Thursday, 12 May 2016

MYSTERY OF THE BLACKSMITH'S SHOP

A Hidden Gem




 I hadn't realised quite how overgrown some parts of the Woodland Field have become and somewhere behind all the greenery is a fully functional Blacksmith's Workshop.  I've been through all the photos and I can't believe I haven't got a single good clear shot so it's time for a bit of imagination here folks.  Take in the aroma of sweet woodruff and walk, in your mind past the Pine, Larch, Liquid Amber to the mighty Ash...


Blacksmith's Shop in camouflage behind the trees 





That would be up the mown wide strip (expand the photo) beyond the composting toilet until you are in a secluded  place shaded by Oak, Field Maple and Ash.  You'll see a steel chimney rising towards the sky,  a stable door with a rustic log seat under a cobwebby window,  large chopping block and a waterbutt...

Oh and there are all the girls but they have a fantastic nature although they're not overly helpful when the honey is being stolen but Ness always gives plenty of warning when she's going into extraction mode!


Now this is the composting toilet complete with resident blackbird who regularly has three broods a year and who will definitely tell you off every time you nip in.  There is a privacy screen but I've never had any problems with voyeurs and the air conditioning is excellent - never had a single breakdown, reliant on wind power!

  





















And finally what I had hoped would be happening....



























The point of all this you may well ask??

I had thought that with the amazing anvil and all the wonderful tools I'd collected together that I'd make my own tools and use them for Green Woodwork.  I discovered in about half an hour - well probably 5 minutes that being a Smith is not for me.  I'm just not a natural and it didn't matter how many times I sparked up that forge or played with the bellows or walloped the steel - I just couldn't connect with this ancient craft.  I admire tool makers, it requires an exceptional knowledge and I would like to give someone an opportunity to take on this workshop and make something from it.  Preferably tools & money.  So I'm offering it to all aspiring Smiths.  We are very lucky in our situation here in Essex and there is a connected mains water supply to the Woodland Field.  Access is excellent from the nearby M11 and M25 and it's in a beautiful setting.  I hope any applicants will make useful things in addition to gewgaws but it's entirely up to them.

If you or anyone you know is interested then get in touch...

Oh and I'm going to be messing around with axes over in my Bodger's camp so I WILL take some good photos of everything that looks interesting...


Friday, 6 May 2016

A BODGER'S BUNCE - STINGERS - FREEBIES FROM NATURE

Stinging Nettles - Friend Not Foe


My Woodland Field has an abundance of stinging nettles (Urticaceae dioica) and not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth I'm very keen to use whatever I can get my hands on that's FREE.

Nettle Pesto

This is one of Ness' recipes and as usual she's a bit vague about the quantities for this type of thing.  Her justification is that it's not one of those baking recipes where you need to be meticulous about measuring - it's more a matter of personal taste.  Wear thin rubber gloves when picking and handling the nettles for obvious reasons.  All I can say that as usual with her ideas it tastes fantastic...

1oz or thereabouts fresh breadcrumbs
1pt (Ness uses a plastic measuring jug) young nettles or tips of older plants.
1oz strong cheese grated
1clove garlic
1/4 pint of your favourite oil or a mixture of whatever you fancy... 

1.  Toast the breadcrumbs in a dry pan over the fire until golden - shake often or they'll burn.
2.  Pick over the stingers discarding all but the thinnest stalks.
3.  Fill a bowl with freezing cold water & keep chilled in the fridge /freezer.
4.  Half fill a large saucepan with water, bring to the boil & immerse the nettles.  Drain the water             immediately into a jug and keep for later.
5.  Plunge the wilted nettles straight into the icy cold water, this retains the bright green colour.                As soon as they're cold remove & squeeze out the water.
6.  Put all the ingredients into a blender on a slowish setting & gradually trickle in the oil until              you have a pesto of your favourite consistency.  Add salt & pepper if you like.

The reserved nettle juice that you wilted them in is great for stock but even better chill and drink as a refresher after some hard work bodging...

Other brilliant uses include soups which can be hot on cool damp days or chilled on wonderful hot summer days with blue sky and blowsy white clouds.  A favourite of ours is also a light fragrant white wine which improves with keeping.  It is crisp on the palate and is a pretty greenish gold colour absolutely smashing - literally if you are unfortunate enough to have a greedy appetite where homebrews are concerned!

Ness giggling in the stingers!

And of course nettles were traditionally used as cord.  It doesn't take long to beat of the wet green flesh and to end up with strong linen type fibres which actually are very handy & durable if you haven't got string in your pockets.  I was particularly impressed when loading the washing machine not long ago to see some new shirt of mine that ness had ordered from a Fair Trade shop was made from something called ramie - I'd thought it was linen.  On checking I find it's a nettle of some sort or other and Ness tells me that when she was at Liberty they stocked a complete range of table linen and the USP was that it was made from nettles.

So as far as I'm concerned the humble stinger is a great friend indeed...









 
  
  

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

AXES HANDLES & BLACKSMITHS

Tool Handle Chat






Banter often becomes quite heated, usually about the 'right' wood, length, wedges - wood or metal.

Ness had been reading lots of posts on Axe Junkies, a group on fb purely about axes & adzes, and was getting worked up about the handle issue.  I prefer Ash.  Americans use Hickory - don't think they have much Ash.  She showed me the various discussions, mostly concerned with twisted grain, grain alignment and all sorts of things that neither of us could fathom out at all.





Here in England many folks make their own using green timber but from all those discussions on AJs I realised for the first time that most Americans want to buy their handles in.  Ness got a bit of a telling off when she suggested that instead of moaning about all the issues, which she thought were totally irrelevant, considering they were paying peanuts - why didn't they make their own?



 She was told that there was no hardwood in many areas or the wood available was not straight, those seem to be the main problems and the nitty gritty of the matter.  We spent a while looking through loads of boxes of axes but to save space and keep them all stored conveniently in old  wooden wine boxes we've removed any handle that were broken, too wormy to be safe or just worn out.  Nearly all the ones I use have all had new handles fitted by us in different thicknesses and lengths to suit either the tool or hand sizes from children's to a large bloke's mitt.

 

We've found that whilst buying old axes in East Anglia they often have Willow or Poplar handles.  You may well say that's a stupid wood for a tool, specially an axe, but I've notice that there aren't a lot of big Ash trees available for cutting down around Ely.  Folks have used whatever is available to them since time immemorial and why not.  You need an axe handle, there are loads of willows at the end of your patch - surely you'd use some of that rather than travelling 30 or however many miles it is to say Halstead in Essex where the nearest available Ash is for sale.  We also talked about the strength of Willow - after all cricket bats are made from it.  You can see what a lovely spring it has, balls are hit mighty distances, they can last for years if looked after and everyone in England recognises that wonderful sound of 'leather on willow'! I've used Poplar for many things including an axe handle.  We were doing a workshop in a Poplar plantation in North Essex and a student used an axe as a lever for something or other, the handle snapped.  A perfectly good replacement was quickly made from some seasoned stacked poplar and a serviceable wedge from the broken handle.

Many of the Bill Hooks I've had pass through my hands have handles made simply from a hedgerow  rod of Blackthorn or Hazel.  The purists will tell you that Ash is the only suitable timber but when it comes down to it you use what is readily available to hand.

We then went on and chewed the cud about blacksmithing and forging and the eyes in the axe heads.  So after sorting out your timber for the handle does it really matter that the Smith you've pressured into making a blade for you has somehow got the eye a bit skew-wiff - no it doesn't - you just shave your handle to compensate.  Yes it does take time but after all tools are important so it's always time well spent offering up the shaft and fiddling with the fit - do it well and it'll last you forever or until some ninny uses it for a job it's not intended for...

         

























Tuesday, 19 April 2016

COOPERING BARRELS & STOCK KNIFE

 Coopering & Barrels

 


 

 

 


 



I'd returned from an amazing walk through the woods in Brittany where were staying in a beautiful village for a 2 week holiday and I had to move some gravel as the car kept getting stuck in thick mud in the driveway.  The wheel barrow had a puncture, so I used the emergency  car tyre repair kit to sort it - you know the one,  it should take 5 minutes and ends up taking all morning!




































Anyway later, on the way to top up with local Breton ales & fine wines and other delicious comestibles, I noticed a new modern DIY superstore and decided to replace the repair kit.  I was completely sidetracked by the sight of these beautifully made barrels.  It seems that, unlike in England, there is a thriving coopering trade and this big chain store sourced barrels from local craftsmen all over France to supply the local home wine makers, those that grow a few of their own
grapes.





































The Cooper also offers a full repair service and often replace worn hoops and whatever else needs doing.  So on my next visit to La Belle France I'm going to make it a priority to organise a visit to the workshop - very exciting and I'm looking forward to it already.

 

STOCK  or PEG KNIFE

 




































Have been having  plenty of chats lately about the tools used for coopering and clogging, this brought to mind my Stock Knife which I used to make tent pegs for a while - I decided that I prefer turning and I'm not really a tent peg maker however much the demand is for demonstrating the skill.  I decided to sell it and used FB as my sales place.  Terrible mistake - I was inundated with ridiculous messages from the whole world and his wife and couldn't go through them all to sort the wood from the trees!


So I ended up doing nothing about it and now 'she who must be obeyed' (if I expect to have home made cakes/bread/biscuits & cordon bleu meals) has mentioned it's been sitting on the dining room table for the last 18 months and should really GO if I don't want it.  So I think I'll offer it to all you folks and if your interested perhaps you would send me an email to Robin Fawcett.  I'd like at least £175 for it so if you want it make me your best offer and I'll be in touch with you.




































I bought it many years ago and turned a new handle for it on the Pole Lathe.  It's made from beautiful steel and it must have a good carbon content as it keeps it's edge beautifully.  Lovely and sharp - I could give myself a perfect shave with it.  You can see more of it on YouTube where I've got a film of making tent pegs although I used it mostly to knock out spatulas.




































One of the main benefits is that you have real leverage when working on those uncompromising bits of timber and of course if you're using a softish wood like Willow, Poplar or Birch it slices them like a knife through butter.  I've since decided I really like using my axe more though! 

          



Thursday, 14 April 2016

Caning For Pleasure and a Profession

The Classic Side Chair




So many folks have one or more of these in their bedrooms or bathrooms, usually to put clothes or towels on and many of them pass through my hands to be restored and put back into service.  This particular one came from Copped Hall in Epping and ended up in my wife's possession via a great Aunt Alice.  The most frequently cited reason for them having to be repaired is either that cats have been tensing their claws on them or, which in my opinion is a heinous crime, they've been used as a makeshift step ladder to get into the airing cupboard or top of the wardrobe.  In fact this latter reason is why I seem to see the same chair more than once.  How do you expect a dainty little thing like this to take the weight of a 23stone gentleman - the mind boggles...


A More Sophisticated Model






































This had some of the prettiest leg and stretcher turnings I've seen in a long while.  A very satisfying piece of furniture to work on and fairly robust.  Interestingly when I had a feel it was obvious that the parts had been made from greenwood, beech and felt noticably oval.




Now in Fashion the Vintage Style






































I had three of this particular chair to re do the seats and one back.  the clients had origional purchased them from Ambrose Heal in the 1960s and had been going to discard them in favour of something more modern!  On visiting innumerable retailers of repute they decided that their original choice was far superior in terms of comfort.  Lingering over a glass of Bordeaux followed by some Port and cheese just wouldn't be the same if you couldn't sit with ease and as the Lady of the House said, "What on earth is the point in spending good money on something that's going to give you a numb bum"...
Chair Caning & Seat Weaving



 



 










 





 



Saturday, 9 April 2016

Woodland Work Shop - Nature's Therapy

 

 
There's something of an ethereal quality about sitting with a log and shaving off the bark that allows a tranquillity to descend upon the whole of your being.  This was a wonderful day with us all just breathing in the atmosphere and working companionably on our different projects.   It was decided that this stool would be made using seasoned shaved poles - not my decision so the work was fairly tough going for a novice woodworker.  Many cups of tea with biscuits make the work go more smoothly and give you a chance to review your progress.


I was making another chopping block and I always get a thrill when legging up.



 
 
As soon as I've drilled a hole I like to fit a leg into position - gives you a good eyeing up guide for your auger and helps to keep the angles right for a good splay on the legs.   I've been making more of these so I've got a selection to choose from, no matter the height of the log, I've got a block that will allow me to work comfortably without the need to bend at awkward levels to accommodate the axe work.  And looking at the state of that club I'd better get busy doing more of those.



 
And there we have it - last picture of the day with an honorary sunbeam.  We all felt great, although there were some weary arms, and I stayed for another hour or so to sharpen the tools and get the fire blazing for one last brew before returning home for a well deserved glass of home made wine and broth with dumplings... 
 


 

 

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Beautiful Bountiful Birch

 

Scrumptious wine for your delectation

 

Silver Birch, a graceful tree at all times of year and one with so many uses.  It's almost time to start collecting sap for this years wine and I can't wait.  It's a strange thing that when you drink the sap straight from the tree it has a taste of silvery magical water - just a light filmy liquid.  Then after fermentation it takes on an amazing quality and becomes one of my favourite crisp dry white wines.  There is only a short window of time to gather the sap so keep an eye on the buds and choose your moment wisely or you'll miss out on one of the most delicious natural wine resources there is.


Shrink Pots for Pencils & Kitchen Utensils

 

This time of year when the Birch is flooding itself with water for bud burst is one of the best times to save different sized trunks from 1.5 inches upwards for these attractive little folk art pots.  So called because the timber shrinks onto the inserted base and creates a tight seal (depending on the accuracy of your carving).  If your efforts are precise and the seal is held firmly by the Birch when it's dry you should have a vessel that will serve you well as a perfect cup for your Birch Sap Wine.

I find it amazing all the different colours and textures of bark but I do find it important to choose good straight pieces of timber.  If you don't it can be a real struggle.  It does take a bit of practise to get them to hold water but persist and you will succeed.  Keep your knives exceedingly sharp - have a look at my movie for this if you're having problems with your curved blades Curved Knife Sharpening - this is a simple little movie but it's the way I sharpen my spoon knives which is what I use for carving out my shrink pots.

Use a good piece of thin dry timber for the base - you'll have to use quite a bit of pressure to 'pop' it into the groove you've carved out for it.  If it doesn't rattle around when you've finished it you've made the fit too tight and the Birch pot will probably crack as it tries to shrink on.  Lay them on their sides to dry out evenly - could take a couple of weeks if your Birch is really wet and to get them right practise makes perfect...

 


Birch bark makes wonderful tinder for fire lighting and I always have some shredded in my pocket with a steel if an impromptu blaze is required.

Many nations have made shoes and baskets from it with beautifully woven patterns - I admire these but weaving of bark is just not my forte - I leave it to the experts.

Tar has been extracted from Birch for centuries and it's one of the reasons I don't use it in my wood burner or open fires here in Waltham Abbey.  It does tend to tar up the chimney and having had a bit of a chimney fire many years ago I'm not quite so gung ho with using any old wood.  I avoid any pine or conifer for the same reason and ensure that my wood for the home fires has been seasoned for at least three years.

Then there's the besom - how would our witches do without them - there'd be no need for flying ointment and so many magic spells could be lost...