Tuesday, 20 March 2018


Vanessa trying out my new toy!  It's an Axminster Evolution respirator and a big financial investment for me.  I'm usually turning green wood so don't get a dust problem - usually it's sap spraying all over the place!  However I've been using far more recycled or re-claimed timber (such as broken chair/table legs, door linings, builders waste et al) on little projects, bottle stoppers and light pulls,  and I've found that this old wood is incredibly dusty even when using a razor edge chisel.

I had a look at the internet and found that the choice of protective masks was from basic to astronaut standard with prices to match.  I tried out several that mates have and was gifted a 'high quality' used one that I completely refurbished and found they all steamed up or had a visor that was a super dust magnet or I just couldn't breathe wearing it!  I read loads of on-line articles bits in magazines and listened to other turners experience. 

I only decided on the Axminster  Evolution after much humming and hawing and pondering - Vanessa asked why I didn't just get on and order something instead of all this procrastination and I explained it was going to cost around £350 + VAT and that I should probably buy some spare filters too and that I thought that was mega expensive.  Her instant response was 'Can you get a spare pair of lungs for less than £400 quid!'  She's an Essex girl and says it how it is.  Next day me and my mate Bill with his brother-in-law Tony (along for the ride and lunch with the lads) drove to High Wycombe and bought one each plus the spares.

It works a treat.  Visor stays clear.  It pumps clean cool air in to breath easily.  It's lightweight and well balanced.  Supplied in a convenient  container with handle so easy to store when not in use.

The wine bottle stoppers above from bottom are: 120 year old oak from my old front door linings.  A mystree wood from a skip.  Silky silver birch from Epping Forest (turned green) - just happened to have it laying around after carving some spatulas.  Another bit of oak door lining.  Each stopper is finished with a box wood bead at the bottom as I think it's the best way to keep the rubber gripper in position and it looks pretty.

The bowl is from some rowan with wonderful heartwood markings that came from Birchanger Woods - not far from Stanstead Airport - I was so surprised when I split this log open as I was expecting interesting grain but nothing quite as excellent as that colouring.  So I'm making a complete range of mountain ash kitchen ware including spoons goblets bowls & platters...
Had some very fast grown ash gifted to me and felt like having fun so here's one in action on the kitchen table...

Thursday, 8 March 2018



I'm always on the lookout for new timber sources and you never know when they'll turn up.  I got home the other day to find someone had left me with some good lengths of sycamore - very nice and thank you to whoever it was.  I've just had an offer of some laburnum which is very welcome and it's coming all the way from the Borders down to Essex at the end of the month.  So you'll gather from this that I usually get my wood for free. 
So onto the details of the most expensive log.  Now I didn't actually see this most expensive log for myself but my wife did.  She's very sharp on the profit margins and is excellent at adding value to bits of stick so she can spot a bargain at fifty paces and smell out a scam from fifty miles.  She took this pic of said expensive log whilst in France with her sister at the end of February in the picturesque town of Lesneven in Brittany.  I've been there in the past and it's full of interesting shops & nooks & crannies and the French equivalent of county ladies who like to lunch.  The photo is slightly odd due to multiple mirrors giving odd reflections but you can see it's only about 16inches high & 8inch diameter with a dinky little 'maker's' label inserted in a handy split and the price is 235 Euros!!!! She did make some purchases in the shop but this one she thought was rip off of the year so far... 
This is an interesting hillside near to Callac called the Valle des Saints and the plan is to have 250 statues by 2025.  There are 150 at the moment and they make a mystical sight in the distance.   All carved by different Masons in Residence on of my favourites is a Green Man Hunter.  All quite breathtaking and I can't quite believe how much the hillside has changed since I was last there.  I'm very interested in stone carving even though it's some years since I last traded in the tools of the stone carver.  They always look at first glance to be similar to those of a woodworker but are quite different.  Perhaps one day I'll get to speak with them as they work their sparkling granite and watch them work their magic on this stunning local stone...

Saturday, 13 January 2018


A  great painting of how hard life for a woodland worker could be.  It's by Carl Larsson (1853-1919) and titled Woodcutters in the Forest.  It arrived in the post in the first week of January on a morning with snow goose feathers blowing in the wind and brought to mind how often I've been working in freezing cold weather harvesting the crop that warms you twice!  Very poetic placing of the logs and I'm sure they must have a fire with a kettle on the go somewhere.  Made me really appreciate the warm insulated Winter Workshop I have here in Waltham Abbey.  It's only in the last few years that I've become concerned about treating myself with a bit more kindness and being able to work comfortably in a well insulated and brightly lit workshop somehow make winter working far more of a pleasure.
Yesterday I had the first Course of the year -  a One-to-One Introduction to Green Woodwork and it was most satisfying.  We had an excellent day spending the morning at the Pole Lathe using some excellent green Ash left with me in late November which was made into a superb rounders bat, professional sized, with some wonderful rippling in the grain.  The afternoon we spent playing with some fresh Willow I collected from the Abbey Gardens right on the edge of the Cornmill Stream and together with some Cherry from Magdalen Laver they were transformed into some excellent eating and serving spoons.

I'll continue working here in my cosy den until about March, well till the clocks go forward that is and then I'll be back in the Woodland Workshop. 

Monday, 11 December 2017


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


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:-

Sunday, 14 May 2017


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


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...