Archive for the ‘Polelathe’ Category


I always enjoy the Bodgers Ball and this year, hosted by Simon Damant at Wimpole Hall, was definitely not going to be an exception. I went up early to help with the preparations.  There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes in an attempt to make the Ball seem an effortless affair as 500 greenwood workers from all around the country and a fair few from around the world converge on an empty field for a fun weekend with all things woody.


As I was running about trying to help out I didn’t take the best of photographs so this is a quick tour through some of the lesser known aspects of the Ball. Well, ok, perhaps it won’t be quite so quick! But I digress – With the field still empty Simon was able to use his horse John to move some of the logs around the site – these are for use with the Hewing demonstrations.


The weather in May can be very changeable and we caught the wind being on a flat East Anglian field – the evenings were cold but my old washing machine drum cooking fire cum stove provided both heat and warmth.


and, as if by magic, the Bodgers Ball suddenly appeared with an empty field transformed into a busy throng of woodworkers of every description doing their thing.


The Saturday of the Ball is filled with demonstrations and workshops. The theme for this year’s ball was Agricultural tools and implements reflecting Home Farm, the working farm at Wimpole which is an original Victorian model farm. Julian from the Weald and Downland museum brought up plenty of the museum’s own cider – and while he was there we got him to hew one of the Elm logs dragged out by John the horse, into a beam.


While I’m on the subject of the theme for the Ball – here are some of the entries into the themed item section of the craft competition this year. The maltsters shovel caught my eye – as did the massive 6ft buck rake, which I think was certainly worthy of winning (though unaccountably it didn’t) and is quite possibly the first Ash steamed buck rake made for many a decade?


Richard Woodland demonstrated some simple leatherworking. There wasn’t enough time for any masterful saddlery, but he did show us how to convert a leather belt bought in a charity shop for a pound or two into a range of useful tool sheaths and covers.


Exhausting all that demonstrating. Luckily it wasn’t a long weight until the bar opened…….


with excellent local real ales from Buntingford Brewery near Royston only a few miles from the site. The Twitchell and Britannia went down very well (as did the 92 Squadron, Highwayman, Hurricane and Full Tilt!). Thanks to Steve the Brewer for teaching me some of the arcane arts of the cellar master.


That’s the drink taken care of, but what about a spot of food! If you don’t like your food still squirming – then look away now, ooops – too late sorry.  Three local lambs (or were they Hoggett’s) were roasted slowly over a wood fire.


And where is a butcher when you need one? In this case right where he’s needed, Justin is behind the charcoal bbq’s of the Threshing Restaurant cooking excellent bacon and eggs for breakfast. Now if we can just stop him telling that story again………..


ably assisted by Olga (who it must be said can pat her head and rub her tummy at the same time) and Jess.


Fed and watered it’s back to more demonstrations – Damien Goodburn turned up to show some work he’s been doing on reconstructions of ancient wooden shovels, paddles and (bakers) peels. This one is a peel, though apparently that’s largely because a flaw in the shaft makes it unsuitable as paddle.


Good to see Paul Hayden with this years model of Polelathe – the current fashion being a short sporty pole/arm with a natty looking wooden spring underslung along the bed to give the pole more response.


Richard Rood brought a long a vast collection of bygones for sale. This lovely plane would do well as a round of ‘What’s my Tool?’ – I almost avoided spending any money – and then Richard’s collection of old scythes prooved tooooo tempting. And there was all my money gone.. again.


After all the demonstrating, the AGM, the competitions, tool auction, the races, and so many people to meet and catch up with suddenly, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared and the field emptied again. It really is a fantastic bunch of talented people, who, just by coming together make the Ball happen – as if by magic. Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen – you know who you are!  A strange feeling of anticlimax. That’s the ball over for another year. Where will we be next year?


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…And not just any snow but the wrong type of snow. Freezing rain overnight covered with slushy snow this morning made the roads and paths treacherous  This time last year the temperature was a mere 20 degrees C higher! You can see why the term ‘global warming’ has been dropped for ‘climate change’.

With the temperature plummeting in a biting easterly wind it meant some sub-zero polelathe turning for as long as I can manage before retreating to thaw out in front of the woodburner.


Sadly the shed is an old open fronted cart shed – so no possibility of warming it up and extreme polelathe turning it is. As long as I can manage turns out to be about 30 minutes with the thermometer at -1 degrees C  in the early afternoon – maybe a tad longer if I do some drawknife work to warm up. Still, I can comfort myself that we don’t really know what cold is in Southern England – imagine what it must be like in Canada. Then I heard recently from my old friend Maarten (Max) Meerman in Vancouver that it’s been 12C over there, positively balmy,  it turns out that sometimes life just isn’t fair!


Sadly a large Rowan (Sorbus Acuparia) fell over on the commons recently. You can see the disease that brought the tree down – the brown rot in the centre of the wood. But luckily for me, as Rowan is a super wood for turning, one of, if not my favourite turning wood and with some usuable lengths I should be able to get some nice items from it.


With short stints on the lathe and very cold fingers I am limited to fairly simple shapes and items, but that’s no bad thing as it helps me to get some stock prepared before the season starts. You can just about make out the ‘two-tone’ of the light and brown colours of the spurtle on the right of the row. I’ve managed to split a billet from the right section of the cleft where the dark staining stops  – the grain is a little wonky but nice and fresh and the colours make it worth persevering.

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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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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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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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After plenty of prevarication I got around to putting lids on the small birch pots I’d been commissioned to make. To my surprise I quite enjoyed making the pots and I can see that I might do some more soon but I’ve never put a lid on before. I spent plenty of time failing to make progress before plunging in and turning them the most obvious way just like the pots, but it went well thanks to plenty of good hints from very talented friends Richard Law (aka Flyingshavings) and Steve Tomlin.

I was quite concerned about getting a good fit with the rebate onto the rim of the pot but in the event a pair of calipers is all thats necessary and then a couple of trial fits – just don’t get carried away right at the end!

Then you’ll get a snug fit.

One down, one to go. It’s a fairly laborious task  and the price will be high because of that  so I don’t forsee going into mass production but I think a couple of these on my stand next year would be a good addition to my range with plenty of uses. These two pots are intended for a GO board set being made by Natalie and I was delighted to hear that the board itself is milled from local birch so she also asked me to make a set of turned feet for the board.

Knowing nothing about GO before I started could have been a problem, but the wonder of Google Image soon solved the problem and I turned the feet one after another on the same spindle to make it easier to match the profile and length.

As with the Pots the feet are my interpretation of what was needed rather than a copy of a commercial product as I am working with the raw material that is to hand in the woodland. So thanks for the challenge Natalie and for adding another use for Birch wood to my extensive list!

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Now it’s starting to get dark by about 4pm and earlier on dull days I need to use the few daylight hours outside. I don’t get out too early, besides it’s too cold in the shed for turning in the morning and before I know it the light is fading.  I am becoming accustomed to turning by lamplight, though it doesn’t make the shed seem any tidier unfortunately. Amazing how quickly the pile of partly finished and just started projects forms a chaotic pile of pile of debris. I’m told the word is amorphous!

I’ve been working on some small pots this week and after some thought (but not too much) decided to turn them like goblets, using fat blanks and hollowing from the ends. As it’s all end grain turning it’s a bit like hard work – and therefore not much to my liking. Really need to keep the tools sharp. At least it’s good practice for goblets.

These are turned using quite fresh Birch and I quite like the way that they have come out. They are supposed to have lids, but I’ve not really thought that through yet. Any suggestions?

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