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Archive for July, 2012

One thing that I like about working in the woods is that it does take me to some interesting places, many of which are just around the corner but otherwise you wouldn’t have a reason to go there. I had the usual busy day planned yesterday until Frank rang and my plans changed. He needed a hand, or more accurately a landrover,  hauling some long chestnut poles from a coppice on the side of the Devil’s Punchbowl over a mile from the nearest access point to the waiting truck.

Chestnut coppice is cut on a long cycle, typically between 12 and 20years and the regrowth shoots from the stumps, known as stools, so that the cycle can begin again. This coppice is ready to be cut again though only a small area has been cleared so far.  This cycle of clearing, removing and allowing wildflowers to pop up whilst the regrowth starts again is important in managing the woods, not just for providing sustainable timber products but also in providing an excellent habitat in the woods for plenty of wildlife.

It’s the first time I’ve been in the punchbowl since the A3 was rerouted and it has changed enormously since the tunnel opened last year. You can still see the route of the old road on the other side of the valley but the matting it’s clad in to prevent erosion will soon disappear under new growth and it will be hard to remember what it used to be like. Strange to be there without the ever present drone of traffic in the background, it makes the birdsong seem unnaturally load.


The Devil’s Punchbowl is an amazing local feature, a steep sided natural amphitheature which cuts into the side of the adjoining Hindhead common. Easy to forget you are still on the borders of Surrey when you are lost in the bottom of the valley and more understandable when you learn that Hindhead common reaches 900feet in altitude. If you do get lost you’ll be in good company as William Cobbett hired a guide and still managed to get lost in the Punchbowl.

On the steep sides of the Punchbowl the Bell Heather is starting to flower and there will be a continuous display on the local heaths through to mid September another reminder that the seasons are changing relentlessly even if the weather we are experiencing this week makes it hard to rememeber just where we are. Only a week ago it was still pouring with rain and now we have a mini-heatwave.

The main poles Frank was extracting are for a roundwood workshop build he is planning – I think they’ll be just the job and I look forward to seeing how he gets on with the build. Not huge loads, more of a challenge to balance the 16ft lengths for the haul up the track to the top of the Punchbowl.

Puff the Magic Landrover coped well with the +30 degrees C temperatures and the long climb, and after a bigger load of shorted poles we’d filled the truck and finished the job. Great to be able to visit the punchbowl again and a pleasure to help out. Frank has given me some ideas for working with roundwood chestnut on my own shedbuild which is only 3 years behind schedule now.

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Perhaps you like the idea of becoming a charcoal burner, maybe you just want to turn some unwanted waste wood into a valuable product or perhaps you just want to experience the magic of spending the night in the woods and making charcoal the traditional way, either way there is an event you might like to take part in coming up in August.

From 11th to the 13th August Alan and Jo Waters of Wildwood charcoal are running their annual earthburn in the woods on the West Dean Estate near Chichester. Alan kicks the earthburn off on the 11th August which celebrates the feast day of St Alexander, the patron saint of Charcoal burners.  But this year as well as demonstrating the ancient craft of burning charcoal in an earth covered clamp they have assembled a team of charcoal burners to burn with a steel ring kiln and a new design of mobile retort at the same time. It’s always a great event, very atmospheric at the beautiful site in the West Dean woods and this year  it will be a unique opportunity to compare the past, the present and the future of charcoal burning.

As is the way these days the event has to have a name, so it’s the CharFest in the Woods. You can participate in the event for a small cost per day – to book your place contact Jo Waters at Wildwoodcoppice@btinternet.com – and dare I mention that it may be your last chance to see the old man hobbling – and be able to run away faster – before he gets his new bionic knees (only joking Alan!)

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Over recent years we’ve become accustomed to blistering heat and endless sunshine at the Sussex and Surrey Coppice Group open weekend, our annual get together where members and guests have a chance to try different skills and swap ideas for new products and generally chat, not to mention buy something you really didn’t know you needed at the Tool Auction.

As for the last 3  years the event was held in Fernhurst at the site of the old Fernhurst Iron Furnace and hosted by Robin Barnes. The weather forecast for this year predicted it would be different this time so we turned up prepared for bad weather – and we weren’t disappointed! I was reminded of Dwayne, one of the cutters on the TV show Ax-men, who in an Oregon downpour in which he just about disappeared he pronounced it ‘A DandyDay!’ and got on with felling the trees. I tend to use the phrase to describe drenched days working in the woods.

To start off the going on the field was fairly firm, but as the downpours continued  eventually there was as much water on the surface as grass, walking on water definitely an advantage and we did give up on the open campfire  – but did that put us off?

Not much, though it was a more select gathering than usually attends and thats not a huge surprise under the circumstances. The rubbish in the foreground is not flood debris it’s the annual attempt to pass off unwanted items to other members loosely known as an auction.

The point of the day is not just for members to demonstrate their skills – we do that at shows throughout the season – but for members to join in and try out some new crafts. Ian Swain was putting new handles on old tools – something that lots of us do on occasion but it’s good to watch a master at work and there is always more to learn and I was keen to have a go but unfortunately too busy setting up for the auction. Next time Ian!

Tony Lucas was a welcome new face at the gathering this year coming over from near Lewes with his fine Landrover 110 – oh and some fine chairs as well. The steam chamber on the table was powered by a small boiler over an open fire, a neat little setup for demonstrating steam bending in the middle of a wet field.

As you’d expect with the Coppice Group there were a fair few old landrovers around and John Sinclair demonstrates a surprisingly deft touch with his Series III. Will he convert Stuart’s Golf to a rear engine model, or gently assist him to leave the field?

Piping hot food (and more than a little local beer and cider) always helps to keep out the rain and The Men in Hats aka Dave and Ritchie did a great job in cooking up the venison – I’ve left out the photos of the butchery you’ll be pleased to hear – and the rest of the local meat feast.

Fresh from his success with his magic goblet machine Roger’s been working on a setup for shaping spoons and utensils on a repeatable basis. It’s based upon a small stock knife (similar to a drawknife in size) which is anchored at one end on a modified bench with a series of steps in it to assist the cuts with the knife on the blank.

Unlike a normal spoon making process the bowl is carved first using a large gouge and then the form is cut swiftly and accurately around it with the stocknife.

Very interesting approach to making utensils. As you can see it knocks out butter knives/letter openers very easily just using the stocknife. Roger’s aim was to investigate a simple and consistent approach to making utensils which increases speed whilst retaining acceptable quality, allowing a lower cost item made from sustainable products. I think he’s got something here and I’m tempted to try something similar for making spatulas.

Though I was busy around the site the polelathe proved popular with people trying it out through the day. Here Rick gives it a go for the first time and as he’s soon to be on his way back to New Zealand – perhaps there’ll be an NZ branch of the APT before too long.

The auction was big hit and with a massive 70 lots to get through Peter Jameson excelled himself and just about managed to keep his voice. The porters were the stars of the show and Roger prooved to be quite a performer as he gave us the background to each of the chainsaw sculptures he’d entered into the auction. I think both buyers and sellers seemed happy with the event and by something approaching a miracle the rain just about held off for the time it took to flog the lot.

I fully intended to buy nothing and one again I failed miserably and returned home with the usual assortment of odds and sods, but more sods than odds I suspect. I was tempted by this intriguing tool, but as Dave seemed keen on it I thought it would have a fine home and resisted the temptation to bid it up. Can you see what it is yet? And why does it have two hooks on it?

Ritchie’s roundhouse become the centre of activities and allowed us to keep the fire on once we’d abandoned the campfire outside. But even inside  it turned in a sea of mud but at least we stayed afloat in the roundhouse just.

As I’ve had a few complaints about the lack of Landrover content recently, here is a gratuitous photo from the weekend where Landrovers outnumbered other vehicles to the extent that you could be forgiven for thinking it was actually a Landrover rally!

The water pouring through the grate and into the spillway of the old furnace in the woods below the fields gives you some idea of the amount of water trying to leave the site. Never mind – I think a good time was had by all.  Back to the usual heatwave for next year?

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Just for once it didn’t rain on Thursday when I spent a day  in the woodyard at the Weald & Downland museum.  It’s a working woodyard and forms a base for many woody activities as well as supporting other projects within the museum.

There is always a lot of work going on but as this can be anywhere across the museum site and its surrounding woodland  it’s not unusual for the woodyard to seem deserted. But this week has been a ‘Woodyard week’ with plenty of work planned and I got to join in for a day polelathe turning and also lending a hand in the yard – irressistible to a congenital ‘woody’ like me.

Ben is building a number of wheels to replace old ones that can’t be fixed up any more on wagons that are part of the museum collection and that get used by the museum. These new hubs are turned from Elm, a wood with grain so twisty that it is renowned for resisting splitting when the spokes are knocked in. The red wheel is one from the museums timber wagon and the new hubs will be used to build replacements and get the timber wagon back on the road.

Oak beams are sawn and hewn in the woodyard to provide replacements for buildings and projects around the museum. We used the  woodyard hand operated timbercrane to extract some beams from the pile for a project which Guy is working on.

This  butt is in the process of being hewn into an Oak beam and will eventually be used in one of the museum’s projects. The process of hewing the round timber into a squared off beam is a great demonstration for visitors   – not least because of the sense of danger in watching someone stand on a log and swing an axe at their feet!

As you’d expect there is a kettle in the yard.  A proper one.  Somehow a cup of tea always tastes fresher when it’s brewed over an open fire, especially one thats powered by the shavings from the hewing and turning of the mornings work.

As you may have noticed the denizens of the yard are not that keen on appearing on camera, not on mine at least and despite plying them with a whole box of broken biscuits they still managed to elude me, but I should thank Julian, Ben, John and Guy for letting me join in for the day and also the visitors brave enough to make it to the woodyard who certainly enjoyed the experience.

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No posts for a month – how nice and quiet it has been. But now I’m going to shatter that calm because it’s not been quiet in woodlandantics land. It feels like my feet have barely touched the ground and I’ve certainly been busy, but whether I’ve achieved a lot is always open to question.

But hold on, is that a medal I see on that old English Scythe ? And a Landrover on the stool seat? Perhaps some stories to tell soon? Don’t go away…….

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