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Archive for the ‘Weald & Downland’ Category

The aim in running a ‘workshop’ course is to provide a day for ‘Improvers’, loosely described as those with some experience, who want to further their skills or perhaps are planning to make a lathe but haven’t quite got there yet.

The idea seemed to work well and we’ll be running the workshop again next year. Two of those on the course, Adrian and Jerry had already built their lathes and were keen to acquire additional skills.

For improving skills I had assumed, rightly as it turned out, that sharpening, quality of finish and the skew chisel would be key topics.  Making the free rings on a traditional baby rattle encapsulates most of these skills, especially when you use the skew chisel for the rings and after I had demonstrated the process I was pleased to see some being ‘rattled off’ if you will excuse the horrible pun!

I also set up two of my own lathes alongside the more traditional museum lathes to show the merits and abilities of the differing styles. My original lathe was based upon Mike Abbott’s polelathe2000 style, though made entirely from builders softwood sourced from a skip, and at a cost of around £5. Seven years later it’s still going strong as Adrian demonstrates.

Next to it is my current lathe, christened the ‘bolelathe’ as it’s designed to allow me to switch between spindle and bowl turning very easily. Reflecting my current access to work it’s sourced entirely from the firewood pile rather than the skip having a single oak bed and 4 birch legs. A big bonus is that it’s heavy enough and stable enough to hold my coffee mug and breakfast bowl at the same time!

I was not surprised that turning bowls generated so much interest and enthusiasm. I’ll be putting some more thought into a course, perhaps turning a simple small bowl, eggcup or goblet? Amazing how things change. This time last season I was still pretty cautious over teaching courses and I haven’t completely got over that yet.

I hope the participants were as pleased as I was with the their progress on the day, Jerry seemed to have a production line going by the end.

It’s not just about the training and the course, but also spending time with others who are at a similar level but perhaps have different skills and challenges. I’ve found the local groups run by the APT&GW (Association of Polelathe Turners and Greenwood workers) are a great way to top up these skills and keep on improving. Joining (it’s only £15 a year) will get you an invitation to join your local group, as well as the issues of the eponymous (I just wanted to write that word) Bodgers Gazette and of course the annual Bodgers Ball!

The next event at the Weald & Downland Museum is the Autumn Countryside show – October 8th and 9th – there should be plenty of polelathes on hand amongst other greenwood crafts and I’m hoping to see some of the participants of the recent courses there over the weekend.

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Last weekend I ran the last two polelathe courses for this season at the Weald & Downland museum. The forecast was not brilliant so we opted to go undercover in the brick drying shed just in case – though in the event the weather was not too bad. A bit of a challenge to work in the drying shed as it  was not built with polelathes in mind, but the timber framed surroundings matched the woodturning.

On Sunday we had a full complement of six, as we normally do, for the ‘introduction’ to polelathe turning’ and to my delight eveyone did very well producing at least one turned item. I could not have asked for a better group and the day went very quickly.

The course is a good introduction if you are thinking of building a lathe – I should know, that’s how I started out.  With two of my own lathes as well as the museum’s older style there was plenty to stimulate plans for lathe building.

Neil was booked onto the course by his wife after I met them and they saw the polelathe at the Swan Barn farm open day in Haslemere at the end of July. At the end of the day we thought it only right that she should suffer a little as well and try the lathe – though it doesn’t look to me that she suffered too much!

Just occasionally you get someone who has a flair for working with wood and that happened on this course. Sarah had been keen to try the polelathe for a while and finally managed to  get on a course.  As a working woodcarver she had no problem with the chisels. Clearly a perfectionist, the skew chisel did pose a challenge but once she relaxed into the rhythm  a rolling pin and a door wedge were rapidly made and then she started work on a chair!

Having run the last course for the year it felt a little like the end of term!  But planning is already underway for next year’s courses and some new lathes for the museum so we’ll be making the most of the winter.

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It’s the First of September! How did that happen? As my friend Richard told me yesterday  ‘Autumn’s here’. I was on the verge of disagreement when I realised I couldn’t really argue. September is not summer.

The still mornings are noticeably cooler, even if the days haven’t changed. The evenings are drawing in rapidly and the harvests are all coming in – especially the fruit in the hedgerows and orchards. The trees at the Weald and Downland Museum are bursting with fruit. I’ve been steadily picking apples and collecting the windfalls at home. I’ll be pressing them in a couple of weeks time.

This is without doubt my favourite time of year, it’s a few short weeks if we are lucky but I wish it could last for months. Walking around the  Museum last week I noticed how good the autumn harvest of fruit is and for me this is another welcome sign of autumn as the unrelenting green of summer gives way to an explosion of fruit colours. The haws on the hawthorn bushes weighing down the branches.

Rosehips on the tree next door.  Rosehips are packed with vitamin C and are a very healthy fruit, but they need to be cooked to be edible (I think).  I found a great website with a recipe for apple and rosehip jelly here – The cottage smallholder.

The next bush was a blackthorn loaded with sloes. The fruit were slightly soft and ready to be picked though it’s still quite early for sloes. Sloe gin (or vodka) is still a popular use for these fruit, at least with me.

No hedgerow would be complete without an elderberry bush weighed down by it’s lush sprays of small dark juicy fruit which make an excellent country wine. I’ve also found they make an excellent red wine vinegar if the wine is not to your taste.  It is slightly amazing that enough flowers escape being picked for elderflower cordial and champagne to become fruit.

I’ve tried a couple of very good elderflower champagnes this year and I’m  a little worried that elderberries could become harder to find! Most elderberry bushes in my area are in field hedgerows which get cut mechanically each year by flail – another good reason for letting the hedgerows grow.

Another sign of Autumn is the steady preparation of firewood for the winter. The museum is well prepared for another cold winter thanks to the work of Jon Roberts in working the coppice and cutting and stacking the firewood. Last year I was caught out, too late with the firewood and a very cold winter meant the stove ran colder than usual just when I needed to be hotter.


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Not a  nice flat luscious part of a hay meadow, my quarter acre was an unloved rough old patch of grass tucked away in a corner of the Weald & Downland Museum. Complete with anthills, molehills, rabbit holes and plenty of woody shrubs moving out from the hedges. But still, there’s nothing better than a challenge!

Getting stuck into the job the farmyard chickens certainly appreciated my work – and the less said about the toad the better – it was a very close shave!  All the visitors to the museum were also impressed and the mowing took a lot longer due to the amount of time I spent leaning on my scythe and talking about the tools and the grass. Try doing that with a strimmer!

The fearless chickens clearly had no concept of a scythe – any closer and I’d have been wearing a lucky chicken foot!

Finally cut the grass! Sadly not even a quarter acre by my estimate, probably closer to an eighth but it made up for it in toughness.  Just time for a quick walk around the museum to catch up with people and have a quick look around.

For some reason I picked a great day for the work and the museum was quiet before the weekend with a big rare breed show on the Sunday and a forecast filled with rain.

The old toll house stands at the original entrance to the museum. It’s a lovely building in the afternoon sunshine but quite bare in photographs, so very helpfully someone had left a red and blue cart in just the right place.

The cottage gardens are a riot of colour at this time of year. This one is besides Poplar cottage, the timber framed thatched cottage just beyond my patch of grass.

Time for the gratuitous Landrover photo. The aim of cutting the grass is to make hay (though on a rough patch like this the hay would be none too good) so you normally do it whilst the sun shines – and hopefully whilst the sun will stay shining for a few days. But you can’t always get it right and when the rain threatens the hay can be piled into haycocks temporarily to prevent it all getting soaked. My last job of the day was to cock it all up – and then the rains came!

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I’ll be at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum for a few days and over the weekend for the Heavy Horses show, one of the highlights of the year. So posting will still be erratic for a while yet.

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My last article on scything caused plenty of interest so I’ll post some more. Whilst at the Weald and Downland Museum over the weekend I took the opportunity to demonstrate scything – partly because I was allowed to cut some nice grass and partly because I’ve always found cutting the grass is very therapeutic and relaxing. With a scythe – even more so!

Yes, working barefoot is also a great experience, but of course you need grass that allows it – most of the areas I cut are thistle or nettle beds, so not such a great experience. Visitors are always amazed and assume it’s very dangerous to scythe barefoot. Most amusing. They inevitably shuffle further away once it dawns on them that actually they are more at risk from my blade than I am!

Just for once the weather broke and it was very windy. The grass was not long but quite tufty/tussocky and varied in nature. More used to being grazed by sheep than being cut with a blade, which made it quite challenging to cut well – for me anyway.

Hidden in the grass was the occasional South Downs flint – thrown no doubt by bored children in a rather ironic inversion of the centuries of clearing these fields by removing them. Just one stone caught by the blade will rub down it and dull almost the whole length, so frequent honing required to keep the blade performing well.

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After running around like a mad thing all week with a list of jobs that grows faster than I can get them done  it’s almost pleasant to be spending the day demonstrating polelathe turning at the museum. I say almost, as it takes a good couple of hours to get the shelter and stand up and together before I can even start work. But sunny weather and an interesting collection of visitors mean that I’m struggling to make turnery fast enough – which is a good thing I guess!

The usual crop of assorted treen and household items here a spurtle, pair of spalted door wedges, rolling pin and a pair of wooden pins for a garden line, one marked up to double as a dibber – though I might be in danger of doing myself out of dibber sales here – or am I just doubling them up? We’ll see.

I press ganged one visitor with a very large camera  into taking a photo of me with my camera as well – makes a change from the usual photos of an empty lathe.  So be warned, don’t visit me with a prominently displayed obviously large and expensive lens, I might asume that you know what you are doing on the photography front.

The rolling pins were flying off the stand, being ordered before I could get them off the lathe. Sometimes it just happens that way. I think it also helped that I was making extra long pins and the sycamore, having suffered from my regime of benign neglect, has just started to develop interesting grain with white, brown and a pale tinge of green in places.

Rolling pins, especially extra long ones, are not the easiest items to make and achieving a good level finish does need some careful attention – sometimes it just won’t work, and it’s all too easy to put in a dig at the very last moment. But the length and character of the wood make for a product you can’t easily find in the shops – and they prove to be very popular.

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