Monday, 13 March 2017


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...     

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


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.

Thursday, 26 January 2017


Courses & Diary Update


I've started putting the Diary together, well I have a little black book which works incredibly well with a pencil & I have a rubber which easily allows me to make alterations!  I've decided to let Vanessa deal with the online diaries - if they give her a nervous breakdown I'll be going stratospheric and disappearing in a puff of green wood smoke and I don't want that. 

If you would like me to demonstrate at your Show or Event I'll be happy to put you in my diary if I'm not already booked and I'm taking bookings for 2018 & 19 too - there are some very well organised folks out there!


The Waltham Abbey Workshop is proving a great success in these foggy winter days, insulated & double glazed and with fantastic lighting I'm actually enjoying working in there.  I've been doing Sharpening Days on a One-to-One basis where folks have been bringing all sorts of edge tools & the kitchen knives to learn the skills and derive pleasure from the use of a super sweet sharpened axe or draw knife.  Don't think some of them have ever experienced that before.  

So if you're having difficulty with your Green Woodwork make sure the tools are exquisitely sharp - the sharpest edge is where two mirror images meet at nothing but that magical edge.  If you can't get there on your own get in touch & we'll see if we can't sort you out.

Sharpening Hook Knives  My sharpening movie

Pole Lathe Turning for Beginners and Improvers have been excellent with some lovely like minded people working so hard and producing beautiful things by hand.  I'll take this opportunity to let everyone know that as the Rebel Bodger I'm very flexible with my Courses and always open to suggestion.  That's why an Introduction to Green Woodwork became a Spoon Carving Course!  So be bold and talk to me - either by email or just get on the old blower or call in at Waltham Abbey and yes we can probably sort out that cider press, make new handles for your favourite frying pans or that ingenious dogs bed you saw fly at Lott's Road Auctions for £4000.  The impossible only takes a little longer!



PS There is a large selection of music available, silence can be golden or just listen to nature - whatever rocks your boat...

Thursday, 12 May 2016


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


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


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...