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……the Bodgers Ball 2015 that is. Every year hundreds of Greenwood workers get together in a field somewhere in the UK to share skills, catch up with old friends, meet new ones, compete, try out new ideas and to generally have a ball! This year we were invited to the heart of Sherwood Forest by the East Midlands and Derbyshire local groups of the Bodgers. Here is a quick romp through some photos of the ball as I saw it.

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I took my steamer to demonstrate steam bending a traditional English scythe snathe. Full steam up as Graham inspects the washing machine drum stove with the old petrol tank boiler mounted on top.

DSCF2882      Just as well I came fully equipped. It wasn’t long before friends moved in with lathe, shave horse and steamer all in use.DSCF2880

Sean Hellman didn’t bring a lathe and had to make do with mine to turn an egg for the egg and spoon race. He didn’t bring his chisels either – is that an axe he’s turning the egg with? DSCF2881   First time for everything, who needs chisels on a pole lathe for turning an egg. Not Sean!DSCF2892With the egg turned and a spoon carved the teams finished the race three legged. Crazy competition it could only be at a bodgers ball.

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Merlin from Somerset brought along a good selection of cross cut saws. Almost as fine as the Series 3 they are sitting on. Merlin is turning into a fine saw doctor especially with the big greenwood raker teeth on the crosscuts and if your saw could do with some TLC you can contact him in the West Country via the Cherrywood Project near Bath.

DSCF2887Power tools are banned for the duration of the Ball (not just for the insurance it’s also the ethos of the event) and the cross cut saws made quick work of any sawing needed as well allowing people to have a go.

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Moving up a step from the Landrovers Simon Damant came very well equipped with his ex fire brigade 4WD Bedford MJ. We were grateful for the stove when it poured down on the Friday night, though the various concoctions of calvados, distilled mead and blackcurrent vodka may have been partly responsible. Simon – you really must get some steps to stop me falling out of the truck next time!

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Fully equipped with a portable forge as well and some bags of charcoal to run the hearth.

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Simon gave a demonstration making a rams head hook and also took part in the half hour challenge where competitors have 30 minutes to make something saleable.

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Richard Roods emporium is becoming a firm favourite at the ball and it’s a rare event where I go home with less than I brought with me.

DSCF2856  This year was no exception as Richard had been putting aside knackered old English scythes for me all year. Avoiding lugging this lot back calls for desparate measures!DSCF2923-001

What’s all this then? Heretic?  Have I given up on the English Scythe? No, not at all. I just want the ironwork, the eye bolts, scythe rings, nibs and one or two of the blades for rebuilding onto my newly made snathes – the woodwork and especially the livestock (woodworm) are not welcome. Although this fire is mainly for effect I did burn up two snathes in steaming the new snathe which seems quite appropriate to me as the old is used to help make the new.

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Steve and Nigel hijacked my steamer to steam some rings of chestnut. Will they reveal what they are planning to do with them?

DSCF2927The climax of the weekend are the half hour challenge and the log to leg races on the Sunday afternoon. Simon and Kate joined me and we came a creditable third in the team log to leg race and I was very pleased to come third in the individual log to leg race. That just left cutting the cake and suddenly and far far too soon it was the end of another fine bodgers ball. Just another 360 days to go until the next one. But the Somerset Scythe Festival is a lot closer – only 4 weeks away. No rest  for the even slightly naughty around here…..

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I like being busy but it doesn’t half make the time fly by. The last thing I remember I was expecting the Summer to start and suddenly here we are at the Weald & D0wnland Open Air Museum’s  Autumn Countryside Show, the last of my long season which stretches from March to October. Where did the summer go?

Another consequence of being too busy is that I don’t seem to find the time to post so it’s time to get back in the habit with a quick write up of the show last weekend, heavy on pictures and light on prose.

Jon Warwicker,sitting on the shave horse and wielding a small Adze, discusses the finer points of his bowl carving with Besom Broom maker Arthur Hafendon.

We managed to put on a good show in the horticultural tent where for the first year a woodcraft category was included. Congratulations to everyone who entered as the standard of the work was very high – giving the judge (yours truly) a very hard time indeed. I wanted to award at least 6 winners but well done Wayne – the spoon master – Bachelor who won with, yes you guessed it, his spoon. To Jon Warwicker who came second with his oak bowl and Sarah Ridley who came third with her sculpture.

Yes it’s a show, but the autumn is a busy time and it’s built around a lot of things that do happen on traditional farms at this time of year. The steam powered threshing drum works all weekend, weather allowing, as it threshes the museum’s crop of traditional  longstraw thatching wheat which will be used on the museums thatched buildings in the coming year.

Well almost all weekend, as even the threshing has to stop for a cup of tea now and then.

Barbara came by with one of her donkeys giving me the opportunity to admire the replacement pins I made for the pannier harness last year.

Up in the farmyard behind Bayleaf  Guy was masterminding the scratting (shredding) of the apples and pressing to make the juice that will be fermented into cider at the museum. While this seasons apples are being pressed, on the Saturday night we were sampling the cider made two years ago – which was voted an excellent vintage by the experienced team of greenwood working cider tasters.

The Sunday morning was a cold one as the thick ice on one of my display tables shows. I don’t care what the weather forecast said – this much ice means a temperature well below zero degrees C in my book. Chilly.

But with lots of sun we soon warmed up and Alan’s plum tart was delicious  – thank you Alan.

There is plenty going on at the Museum as well these days, with a new cottage ‘Tindalls’ being erected on site. I say new, but it’s hundreds of years old and has actually been in store for about 30 years since it was taken down by the museum awaiting an opportunity to reconstruct it. To me the frame at this stage of construction looks really spectacular and has a beauty all of it’s own.

In the blacksmith’s forge Martin Fox is fast becoming a devotee of the English Scythe and has taken on the restoration of a really long old English blade which he found in the scrap metal pile and has been busy straightening out. I reckon a lot of old English blades have been scrapped partly because people don’t know how to use them and also because they don’t know where to find a blacksmith that can repair them – so it’s very good to see a blacksmith working on repairing scythe blades again.

If  you’ve visited the museum you will know that the gardens around the buildings are busy and productive places as well, especially in the autumn as harvesting the last of the summer crops and protecting the winter crops from the birds is key to preventing a hungry wintertime.

As if there wasn’t enough already going at the show we decided to run a besom broom making competition – and I’ve run out of space here so I’ll post on the brooms at the show next.

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I came back with some nice looking Ash from the Bodgers Ball. At 30 inches in length it should be just right for hay rake heads. Wrong! Too much wind and far too stringy. Almost impossible to control the split with the froe, though with a proper cleaving brake it might just work. But first I need a brake…..

Hey Presto! Thanks to my friend Richard my coppice mentor and some chestnut poles I had lying around suddenly a brand new mini cleaving brake – Sussex Style appears in my yard. If this just looks like a pile of poles to you then thats entirely my fault but Richard has already cleft any poles I left lying around so now it’s time to try some Ash for rake heads.

To start off with I’m using some dead straight Ash I found at the back of my log pile and couldn’t quite bear to put onto the firewood pile. When I cut off the ends with the chainsaw the wood turned pink – a clear sign with Ash that’s it’s not completely dried out, so still useable for rake heads.

The concept of the brake is to clamp the wood being cleft between two pieces of wood and apply pressure just in front of the split which stresses the fibres and helps to direct the split towards the stressed fibres. The diagonal on this brake is a lot wider than the one I originally built for myself (from a book I think) and takes a bit of getting used to

but the result is first class. Without the cleaving brake these clefts would inevitably split out (the split runs out and gets thinner rather than going straight). So despite the stringy Ash from the Ball, which might do better for axe handles, I now have some good rake head material,  and thanks to Richard a great cleaving brake – all I need is the time to shave the heads and drill them up, but tomorrow I’m back on the polelathe at the museum.

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Driving my old Landrover around the M25 is never one of my favourite activities but as I’d been invited by Simon Damant to run a wooden rake making course for the National Trust at Wimpole Hall near Cambridge I found myself dodging traffic once again.  Simon organised the course as a part of the programme of activities at Wimpole and early on Saturday morning I started to set up by the large barn in the farmyard. The landrover felt at home next to the old Fordson tractors and as usual plenty of visitors mistook it for a part of the display.

 

Wimpole has a large working farm at the heart of the estate which is run as an organic rare breed farm and open to the public so as well as running the course we were a part of the display for the day. The cows in the yard were more than a little bumused at our antics though the visitors seemed to find it very interesting.

The weather allowed us to work outside rather than inside the barn and as we had a lot of work to do in the day it wasn’t long before everyone was hard at it making traditional wooden rakes.

 

I don’t normally use a the side axe to shape the rake heads, prefering to work with my drawknife, but Simon likes his axes and it was good for the students to do some axe work as well as relieving the queue waiting for one of the shave horses and drawknives.

I’m used to running polelathe turning courses and to me the rake making course is a natural extension of the same techniques but if you’ve not done any greenwood work before it’s a lot to master in a single day, so well done to everyone who managed to get the hang of cleeving, axing, shaving, rinding, sawing, drilling and bashing tines through the tine cutter.

With a choice of styles and sizes of rake to make everyone decided to make a full size (28inch head) hay rake with a split handle – which I know as a Sussex Style rake, rather than the bow or hoop supported head which I know as the Dorset style. but rakes come in all shapes and sizes from small garden rakes upto massive drag rakes.

 

There was an old drag rake in the barn and it makes one of my hay rakes beside it look small by comparison. As it’s name implies, with it’s heavy timber handle and head the weight of the rake makes it impossible to lift in use so it’s dragged along instead. I’m sorry about the poor photos but it was a busy day and taking pictures was not high on the priority list.

For those with a rake fetish this one has a head around 6ft in length with 12 tines set at around 6 inch spacing. The tines are 9 inches long, curved and sharply pointed. The handle (or stail) is made from sawn timber and braced. The head sometimes has a brace as well but in this case it’s massive enough (and heavy enough) to cope without one. Simon tells me that he knows it as a ‘corn rake’ which  may also give some clue as to its original usage.

 

As well as organising the course Simon also has plenty of other things to keep him busy around the estate – some of his silver spangled Hamburg chickens were in the yard close to us. While collecting wood for the course earlier in the morning I got a tour of the 2000 acre estate (by highspeed landrover) and also a quick visit to his bee hives, flock of Norfolk horn sheep, ferrets and his two Dutch working horses (which are all separate from the animals on the farm).

 

Starting a little later than the rest on the course Simon soon caught up – here demonstrating speed sawing of the rake stail (or handle). You won’t be too surprised to learn that he seems to do everything at breakneck speed- and for the last 4 years has been England’s champion scyther, last year cutting a 5m square in 1minute 15 seconds (I won’t remind you who was second fastest in 1min 23seconds!). You might wonder why we saw the stails instead of cleeving the split. There is a good reason – if the split runs off (as they often do) the two halves will not bend symmetrically, so sawing the split helps to avoid a last minute accident and improves the look of the finished item.

Part of the reason for the course is so that the estate staff can make rakes for use on the farm, in the gardens and for sale in the shop in future. I think it’s an excellent idea. There is only one rake making workshop left in the country that I know of, but that can give a false impression as there are plenty of rake makers about making and selling rakes locally and at shows. The idea that rake-making existed only as a specialist trade is very debatable (as it is with the chair bodgers). It is my opinion that, like all agricultural hand tools, they have been made and mended on farms and particularly on estates for a lot longer than they have been made in workshops.

 

There was even time for a little gratuitous polelathe turning  just to stop Simon from getting bored!

 

Though in the event we didn’t have time to get bored and I was a little worried that we might not get all the rakes finished by the end of the day. Getting so many sawn stails to fit with no accidents (snapped ends) was a little stressful, so I might try to do Dorset style rakes next time around!

If not the straightest of rakes they are no less useable for it and put to good use immediately in clearing up the shavings. I should also say that because of the time constraints, the straightness of the materials and the amount of skills to be learned we left the stails shaved rather than steaming, setting and then rounding them with a stail engine (a rotary plane designed to both plane and taper the stail).

I like them this way and to distinguish in future from the precision end of the market I might be tempted to call them ‘Rustic Rakes’?

 

Whatever you call them I think that they turned out very well and in the end we had 6 Rustic Rakes made and plenty of spare tines and bits for more rakes to come. I was very pleased at how well it turned out and I think everyone had a good day on the course. One of the rakes pictured here will even be in use raking asparagus on a local farm by the time I’ve posted this! I can add asparagus raking to apples and flax as new uses for wooden rakes!

Thanks to Simon for being a great host and for feeding me (nice pub) and finding me accommodation (even nicer hay barn) and to Peter Jameson for teaching me how to make Rustic Rakes in the first place.

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After last weeks session at the forge I’ve put handles on the two new hook tools and now have 6 tools from the landrover coil spring material. As the material seems very hard (doesn’t file even when normalised) I have not tempered the last two hooks yet, and if I do I will do so to a fairly soft temper, as they seem to be very high carbon to start with and the last thing I want to do it break them.

The first hook works well, it’s a good shape and the (relatively) large size makes it both easier to sharpen and easier to take off larger amounts of wood from the bowl – here a lump of sycamore from the churchyard at nearby Blackmoor.

I thought I’d try a couple of small sycamore bowls just to get the handle of the new tools and compare with the existing ones.

When I got a handle on the final and biggest hook I was amazed at how easily it shaves the wood from the bowl – stepping up to another gear in comparison with my earlier hooks – and the one I originally bought from Gavin some years ago I have recently given away to a friend to use on rings (for model wagon wheels).

The ability to take off a bigger shaving seems to be related (as you’d expect) to the radius of the curve on the hook, similar to a roughing gouge and both of these hooks have the bevel on the outside of the hook – but it certainly doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Here the finished bowl is translucent where some flaws in the wood make an attractive grain – I’ll post pictures of it (them) once I’ve finished soaking them in our local cold pressed linseed oil from Durwin Banks at High Barn oils. It makes a very nice salad dressing as well!

I got carried away and put this larger lump of spalted birch on the lathe after the sycamore and almost gave myself a hernia – it’s very dry, hard and knobbly, a lesson in improving the shape of my blanks is required I can see.

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