Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Beautiful Bountiful Birch


Scrumptious wine for your delectation


Silver Birch, a graceful tree at all times of year and one with so many uses.  It's almost time to start collecting sap for this years wine and I can't wait.  It's a strange thing that when you drink the sap straight from the tree it has a taste of silvery magical water - just a light filmy liquid.  Then after fermentation it takes on an amazing quality and becomes one of my favourite crisp dry white wines.  There is only a short window of time to gather the sap so keep an eye on the buds and choose your moment wisely or you'll miss out on one of the most delicious natural wine resources there is.

Shrink Pots for Pencils & Kitchen Utensils


This time of year when the Birch is flooding itself with water for bud burst is one of the best times to save different sized trunks from 1.5 inches upwards for these attractive little folk art pots.  So called because the timber shrinks onto the inserted base and creates a tight seal (depending on the accuracy of your carving).  If your efforts are precise and the seal is held firmly by the Birch when it's dry you should have a vessel that will serve you well as a perfect cup for your Birch Sap Wine.

I find it amazing all the different colours and textures of bark but I do find it important to choose good straight pieces of timber.  If you don't it can be a real struggle.  It does take a bit of practise to get them to hold water but persist and you will succeed.  Keep your knives exceedingly sharp - have a look at my movie for this if you're having problems with your curved blades Curved Knife Sharpening - this is a simple little movie but it's the way I sharpen my spoon knives which is what I use for carving out my shrink pots.

Use a good piece of thin dry timber for the base - you'll have to use quite a bit of pressure to 'pop' it into the groove you've carved out for it.  If it doesn't rattle around when you've finished it you've made the fit too tight and the Birch pot will probably crack as it tries to shrink on.  Lay them on their sides to dry out evenly - could take a couple of weeks if your Birch is really wet and to get them right practise makes perfect...


Birch bark makes wonderful tinder for fire lighting and I always have some shredded in my pocket with a steel if an impromptu blaze is required.

Many nations have made shoes and baskets from it with beautifully woven patterns - I admire these but weaving of bark is just not my forte - I leave it to the experts.

Tar has been extracted from Birch for centuries and it's one of the reasons I don't use it in my wood burner or open fires here in Waltham Abbey.  It does tend to tar up the chimney and having had a bit of a chimney fire many years ago I'm not quite so gung ho with using any old wood.  I avoid any pine or conifer for the same reason and ensure that my wood for the home fires has been seasoned for at least three years.

Then there's the besom - how would our witches do without them - there'd be no need for flying ointment and so many magic spells could be lost...


Thursday, 24 March 2016

Bodgers Blacksmiths & Workshops - New Beginnings


The last few years

I'd been advised by my Web Master that Face Book was the way forward for all Craftsmen and I've been following that advice regularly for a while, a few years in fact.  I've now decided that, although FB has it's merits I prefer Blogging.  To me it's more like having a conversation with like minded folks by the fire or in the kitchen or on a woodland amble.  So I've decided to renew my chats to you all here.  I'll keep on FBing and Tweeting but here I can let my ideas ramble on and listen to all your thoughts and opinions - should you decide to share them with me...

Woodland Workshop Idyll

I've made lots of changes - my wonderful Woodland Workshop in the stunning Essex countryside is one.  I do all my Pole Lathe turning here,  three different lathes permanently set up including a bowl turning lathe, with another three all ready should I want a change but those I would say are my travelling lathes.


Bowl carving has become a favourite pastime and I've constructed several Bowl Horses to meet all the different sizes and shapes I love to play around with.

Historic Waltham Abbey twixt Epping Forest & Lee Valley Park

Waltham Abbey now has a new workshop.  The old one is long gone to my regret - it was pastoral and quirky but being open to the elements all year round was proving challenging so it was out with the old and in with the new!  This one is fully insulated, double glazed, electric lights and made from about 90% reclaimed and scavenged materials including the roof which I was delighted about.  It means that work can be continued all year round.  It's roomy with a big workbench, Pole Lathe, Shave Horse, Chopping Blocks, all the hand tools cupboards and shelves I could possibly desire.  There is one difference it also has a power lathe - more about this another time...



Blacksmithing Conundrum

The Blacksmiths Forge is another little project that's on a bit of a back burner at present.  It was built on my Woodland Field and is fully equipped with a forge, believe it or not, lovely big anvil and plenty of tools.  I've realised though I'm not a metal worker, it's just not my forte.  I decided that I'd have to let others use their magic with fire to make wonderful knives, axes and chisels and I'll put them through their paces to make beautiful things from wood.  So today it's standing unused in a quiet corner surrounded by oak, ash and blackthorn quietly waiting for a smith to awaken it's dormancy and put fire in it's heart and start making things...