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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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………..

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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The second weekend in May is the Annual Bodgers Ball when members of the Association of Polelathe Turners & Greenwood Workers gather somewhere in a field for the Annual General Meeting. When I turned up early on Thursday Morning the weather was non too auspicious. That’s an understatement – it was terrible. The clouds down on the ground, raining all day in galeforce winds. You couldn’t see one side of the field from the other, you know what I mean – typical British camping holiday weather! Great weather for a weekend event in a field in West Dorset.

Luckily for us as if by magic the weather cleared and the sun blazed down on the site revealing the West Dorset Countryside and the sea at Charmouth only a couple of miles away between the rolling hills.  Although you couldn’t drive onto the site on Friday morning by the afternoon it was drying rapidly enough for everyone to set up camp.

A fine array of shelters, lathes, greenwood working demonstrations and activities filled the site which for this year included the large beechwood just behind the main field.

The Ball is an opportunity to meet up with friends not seen since the previous season and to catch up on events – though it always seems to flash past and there is never enough time to meet, see and do all the things I planned. Sean Hellman gave a great worskhop on sharpening with stones. If you missed his workshop there is some great information on his blog – but make sure you’ve got some time to appreciate it, it’s a great source of valuable information – here a link to a stone article to get you started – Natural Stones on Seans Blog

It was good to meet up with Barnaby (aka Barn the Spoon) the maestro of itinerant spoon carving. Though for this ball Barn went upmarket with a friend, old series IIa Landrover Safari and awning to make the most of the blazing sunshine.

Hard work, great conversation late into the evening at the pub constructed on the site with local Lyme Regis ales (great beer) and Cider from Dai Saltmarsh at Five Penny Farm led inevitably to the morning after. You’ll have heard of the 4 Yorkshiremen sketch, but may not know it was actually 1 Yorkshireman and three from Shropshire. Here they are in action, Bob, Neil, Tony and Richard – casting aspersions on all and sundry around the fire on a sunny but chilly morning whilst awaiting the kettle to boil (again).

The pub for the event was an old stone shed at the edge of the field cleaned out and fitted with woodburner, bar and local beer. Did anyone take a photo of the Pub, particularly the pub sign as I managed not to?

Robin Tuppen from Royal Sussex Trugs joined us at the ball for the first time with his apprentice and it was great to see his work. I particularly liked the steamer based upon a solid iron monster of an old army stove and a wood and leather steam chamber.

It does take all sorts. We had polelathes, bungee lathes, treadle lathes and I don’t think this one actually has a name. No pole and it works on a flywheel system which provides plenty of inertia for turning bowls and plates. I know – lets just call it a lathe.  The tools are scraping with a burr rather than cutting like a knife – one of the tools is actually a file squared off at the end and then rotated as the burr wears to present a new surface. Very interesting approach and great to see so many ‘rules’ being broken at once!

Since we were in Beechwood the logs for the log-to-leg race were from local beech. For a few years now we’ve been spoilt with exceptionally straight and knot free Ash for the racing so I think it made a good contrast to be using the local Beech.

Not an easy task to split the wood into clefts as James discovered when the froe bounced off the end. Even the wedge didn’t want to go in – at that point we renamed the event the ‘Bouncing Beech Ball’.

In the half hour challenge greenwood workers make a product of their choice. Somehow, despite being busy all day Ben Orford got his lathe setup and made a great baby rattle for the challenge.

West Dorset is a long trek from Yorkshire and Richard Law didn’t bring his lathe – but that didn’t stop him from entering the half hour challenge with some hand tools. Good man! They look great, but what is it you are making Richard?

I didn’t get any photos of the log to leg races as I found myself competing in both events. At the last minute I failed to argue my way out of the team event and then had to do it all again for the individual race. The times were a lot slower with the Beechwood, but despite my shavehorse breaking in the individual event I still finished.

It seemed only minutes after the last race finished that I looked up and the field was empty again. The clouds were back and rain in the offing.  Was it all a dream? It almost seems like it. But it’s a dream I will remember for a long while, so thank you everyone who came trusting in the weather and particularly the organiser Dai Saltmarsh and the owners of the site who allowed us to use it, it was a pleasure to work with you. Great place, great people and an amazing event – it’s going to be a hard act to follow, but we always do. We don’t yet know  where we will be next year, but we’ll sort that out in the next few months so stay tuned if you fancy coming to the ball next year!

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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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‘I wonder if you could repair my garden table?’  That’s how the conversation started, and I agreed to take a look at the table. As you can see, it’s seen better days. Under normal circumstances this table is barely firewood mainly compost.

Sometimes you get attached to a particular piece, a bit like a fire it helps to instill a sense of place. I guessed this table was like that so I agreed to build a new frame for the owner and see what if anything could be salvaged.

The first job was to make the posts and rungs, coppiced Sweet Chestnut in this case which stands a chance of lasting longer than the original hazel. Convenient size all round, 18 inch rungs, 14 inch posts, top rung (table top) at 12 inches and rung spacing of 3 inches and 6 inches between top and bottom rungs all around. Mortices cut with an augur bit and tenons turned on the polelathe (just in case I need to make another one).

New frame, original table top. Even managed to salvage a few of the original brass screws.

a coat of Linseed Oil (only the best local fresh pressed on the farm linseed oil!) and it’s a new bench. I have the feeling that this bench might become a bit like my favourite beetle (a large wooden mallet) which has only had 4 new heads and 3 new handles!

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The final show of the season for me is the Annual Cider Pressing weekend at the New Forest Cider Farm, Burley which is on this weekend. Link to more information is on the side bar of the site at the moment or visit the new forest cider blog.

 

If you are near to the New Forest it is worth a visit. A great little show with proceeds to charity and a last chance for nostrils full of fermenting cider apples, wood smoke, coke and steam. As I don’t need to make stock now I am planning to relax, enjoy the event and turn a few bowls I’ve been thinking about.

 

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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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