Wednesday, 13 May 2020

TURNING a SPINNING TOP - A Power Lathe or Pole Lathe

Power Lathe or Pole Lathe - That is the Question???

I've a power lathe with 10 foot bed in the workshop - it's an Apollo - hand built and a beautiful piece of engineering.  I spoke to the chap who made it and he was still in love with my model and could actually remember making it when I chatted with him on the phone.  So I've been making more treen using power and it's something that's taking me a long time to get used to.  I've also acquired a pillar drill and bandsaw - all very horrible, noisy and dusty!  So I've also had to invest in an industrial type hoover and a proper extractor and a ventilating head vizor mask thing to protect my lungs from dust. So I decided I'd still turn the wood green, one I like the ribbon shavings and two you don't get the dust.  Also I can turn as slowly or as fast as I do on the Pole Lathe.
So spinning top time and I did use my axe to start to rough out my billet but stopped myself and used the machinery!  This is all in aid of my back which I'm really careful of ever since I had an attack of sciatica which took months to recover from, so remember folks look after your back!
Billet prepared with Band Saw

Then for a bit of turning to get a good shape.
Power Lathe

Used the pillar drill to get the holes good and parallel - now I do really appreciate this power tool much less strenuous on the chest and shoulders!
Pillar Drill

Shaping is fun - plenty of beads & coves, decorate with black lines, think of the centre of gravity and you should be fine.

Spinning Top Components

Separate the components, carve your point and your just about set for a record breaking spinner.  I used a Hazel twig for my puller - looks good and does the job.

Spinning Top

And the movie of how well it balances and the speed it goes at - it's half time speed folks that's why the parakeets sound like a horror movie in the background!   And then have a look here at the movie Making a Spinning Top using a Pole Lathe for the same process - I know which one I prefer...
Spinning Top Movie

Wednesday, 6 May 2020



For a long time I've kept a large collection of books in my workshop, Country Crafts, Traditional Building Methods at the same time I've got the same volumes inside in the bedroom, front room, kitchen, upstairs workroom, the loft and in the sitting room!  So I've at long last really been looking at them all again - re-reading and making notes but I've found Not only do I have second copies in the workshop but up to four copies of some and I'm letting them go here 

I've a mixed bunch going on sale at the moment and all are good to enjoy during these interesting times specially those about life in the 19th century and earlier.  Isolating was common - not particularly by choice but just the way life was!  Some trades were very lonely others required teamwork constantly and often deprivation, hunger and appalling living conditions the norm.  Life expectancy short and destitution looming.  So even in these days of uncertainty life for me really is perfectly satisfactory on the whole if not good most of the time and brilliant the rest of it.

I am missing the meet ups with folks but I'm enjoying my strolls with a lovely lurcher, working with wood, chatting non stop with my wonderful wife Vanessa and playing my guitars and mandolin amongst other things!

Also sorting out my tools.  I've decided that I can have too many so I'll going through loads of drawknives, axes, billhooks, planes and plenty of other stuff.  Keeping them down to say six full sets will keep me going for all my courses and demonstrations as well as all my workshop requirements.  So keep an eye out here for a heads up on all types of tools and simple woodworking devices.  They all work well - I've used them all at some time or other but feel I should get them circulating again just like the books need to be.  If you're on the lookout for a side axe of a particular pattern or a chisel by a specific old maker because you like the tool steel, an adze, or a simple axe for spoon carving with a nice comfy handle get in touch - I'll look specifically for one in my massive collection...

Thursday, 30 April 2020


Turning A Quaiche

 A Quaiche is the traditional vessel used by Scots to savour their favourite single malts.  It's often a beautiful cup turned from attractive timber with a small handle on either side and mine are made from some Laburnum that traveled from the  Scottish Borders with a mate all the way to Essex.  Often turned from Laburnum, also known as Scottish Mahogany because of it's richly grained dark wood, I decided that today's project was going to be to make at least one of these quirky little cups. Laburnum is a wood that I love though it is horribly dusty when dry, this has some moisture still in it and turned pretty nicely but it doesn't make those wonderful ribbon shavings I get with, say, Sycamore.  This one was a roadside tree and removed as part of a 'tidying' up job by the local council and I failed to see the necessity of depriving the locale of such a beautiful flowering specimen but they're prolific up in Scotland and seen as little more than a weed tree by many!

When preparing the wood for the Quaiche blank you have to remember to make allowance for the handles to be turned as a part of the whole and I spent ages humming and hawing over the best bit of the log to choose.  That done I reached for my handy pencil stub got my centreline marked out and started.  It's seeing that grain come to life as a really sharp chisel (and I mean that sharpness you get where two mirror images of the chisel meet at nothing) otherwise you get covered in nasty chips!

It's the first time in ages that I've turned anything like a Quaiche with that narrow flange around the edge and you do have to keep an eye open for the safety of your knuckles.  Mine escaped intact fortunately but perhaps that's because I'm not a speed merchant.  Anyway hands intact I removed the excess flange leaving behind the handles and carved them into the shape you see here.  Will be here at my online shop  from this evening.
I'd really like to hear your comments about Whisky and ideas about Quaiches, if you have one and use it.  Do you like the flavour of your tipple as you drink from a wooden vessel, does it make you feel special and of course your favourite single malt!

Monday, 13 January 2020


I've a little John Smith fishing boat which was a gift at Christmas from my mum and dad in about 1961, it's had many a happy bath and has been played with by all our nephews and nieces on weekend sleep-overs.  It's taken a real bashing over the years but is still beautiful so I thought I'd make my version of my childhood toy.  It's virtually identical in weight, shape and has all the same rigging, catch, mast and cabin - but horror of horrors it turns over and becomes an upside down   submarine!  I have no understanding of boat building or the dynamics of making something float so I'm making another one and I'm going to try it out at every stage to see if sinks or swims!  I've made it from 2''x2'' pine just like the original so if any of you helpful folks have some hints or tips on toy boat making I'd much appreciate them.
Vanessa also took up the sport of extreme puddle leaping (some of you will know she has difficulty walking but is game for just about anything except scuba diving!) and she slipped on the granite kerb, landed right on the corner with a giant whump and managed to gain 4 compound fractures in her hip.
This didn't really prove to be much of a problem as she determinedly got herself out of hospital in a speedy 10 days champing at the bit to up and about.  Hopefully the wheelchair can be abandoned in the next few weeks as she's religiously doing all her exercises and is walking as well as before except it's with the aid of a crutch at the moment rather than her favourite hazel walking stick.
So we're really enjoying the start of the new decade and 2020 sounds like an excellent year - we'll make more hedgerow wines and perhaps they'll be of vintage laying down (for about a year - haha) quality.  So Happy New Year to you all and may it be enjoyable as well as prosperous... 

Thursday, 25 July 2019


Tulips in Full Flower
Mid-week sessions with local schools at Valence House in East London between Romford and Dagenham for what was loosely termed a Pre-History week of crafts and other interesting skills.  We were turning with gusto and each class made a story stick for use in the schoolroom.  Other activities were archery, cheese making, cave painting and investigating dinosaur poo!
Mrs Bodger Giving Directions

Valence House is beautiful.  It's the only surviving manor house in Dagenham and dates back to medieval times and still surrounded by a moat to keep invading marauders at bay.  It's almost sandwiched between Romford and Dagenham with the large grounds now a public park and the house run as a free museum.  The only reason it wasn't knocked down in the sixties when everyone was still trying to clean up after the bloomin' German bombing raids (and folks wonder why we want to leave a European so called 'Union' that's run by unelected Germans) and the local mayor took a fancy to it for his new Dagenham Town Hall and his own personal residence!  He didn't get his wish but the House was left untouched and abandoned until Havering Council and lots of volunteers realised it's historical value and set about sorting it out.
Caveman Will Lord Discovers relic of Ford Capri Whilst Hunting

The weekend was open to the public and we had queues of young would be turners having a go on the lathe with a bit of guidance from Vanessa who has the patience of a saint where kids and their parents are concerned although she does put a stop to folks who think she's a free creche!  We couldn't take many action pics as parents don't want their kids photos taken - we always ask first.  they don't hesitate to photo us though (without asking) and get the hump if one of us says, enough is enough, we are not exhibits at the museum in ourselves!
Let The Force Be With You

Ness with the local constabulary at the weekend event and getting this lovely lady to grips with a chisel. 

Saturday, 20 July 2019


So much to do, 24 hours in a day is just not enough!  A busy week up in Yorkshire with Countryside Learning at their annual event for inner city kids up North (well from us in Essex that is) and we stayed in a B&B in Sherburn in Elmet - locally called Sherbert in Helmet but that's just a little mad play on words or malapropism that we're so fond of here.
Two days of full on excited children - it's a really great way for them to learn by doing.  Torque, reciprocation, use of pulleys and your own muscles all created an electric atmosphere that's so hard to bottle and take home.
Miss was particularly excited as she hadn't done anything like this before and like her pupils welcomed the chance for a day out of the classroom.

We decided to support the local community, that's why we stayed in a small B&B, it was a stay to remember!  Mine hosts were very friendly but the rooms hadn't been updated since the late 60ies according to my wife who was slightly taken aback to say the least.  It was very dog friendly with plenty of cats for chasing activities and I don't think our lurcher noticed the lack of amenities.  Vanessa commented that she'd never seen 4 miss-matched pillowcases on one bed before and that the ceiling shades were from standard lamps And the curtains were far too short, linings ripped and at least a dozen more curtain hooks were needed.  Formica furniture and the wash hand basin was in the bedroom at least 15 foot from the khazi much to her chagrin.  Next time we're staying in a Travelodge and sod the local community!  We'll still go to Sherbert for fantastic food but although the host and hostess were lovely, Vanessa says she needs a comfortable bed, shower that showers, nice crisp bedlinen (not odds & sods worn out over the last 50 years) and fluffy towels and that did not include a detour to somewhere akin to Royston Vesey!  She said in the 21st Century even a bodger needs to take care of the inner spirit and soul...

Monday, 27 May 2019


We spent an afternoon at an amazing watermill in Hertfordshire where there was a celebration for the Federation of Organic Grain Growers and Millers.  Interestingly enough it's actually situated on the River Lea, something I had no knowledge of, so at the opposite end of the Lea Valley to us here in Waltham Abbey.  It's the only remaining watermill of 24 mills once working on the River Lea still commercially milling.  The building here is grade 11* listed and dates from the 17th century.  However there was obviously a mill here well before that because it's been listed in Norman the Conquerer's Domesday Book at around 1086 as the Mill at Hetfelle.
And on reading more and a bit of a wander through the building I find the back door leads out to some very handy baths of Roman origin!  Well you never know what you're going to find or when you'll feel the need for a quick wash down.

We set up our stall and spent the whole afternoon chatting, listening to traditional folk music, watched Morris dancing and drank plenty of tea.  There was a belltent with story teller, cushions and magic carpet,  plant sellers, bread from the bakery at the mill as well as all the organic flour and local radio enthusiasts radioing to other mills with much enthusiasm.  They weren't having much luck contacting the mills but did manage to have an interesting exchange with the Dumfries Weather Centre and somewhere in Italy - you never know who's listening in to one's broadcating!  No great sales but we were given a good pat of butter made by the churning demonstrators and had an invitation to bring ourselves to the Apple Day at Tring in October.  So all in all a very satisfying quintessential English sunny afternoon...