Flying Shavings:

A refresher for those believers in “He who dies with the most tools wins”.

Originally posted on Steve Tomlin Crafts:

Mark Constable While I was at Elvaston Castle at the weekend I got to talking with Mark Constable of the Al Fresco forge. Mark was demonstrating lighting a fire using a flint and steel, making it look easier than lighting a match and at the same time explaining how it works. Pay attention now, here comes the science:

Turns out, iron is pyrophoric which means that it spontaneously ignites in the presence of air! Of course, it doesn’t normally do this while I’m working because the surface area of my axe is too small compared to it’s mass. To make it ignite you need to make tiny particles which then burn (actually they rust but it’s the same thing). Why weren’t we told this in school?

So the way to make tiny particle of iron is to knock them off a bigger lump using something hard like a piece of flint…

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Charcoal ovens and witch charms (more stone than wood again)

We went to Skipton Castle last Saturday morning (cheapskates, there was a voucher for free family admission in the local paper – Craven Herald).  I was amazed to see how old Swiss army knives are – see them featured on the ancient coat of arms of the Clifford family above.

The castle is in very good nick to say its 900 years old, mind you the walls are 3 metres thick and it held out for 3 years under siege during the Revolution.  Part of the castle is still occupied by the Fattorini family, but the Clifford family managed to hold onto it for nearly 400 years.  Here’s a view from the back showing the occupied quarters (more like half – Ed.)

Anyways, the feature that struck me immediately was the masons’ marks on each window reveal:

It quickly became apparent that these marks are not only masons’ marks, but some are charms to keep something evil out of the castle by protecting the window openings and at least one doorway (couldn’t spot any on a fireplace though, but I’m told there is one such in the oak room above the shell grotto in the East tower of the gatehouse.)  Feast your eyes.  Apparently the genuine mason’s marks help to date similar parts of the castle and its additions and alterations.

This could be what we’re missing these days – perhaps we should get some of these in our house, workshops and woods to stop onslaughts from bankers, trolls, junk mail, deer, rabbits, squirrels and the rest?  I’ve got a glass rolling-pin I’m intending to fill with salt & hang by the fireplace which apparently has a similar preventative effect.

I guess these marks may have been made during the siege as the windows were added in Tudor times (before the Civil War) when they thought war in England was over (never mind, we’re all wise in retrospect.)

I really liked the roof timbers in this room (the kitchen I think, off the banqueting hall).  The room also has a garderobe just off, a view from the outside of which shows why it is also called “the long drop”:

There was a rubbish chute from the kitchen next to it.  This also shows what a good location for the castle was chosen in 1090 – just about impregnable up the North side cliff.

Another thing that caught my professional/businessman’s eye was this:

Any guesses?

I also liked the warm irregularity of this building in the courtyard.  Why don’t they build like that anymore?

Inevitably we had to do a little walk in the woods too.  Skipton Woods are owned by The Castle and managed by The Woodland Trust.  The ransoms (Wild Garlic) are just coming through.

Coppice work

Hi!

I’m rather busy with coppicing just now and very tired when I get home at night, and the chainsaw elbow doesn’t help!  However much progress is being made and today I’m getting help from a group of students from Craven College as part of their Countryside Management course.

I’ve been so busy I’ve not managed to take photos, but may be able to get some today.

In the meantime here’s a brilliant little poem to put you on:

[With acknowledgements to The Edward Thomas Fellowship.  Illustration by Howard Phipps.]

(And thanks for the card Gus!)

The poem is by Edward Thomas born in Lambeth 3rd March 1878, killed at Arras on Easter Monday 9th April 1917.

This is derelict coppice

So, a little more explanation of coppicing, for those who don’t know about it (those who do, please click somewhere else – now!).

The above is a rare West Yorkshire (or West Riding of Yorkshire as we used to say) hazel coppice I’m working/restoring.  It has not been cut for about 55 years, and should have been cut every 7 years. This is why it is called derelict.  It’s over-grown, lots of dead wood, large tree-sized members in the stools.  OK rewind, a stool is this:

Essentially a collection of stems all growing from the same roots.  When it’s derelict it contains: very big stuff – in our case up to about 7 inches diameter; living and dead sun shoots (these are rods which shoot up to the sun very quickly doh!); rotten wood; birds’ nests; long thick straight poles; long bent wiggly poles and anything in between.

Usually coppice woodland contains some standards.  These are trees which will be harvested outside the coppicing 7 year cycle, that is they are left to mature into proper timber, maybe 50 years or more.  “Our” woodland seems to be lacking in proper standards, and instead has self-seeded trees, mostly only fit for firewood.

Cutting.

This is a hazel stool that has been cut. Notice how I’ve angled the trimming cuts to shed the rainwater away from the centre of the stool.  It will now regenerate and hopefully grow lots and lots of straight rods, useful for a hundred things, including hurdles.  The re-growth will be better after the second cut – in about 14 years’ time, hey that’s when I’ll be 73, well if I’m still going strong (why not?).

I’m not sure how or when this coppice woodland was established, but someone, quite a while ago, planted a host of hazel over 2.5 hectares.  It has been cut previously, and the stools are well established, but not ancient.

The trouble is.  Once the hazel is cut, and it starts to push up the re-growth in spindly stems.  These are seen as ideal snack material for deer (mostly roe deer around here).  So, it is a good idea to attempt to discourage the deer.  We try to do this by heaping the brash (cut tops of the hazel) on top of the stools.  The regrowth will come through, but hopefully the deer will be discouraged. A better way is to erect high fences to keep the deer out.

The brash stack gets deeper and deeper and avoids burning anything, and ultimately ends up as dead hedging.  This is a method of using the rubbish from cutting to form a hedge of dead material which has a temporary function (deer repulsion). It will later rot down and return to the soil.

We are after getting several marketable products out of this: logs for fire wood: logs for charcoal; hedging posts; staves; sticks; weaving material; stuff for courses etc, etc.  The piece looks a bit chaotic, but there is a method.

Why coppicing is like making stir fry

Spot the similarities?

Much chopping and sorting into heaps.  Sharp stuff to do the chopping. Hi-tech background equipment (well a hob and a Land Rover are pretty hi-tech compared to a bill hook and knife).  Raw ingrediments. Piles of stuff.  Promise of future good stuff.  Cold first then hot.  And working alone.  The kitchen and the new coppice woodland (very rare in West Yorkshire) were both my domain with no visitors.  I’m not anti-social, but it’s good to have your own time now and again.  The woodlands were filled with animal tracks, many rabbits, and some others, and there were deer as I looked around first thing with Michael, the owner.  The piles of brash soon attracted a robin, as did the disturbed soil.  This wood has not been worked for many years, and there is much dead wood to prove it. I’m hoping that my efforts will produce a richer environment in years to come.  The plan is to coppice 1/2 hectare a year for 5 years in blocks of 5 to 11 stools.  This should produce a good mix of woodland environments.  I’m looking forward to coming back and looking at the wood in Spring.

Here’s a little 8″ x 8″ bird table recently commissioned.  I always try to give them a go with the birds, and this one worked as usual – spot the coal tit inspecting the sunflower seed.

It’s hard in Winter

Today I’ve been finishing a couple of jobs at the workshop and making logs and filling the charcoal kiln in the yard.  The weather has changed and we had rain – the sort that falls and then instantly freezes on anything it touches.    The new logs I was splitting for the kiln/firewood logs for next year were glued together with ice, I couldn’t lock the trailer hitch as the lock was frozen, going into and out of the wood was hazardous – rain on compacted snow – not good. But it still looked kind of pretty.

Yesterday I recovered the loaded trailer from the other-side of the river (I’m usually on the dark side, but this Winter I’m felling timber on the “sunny” side).  The exit from the wood on that side is short and steep, and too much for the Landy, even in pulling gear and locked 4×4. Gave up as I was tired after quite a day’s felling (about 2 in 10 trees fall, the others are winched down.  Thanks Theo, winchman) parked the trailer in the wood and went home.  It was much easier on a new day.  This is the “solve problems by ignoring them” method of working.  I’d brought my concrete three-pronged rake and smashed up the ice a bit.  Out came the trailer first go, although it took quite a bit of the rocking-to-and-fro technique to free the trailer wheels from the frozen ground.

Note.  This was actually written late last Thursday, but embargoed pending checking.

Snow bowl

Rather snowy in Strid Wood today.  Despite that I managed to keep warm hewing an 18″ bowl for a client.  (A couple of syrup tin potatoes and hotted up soup helped too.)

I’m using sycamore that is from the current felling.  It is surprisingly hard and I broke the handle of the maul (again!) splitting it out of the log.  The bowl cutting came along pretty good.  The shape is based on a seed, possibly a grain.

The figure in the wood is pleasing as well, sycamore can be quite plain sometimes.

After getting the inside about right I had a massive amount of hewing on the outside to get it shaped up.  I was having to remove clothing, but nothing too racy – left me hat on.  I think the floor must have risen about another 1/2 inch again.  Just after I’ve had a good rake out as well.

I’m leaving the front and back ends thick for now as they are taking a lot of the force of the hewing as I rest the bowl on end on the chopping block.  Still some to go.

I think so far it’s going to work out well though.  Here it is outside to kill the green cast I get under my tarp.

I’m keeping it wet as possible, I don’t look forward to working this baby dry! May pause felling tomorrow to get it finished.