Archive for August, 2012

There is a limit to how many photos of turning items on my pole lathe I can post and I try to stop well before I reach saturation point. But sometimes I do end up agreeing to turn some strange items, and to be honest, the chance to try different things is something I find really motivating so it’s not hard to talk me into it – as was the case when I was asked to make some knitting needles recently.

These are not any old knitting needles mind you, they are extreme knitting needles – just what they will be knitting I’m not quite sure but I think it will be large.  These needles are over 12 inches long and one inch in diameter. It was great fun and I think they turned out well.

In a similar vein of experimentation Dave and Julian came around and we spent an evening in the chaos that is my open fronted shed spooning.  We had a good evening trying out lots of home made things, including spoons, spatulas,  the cider and beer which may, or may not, go well with the making of spoons.

I did tell you it was chaos in the Shed! But at the end of the day with more shavings on the floor and more firewood rescued and turned into useful items, what more could you want? Show us your spoons lads!





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This little corner of grass at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum is not going to win any ‘perfect meadow’ awards – at least not yet. This is only the second year that we’ve cut the grass by hand for hay in this corner and with the weather this year the wind and rain has pushed it over until it’s lodged in a big tangle. Definitely something of a challenge especially when you are doing it as a demonstration.

The intention is to cut this area for hay late in the summer so that we encourage traditional meadow wildflowers to gradually develop. By cutting and removing the grass the soil fertility should fall allowing the wildflowers to compete better with the grasses and by cutting later, after the annual flowers have seeded we should encourage the flowers to germinate and spread. How long this will take depends upon the state of the soil and the species already present – it could take many years.

But back to the present and the  window of good weather is only scheduled to last a couple of days so there is no time to waste, tangled or not, I have to get the grass cut and laid out in the sun to dry.

Along the way I managed to avoid field mice and a grass snake and even managed to mow around what I think is the wildflower ‘self heal’ though I am far from an expert and happy to be corrected. If so, it’s a good find, typical of a traditional pasture and encouragement to keep up the management.

By late afternoon I’ve cut around 1/6 of an acre. Not a lot, but with the temperature close to 30C, tangled rough grass and plenty of interested visitors to chat with it feels like a lot more!

There is an old tradition of Scythesman’s wages – which includes unlimited cider, it’s a tradition of which I thoroughly approve – and I plan to make sure its a tradition that doesn’t die out if I can help it. We’ve yet to discover whether the museum’s barrel will give out before I do, but having been born and brought up in Somerset I do have a head start.  And before you mention it, yes I do realise that the plastic bottles are not traditional – but they are recycled, several times,  and I’m not against all progress.

The eagled eyes scythe spotters amongst you will notice that the scythe in the picture is an old English scythe, it’s a Nash Crown blade and a snathe which is not as adjustable as I’d like but I’ve been using a lot this year and grown to like it, though I cut most of this grass with an Austrian scythe as lodged grass and heat favoured it.

Thanks to the brief spell of hot weather the grass dried quickly and after turning all Saturday and Sunday the hay is dry and ready just in time before the weather breaks.

Dealing with loose hay can be a problem – both to move and to store – as everyone is used to working with bales. It’s really not worth using a mechanised baler for such small areas – but it’s a problem to move it without baling it. So for next year I plan on making a wooden hand baler.  But for this year with no time to bring it in I am left with only one option – to cock it up – that is to build it into 5 large haycocks which should allow the water to run off for a few days until the weather improves, the haycocks dry off and it can be moved inside.

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Last Weekend I went up to Wimpole Hall, near Cambridge, to run a Weekend of Polelathe courses for Simon Damant who is the forester and manages a lot of the work on the National Trust owned Estate. One thing I like about visiting Wimpole is the big skies and it didn’t disappoint over the weekend  as we were treated to sunshine, cloud and impressive thunderstorms.

One of the thunderstorms had a clear funnel cloud and I had to take a photograph just to prove I wasn’t imagining it. It didn’t quite make it to the ground while I was watching – but an impressive sight all the same.

The hall is a big pile, originally started in the 17th Century and added to over the years until handed to the National Trust in 1976 by Elsie Bambridge, Rudyard Kiplings daughter. Thanks to the hospitality of Simon and Jess I got to lay my sleeping bag down in a spare room for a night. Despite Simon’s warning that the wife of the 5th earl still regularly patrols the rooms – I heard nothing – probably due to a few glasses of cider!

This was the first time that Wimpole had offered a poelathe course. I took up a couple of lathes for the course but Simon’s capable team of volunteers, mainly Peter and Jim,  had been hard at work building a set of lathes for Wimpole – and with a bit of tweaking up they are working fine – though one of the advantages of Peter coming in on the Sunday course is that he’s got a few ideas for how to improve the lathes further.

Lindsey was on the course and being local was delighted at the opportunity to learn polelathe skills just around the corner from her home.

Jim brought along a lathe he’d already made for the weekend with the aim of improving his ability to use it and learn a few hints and tips. We didn’t hold his bungie against him and judging by the pieces he made over the weeked Jim is well on his way to mastering his lathe.

As the Sunday course was intended as an ‘improvers workshop’ something I’ve run with some success at the Weald and Downland Museum before, I took along a birch bowl blank for a quick demonstration of  bowl turning on my own lathe.

After everone had had a go with the bowl hooks Simon finished off the bowl which luckily parted gracefully on the lathe and Andy Marczewski gave him some tips on how to smooth off the remains of the core with a crook knife.

Two days with a crowd  of greenwood folk was about all that Simon could take and he made a speedy exit on his 1948 BSA motor bike – almost, but not quite, quick enough to evade my camera though!

But not before leaving me with one of the first knives from his blacksmithing work at the victorian forge on the estate which he and his team have restored, part of his longterm aim to turn ploughshares (or in this case landrover leafsprings) into swords in an ironic twist to the usual story. Being carbon steel it has a good edge to it and I’ll need to make a woode handle for it which suits the blade.

As always I had a great time at Wimpole thanks to the hospitality and enthusiasm of the team there and I think that everyone on the courses had a good time which is the main aim of the event. I look forward to the next chance to visit and see what the team has been upto! Thanks to Simon, Jess, Andy, Jim, Peter and Neil for putting up with me over the weekend.




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