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...

Friday, 17 May 2019


A few years ago I was at an event in Rochester, Kent where a guy had attached sensors or microphones to trees and there were headphones dangling down so you could listen to the inner sounds they make.

On some recent dog walks in the Forest I decided to just put my ear against trees and see if I could hear anything.  Wow! yes there are all sorts of noises going on in there and it’s FREE.

Oak isn’t good with this technique as the bark is too rough and you need good contact with your ear and also with the side of your head.  So the smooth barked Beech, Birch and Hornbeam are good.   Old or injured trees seem quiet whereas vigorous youngish trees around eight inches to a foot make quite a racket. Also may be sluggish early in the day as it warms up and the crown is in the sunshine.

Jack's Hill Epping Forest

Some of the sounds are like human peristalis, laboured breathing, washing machine on wash cycle, toilet flushing, drip drip noise, banging on pipes, steam train, low foghorn, hooting and plenty of gurglings, poppings and squeaking.

I think the time of day is quite important also, possibly, whether it’s rained recently or if it’s warm, cool, overcast or windy.  Also check the trunk for ants as I got an earful the other day.

Try it and see if the Trees tell you anything!

Monday, 13 May 2019


I was sent a copy of this article by the Secretary of the Register of Professional Woodturners on behalf of the Worshipful Company of Turners. 
It's from Jerome Nichols and by The Gentle Author at Spitalfields Life.  I found it most interesting and quite moving - I hope it's not just a finish to a bygone history and I trust that someone wil step in to keep that tradition going onwards into the future.  Anyway here you all go...

‘We are the last proper woodturners in London,’ boasts Geoff Nichols of Nichols Bros (Woodturners) Ltd in Walthamstow. It sounds like quite a bold claim, but since I have learned the story of Geoff’s family endeavour stretching back over a century, examined their work and enjoyed a tour of the premises, I am more than happy to endorse Nichols Bros as ‘proper’ woodturners indeed.
An undistinguished single storey building in a side street gives no hint of the wonders within. For eighty years, the Nichols family have been woodturning at this location and proved themselves masters of the art and the craft. Passing through double green doors from the street, you turn directly left and discover yourself in another kingdom, filled with glowing golden timber and lined with wood chips.

In a long low-ceilinged brick room sit venerable lathes surrounded by stacks of new pine and off-cuts, while the walls are adorned with intricate examples of woodturning hanging like stalactites. Geoff Nichols and his trusty partner Harry Morrow have worked here for the past half century, and they step forward to greet you – looking the epitome of master craftsmen in their long blue twill coats.
Yet further delights await your gaze. Widening his eyes in excitement, Geoff leads you into the yard beyond where blue tarpaulins conceal a unique spectacle, accumulated in a series of old sheds. One after the other, he lifts the tarpaulins to reveal rooms filled with a seemingly infinite array of spindles, all meticulously organised by style and disappearing into the gloom like gothic grottos.

‘We have a collection of in the region of three thousand different spindles,’ underestimates Geoff proudly, ‘We try to display as many as we can for ease of reference but we have lots more that are stored in boxes too.’

Unquestionably the largest collection in London and perhaps the largest collection in the world, this is – in effect – our national archive of stair spindles. It is a secret museum that tells the story of the growth of the capital in spindles – a cultural asset of the greatest significance and it will not come again. Perhaps most fascinating was the ‘London spindle’ – the most common design in the capital yet also the one with the most variants.

After half century of woodturning, Geoff Nichols needs to find someone to take on his astonishing legacy. Is there a craftworker reading this who would like to take this noble craft onwards for another fifty years and earn a lifetime’s income in the process? Is there an institution that can give a home to the largest collection of spindles in existence?

All these thoughts were buzzing in my mind as Geoff led me to the tiny cubby hole which serves as the office, where we competed over who should sit upon the only chair in the place, before I plonked myself down upon a trestle and he told me the full story of Nichols Bros.

"My dad Stanley Nichols and his brother Arthur started on this site in Walthamstow in 1949. They were two youngest out of five brothers, the two eldest – there was about a twenty year age difference – already had a woodturning business, Nichols & Nichols, in the Kingsland Rd in Shoreditch which they started before the First World War.

After Stanley and Arthur left school, they went to work for their elder brothers until the Second World War began and they went off to the forces. After the war, they carried on with their elder brothers for a year or so before they decided to set up their own woodturning business here, Nichols Bros.

I came into it the day I left school at fifteen, that was fifty years ago now in 1969, and Harry joined about four or five years after me. My Uncle Arthur retired about five years after I started, he used to handle the paperwork, so Harry took over from him. I was more involved in the practical side of the business, especially hand woodturning.

We probably had about five or six employees at our peak which was about twenty years ago. Since then the trade has changed quite dramatically because the trend has moved away from wood towards glass and metal. In pubs in the East End, all the glass racks were made of turned wood spindles but that is no longer the case. Once upon a time, we made a lot of mangle rollers but obviously that is work we will never get asked to do again. We used to do a lot of table legs and when I first joined the business all we were really doing was standard lamps.

The furniture industry disappeared in the East End a quarter of a century ago and we are now tied in to the building trade. People spend a lot of money on their properties these days, adding rooms in the loft which needs staircases – newel posts, handrails and spindles. Spindles for staircases is the work we are asked to do now, although we still make the occasional four-poster bed and table legs for the furniture trade which does exist.

A lot of woodturning is imported from China but where we do not try to compete by producing volume, we do bespoke woodturning if a customer wants spindles or newel posts matched up. Skill is very important. When I first started working here, we used to get an influx of people asking if there was a job or could they learn the trade, but it seems the younger generation tend to shy away from manual trades today.

My dad was an exceptionally good woodturner, better at some things than me although I think I am better than him at others. You can be the most skilled woodturner in the world but you have to do it within a certain time, because time is money. It is all about earning a living, it is not a hobby. If you turn one spindle by hand, you have then got to be able to replicate it again quickly. Being able to get sharp definition in your work is very important. I can look at any piece of woodturning and tell straight away whether it was made by a highly skilled turner or not.

In woodturning, the trick is you must not pick up and tools and put them down again too many times. You have to do as much as you can with either the chisel or the gouge. When you change tools you are wasting time, so you must be able to do the maximum before you change tools. That is the secret to fast woodturning and to be able to turn nice bead, a fillet or a jug. The ridge around the shaft is called a ‘bead,’ like beading. The ridge between the bead and the shaft of the spindle is called the ‘fillet’ and it gives definition of the bead. The ‘jug’ is the wave profile, like on a jug. Any woodturning you see is beads, fillets, bands, hollows and jugs. That is all woodturning is.
We have a collection of in the region of three thousand different spindles. We try to display as many as we can for ease of reference but now we have lots that are in boxes too.

It gives me pleasure to take a square blank and turn it into an artistic shape. You alone know the difficulty in turning it. You can see that you have made something that looks beautiful and will be there for a long time. When you visit old buildings, you appreciate the tremendous work that was involved in the woodturning, especially since they were working on primitive lathes compared to ours.

My children will not be coming into the business. My son works in the City and my daughter has an Estate Agents, so no-one in the family can take it over which is a real shame. I would be open to train someone if they came and asked me It would be lovely if we could find someone who wanted to start a woodturning business, because over the last seventy years we have collected so many machines and tools which are irreplaceable."

Nichols Bros (Woodturning) Ltd, 2A Milton Rd, Walthamstow, E17 4SR

Geoff as a young man with his father Stanley Nichols

Stanley Nichols working at his lathe

Geoff at work on a barley-sugar twist spindle

Harry Morrow and Geoff Nichols at work at their lathes

Harry Morrow

The yard where the collection of more than three thousand spindles are kept

Some of the collection

Geoff Nichols

Multiple variants of the ‘London spindle’
A distinctive style which evolved during the nineteenth century
with the expansion of the capital


Friday, 3 May 2019


Very pleasant start to May walking in the forest at Theydon Bois just off Jack's Hill and then onto visit a mate who had some box and walnut for me.

Theydon is an interesting place - right out in the countryside yet on the the tube with a direct line into the West End in around 45 minutes.  The Bois bit is not pronounced in the French way but as 'Boys' in good ole East London manner!  My destination was just off the Green and after some guitar chat involving Gibson Fender and Heritage we repaired to the garage to fine the wood.  Alas the walnut which Roy had intended to make into gun stocks was full of woodworm to Roy's chagrin but the box was intact to my delight and he was glad to get rid of it to a good home.  I'll be using the box to make threaded lid boxes which is a new challenge I'm up for and is most satisfying.
We then went for a bit of a jaunt through the countryside to another estate where we met up with Mark and his young dog Zena (after the warrior princess!) and felled an ash which I'll be using for tool handles. spinning tops, bilbouquets and loads of other things.  So all in all a good load of wood in the back of the car and plenty of chat.

Time to unload and get busy...  

Tuesday, 30 April 2019


Interrupted whilst fiddling around, with some adjustments to the pole lathe in the Waltham Abbey Workshop, by a neighbour, who wanted some bits of wood cut to size and shape, to mend kitchen units I was drawn into one of those mad conversations about why I've so many tools and gadgets in the 'shed' as he calls it.

Obvious - I need all the stuff I have so I can fix things for all the people dropping in who think I have nothing to do except drink tea and chat.  Having said that I do like to keep my ear to the ground or should that be work bench, and sometimes it can be quiet working alone day in day out, so I walk my dog first thing every morning in the forest and I meet some very interesting folks as well as some who are quite peculiar or perhaps that's me!  It's a good time to watch out for tree surgeons doing garden jobs and I often pick up a nice bit of apple wood or more exotic things such as lilac and sumach, you never know, just have to be a bit nosy when you see their trucks and walk on in and ask.  Sometimes it's just hedges being trimmed or leylandii being brutalised but sometimes you get lucky.  Being in the right place at the right time and that's how I've just come across some rather tasty damson, usually a bit scrubby and tortured but this is chunky and reasonably straight - perfect for a new range of spatulas and salad servers which are things I can't seem to make quickly enough at the moment...  

Friday, 26 April 2019

Turning Times
Having a gas in the workshop and have reverted to making scoops and salad/pasta servers in pairs - it's a fun way to make four items at the same time.  Big BUT here - you have to be accurate when splitting them!  Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't but you always end up with two items and I always save the others although they don't make up a matching pair.  You've still got to carve out the bowls but that's a pleasant job, quite relaxing and i often do it in the evening whilst chilling out...

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Windsor Chairmaking

I've just been made aware of a new series of YouTube videos by Michael Dunbar.
Michael and his wife are retiring from teaching Windsor chairmaking and have produced this set of videos of the making of a Sackback Windsor.  Enjoy it - this guy really knows what he's talking about...
"I made Windsor chairs for 45 years. Beginning in 1980 I taught Windsor chairmaking around the United States and Canada. In 1994 my wife Susanna and I gave the craft a permanent home when we opened a school named The Windsor Institute.  Our program of classes was recognized throughout the world.  We taught as many as 35 classes a year with a maximum of 28 students.  We estimate we taught Windsor chairmaking to some 6,500 people."