Tuesday, 26 April 2016


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






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

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.




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...


Thursday, 24 March 2016

Bodgers Blacksmiths & Workshops - New Beginnings


The last few years

I'd been advised by my Web Master that Face Book was the way forward for all Craftsmen and I've been following that advice regularly for a while, a few years in fact.  I've now decided that, although FB has it's merits I prefer Blogging.  To me it's more like having a conversation with like minded folks by the fire or in the kitchen or on a woodland amble.  So I've decided to renew my chats to you all here.  I'll keep on FBing and Tweeting but here I can let my ideas ramble on and listen to all your thoughts and opinions - should you decide to share them with me...

Woodland Workshop Idyll

I've made lots of changes - my wonderful Woodland Workshop in the stunning Essex countryside is one.  I do all my Pole Lathe turning here,  three different lathes permanently set up including a bowl turning lathe, with another three all ready should I want a change but those I would say are my travelling lathes.


Bowl carving has become a favourite pastime and I've constructed several Bowl Horses to meet all the different sizes and shapes I love to play around with.

Historic Waltham Abbey twixt Epping Forest & Lee Valley Park

Waltham Abbey now has a new workshop.  The old one is long gone to my regret - it was pastoral and quirky but being open to the elements all year round was proving challenging so it was out with the old and in with the new!  This one is fully insulated, double glazed, electric lights and made from about 90% reclaimed and scavenged materials including the roof which I was delighted about.  It means that work can be continued all year round.  It's roomy with a big workbench, Pole Lathe, Shave Horse, Chopping Blocks, all the hand tools cupboards and shelves I could possibly desire.  There is one difference it also has a power lathe - more about this another time...



Blacksmithing Conundrum

The Blacksmiths Forge is another little project that's on a bit of a back burner at present.  It was built on my Woodland Field and is fully equipped with a forge, believe it or not, lovely big anvil and plenty of tools.  I've realised though I'm not a metal worker, it's just not my forte.  I decided that I'd have to let others use their magic with fire to make wonderful knives, axes and chisels and I'll put them through their paces to make beautiful things from wood.  So today it's standing unused in a quiet corner surrounded by oak, ash and blackthorn quietly waiting for a smith to awaken it's dormancy and put fire in it's heart and start making things... 

Tuesday, 13 August 2013