Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Whittling & Northumbrian Piping

I came across this book recently . . .

I would add to that "Round the Fire" . . .

Full of lots of good ideas, hints and tips - I made this knife and fork in about 20mins but NOT using a knife like the one on the front cover.

Hazel coppice is a very useful and versatile material - apart from the knife and fork here are a few other things I make from hazel wands. On the left is a rustic backscratcher and on the right three whimmy diddles. We will be selling items like this and much more at Woburn Abbey this Bank Holiday weekend.

Here is a settee made by a friend who recently bought a hazel wood on the Essex/Suffolk border.

Last night we went with our friends Anne & Gary to see the Kathryn Tickell Band at The Civic Theatre, Chelmsford. We had a really tasty meal at an Italian restaurant beforehand and were enjoying it so much we nearly forgot about the concert! After a quick dash through pouring rain we arrived late and soaked to be lulled and charmed by their lovely, evocative music.
Check it out.

Monday, 28 April 2008

More pylons . . .

If you were painting a watercolour and you did a sky like this would it look credible ?
This was first thing yesterday morning and didn't bode well for the rest of the day.

It did rain a lot but as we packed up around 5 o'clock the sun came out and made a rainbow . .

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Pylons & Peggles

Cowslips (primula veris) are called peggles round here and there are big drifts of them at the Lee Valley Park Showground an urban oasis and bird watchers paradise for the . . 

multi cultural population round Leyton, London E10. 

It felt like the first day of summer, everyone was chilled out and enjoying themselves. The event has got a really good vibe and we've met and chatted to a lot of interesting folk.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Mr Stiles & Master Bates

Been down with my mate Bill Monroe to the Stiles & Bates show at Dover in Kent. The woodshed was full of old gits pawing exotic timber blanks - Vanessa says she's going to deal with me if I ever get like this !
I like using English hardwoods and I like to know where they've come from - the "backstory". I know where the wood for every item I've ever turned has come from and may even have cut it down myself.

John Berkeley was demonstrating thread cutting on his trusty Vicmarc lathe. I recently watched his DVD "Screwples" which is all about chasing threads and it was very nice to meet him in the flesh - a very nice guy. Visit his website.

Here he's using a mop on the lathe to buff up the finish on a melamine-finished box to a glassy shine which of course is something you just don't do on items turned from green wood on the pole lathe - maybe a quick burnish with a handfull of shavings.

We popped in to see my Dad & Velma at Faversham on the way back - he's had a great bit of news - he's going to have his colostomy reversed in about two weeks time . . .

Lee Valley Spring Wildlife Weekend

I'll be demonstrating at the Waterworks Nature Reserve, Lammas Road, Leyton, London E10 7NU.  Its  a FREE event and Simon King & Chris Packham will be there.

Thursday, 24 April 2008


We've just picked up a shed from Epping Green that we got through Freecycle.  It's worthwhile signing up with them as occasionally you find just what you want and you can advertise things you no longer want or need and can't be bothered to try and sell.  So no money changes hands and unwanted items don't just end up in landfill.
We're going to use the shed to keep all the bee gear in - honey extractor, spare frames and supers and the bee suits.  Then I'll get my other shed back and can hopefully set up the treadle lathe and give it a go.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Wizardry in Wood

The Worshipful Company of Turners is presenting this definitive exhibition of woodturning at the Carpenters' Hall, Throgmorton Avenue, London EC2N 2JJ from the 4th to the 6th of June. Entrance is free, by prebooked ticket.

Book a ticket and come along to see what the Wizards can do!

As pole lathe turners now have a small representation within the organisation (Katie Abbott, Robin Wood & me) we are providing a demonstration on the pole lathe and Katie has asked me to do one of the days - probably Thursday the 5th June.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Image upload

"(4/22) Blogger is currently experiencing problems with image upload. We are working on the problem now."

So I'll have to be patient until they fix it.

I blame it all on the credit squeeze and the worlds
crumbling financial structure !

Monday, 21 April 2008

Cult film

While I've been fiddling about Barb Wire - the Pamela Anderson film is on the telly.  I'd put it in the same category as Withnail & I - must go now as the end is coming up and it's VERY exciting.

Trainee dibber

This picture was sent to me today by the folks at High Woods Country Park, Colchester. That's the city skyline in the background.

I think this is the first lesson in the fine art of dibbing - or is that muddy puddle quite interesting?

They have established quite a big Community Garden and we gave them some sweet chestnut dibbers we made the weekend before last to use in it.

Sunday, 20 April 2008


We've been demonstrating this weekend at the Chiltern Open Air Museum

A lady who was trying to sell some kind of electric massage cushions opposite us came over this morning and told us the following story :-

"My husband was laughing at you and taking the piss all day yesterday saying 'doesn't that guy know you can get electric lathes nowadays ?' etc all day on Saturday. Then the generator packed up which had been providing power for these massage cushions and he had to pack up at 4 o'clock while I was still working.
He had conceeded that I may have had a point and it was a salutary lesson for him . Plus I was getting healthy exercise and keeping warm pumping my lathe and I was getting paid to be there!

Friday, 18 April 2008

Liquid Gold

Vanessa has just put this honey into jars which we extracted at the end of last season. It's been hanging around in a bucket since then and we still have another large container full with about 40lbs in it.
We've had it on our porridge every day and haven't had a cold all winter. Bless the bees!
Actually I think it is more valuable than gold, certainly more useful.

Thursday, 17 April 2008


You may have noticed a few new clickable links to other sites appearing lately. I'm reading a book called "Who let the Blogs Out" by Biz Stone which has inspired me to come to grips with the possibilities of the 'blogosphere' (don't like that word much and the spell checker doesn't recognise it{yet}).
Met a guy yesterday, Andy Coates, who's really into it (don't know how he finds much time to do any turning) here's his blog . .

I'll try and put it up in the side bar and sort the naming out properly soon.

Turners Day

Yesterday was a full-on day of turning type experiences . . .

Firstly up to London for the Craft Meeting of the Register of Professional Turners. This is supported by The Worshipful Company of Turners and is a good way to meet up with the Great & Good of the turning world - have a jolly good lunch and a drink and listen to some interesting lectures by some very knowledgeable speakers. The theme was “Turning In Historic London” and the days programme was organised by Robin Wood. Well done Rob.

Traditionally we then repair to the Blackfriars pub round the corner for some ale.

Then it was off back home to pick up Bill Monroe (a local turner) and shoot up to Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire for the monthly meeting of the E.Herts Woodturners. Dennis Woodley demonstrated how to use a Sorby texturing tool (only £130!) on a piece of ash then sprayed it black, gold and red. I can never see the point in getting a lovely finish on a piece of wood and then hiding it by doing all that to it - but . . . whatever floats your boat!

There was then a “show-and-tell” about a selection of goblets that the members had tried to make - badly. Bill says he finds it hard to make something deliberately badly just to show what not to do. I think it was decided that the main defect with them was that they were too small - not enough room for much booze!

I did learn quite a bit about different chucking techniques for fixing work on the lathe and bought a small Sorby multi-scraper with which I’m going to have a go at making some lidded boxes on my treadle lathe.

We’re going to be demonstrating and (hopefully) selling at the Chiltern Open Air Museum this weekend - a nice venue and well worth a visit if you’re in the area . . .

Tuesday, 15 April 2008


Some time ago I did some research into yokes - the wooden ones that dairy maids used to carry two pails of milk. This resulted in a very kind guy called Bob Field giving me this nice, old one.

The chain is beautifully made - each link is welded and has a subtle twist so it won't tangle.

Anyway I made one from sycamore, turning the arms on the lathe then carving the shoulder part with axe, adze, drawknife and gouge.

Unfortunately I could never find anything to compare with the chains on the old one so the project ground to a halt.

Anyone got any ideas for an elegant, contemporary solution? I'd like to make more as I think they'd be useful specially if there's a hosepipe ban or for watering the veg in your allotment.

The Apprentice

Taking on an apprentice is something I've thought about more than once but never managed to reach a satisfactory conclusion. At the moment I do it all myself but there is a limit to the amount I can do and the amount I can earn. Vanessa is my secret weapon - my sales force - she could sell ice to eskimos and is brilliant at it. She also does the accounts. So between us as a team we just about make a living.
How could we afford to employ another worker without increasing our overheads until the apprentice begins to earn their keep? I've got no intention of becoming a factory production line. I was once asked to make 4000 whistles and turned it down. I don't want to become a whistle maker and want to enjoy making the things I do make.
Would an apprentice be prepared to do all the donkey work while I did the finishing?
Could I guarantee them work? What happens in slack periods (ie. the Winter)? What is a fair wage for an apprentice? Perhaps someone at college could come for a couple of days a week and "work themselves into a job"?
Lots more questions than answers . . .

I like the idea of passing on knowledge but at the moment people pay me to do that. Also a part of me is thinking "do I want to train someone who may well go into competition with me?"

All in all a complex issue and I would be grateful for anyone else's insights

The Turner

A couple of interesting insights into the world of the Turner. . .

The first is from an 18th century book originally published in 1747 - The London Tradesman.
I took a photo of the page and the front cover when I saw the book at The Museum of London whilst doing a demonstration. Unfortunately I lost the photos and can’t remember the name of the author.

The second is an extract from Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor published in 1861 giving the relative levels of drunkenness between the various London trades. Turners come 35th out of the 66 only just ahead of the sawyers who had a perhaps undeserved reputation as a hard drinking, rough crew!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Bodging with the High Woods Rangers

We've been in Colchester this weekend running a 2-day workshop for the volunteer Rangers at High Woods Country Park. These places are green oases and are under a fair bit of pressure from the urban environment which surrounds them.

We took two lathes . . .

and three shavehorses . . .

They had laid on a really good pile of green wood which had been cut from the site - sweet chestnut, lime, ash and sycamore - but the twelve people who attended hardly managed to make a dent in it so I brought a load home. Hopefully they are going to set up a lathe and a bodgers camp and make some items which they can sell in their visitors centre rather than Chinese imports ! At least they now know how to make few simple items such as dibbers, rounders bats and kitchen treen like spoons and spatulas.

I really like these Gothic dibbers-come-garden lines made by Richard (who organised the event) and Louise . . . .

For a similar event in your location contact :-
or visit -

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Spring Snow

I can't quite believe it was like this at seven o'clock this morning . . .

We went out and had a walk in the Abbey Gardens. Here's a pic of Vanessa looking like an extra from Dr Zhivago under a cherry tree in the orchard -

By the afternoon it had all vanished and the sun came out. Good fun though - we don't often see it.
I made this lucet with a turned handle from sycamore

I'll do a post about my lucet making sometime

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Celtic Shaving

I got a load of fairly straight-grained sycamore recently and I've been having a go at a technique for making spoons where you firstly turn a shape . . .

Split it in half . . .

the one at the back had a bit of wild grain and hasn't split very straight.

Then carve out the bowl . . .

These were originally going to be salad servers! but they've come out looking more like scoops or kasas or kuksas.

I was shaving some spatulas afterwards and this amazing Celtic Shaving appeared - I've been fascinated by this kind of thing since I was a kid.

It probably says something in Arabic . . .

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Paint Ball Games

It worried and annoyed me when I went down the garden this morning and discovered that multicoloured paintballs had been fired at my lathe, I could see where they had hit the shavings from a bowl I made yesterday afternoon. Recently we had some apples thrown at the shed from a similar direction (we worked out the trajectory like Columbo or Sherlock Holmes). Imagine if they had hit us on the head?!

Vanessa went on a diplomatic offensive, with a bag of the evidence, to talk to the mother of the prime suspect( I was ready to kill) who said “Oh my God! as soon as I saw that thing (the paintball gun) I knew there would be trouble - I’ll deal with it.”
Well let’s hope she has .. it’s the Easter Holidays and I don’t want them firing at clothes on the washing line.

I was a bit of a Just William or Dennis the Menace when I was a lad - funny how when you get older you see it from an adult point of view!