Monday, 11 December 2017

TREES WOOD & LIFE

We've had plenty snow here, about 5 inches - quite a bit for our part of Essex around 3 miles from London and Waltham Abbey has been at a semi standstill!  First time in ages that we've had a serious dusting before Christmas and it has made the whole area feel quite festive. 
Epping Forest has been picturesque if a little gloomy but we were rewarded with a stunning pink sunset. According to the shepherds this is a delight, so with any luck we'll have good weather in the morning.  However the Met Office are saying it's going to be ghastly tomorrow, via Radio London.  I've checked their website, the Met Office that is, and very usefully as it transpires, it tells me there is no data available to forecast the current weather situation due to 'adverse weather conditions' to please 'refresh your browser or try again later' for an up to date report.  Think I'll stick to old wives tales, sea weed, the barometer, a look outside the back door and a full inspection of the pine cone basket for a full and accurate forecast of my own devising.

Turning experiments planned for this week.  My new workshop in Waltham Abbey is a dream place really.  I wasn't that keen on it at the beginning of it's life, it felt a bit awkward with no personality.  This seems to have gradually changed, tools have found their places, the woodpile has evolved and become quite a reasonable tea drinking seat with variable height adjustment according to how much wood I'm turning and the number of cups of tea I'm drinking sitting down!  I'm trying to retain more of the sap wood and bark in the things I'm making.  The trick is to get the bark to stay tightly attached.  Will let you all know how things pan out...

Courses are continuing all through the winter - details in the link on the right...      

Monday, 12 June 2017

NEW GREEN WOODWORK BOOK

When I first started green woodworking over 20 years ago there were very few books available.  I only had Mike Abbott’s Green Woodwork (which used to be called “The Bible” back in the day) and I pored over it long and hard until it fell apart.  I still think it’s his best book.
I next discovered Roy Underhill  - Ray Tabor published his first book Traditional Woodland Crafts - the floodgates opened and I was off! turning my hobby into a career.
The newest addition to the collection is Sean Hellman’s “Shaving Horses, Lap Shaves & other Woodland Vices”. 

Drawing on his long and distinguished career Sean has put together an excellent book which I would have killed for when I first started.  Very well written and covering every aspect of Shavehorse design and manufacture I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in Woodland Craft, Green Woodwork, Rustic woodwork and workholding in general.
My favourite is the “Easy Rider” which looks really cool but I may be tempted to make myself a Spoon Horse now that the fingers are finding it harder to hold small things when carving.
I think there’s something here for everyone and it looks good on the bookshelves next to all the other classics…


Get yours while they’re still hot!

Available from:-
www.seanhellman.com
www.craftylittlepress.co.uk

Sunday, 14 May 2017

BODGING AROUND

New Places & Different Attitudes

 South Weald Park in Brentwood a couple of weeks ago for two days was an interesting event.  It was billed as a Country Show & Festival of Dogs which was an interesting theme and it certainly attracted a mixed bunch of punters.   Also some very typically Essex chickens - with that colour plumage they could only be Essex Girls as Vanessa pointed out - she's keen on pink too with plenty of gold chucked in for good measure.  I must tell you (erring on the side of political correctness) that no bird was harmed during this process.  The exhibitor assured me it was the result of bathing the chick in water left over from boiling her early beetroots, for salad, and that she'd used the same process on herself many a time when needing to look her best!

Well advertised there were plenty of people (and their pooches) and they were a really interested, interesting folks who seemed to be like minded folks, looking for simple enjoyment of rural crafts, time in the countryside and chatting.  The time passed by quickly & although I was limited by space as to to demonstrating I had plenty of takers for my 'have-a-go' lathe many coming back several times to try and hone their techniques.  One such lad wa keen to know why he couldn't get a finish anything like mine on the billet.  He didn't seem satisfied by my reply which was that it takes practice to hone your skills and that can't be done in 15 minutes has to be more like 15 years.  Then came the discussion with various others about how practice does lead to perfection whether you want to be a ballet dancer or robot engineer.  You need to have that mad old thing persistence and only then will you perhaps have that chance of perfection.
 

Then just a few days later we were at Newington Green in North London, not far from Highbury home to Arsenal.  This was for the Mildmay Nature Fest organised by a wonderful happening group called The Garden Classroom - have a look at their site and see all the things being organised for you children to join in with and learn from.  At this event I was full on Twig Crayon making and I'd judged correctly that red would be the colour in demand - well with that being the home team colour what else would it be?  There were so many activities packed into this small London square one of only limited green spaces in this part of the city and the buzz was absolutely incredible.  there were folks from all over the world - Americans, Germans, French, African, Poles, Italians people from just about everywhere and they all had their own take on what was going on.  They were overwhelmed with what a very few stalwart members of the community had decided was needed for everyone in the vicinity.  A breath of fresh air is what it was for them and they took advantage of every moment.  Vanessa managed to have a never ending queue at the lathe the whole day and it came as a real surprise when she said it was well after five and everyone else had packed up and gone.  It was a totally great day and shows that London is still a truly great city with plenty happening that can be enjoyed for free if only you open your eyes to what's going on in your neighborhood.



 Then only a few miles drive and we were back in the calm of Epping Forest and walking around the Lost Pond drinking in the calm an tranquility, regaining our equilibrium and re-charging our batteries.  The shallows here with flags just coming into bloom were alive with jostling tadpoles and Jed went for an unscheduled swim, very unlike him, he's eight now and only learnt to swim last year. Think he quite likes paddling around out of his depth now he's discovered he won't sink!

        
























Then a gentle stroll back via Loughton Camp and on home to Waltham Abbey for copious quantities of tea and a slice of cake...

Saturday, 22 April 2017

WOODLAND WORKSHOP OPEN FOR BUSINESS

























A wonderful April day and the Woodland Workshop was humming with activity.  With two keen students busy at their lathes it gave me a real buzz to hear that razz of green wood being cut combined with a fantastic chorus of thrushes, robins, blackbirds et al combined with that amazing hum of the bees foraging for pollen and nectar.  And the aromas - heady - full of spring and the promise of summer to come.

























This stunning quince was one such beauty with it's splendid pink blooms fully living up to it's given name Geisha Girl.  It was an impulse purchase many years ago from Brogdale in Faversham, Kent and grew successfully in Waltham Abbey until it had the chop with the advent of the new workshop at home.  I'd had the foresight to take cuttings and now it grows rampantly in the Woodland Field comfortably with a truly gawky wild pear.  Both are prolific fruiters and it looks as if, with the lack of  the usual heavy rain and spring hail that, it will be yet another bumper crop which will be put to good use as jelly and wine.

 


















The course produced some amazing facial expressions of both concentration and delight.  We did lots of turning in the morning had a great lunch together and spent the afternoon in the happy social activity of spoon carving.
This year has been most interesting so far and I'm pleased that I didn't just dismantle the shelter in a moment of anger and resentment against the weather.  These things are sent to make you a stronger person (and yes I think my muscles are slightly enhanced after the workout we were given levering it back into position and hauling the tarp up!) and it's all been most worth while.  I'm still working on an additional space at the far end of the field for a more sheltered working space and having spent some more time just sauntering around in that little used area near the forge I've decided that too will be part of the alternative working space.  I'm going to utilize the forge itself and the space will be great as a camp kitchen, might even treat myself to running water as it won't be a problem to run the supply up the field.  So all in all the garden is rosy...

Monday, 13 March 2017

STORM DORIS BLOWS OUT THE COBWEBS AT THE CROWS NEST

Storm Destruction Needs New Broom

The Best Laid Plans

So I knew she was coming, I checked all the bungees and tension wires, studding greased, made sure everything was well tied down/up, doors and gates locked tight, beehives protected and hoped frt the best...


 

Everything looked shipshape on opening the gate, the cedar I planted some 10 years ago gently bending and all looked well.  Until I drove around the corner and then I spotted a new sculpture, mossy looking with some interesting ribbons and streamers dancing in the breeze - interesting didn't really remember that being around - peculiar.  On closer inspection it was an interesting pile of pallets I'd had stacked up about 30yards away waiting to be used as a new log shelter.  Something else that's been on a back burner, whilst I've been procrastinating as to whether I really needed to bother with, as the incredibly dense conifer which I've hacked into with the chainsaw is doing a really good job of impersonating a weather proof cave.

Then having checked on the girls, who really hadn't even noticed the wind and seemed really buzzy on a pollen gathering mission at the pussy willow, I took a look at the Woodland Workshop.  At first it didn't look as if anything untoward had happened - just the roof adrift.  Closer inspection revealed that Doris had picked it up and moved it about six foot.  Not really that bad but now it's balanced on two legs instead of six and has the gait of an inebriated gentlemanly structure staggering home after a hectic night out.



Clean-Up Begins

 Linseed oil is a wonderful thing and at the end of last season I discovered a gallon in one of the sheds which had all sorts of stickers on it making it quite clear that it MUST NOT BE SHAKEN.  These were by my dad who died a few years ago and must have been stuck on it more than 50 years back.  So each pole lathe, shavehorse, chopping block, cleaving break, bowlhorse and the work bench all got a liberal coating before the storm.

 


              

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So a quick shifty round in the forge was needed to accommodate most of the kit - I will admit I did struggle with that anvil and called it a few unmentionable names until it agreed to co-operate!  Moving all the shavehorses and chopping blocks was a doddle in comparison as they all came apart with ease (Linseed oil - great stuff).  Had to have a bloomin' great tidy up though - the previous incumbent had left a right old mess and just filled it up with all the crap he couldn't find house space for including his collection of fizzy drink tins & sweet wrappers.  Then I just lit the forge and made tea.

















That cuppa and walking round cogitating made me think long and hard about that workshop.  We put it up in just a couple of days, bish bash bosh, and I was so thrilled with it.  We've had so many fantastic courses and workshops, parties and camping sessions that I felt a bit emotional and then I had that Eureka moment.

I never really considered the spot it's in - flippin' wind tunnel with a howling gale rushing straight through that will shiver your timbers and give you Midsummer Nightmares.  So I decided I was going to burn it!  Then I decided I wouldn't.  Then I decided I'd take it apart and then burn it!  Then I decided against that too.  Then I decided I'd take it apart and re-build it... Ahhh got there in the end!  So at the moment I'm taking stock and am going to completely reposition it on the other side of the field where it's much more sheltered with a different vista and a more interesting approach.  In fact Storm Doris you've done me a favour - I'll reclaim my Woodland Workshop and rejuvenate the whole area.  I think it will extend the season and time I spend there purely because it's more sheltered and in a more elevated position and I shall re-capture that thrill of being at one with nature in my own Woodland... bit.ly/2deES7q     

Monday, 20 February 2017

Bodging in Town

It's A Strange World For A Bodger

I find it so weird when I get asked to demonstrate at, say a country park, and when I get there I find no not here, it's just down the road in the town centre!  What is that all about?  I don't mind but I just wish I knew in advance - it's the type of kit you need to take.  I chatted at length with the organiser but then the plans are changed but no one person from the organisation passes the info on to me.  So why is there a problem?  It's not big but I like to nail my lathe to the ground with good solid wooden tent pegs just because it's the fashion for some folks to lean on anything they come into contact with.
No my lathe isn't going to topple over, but when you're turning and someone is bopping in rhythm to the treadle it doesn't make for the best finish. 























I was asked to set up in the car park at this little gig but sometimes you've just got to do your own thing so I took up the 'keep off the grass' sign and set up here.  Turns out (forgive the pun) that this was to showcase what could be a possibility at the Country Park but the powers that be thought no one would attend because of the mud!  Well mud is an occupational hazard of being a Bodger - wellies/stout boots are always around and generally when folks go into the country they are prepared.  I expect they look in their cupboard & think right platformed gold sandals - perfect for a walk in the woods or should it be my diamante Jimmy Choos - I just don't know what goes on in folks minds.  Note the safety tape - that was just to stop me running around wildly I expect.  It was a fantastic day in fact, plenty of chat and I put the 'keep off the grass' notice back at the end...

Monday, 6 February 2017

SILVER BIRCH - A TREAT FROM THE TREES

A wood for all Seasons

 

Walking through the forest of Epping is a pleasure few seem to take advantage of.  Mostly it's dog walkers who seem to appreciate the invigorating thrill of being in the arms of Mother Nature.  On a Monday morning I see the cuts in the leafmould from overweight cyclists. (In their dreams I think they believe they're Bradley Wiggins on the Tour de France - it did go through the forest a few years ago - if you blinked you missed it!) New shelters made by excited children with parents who probably have as much fun imagining themselves to be Bear Grylls on deserted islands.  Strange teepees with no doors that are made by wise folks standing up long hornbeam limbs for the wood to dry before carrying them home for warming firewood later in the week.  I'm listening for life,  watching the mosses change colour to the richest emerald and sitting hearing the sounds of the wind in the canopy and eerie calls of parakeets who don't know quite what's disturbed them as a buzzard swoops through swift and silent claiming it's lunch on the wing.



I collect some branches, left lying by conservation volunteers, not only silver but rich ruby reds, brilliant tawny gold and imagine these beautiful kindling sticks as something else.  My mind is a butterfly hovering and it's not until my axe and knife are in my hands that they can be transformed.


Into the workshop - it's warm in my Waltham Abbey workspace now.  It's as if I'm in a comforting woody bubble enveloped by aroma of Sweet Chestnut, still lingering from the last Green Woodworking Course that I ran, spicy mixed with linseed oil and beeswax.  This is where the transformations will take place...
















 

   

















Shrink Pots are a truly therapeutic form of fun - useful yes for pencils, wooden spoons & if you get a truly great shrink onto the base the perfect woodland drinking vessel...
Then the lathe for a little light excercise and some freehand turning, mind flowing freely and the chisels cutting through soaking wet wood spraying me with sap and becoming something barely recognisable as firewood but handy for the chef in my kitchen.