Saturday, 3 April 2010

Bodgers of the World Unite

I first became aware of the term ‘Bodger’ back in 1993 when I was studying for my arboriculture exams.  I wrote off to loads of organisations and one of the things I got back was a copy of the Bodger’s Gazette - quite an endearing little rag produced with typewriter and photocopier.  It seemed wacky and highly esoteric that a newspaper was being produced specially for guys who beavered away on their foot operated lathes deep in the woods and forests.

I qualified and became a tree surgeon and had no more contact with Bodgers for several years until I got sick of seeing all the wonderful timber we had cut going for firewood and landfill.  I looked for ways of using it and as I had studied Fine Art tried doing some carvings and sculptures but that didn’t feel right.  I cut my arm quite badly with the chainsaw and whilst I was recuperating a friend suggested going to the APF demo up in Staffordshire.  We were walking around looking at chainsaws, chippers, ropes and harnesses etc and then we turned a corner and in a little glade was a chap with some weird but intriguing contraptions and tools, a pile of logs, some chairs, stools and other things he’d made and a book for sale called Green Woodwork.

What I was looking at was exactly like the cover of the book.  I got excited and realised that I’d come across a real live Bodger and a way of using up some of those logs I had.  I chatted to Mike for a while, bought a copy of the book and when I found out he ran courses signed up to make a shavehorse.  Then I made a lathe and would bring home a different type of wood every day to try out and practise on all the while poring over the book until I practically knew it by heart.
In 2000 I was made redundant and as I had made a load of items by then decided to try and turn my hobby into my job.  I went back to Mike and made a Windsor chair thinking that I would become a chairmaker.

In fact that experience with him put me off that idea completely so we started to attend Farmer’s Markets as producers offering firewood, kindling, garden stakes, knife and tool sharpening, rehandling and second hand woodworking tools as well as my stools, spoons, treen etc.

Then people started asking if I would do paid demonstrations of the craft and I began running my own courses.  At first I called my business Wood Works but when I realised that others were operating under the same name changed it to Treewright which is meaningless really (although Will Wall told me that Saxon house builders were called treewrights) and my webmaster, Oliver, informed me that it was a good domain name when he set up my website.  He also advised me to set up this blog to increase my profile on the web and to try and divert some traffic to my website.  I called it “A Bodger’s Blog” because I thought it was an interesting title and folk would be curious to find out more.  I am a moderator and frequent contributor to the Bodger’s Forum and still receive the Bodger’s Gazette once every quarter.

  I attend the Bodger’s Ball every year where as many as want to meet up somewhere in the country for fun, competitions, chat, beer, workshops, tools, music etc.

NOW - there are moves afoot to have a rebranding exercise and get rid of this apparently awful, embarrasing and silly word “BODGER” as it may be putting people off from getting involved with us and giving the wrong impression (I’d like to see the evidence for this).  Apparently if we want to be taken seriously as craftsman we must start to call ourselves a “GREEN WOODWORKER” - a term coined 30 or so years ago by John Alexander or Jennie as he now likes to be known. 

 If you type Bodger into Wikipedia you get quite a lot of information and pictures but there are some quite contentious statements and whoever wrote the article was a bit confused as they say that bodger and botcher are synonymous then go on to state that   “A "bodged" DIY job is serviceable: a "botched" DIY one most certainly is not - but a total failure.” !

If you type Green Woodworker into Wiki you get little information, no mention of John (Jennie) Alexander and a link to a page about green woodworking tools which is being considered for deletion.

I think more people understand Bodger in it’s woodworking sense than are given credit for. Most Radio 4 listeners will be familiar with the word as there was a Bodger in the Archers not that long ago - apparently you could hear the ‘razzle’ of the gouge on the fresh wood in the background.  There have been numerous mentions of Bodgers on telly.  I’ve seen Gudrun Leitz, Stewart King & Ted Tuddenham and Malcolm Lee on various shows in the last year.  Prince Charles has tried his hand at bodging which you can see here.

Prince Harry had a go on Lois Orford’s lathe at the Royal Norfolk Show.

As I said I find it an endearing term and I don’t mind chatting with folk and educating them about it’s real meaning (ie the guys who worked in the Chiltern beechwoods making chair parts for the factories at High Wycombe) and discussing the etymology of the term.

There are many ideas about this...

Most people think a Bodger is someone who carries out a task badly or carelessly which I think is a corruption of the word Botcher.  The Bodgers were highly skilled craftsmen.

The men working in the woods may have been called Botchers by those who worked in the factories who looked down on them.

It may be a corruption of the word Beech -er or Birch -er, both woods that would commonly have been worked.

Another theory is that bodger was a corruption of badger, as similarly to the behaviour of a badger, the bodger dwelt in the woods and seldom emerged until evenings.

Some say it is a relatively new word possibly invented by a journalist in 1910 (any proof of this?).

There are probably loads more but whatever the answer it is shrouded in mystery and controversy.  Words change meanings over time, take “gay” for instance.  When I was a kid it meant happy and colourful, now it describes someone’s sexuality.  You may have noticed at the beginning of this I mentioned Arboriculture - not many people know that this refers to work on amenity trees in streets, gardens and parks but they understand what I do if I say “Tree Surgeon” - what a misnomer!  People think you’re going to inject their tree with a giant hypodermic or perform an operation to make it better.  Real surgeons have to study for 7 years - anyone can pick up a chainsaw and call themselves a “Tree Surgeon”.

The term Green Woodworker is too general, it says nothing, it’s dry, technical and there’s no mystery or romance about it.  OK it describes what many people do but you’re still going to have to explain exactly what it is you do to those not in the know. 

I consider the Bodging process to be splitting, chopping, shaving and turning on a pole lathe to make spindles of some kind wether they be chair legs, spurtles, honey drizzlers, rolling pins or spinning tops which is what I do... So I must be a Bodger... I find it quite endearing and laugh at the negative connotations.  I certainly won’t be changing the title of my blog and I’ll continue to attend the Bodger’s Ball.

This might not be a brilliantly well reasoned arguement but it is an impassioned plea to save a word from misuse and disuse - it’s not just crafts that need saving from slipping into obscurity and so far I seem to be the only one bigging it up.  I feel that the two terms could continue to peacefully co-exist.    So come on... Bodgers of the World Unite! 

I’d be very pleased to hear other ideas and thoughts from anyone who reads this.


Bardster said...

here here! I have just built my first shave horse and pole lathe. Taken me long enough hehe. Did a workshop course with you at Capstone a year or two back, and although I have been interested in forever, it was the first time I had actually had a go. Consider me hooked.

Le Loup said...

Bodger is a name that all us oldies know, I see no point in changing it. If others don't understand what it means then we should educate them, not change things to match their ides.
I am not a bodger, I am a woodsman in the old meaning, not a wood cutter. I belong to this Bodger group
Why not check it out.

Good post.
Regards, Le Loup.


Thanks for your support guys...could you possibly go on the bodgers website and put your comments there?

Anonymous said...

My comments are failing to arrive, so this is a parphrased version of the last one...

Bodger...good name...
Greenwoodworker...good name but just as confusing for a member of the public...

why change an established name to cater for a misunderstanding...why not just push for a wider understanding of what the term means to day, its breadth and scope Etc.

Go Bodgers.

Anonymous said...

I have turned on a pole lathe professionally for more than 30 years. I call myself a turner, a term in continuous use since at least the 13th century. The first reference to bodger I have seen was Hargraves (1920). Why not use a historic term for a historic craft?