Monday, 27 July 2020

Wood Turning Combined with Carving by Hand for Kitchen Wares

Wood Turning First - by Power or Pole Lathe

Choose a wide enough piece of wood for the finished width of your desired spatula.   If it's not you'll end up simply turning another spurtle or thieval!  I've been using some of that wonderful fresh green Sycamore I found in one of the dry ditches around by the Abbey church.  So not only did I have to check size carefully I was also keeping an eye out for that green fleck staining that I don't like the look of on utensils.

Allow enough wood at either end to give enough to remove as you finish the work so you're not getting a small indentation where the centres of the lathe grip. We don't want unsightly or nasty unhygenic little indentations in our cooking implements do we.   Then let the imagination flow - I find doing these little things most therapeutic, gently changing the sweep of a handle the slight nuance of a curve - only thing is once the wood's cut you can't stick it back on.  I like to turn gently, not like a maniac racing away that removes all the pleasure and I think you should be able to enjoy your work and not feel that I'm on an assembly line.  Yes I do need to make a certain number of products to earn my living but that doesn't prevent me from enjoying my chosen profession.
Once the handle is fashioned to your taste then it's time to get those carving implements out.  Sometimes it's simply a 2.5 inch carpenters chisel for a good flat cut or perhaps a series of knives and then a few sweeps with the spokeshave.  Most important is to take your time and if the grain doesn't seem to be co-operative maybe it's because you're not working with it but against it. So turn the work around or if it's the spokeshave or drawknife try a push cut instead of a pull or use the tool at an angle to the work - it's very important to be flexible and try different things out.  And remember there's not definitive right way - it's what's right for you and what's comfortable and what works...

Thursday, 9 July 2020


Spokeshave - the Forgotten Tool of Green Woodwork

Many green woodworkers seem to have never used a spokeshave, don't seem to have seen one or if they have don't appreciate it's value as an essential in the toolbox.  I've always been a fan of this comfortable little tool, it's wonderful for finishing spoons and spatulas and all types of awkward edges.  Once you've mastered the adjustment of the blade it's beautiful the way it removes the perfect shaving for that lovely feel of smooth wood in the hand.

I was using my spokeshave just yesterday in the workshop finishing some spoons, spatulas etc and thinking what a marvellous and useful tool it was how everyone should have one!
James Krenov turned me onto this one perhaps back when he wrote articles for one of the woodworking magazines.  It’s a Stanley No 53 which I use with a one handed grip as he suggested. Also it’s got a little wheel for speedy, very accurate and fine blade adjustments.

Stanley No 53
This is my favourite Spokeshave, I probably use it everyday in my work and is always part of my travelling tool kit.

In my opinion, this is the way to hold it - using first finger and thumb and the little finger at the opposite end of the blade being careful not to clog the mouth with shavings.

Complete view of the under or business side of the Spokeshave where you can see the hinged sole.  It's essential to keep it sharp and as I've been using a fair bit of Sycamore in the last couple of weeks it needs sharpening more frequently than, say, Silver Birch or Hazel would need.

Spoonrise over Waltham Abbey

NB  Top tip is to hold the blade in mole grips for honing... 

Friday, 19 June 2020


The Right Tool for the Job

Absolutely no point struggling with inadequate blunt tools!  I'm a bit obsessed with sharpening, doing it properly and frequently.  So often I hear folks saying "well it was sharp when I bought it".  No it wasn't, probably just had a ground edge to whip off any burrs in the manufacturing.  The other phrase that drives me nuts is "I sharpened it just yesterday".  Probably last week and it's likely it wasn't sharpened correctly anyway - angles all wrong, sharpened on the wrong side of the bevel, not a mirror finish all the usual mistakes and then I'm told that the tool steel is rubbish.  It may well be but you can't blame your tools for poor maintenance, they don't sharpen themselves - perhaps it's thought  the elves pop in at midnight and do the job for them!  I'm constantly sharpening throughout the day whilst working and it's particularly important if you want a really clean cut thread.
Tools for Thread Chasing

Chisel on the left is essential for undercutting the female thread so you don't bounce against the wood.  Sounds weird but that's exactly what happens and then you're up the creek without a paddle!
On the right it's a pointing tool that can be used as a skew - again essential for this type of box turning.  The tool at the top is a moveable rest.
I'm a great fan of Ashley Isles tools, always have been, but even more so after visiting their works in Lincolnshire to buy some one awful wet Monday in the winter.  The office address at that time was a pub and we turned up there and it was closed.  Heard noises out the back and found Ray Isles the publican in his little workshop.  I say 'little' - small because it was so jam packed with stuff but in fact it had been an aircraft hanger to house Lancaster Bombers being serviced between missions in the war!  We even got taken to see the remaining Lanc there and afterwards he opened the pub, his wife came out in her nightie and did us a smashing lunch with a pint of ale and Ray whisked off to the works to get his brother to sort out the chisels I wanted to buy - personal service with a smile and a history lesson with brunch and a pint.                                                                                      

Thread chasing chisels are in made as male and female tools and Ashley Isles also make a universal chaser that does both.  I've found that the more teeth to the inch the easier it is to use them - the ones with fewer teeth, turning a bigger thread are, for me at any rate, damned tricky.  This one here is the Universal Chaser and 16 teeth to the inch.
Universal Thread Chaser
These two are the male and female, the female having more teeth, in this pair it's 24 teeth to the inch.  It's really important that you use the right one for the threads otherwise it's confusing and just doesn't work and goes completely wrong.  This really is a case of practise and practise and then practise some more.

Female Chaser is bottom 

This pair of chisels are 11 teeth to the inch - big difference in terms of thread size and as I mentioned earlier more difficult to work with.

Male Chaser is top

So these are the tools you'll need to make boxes with threaded lids.  Have fun giving it a go, get the right wood, make sure you're comfortable, get the tool rest in the right position, the speed right and have fun...

Monday, 1 June 2020


Density of grain is the main thing so selecting the timber is crucial.  I've only used with Box as that's what I've saved specially. I've also been told that African Blackwood, which I'm unlikely to find in Waltham Abbey or the rest of Essex, also Lignum Vitae again not growing around here but I'm keeping my eye open for some old bowling bowls that I could re-purpose. So Box is the wood for me.
Thread Chasing

You need your chisels to cut the wood cleanly so they need to be super sharp, at least the 1st or leading tooth.  Before you get that far you need to make your box!  I've found that I need to be in the perfect frame of mind for this and I still find it a challenging project.  One day it'll go swimmingly the next it's an aberration - nothing goes right.  Then it'll work perfectly, all very frustrating.  I think it's a lot to do with your stance and mood, no good blaming the tools - I know they work perfectly, are super sharp so check the lathe speed, that's important too.  It's the female thread that, for me is trickiest and then when I think it'll all go wrong it goes perfectly!  And of course you must make sure your grain matches up when you thread the lid - we don't want mis-matching grain do we!

Threaded Box from Box Wood

Pleased with this little one though. Did a bit of that clattering chattering to the top.  It screws up easily and tightly and I found that it perfectly holds a 5pence piece!  I decided to try small and this measures 1 and an 8th inches high and 7/8ths inch diameter.
For things I've been turning recently have a look here            

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

TURNING a SPINNING TOP - A Power Lathe or Pole Lathe

Power Lathe or Pole Lathe - That is the Question???

I've a power lathe with 10 foot bed in the workshop - it's an Apollo - hand built and a beautiful piece of engineering.  I spoke to the chap who made it and he was still in love with my model and could actually remember making it when I chatted with him on the phone.  So I've been making more treen using power and it's something that's taking me a long time to get used to.  I've also acquired a pillar drill and bandsaw - all very horrible, noisy and dusty!  So I've also had to invest in an industrial type hoover and a proper extractor and a ventilating head vizor mask thing to protect my lungs from dust. So I decided I'd still turn the wood green, one I like the ribbon shavings and two you don't get the dust.  Also I can turn as slowly or as fast as I do on the Pole Lathe.
So spinning top time and I did use my axe to start to rough out my billet but stopped myself and used the machinery!  This is all in aid of my back which I'm really careful of ever since I had an attack of sciatica which took months to recover from, so remember folks look after your back!
Billet prepared with Band Saw

Then for a bit of turning to get a good shape.
Power Lathe

Used the pillar drill to get the holes good and parallel - now I do really appreciate this power tool much less strenuous on the chest and shoulders!
Pillar Drill

Shaping is fun - plenty of beads & coves, decorate with black lines, think of the centre of gravity and you should be fine.

Spinning Top Components

Separate the components, carve your point and your just about set for a record breaking spinner.  I used a Hazel twig for my puller - looks good and does the job.

Spinning Top

And the movie of how well it balances and the speed it goes at - it's half time speed folks that's why the parakeets sound like a horror movie in the background!   And then have a look here at the movie Making a Spinning Top using a Pole Lathe for the same process - I know which one I prefer...
Spinning Top Movie

Wednesday, 6 May 2020



For a long time I've kept a large collection of books in my workshop, Country Crafts, Traditional Building Methods at the same time I've got the same volumes inside in the bedroom, front room, kitchen, upstairs workroom, the loft and in the sitting room!  So I've at long last really been looking at them all again - re-reading and making notes but I've found Not only do I have second copies in the workshop but up to four copies of some and I'm letting them go here 

I've a mixed bunch going on sale at the moment and all are good to enjoy during these interesting times specially those about life in the 19th century and earlier.  Isolating was common - not particularly by choice but just the way life was!  Some trades were very lonely others required teamwork constantly and often deprivation, hunger and appalling living conditions the norm.  Life expectancy short and destitution looming.  So even in these days of uncertainty life for me really is perfectly satisfactory on the whole if not good most of the time and brilliant the rest of it.

I am missing the meet ups with folks but I'm enjoying my strolls with a lovely lurcher, working with wood, chatting non stop with my wonderful wife Vanessa and playing my guitars and mandolin amongst other things!

Also sorting out my tools.  I've decided that I can have too many so I'll going through loads of drawknives, axes, billhooks, planes and plenty of other stuff.  Keeping them down to say six full sets will keep me going for all my courses and demonstrations as well as all my workshop requirements.  So keep an eye out here for a heads up on all types of tools and simple woodworking devices.  They all work well - I've used them all at some time or other but feel I should get them circulating again just like the books need to be.  If you're on the lookout for a side axe of a particular pattern or a chisel by a specific old maker because you like the tool steel, an adze, or a simple axe for spoon carving with a nice comfy handle get in touch - I'll look specifically for one in my massive collection...

Thursday, 30 April 2020


Turning A Quaiche

 A Quaiche is the traditional vessel used by Scots to savour their favourite single malts.  It's often a beautiful cup turned from attractive timber with a small handle on either side and mine are made from some Laburnum that traveled from the  Scottish Borders with a mate all the way to Essex.  Often turned from Laburnum, also known as Scottish Mahogany because of it's richly grained dark wood, I decided that today's project was going to be to make at least one of these quirky little cups. Laburnum is a wood that I love though it is horribly dusty when dry, this has some moisture still in it and turned pretty nicely but it doesn't make those wonderful ribbon shavings I get with, say, Sycamore.  This one was a roadside tree and removed as part of a 'tidying' up job by the local council and I failed to see the necessity of depriving the locale of such a beautiful flowering specimen but they're prolific up in Scotland and seen as little more than a weed tree by many!

When preparing the wood for the Quaiche blank you have to remember to make allowance for the handles to be turned as a part of the whole and I spent ages humming and hawing over the best bit of the log to choose.  That done I reached for my handy pencil stub got my centreline marked out and started.  It's seeing that grain come to life as a really sharp chisel (and I mean that sharpness you get where two mirror images of the chisel meet at nothing) otherwise you get covered in nasty chips!

It's the first time in ages that I've turned anything like a Quaiche with that narrow flange around the edge and you do have to keep an eye open for the safety of your knuckles.  Mine escaped intact fortunately but perhaps that's because I'm not a speed merchant.  Anyway hands intact I removed the excess flange leaving behind the handles and carved them into the shape you see here.  Will be here at my online shop  from this evening.
I'd really like to hear your comments about Whisky and ideas about Quaiches, if you have one and use it.  Do you like the flavour of your tipple as you drink from a wooden vessel, does it make you feel special and of course your favourite single malt!

Monday, 13 January 2020


I've a little John Smith fishing boat which was a gift at Christmas from my mum and dad in about 1961, it's had many a happy bath and has been played with by all our nephews and nieces on weekend sleep-overs.  It's taken a real bashing over the years but is still beautiful so I thought I'd make my version of my childhood toy.  It's virtually identical in weight, shape and has all the same rigging, catch, mast and cabin - but horror of horrors it turns over and becomes an upside down   submarine!  I have no understanding of boat building or the dynamics of making something float so I'm making another one and I'm going to try it out at every stage to see if sinks or swims!  I've made it from 2''x2'' pine just like the original so if any of you helpful folks have some hints or tips on toy boat making I'd much appreciate them.
Vanessa also took up the sport of extreme puddle leaping (some of you will know she has difficulty walking but is game for just about anything except scuba diving!) and she slipped on the granite kerb, landed right on the corner with a giant whump and managed to gain 4 compound fractures in her hip.
This didn't really prove to be much of a problem as she determinedly got herself out of hospital in a speedy 10 days champing at the bit to up and about.  Hopefully the wheelchair can be abandoned in the next few weeks as she's religiously doing all her exercises and is walking as well as before except it's with the aid of a crutch at the moment rather than her favourite hazel walking stick.
So we're really enjoying the start of the new decade and 2020 sounds like an excellent year - we'll make more hedgerow wines and perhaps they'll be of vintage laying down (for about a year - haha) quality.  So Happy New Year to you all and may it be enjoyable as well as prosperous...