of the team of craftsmen who worked on the re-erection.

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It seems ages since I’ve been able to do some turning on the polelathe and similarly since I’ve posted on the blog. Normal service is resumed at last!  But of course, having finally found the lathe again the temperature has plummeted! Below zero all day in the shed.

It might look like a candlestick but it’s not, quite. With luck it will be the base for an altar cross. Why? Well it’s a bit of a long story and hopefully all will become clear before long.  As it’s going onto an altar I’m putting a polished finish on it, which is unusual for me and it gives me a chance to try out my home made polish in ernest – half beeswax from a friends local hives (thanks Dave) and half local linseed Oil.

The base is almost 5 inches across and initially I thought I’d try to be clever and do it in two pieces. But unfortunately that was harder than I imagined. Ooops! Just in case you thought everything always went right on polelathe blogs – here’s a classic disaster. Back to plan A then.

Too cold for any more photos in the shed so it’s back in front of the stove to finish off the base and the polish seems to have worked well giving a very satiny sheen to the wood.

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