Away from the woods for a bit.

For woody stuff & quiz, see further down.

We’ve been in Northumberland, “up North” for three days (our ‘main’ Summer (read “Autumn”) holiday).  We stayed in Bamborough with its splendid castle above and below:

It really is a pile.  Seat of Northumbrian kings from time immemorial and more latterly, from Victorian times, belonging to the Armstrong family.  It sits on an old piece of igneous rock formed in a volcano, right next to the sand dunes and sea.  It is complete with a Norman keep, disused windmill, aviation museum and glazed brick Victorian stables.

The building stone looks to be the same red sandstone stuff used for Glasgow tenements – and not terribly durable:

Even the refurbishments look to be going the same way in places,

although much of the restoration (the castle was wrecked in an artillery onslaught in 1464 during the War of the Roses) uses stronger stuff.  Quite a challenge standing up to the German Ocean’s salty winds day after day (well we found an hour or two challenging enough!).

But the setting is stunning, feast your eyes on these beaches:

The beach really is first class: uncrowded (at least in October!); really clean with hardly any plastic stuff and big (for England).

Lots of fauna too:

I also gathered some kelp for kombu, nom, nom.

On our way to Bamborough we called in at dangerous Chillingham:

I didn’t fancy being pierced in the rear end (or anywhere else) by these chaps:

They are members of the very select group – Chillingham Wild White Cattle.  A distinct bloodline back to the wild British cattle, now only living in Chillingham, Northumberland on the estate park and less than 100 in number.  Magnificent beasts, but much smaller in stature than our modern hybrids. Tough and compact.

Woody stuff

On the estate I spotted this avenue of blasted limes (I believe)

If you click on the photo for an enlarged version you will see that the tops have all been killed off, presumably by a blast of wind, except that they didn’t seem to be exposed to the prevailing Westerly winds, oh well, the lower branches looked to be in good order so the tops will be repaired in good time no doubt.

Backtracking a little to Bamborough Castle contents, here is an interesting project for a woodworker – the original bone shaker:

Yes its an early wooden bike.  I particularly like the arrangement of the spokes on the wheel boss (hub).

On the way back from the hols we called in at Alnwick gardens, an interesting modern project:

Much playful water and formal (too formal for me) plantings.  But also a very interesting project:

This is the level entry bridge to a rather large tree house:

This has been skilfully designed and built to float in amongst a grove of 20 lime trees and comply with strict building and fire regulations.  It has a massive deck housing a large restaurant, second floor toilets and private hire space and two fire escapes, as well as an aerial walkway complete with two wibbly wabbly suspension bridges.  Well worth a visit, but … why the heck wasn’t the cladding in shingles done in a craftsmanlike way that did not recall some B-movie cowboy film set? Doh!

Now a double quiz for ye:

What’s my bark?

Should be pretty easy there are some heavy clues there.

Here’s the answer:

betula pendula silver birch.

And, what’s my fruit …

And why would it be described as a DA?


Answer – dog’s arse – that the way it looks to some people – even Shakespeare.

I’ll leave you with some interesting rustic chairs I spotted in the tree house:


Oriental chairs in the West

Here’s a chair I visited on the recent trip to New York.  It lives in The Scholar’s Garden in Snug Harbour Cultural Centre on Staten Island.  This Garden is a recent addition to the Botanic Gardens made in what used to be a retreat for ‘aged, decrepit and worn-out sailors’. The chairs are in one of the pavilions which were built by 40 chinese craftsmen in 1998.  The chairs are very striking to me. The bow seems to be carved rather than bent:

Dangerously short grain at the curly end, but so elegant.


I was also taken by the friendly method of bracing the front legs.  Not a high rung to dig into the back of your ankle, but a low one to rest your feet on:


The splat at the back was definitely bent, so maybe steaming was used.  I have no knowledge of Chinese chairmaking techniques, just an appreciation for these beauties:

The whole of the garden was an amazing feast for the eyes and the soul.  Here is the Moon Viewing Pavilion of Crispness:

Even the floors are amazing – 100 pebbles in each of these panels:

Surprise views at every turn:

Made it.

The six chairs are now united in their new home on the moors above Bolton Abbey.

My customers are very pleased, especially with the little table

It was rather a struggle to get up there, even with snow chains on the Landy.  I kept thinking, well I’ll get up there, but maybe not get back.  But I was accompanied back and two shovels came in very handy clearing 3 foot drifts of heavy melting snow that the Landy kept on bellying on.  All the snow’s gone from down in the valleys round here, but at 1,600 feet up where the chairs now live it had only just yesterday got above freezing, first time in weeks, and my customers had not had their 4×4 car down to the village since New Year’s Day!

The package in may last post was a 2 1/2 pound Kentish pattern axe that I’m now making a new handle for. It looked like it was going to be a cleaver from the package!  Photos to follow when it’s re-shafted.  It’s an old War Department one in good nick.  I do wish, however, that people who sell tools on eBay would resist the temptation to ‘sharpen’ them.  Which usually just means putting a shiny, inexpert edge on with a grinding wheel.  Fortunately on this one they had not over-heated the edge and lost the metal’s temper as can happen with a powered grit stone.  I’ve just about restored a better smooth edge with my treadle-powered grit stone that runs in a bath of water keeping everything cool.

Course coming up tomorrow over at York with Paul Atkin.  I’m getting a couple of hook tools for bowl turning, and a half day on their use.

New Landy

At last!  Back in the woods on 4 wheels. Well it does look like it may have been a daft lad’s toy once over, but the front flood lights and rear work lights will definitely be useful.  I’ve already used the work light 4 times in two days!  Great for unloading logs and fixing the trailer wheel lock, which I haven’t yet quite got the hang of and seems to take ages, but worth it.  Now I know there are people on the prowl at night I’m not taking any chances.  The big tyres seem to throw a lot of mud up, but they should be good when I start felling again and get into the thick of it a bit.  The chap (yes he of the traction engine and steam roller, acquaintance of Fred Dibner’s) at Jake Wright’s where I bought it thought the bull bars might be good in the woods too, the front wings are very susceptible to dents.  I will not be using the snorkel for fording the Wharfe, however; the side currents are liable to tip the whole thing over, but, as it also has high up breathers on the diffs and gear box, it should be OK in flood water.

Busy day yesterday.  Making a load of logs to split (no pun intended) three ways.  Someone called to collect a deer as arranged.  A chap from Addingham called on his walk for a lift home with his logs.  But on the way I had to drop off two chairs (see picture above) and a shoe rack for customers who live miles up a track on Barden Moor.  We decided to meet over the wooden bridge over the Wharfe at The Cavendish Pavilion.  It was like Check Point Charlie!  Anyway, he was pleased with the two advance chairs and shoe rack.

Short day off this week, I’m in Strid Saturday and Sunday for the Christmas rush for elves and deer.


Just about caught up with myself!  Now just need to get a replacement Landy, complete with electric death chair for the unawares (only joking) and replenish my lesser used tools (like a tool bag for instance!)  Finish off the dining chairs, small table and then it’s full speed ahead Christmas. May even do some logging soon, oh yes, must get a petrol/oil can for the saw.

Here’s the next project starting up:

Improvised long steamer.

I’m making a log hod (or tote as it’s called in the American steam bending book I’m using).  I added the bag on the end of my normal steamer which was only made to take chair backs.  It kind of worked but I think the end of the hod bows didn’t really get hot enough, even though they were in for an hour.  Here are the two bows drying:

This one failed.

Always a danger, I think this one may be due to uneven thinning with the draw knife.

The fibres couldn’t bend enough on the outside and gave way:

This one’s better (not perfect, a knot has spoiled the top bend), but it will do as a prototype for testing use at home.

I’ve learnt from this though, proper extension to steamer needed, clear timber and thinner, more even work on the bow profile.  I think I’ll change the riving out of the timber 90 degrees and see whether that improved the bending evenness.

Here’s the penultimate dining chair back I glued up yesterday in the woods

Today I’m finishing off  #4 and sizing the side rungs for #5 above in the luxury of home – it’s a bit too muddy at the bodgery for weaving seats.