Posts Tagged ‘sweet chestnut’

‘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 first charcoal burn of the year is always a bit of a struggle and somehow I manage to forget just how damp everything will be. One day of relative warmth is not enough to shake of the winter yet.


For this burn I had help from Fergus (from Butser Ancient Farm). Fergus is using charcoal to smelt and forge and contacted me to discuss some comparative smelting tests using charcoal from different wood species. I couldn’t help being interested and one advantage of using old oil drums as kilns is that I can burn different woods in each drum so we decided upon Birch, Sweet Chestnut and Oak.


Unfortunately the first burn of the year is never too highly organised ( must make a note not to make the first burn a demonstration in future!) and it took a while to fetch the timber and then cut and split it.


and I hadn’t counted on the bins being quite so hard to get lit but after quite a struggle we got three bins going.


It’s the first time I’ve compared different woods burning side by side. Once the Sweet Chestnut got going it burnt very hot and fast with a lot of gas coming off – at one stage the top of the bin looked more like a gigantic gas ring than a kiln – really don’t try this at home, it is very easy to lose your eyebrows!


The Birch was a little slower to get going and produced a lot more white smoke – probably reflecting the difference in relative moisture content between the woods. As expected the oak drum was the slowest to burn – oak being a very dense wood it typically burns more slowly than the lighter woods.


Having left the bins sealed to cool overnight I unloaded them the next morning.


As I’d expected from the way the burns went the Sweet Chestnut bin was the best, producing large lumps of charcoal and very few brown ends (the logs which are not completely converted to charcoal). But the birch bin was also very good with a similar amount of charcoal, albeit in smaller pieces, and as expected the oak bin produced the least in volume.

But once I got the sacks of charcoal back to the workshop and weighed them I was surprised to discover that though the volumes clearly differed the weights of charcoal from each bin were very close. Chestnut – 11.5 lbs, Birch – 11 lbs and Oak -10.5 lbs.  The oak being significantly denser charcoal than either the birch or the chestnut.

Fergus – if you are reading this – the charcoal is ready to be collected and I’m looking forward to finding out how it does ! Hope you’ve recovered from the smoke inhalation!


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Omubazi Mike

Green woodworking enthusiast that loves to create and to pass on his skills and knowledge.

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