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My 2013 in 13 photos

18012013530I know I was going to post shorter articles. But I’ve failed again as it’s time for my annual retrospective on the year seen through some of the photos I’ve taken. Almost chronological but I’ve taken some liberties to stretch a few points.  The year started with an Icy blast. Even my landrovers were shivering in the yard.

DSCF7861-001The icy blast continued into February. Working outside on the heath in the short days needed a good fire to stop us freezing up.  We cleared an area of scrub and Birch to join areas of restored lowland heath and on the odd occasion I leave a scuplture behind.

DSCF8421Make room for March! I could swear there was a landrover in that corner before somebody dumped a rusting and rotten pile of wood and iron in there. But I could sense a magnificent farm trailer just waiting to be reborn. Very handy too with plenty of logs and hay bales to move through the year. I really liked the traditional sturdy wooden frame so with plenty of help from Richard the trailer was restored. That’s all very well but where did that Landrover go?

DSCF6448-001Not called Puff the magic Landrover for nothing. First you see it and then you don’t but more of that later. Despite the signs of spring the weather remained so cold it seemed that Winter would never end.

DSCF8827May arrived and slowly the weather improved. The summer event season arrives and it’s peak time for selling all of the winters woodland products, beanpoles, peasticks, flower stakes, brooms rakes and charcoal. As well as getting busy on the polelathe.

DSCF9072The mowing season starts in earnest in June with the Green Scythe Fair and the West Country Scythe Championships in Somerset. I’ve been seduced by the lure of the traditional English scythe, you know the grim reaper one with the curvy handle. These haven’t been in production for the best part of 50years so it was great to have Mike Abbott demonstrating the steam bending of an ash snathe in Somerset.

DSCF9511By July the mowing season is frantic and I’d like you to understand the sense of urgency that imbues our scything. It’s not just a weekend posing with our scythes in front of a National Trust mansion – whatever gave you that impression?

P1020022Well ok so I do tractors sometimes? August saw Peter my vintage Massey Ferguson 135 with my Vicon-Lely Acrobat hay tuner in full swing. We made 830 bales of hay on a 9 acre traditional flower meadow in 30 degree (C) temperatures during our summer heatwave. Very good hay it was too, and no great surprise that locals flocked to the field to picktheirown bales so we sold the lot in a very short time.

DSCF8540I am losing the plot a bit. Ah yes it’s September and meanwhilst down at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum my friend Martin Fox the blacksmith has become infected with the English Scythe bug. As well as becoming quite competent swinging his blade through the grass Martin and I have been working on the repair and reworking of old English scythe blades. He’s even threatening to start making reproduction medival blades. Just as well, because people seem to turn up on my courses with a lot of broken old English blades and it does give Martin something to do all day!

DSCF0353Earlier in the year I came across some lovely little axes made by Magnus. These axes are made traditionally to patterns found at archaeological sites. The head is wrought iron which is wrapped and forge welded to form the eye socket and then the hard steel edge is welded to the head. Magnus is an armourer and a lot of the weapons he makes end up on TV just like this axe which is to a ninth century Viking pattern. It makes a great little carving axe.

DSCF8361-001Having been a hot summer  the sales of charcoal have gone well. I try to make more than I need at the end of the season before the weather turns – but the Gales of November came early and I didn’t quite make it.

DSCF6980-001The gales are still with us and they’ve been the major feature of December except now they’ve graduated to Storms with winds forecast at Hurricane force. We spent a few days on Cornwall’s north coast admiring the waves before retiring to a log fire in the evenings.

DSCF7306Yes. It’s disappearing again. The final photo of the year has to feature Puff my magic landrover. Everything was going so well and then…….. a meeting with a big stump on the heath ripped off a chassis crossmember and peeled back a section of the chassis bottom.  Not too good and a clear indication of too much rust in the chassis. The top half of the chassis is very good though – anybody want a top half of a landrover 1961 long wheel base chassis?

Well I’ve squeezed in a few of the things that have happened over the year, I’ve had to miss out so many things that made this year special but thats the nature of these things and it does lay a great start for lots of things to happen in 2014. If only I had the time. I hope you had a good 2013 and I wish you all the best for 2014 wherever you are !

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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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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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Do you have those conversations sometimes? Where you think ‘Why did they say that?’  We had one of those on the walk back from our allotment on Sunday afternoon. Having been working on the raised beds and pathways I thought I’d mention what I planned to spend the rest of the afternoon doing.  To which Alison said ‘Peenicide! You’re going to do what?’  No, Peen a Scythe is What I said! We laughed all the way back to the house.

So ‘Peenicide’ is when you sit with a sharp scythe blade balanced between your legs and procede to hit it hard with a hammer. For the uninitiated the ancient art of peening is cold flowing or shaping of metal by beating it with a hammer.

Often still known as cross pein or ball pein hammers the original use of them is rarely required now and mine are normally known as Landrover Special Tool No1, if in doubt hit it with a hammer and see if it works again. Well maybe.

English (and US) scythe blades produced in the last 200 or 300 years cannot generally be peened as the edge steel is too hard and will crack so they must be ground. But scythe blades made in the rest of the world tend to be more malleable, though still hard and thin enough that the very edge of the blade can be cold flowed to form a very thin, razor like, bevelled edge.

The blade I am peening here is a short Austrian blade suitable for cutting around the edge of a small lawn the size of a postage stamp like ours.

Taking a hammer to a fine sharp edge is not entirely obvious and feels strange the first times you do it – and like many sharpening experiences the first efforts can often make things worse rather than better.

Usually the blade can be sharped effectively by using coarser and coarser stones. But as the edge is worn back the bevel becomes steeper develops a ‘bull nose’ shape rather than a razor and though still sharp has the wrong form to cut fine grass such as a lawn effectively. Peening returns the shape of the edge to a razor and when sharpened with a fine stone will cut even a bowling green (So I am told!).

Despite the sad state of this blade and my literally ‘rusty’ attempts to peen it I managed to achieve enough of an improvement to tame the grass of our tiny lawn. Sharpening and peening have always been a weak point for me but I have plenty more blades to peen yet so practice should make perfect by the time of the scythe festival in June.

There is a lot more to using and sharpening scythes than I can cover here – don’t worry I shall be returning to this topic. Thanks to Steve Tomlin for suggesting Sunday 1st April as ‘International Peening Day’ and you can find out a lot more about these activities on his Scytherspace Blog here 1st International Peening Day

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With the clear blue sky and the midday temperature at 20degC it’s easy to forget that only 3 weeks ago it was snowing briefly, and it’s not too late for some more with the topsy turvy weather we can have nowadays. Sod’s law that was the day that I’d arranged for Eva to come round and turn her bowl.

I saw ‘her’ bowl because there has never really been any doubt about it, not in Eva’s mind at least. Minor issues such as never having turned wood before didn’t really figure and nor did the weather. My patronising ‘wouldn’t you rather start by turning a dibber’ was quite rightly brushed off with the chant ‘I want to turn a bowl’. And she did – well done Eva!

The more I thought about it the more I realised I was equally interested to see how well Eva got on with turning a bowl on a polelathe without the distraction of turning any spindles first.  There is a lot to learn but by keeping to a small bowl diameter and shallow dish profile the inertia of the wood on the lathe is minimised and so is the amount of wood to be removed. Despite the near freezing temperatures and short snow shower the result turned out well and the exercise turned out useful for keeping warm as well.

While Eva was turning the bowl Gary and I made spoons. Gary is used to precision engineering tools so wielding a knife freehand was an entirely new experience. Gary’s precision engineering is going to come in handy because I can’t see Eva being satisfied with just one bowl and I don’t think it won’t be long before she has her own lathe.

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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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I’ve been a little distracted whilst trying to put together this view of the year just past, but it’s better late than never I hope. It’s always hard trying to select just twelve photos which together capture something of the year and it’s not a short process always taking me a lot more time than I imagined it would do. I think I’ve managed it in a small way for me, you will have to make your own minds up!

January means low sun angles through the leafless skeletons of the birch trees on the commons, never rising high, always a cold light and quick to fall below the hillside opposite whilst I am still cutting the young birch for poles, flower stakes, peasticks and besom brooms before the buds swell.

But February chills to the bone, and it was a bitter freezing winter which seemed it would surely go on for ever, perhaps we’d never even make it to the Spring. You need a fire (with baked potatoes) just to make it through the end of each day as the cold seems to seep up through my feet and into my bones.

But just when it seemed least likely Spring did arrive, and in the Gower on my annual beachcombing holiday it was scented with Coconut from the gorse flowers.

Working outside in April is rarely that much of a pleasure but as Spring got a grip, the days lengthened and the evenings spread themselves we had some wonderful sunsets – and not a drop of rain.

From a late start Spring was indeed Sprung rushing headlong into an early Summer with endless blue skies and talk of drought – yes this is still England I am talking about. By May and the Beltain celebration at Butser Ancient Farm, you could have been forgiven for thinking it had been warm and sunny all year. But Winters over the summer show season starts here.

Sadly the sunny weather was interrupted by the usual annual rainfall for the 21st  Bodgers ball (held at lower Brockhampton, Herefordshire) and again at the West Country (underwater) scythe festival at Muchelney, but the heat returned late in June, if only for the Wimpole Hall, Scything and Smallholders weekend near Cambridge. Andy Coleman is leading Ded on the brushcutter on a blazing hot afternoon on the lawns in front of Wimpole. The less said about my own shambolic performance the better!

Something of a building theme emerging in these photos and closer to home things have been afoot all year at Swan Barn Farm the base for the the National Trust team in Haslemere. A new cruck framed timber building emerges next to the barn. Built almost entirely with materials from the farm itself or a within a few miles it’s the vision of Dave Elliott the head warden and his team and the first cruck is raised guided by Ben Law.

By August the charcoal burning season is at it’s peak, the logs are good and dry (we hope) and the burns go fast and well, but in the back of my mind I know that time is passing and that this is the time to be starting to try and get ahead with both the charcoal and firewood before it’s too late.

The summer season has been busy with woodfairs, shows, work in the woods and scything reaching a climax in September as the end of term party season gets into full swing – plenty of work to do as well on polelathe and shavehorse – but a definite sense of the seasons shifting, heavy dews in the mornings and a chill in the evenings.

Which brings us inexorably to October and the apple harvest. Not mine this one sadly, these Kingston Blacks are waiting to go into the mill at the New Forest Cider Farm, Burley, though I did manage to press about a third of a tonne of apples myself this year.  Autumn is my favourite season with all the colours changing and all the senses of colour, smell, feel and texture all heightened by the inevitable end coming. A bitter sweet time of year, sweet with the harvest but bitter with chill of approaching winter.

Of course it wouldn’t be a true reflection upon the year without at least one landrover making it into the list and this year it’s got to be Puff (the magic landrover) who passed his MOT in April after a fairly extensive restoration. But with plenty of blue smoke billowing from the exhaust something had to be done and in November I finally managed to complete an engine rebuild thanks to Garry and Richard with plenty of boring, honing, torquing and bedding in to get him on the road in time for winter. Now got 100 miles on the clock, so running in should only last about another year!

We’re back in December with the sun lower in the sky catching on one of the leaded glass windows at the Weald & Downland Museum. I spent a lot of time with friends at the museum this year, demonstrating, teaching (drinking the cider – thanks Julian!) and helping out – it’s something of a spiritual home for me. I’m looking forward to spending more time there in the coming year and the reflection of the sun in the glass brings me back around the cycle to looking forwards towards the coming season. I wish you all the very best for 2o12.

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