Archive for May, 2012

The second weekend in May is the Annual Bodgers Ball when members of the Association of Polelathe Turners & Greenwood Workers gather somewhere in a field for the Annual General Meeting. When I turned up early on Thursday Morning the weather was non too auspicious. That’s an understatement – it was terrible. The clouds down on the ground, raining all day in galeforce winds. You couldn’t see one side of the field from the other, you know what I mean – typical British camping holiday weather! Great weather for a weekend event in a field in West Dorset.

Luckily for us as if by magic the weather cleared and the sun blazed down on the site revealing the West Dorset Countryside and the sea at Charmouth only a couple of miles away between the rolling hills.  Although you couldn’t drive onto the site on Friday morning by the afternoon it was drying rapidly enough for everyone to set up camp.

A fine array of shelters, lathes, greenwood working demonstrations and activities filled the site which for this year included the large beechwood just behind the main field.

The Ball is an opportunity to meet up with friends not seen since the previous season and to catch up on events – though it always seems to flash past and there is never enough time to meet, see and do all the things I planned. Sean Hellman gave a great worskhop on sharpening with stones. If you missed his workshop there is some great information on his blog – but make sure you’ve got some time to appreciate it, it’s a great source of valuable information – here a link to a stone article to get you started – Natural Stones on Seans Blog

It was good to meet up with Barnaby (aka Barn the Spoon) the maestro of itinerant spoon carving. Though for this ball Barn went upmarket with a friend, old series IIa Landrover Safari and awning to make the most of the blazing sunshine.

Hard work, great conversation late into the evening at the pub constructed on the site with local Lyme Regis ales (great beer) and Cider from Dai Saltmarsh at Five Penny Farm led inevitably to the morning after. You’ll have heard of the 4 Yorkshiremen sketch, but may not know it was actually 1 Yorkshireman and three from Shropshire. Here they are in action, Bob, Neil, Tony and Richard – casting aspersions on all and sundry around the fire on a sunny but chilly morning whilst awaiting the kettle to boil (again).

The pub for the event was an old stone shed at the edge of the field cleaned out and fitted with woodburner, bar and local beer. Did anyone take a photo of the Pub, particularly the pub sign as I managed not to?

Robin Tuppen from Royal Sussex Trugs joined us at the ball for the first time with his apprentice and it was great to see his work. I particularly liked the steamer based upon a solid iron monster of an old army stove and a wood and leather steam chamber.

It does take all sorts. We had polelathes, bungee lathes, treadle lathes and I don’t think this one actually has a name. No pole and it works on a flywheel system which provides plenty of inertia for turning bowls and plates. I know – lets just call it a lathe.  The tools are scraping with a burr rather than cutting like a knife – one of the tools is actually a file squared off at the end and then rotated as the burr wears to present a new surface. Very interesting approach and great to see so many ‘rules’ being broken at once!

Since we were in Beechwood the logs for the log-to-leg race were from local beech. For a few years now we’ve been spoilt with exceptionally straight and knot free Ash for the racing so I think it made a good contrast to be using the local Beech.

Not an easy task to split the wood into clefts as James discovered when the froe bounced off the end. Even the wedge didn’t want to go in – at that point we renamed the event the ‘Bouncing Beech Ball’.

In the half hour challenge greenwood workers make a product of their choice. Somehow, despite being busy all day Ben Orford got his lathe setup and made a great baby rattle for the challenge.

West Dorset is a long trek from Yorkshire and Richard Law didn’t bring his lathe – but that didn’t stop him from entering the half hour challenge with some hand tools. Good man! They look great, but what is it you are making Richard?

I didn’t get any photos of the log to leg races as I found myself competing in both events. At the last minute I failed to argue my way out of the team event and then had to do it all again for the individual race. The times were a lot slower with the Beechwood, but despite my shavehorse breaking in the individual event I still finished.

It seemed only minutes after the last race finished that I looked up and the field was empty again. The clouds were back and rain in the offing.  Was it all a dream? It almost seems like it. But it’s a dream I will remember for a long while, so thank you everyone who came trusting in the weather and particularly the organiser Dai Saltmarsh and the owners of the site who allowed us to use it, it was a pleasure to work with you. Great place, great people and an amazing event – it’s going to be a hard act to follow, but we always do. We don’t yet know  where we will be next year, but we’ll sort that out in the next few months so stay tuned if you fancy coming to the ball next year!


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Beltain marks the mid point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice and this ancient festival still remains in part with our tradition of marking the start of May with a holiday and the naming of the Hawthorn as the ‘May Tree’. I love to see the Hawthorn in full blossom – if only because it bodes well for a good harvest later in the year.

At Butser Ancient Farm near Petersfield the festival is still celebrated with a traditional bonfire in the form of a giant wicker man. A must for any lovers of the cult movie ‘The Wicker Man’. Butser’s celebration is on tonight (Saturday 5th May) and details are on the website here.

I managed to be there last year and in marked contrast to this year the drought was still in full swing resulting in spectacular colours. Sadly I can’t make the celebration this year as I’ll be setting up (in the rain I expect) for the South Downs Show at the nearby Weald and Downland Museum.

There’s plenty of other attractions on the site – here is Matt Melton and his amazing invisible saw pit. But sawing above ground would have been normal, especially where logs were sawn up in situ – it’s a lot easier to move planks then massive butts. If you have the right shape of ground or fell the tree over another log as a bench then you can also do away the trestles at either end – though you need to be careful the log doesn’t pivot on the bench with you on it – or you’ll have invented the see-saw!

Personally I think the ancient landrover fitted the site very well. Very iron age – but yes I am biased.

Or you can just sit and admire the wicker man  for a short time before he meets his end.

My photos can’t really do justice to the spectacular site – enhanced here by the flaming head falling off and rolling down the side of the figure.

I’m sorry that I can’t make it this year but I’m sure that Butser Ancient Farm will do the festival of Beltane justice but I will be there in spirit!

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