Archive for the ‘Hand tools’ Category

DSCF9276The competition mowing season reaches its climax with the Eastern Counties Championships at Wimpole Hall. Simon Damant, Jim McVittie and the estate team at Wimpole Hall put a lot of effort into setting up a great event and despite the unruly weather – you can see the fuzzy spots made by raindrops on the lens – we mowed off the heavy grass in front of the Hall in fine style.

DSCF9273Wimpole has a lot of grass so it’s possible to lay out a range of mowing events – the Quarter Acre, Eighth Acre, Team mowing, 10×10 and the main event – at least for the spectators – the 5x5m sprints. The results of the competitions can be found on Simon Damants Wimpole Blog here:

Wimpole Championship results blog .

Though the bigger plots reveal more about your mowing ability the 5×5 m plots are the main competition for the overall winner. It is always a closely fought competition and I find the wiry grass of Wimpole’s main avenue a hard challenge to mow quickly with good quality using my traditional English Scythe.

DSCF9253It doesn’t take much to lose your rhythm and a few seconds does count in the sprint. Last years winner Ded snapped his scythe snathe clean in two during the team mowing competition – that doesn’t help!

With heavier grass than last year and the rain flattening the grass as we watched – the plot you are allocated can make a lot of difference to time and quality. The heavy grass and the rain opened up the field (if you’ll pardon the pun) and placed  a few mowers in contention to win the 5×5. Who would it be?

DSCF9276-001The overall Winner was Phil Batten, an accomplished master of the scythe, who mowed his plot in a time of 2.42 with an excellent quality of 7.5. But Phil wasn’t the fastest.

Richard Brown mowed his plot in 2.41 a second faster than Phil though his 6.5 quality put him in third place. But Richard wasn’t the fastest either!

Gemma Suggitt mowed a superb race with a time of 3.02 and a quality of 7 putting her in Fourth place overall and winning the Ladies Cup.  Well done Gemma – an excellent mow! But Gemma wasn’t the fastest either!


I expect you can guess where this is heading!  Yes, I mowed my plot in 2:17, the fastest time, and taking into account my not quite so excellent, but not quite crap either, quality I managed to come in second overall (just) as well as winning the English Scythe Cup.

DSCF9232OK so what’s the big deal?  I mowed the fastest time and came second overall and won the English Scythe Cup at the same time. Well generally the English scythe has been regarded as a big handicap in comparison with it’s lightweight, agile and high performance Austrian cousin.

Somehow that doesn’t seem quite right to me, we used the tool for centuries and I can’t believe we’d have continued to use it if it was really that bad. So perhaps it’s us that can’t make the best of the tool rather than the tool being to blame? I’ve spent the last few years relearning my ability to use a scythe and apply it to the traditional English Scythe. One of the most fascinating things to me is that we have actually forgotten how to use the tool well and rediscovering it is a research project with a hefty dose of experimental archaeology.

Whatever! I’m not trying to imply that the traditional English Scythe is the equal of the modern 21st century Austrian Scythe. It isn’t.  It’s like comparing a modern Audi (vorsprung durch ‘Scythe’) with Inspector Morse’s  MKII jag. One is high performance for the money, does exactly what it says on the tin and works straight out of the box. The other is heavy, shakes and rattles a lot, great when it goes though it spends most of the time in the garage being tinkered with – but you know what – It’s got Soul!

I’m hoping that the work I’ve been doing  will help raise the profile of the English scythe and more people will learn to enjoy using them well on the odd occasion if not all the time. On the down side I’m already noticing that the price of rusty old wormeaten English scythes is rising but I won’t be unhappy if they get put to good use rather than on the wall of a pub.

An enormous thank you to Simon, Jim, Paul, Neil, Dan, Peter, Albert and all the team at Wimpole who made it such a great occasion! Well done.


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National Besom making competition? Well why not? This year at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum’s Autumn Show we held the first Besom Broom making competition for many years (if indeed there has ever been one before). Certainly the other competitors and I are unaware of another one.

The idea sprang from a discussion with Jo Waters at the previous year’s show and the Weald & Downland Museum kindly agreed to sponsor the prizes for the event. As always it seemed a good idea at the time but as the show loomed I began to wonder if I’d taken on a little bit more than I could handle. Would anyone turn up? Would it work?

On the day we had a good collection of broom makers, or Broom-Squires as they are known in this neck of the woods, from Sussex and Hampshire and Terry Heard joined us from Dorset with his living van and great  setup for making besoms and tent pegs.

As you’d expect the world of Besom making has it’s own ways and we do like our tools, the roundshave being a rare tool that’s very much sought after for shaving the handles or tails of the brooms. On this occasion a visitor brought in an interesting roundshave for us to examine.

The Roundshave is a form of extreme curved drawknife and all the ones I’ve seen have been homemade using an old file or perhaps by the local blacksmith to suit each broomsquire.  The one on the left I was given some years ago by a friend who had it from his grandfather whereas the tool on the right, brought in by our visitor, is stamped A.Moss (a well known local firm of edge tool makers and blacksmiths) and as well being a fine example is the first Moss made roundshave that Alan, Dave or I had seen. Despite being offered a reasonable sum our visitor declined to sell!

Chris Letchford puts the finishing touches to his besom in the competition-almost ready for the flight testing. Chris took on the competition having only learnt to make besoms 6 weeks earlier on my besom making course, and demonstrated all weekend – well done Chris, but we’ll expect a more traditional shelter for next year!

After some discussions we decided to run the competition purely on quality and gave everyone 30 minutes to make their broom. Justin Owen and Karen Barrett kindly offered to judge the brooms which were delivered to them anonymously by Julia. Which just leaves me to reveal the results…..

    Terry Heard                                           1st Winner

Chris Letchford                                    2nd place

                                      Alan Waters                                           3rd place (and fastest by far)

John Wescott                                        3rd Equal

Peter Jameson                                      3rd Equal

Mark Allery                                            3rd Equal

Confused? Well we decided to only award first and second places, but in the event the Judges decided that Alan’s broom was a more than equal 3rd as well as being the fastest.

Thank you to all who took part in what, with hindsight, we are calling the First National Besom Broom making competition, the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum for sponsoring our competition and particularly to the judges Justin, Karen and Julia who made it all work. Don’t miss next years 2nd national besom broom making competition – and I look forward to seeing you there!

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It would be more accurate to say that I didn’t temper my tools properly in the first place. This winter I am keen to make good use of my hook tools and so last Sunday I took time off from my planking project and went over to the forge at the Tilford Rural Life Museum.

The musuem is between Farnham and Haslemere. It may seem strange for Surrey to have a rural life centre but its well worth a visit for its extensive collections of tools and rural items. (Tilford Rural Life Museum ) They have a great collection of Moss edge tools (local blacksmiths and much prized items). They even have a big wheel lathe there that I have been told is useable. The collection was started by one of the founders of the Tilhill forestry company, which I assume started life on a hill in nearby Tilford. It would have been open heathland until Tilhill started – I hear that the original Tilhill plantation is now an RSPB reserve and being returned to heathland again.

Hook tools are often used by pole lathe turners for bowls and is one area where pole lathe and power lathe turners differ in the tools they use. The photo shows the first hook tools that I made a year ago for small items such as goblets and egg cups. I made a batch and one is really suited to goblets but its been hard work as I failed to get the temper of the tool right and its been losing its edge really quickly.


John and Nick are the blacksmiths who work from the forge at Tilford and John helped me to improve the temper on my hook tools. Sorry about the rotten photos John.

Edge tools are tempered by heating the edge to a specific heat and then quenching (or cooling) rapidly to ‘freeze’ the metal orientation at that temper. You can do this scientifically in an oven by setting the temperature, or it can be done as originally by buffing the metal to a dull shine and then watching the colour of the metal closely.

John decided to retemper the tool by heating it in the forge until it was bright orange or dull yellow and then quenching just the hooked tip. This allows the heat in the thicker stem to flow back into the hooked tip and you can see the colours of the tip turn. After some tests we decided to temper to straw just before the very tip turned blue. As the tip turned clearly straw and just before it turned to blue John then quenched the whole tool. Comparing filing of the edge before and after retempering the tool is harder than before. During the last week I’ve been using the tool and my impression is that it’s sharper and keeps its edge much longer – but sometimes all it needs is a good feeling, so its not an objective measurement.
It was also a Landrover day at the Museum so I got to park inside for a change. Here is a row of Series II Landrovers drawn up for inspection – most look immaculate, The tatty one at the other end is mine. Next year I am hoping for a prize for tattiest Landrover so I can win!


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This weekend turned out to be an exercise in extreme turning due to the weather. Normally I relish the Autumn celebration at the Weald & Downland museum, one of my favourite shows in the calendar. Saturday started with a frost in the morning and got windier and wetter as the day went on.

I was joined by Wayne and his son Olly who had brought both their bowl turning lathe and also a small lathe worked with a hand held bow and both were dressed up for the event to the delight of the visitors who braved the weather.

But by the afternoon the wind was rising and the intermittant showers became continuous. In the face of driving rain and gale force gusts of wind Olly took to an anorak but Wayne is clearly made of sterner stuff or………

The photos don’t really capture the force of the wind and rain. My shelter is not upto a full gale and started to suffer from the wind so I was unhappy to leave it overnight. Sadly I took it down and packed up on Saturday evening in the face of even worse forecasts for the night and Sunday morning.

However the experience seems to have given us something of a taste for extreme turning, perhaps an olympic sport for 2012 and the next venue is still to be decided!

Because of the rain I could not leave my wares out for long and so failed to sell anything – for the first time that I can remember. But as so often happens, just as I was totally losing motivation something interesting turned up.

This time the question was ‘Can you make a me a handle for a bronze axe-head?’ I’ve learn’t its best to go with the flow, and this sounded like fun. Besides I was suffering from the cold and wet and I needed a challenge. Before long I was talking to a weekend class who were casting bronze axe-heads to a 3000 year old pattern.

I started to make an ash handle and partway through was joined by the course members who watched the process. I enjoyed turning a handle for the axe head. I learnt about bronze age tools and we also had interesting discussions on the turning or spinning of early metal and the evidence, or lack of it, for bronze age wood turning.

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Most of us will have a favourite wooden spoon that we like to use in the kitchen. Many of us will have a wooden lemon squeezer or a favourite wooden rolling pin. There is something about a wooden utensil that improves the cooking, and for me it tastes better as well.Treen is the collective word for all household items. It’s not so very long since many kitchen utensils were made from wood rather than the metal and plastic creations of Today that we regularly throw away. I like turning treen and I always try to have the widest possible range of items for sale, like the honey drizzlers shown here. They all sell, although being hand crafted they are more expensive than cheap mass productions. It seems that my customers agree with me that the choice of wood and individuality of each item adds something. I am encouraged that we may turn back to using wooden treen again. You know it makes sense.The honey drizzlers shown here are made from local wild cherry (or Gean) wood. It has a lovely two tone pink and cream colour which is always popular. The wood I am currently using came from Hole Hill Woods on the North Downs as a part of the coppice restoration.They are not particularly difficult to make although I use a narrow parting tool to make the deep gouges and you need to be careful not to break off the wood that is left. You can see more honey drizzlers here on the bodgers ask’n’answer forum.

I am away for a week and look forward to posting more when I return

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