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.



How does this
Plus this

Become this?

With a lot of hard work and lifting.  So we were rather envious of Dan’s:

May try to lighten up next year.

The pictures are from 2011’s Wild About Wood at Castle Howard, N Yorkshire. We had a good couple of days, cooking on charcoal in our dutch oven, demo-ing charcoal making, making a stool and a Viking cup, racing spinning top making and getting quite a few people to have a go.

Meanwhile back in the woods …

The days are shortening and the afternoon shadows are lengthening.  Been a good Summer for the moss:

Most forest-like.

Wild about Wood

Just returned from a good weekend at Kew at Castle Howard’s Wild about Wood.  Pretty busy with a joint display of turning on the pole lathe, making a stool, have a goes and three charcoal burns:

But Jane was there helping out, and so was Richard D (many thanks for sterling efforts both!)

The Friday burn turned out the usual amount of brown ends, but far too many on Saturday’s burn, emptied Sunday.  I’d closed it down too early, but the brown ends went back in and the outturn of Sunday’s burn, opened today was just two bags of charcoal and NO brown ends at all.  It was a little tricky watching the burn smoke colour and chatting to people and doing demos, sometimes all at the same time.  However, the emphasis of the weekend was education and several groups of people went away knowing much more about charcoal than they did when they came in.  A couple of people also learnt the difference between sawdust and shavings (and they were not children!)  Bit showery on Saturday, but a lovely sunny day Sunday with lots of visitors.

We camped in our classic 2nd hand de Waard dutch tent and cooked all-in-one-pot meals each night in the dutch oven.

The arboretum is really well laid out in what used to be parkland with mature oaks and chestnuts, and much more recent plantings of trees from around the world.  Lots of different oaks etc.  Here’s a sample of the trees and vistas:

The lathe was set up in a little hornbeam copse.

We also had a surprise visit from two German journeymen carpenters who were looking for work at The Arboretum.

They were wearing the traditional carpenter’s dress and were fully trained craftsmen looking for further experience by travelling. You can read more about the German journeyman system here on Robin Wood’s blog.

High Head Green Gathering

Last weekend Jane and I went to High Head Green Gathering. We thought it would be different. It was!

Not having been to any of these green festivals before we didn’t really know what to expect. Essentially this one was a music festival based on a farm with woodland. No generators, just solar power. Crafts as a side-show (me and a blacksmith, a timber framer). A healing section (don’t know much about this – there was Yoga). Food stalls – The Pizza Slut was fired on hand saw cut wood burning ovens. Very interesting and very different experience for us.

Lots of smoak:

And fire:

We made some of it, here is Red Boy, a Vietnamese charcoal burning stove we bought in France a while ago, burning my charcoal it gets very hot:

(I’m not sure what that steel ruler is doing on the floor!)

We also found our Kelly kettle fitted it perfectly:

The new Dutch oven fitted it well too (sorry no photo) and we cooked a great all-in-one chicken casserole on Sat’di night, and fried b*con for Sunday lunch sandwiches. It’ll be bread next time too. We used the old boy so much it’s now needing a repair to the tin outside skin, luckily I have some olive oil tin left over from the blacksmithing lessons.

There was also fire at night, with lots of luminous balloons, glow sticks, nightlights behind white umbrellas and a bit of a fire dance:

Unfortunately there was a bit of audience participation too, but no injuries; “I can jump through those too … “:

I also did a bit of work with the festival goers’ children:

The shave horse and draw knife were very popular. I found that children’s arm joints are more flexible than mine which will not bring the blade in far enough to injure. So I rapidly made up a slab of ash on a necklace as a “Tummy Tector”, to avoid “spoiling your T-shirt”! They also enjoyed splitting billets.

It was a bit like the sixties that I seem to have missed out on somehow in my long lost teenage:

Workbench Book

Working with wood has a prerequisite of holding the wood while you work on it, even if the holding mechanism is your hand or another part of your body.

I’m currently reading this book:

It was written by Scott Landis and published in 1998 by Taunton Press (funny, I seem to be building up a collection of their books). The book sets out the development of the woodworking bench and then looks at a large range of benches currently in use in some detail.  I’m looking to rebuild my workbench in Strid as it’s a bit too rough and ready to work the tail vice properly, and I have a very tempting half butt of beech just asking to be milled for the job.

My old one (unmodified) was like this .

I’m also hankering after a dumbhead shaving horse, which get some good exposure in Landis’ book.

But first:

two more chestnut benches;

4 walking staffs;

internal dog gate and panel;

mend a Suffolk trug handle;

possible bike shed;

more dibbers;

more bowls;

more stools;

High Head green gathering ;

Get charcoal forge in operation;

harden and temper Bohemian bearded axe;

chopping boards;

and so it gos on …  makes me tired just thinking about it!

A wiggly balustrade

So finito benito:

It’s now ready for collection and erection at a forest school outdoor classroom.  Rather a challenge and like all things got easier as I went along – the one meter stretch was a breeze.

Still working on the small charcoal kiln, and getting ready for making Bedouin tents with some school children (cue making mallets, tent pegs, buying tarpaulin etc.).  And worrying about a day with 28 Saudi students coming up after that, just realised I need some chairs, well I guess it will have to be logs on end!

Very dry still, driest for 40 years apparently, doesn’t make it easy to choose nice wet sycamore for spatula carving practice that I’ll be doing with the students.

Confuse a visitor

Look what I let myself in for!

It’s a project for a shelter in a Forest School.  It will become a balustrade to stop children falling off the veranda. Thus so far:

Today I’ll be fitting the top rail (he said simply!). It is causing quite some consternation amongst passersby.  Someone asked whether it was the beginnings of a ladder (Heh?).  Most just stare distracted.

Anyway, for relaxation, and as I couldn’t progress any further without a tape measure which shows those incredibly small invisible measurements from The Continent, I decided to have a go at making some small carved bowls in quick time.  Cutting two at once with both hands, made rapid progress:

Already starting to colour up as the timber is alder (that accurséd tree).

Then I took out the saw and hey presto!

They took about two hours in all, which should just about squeeze down to £20 each, as my larger bowls seem to be meeting price resistance.

The mini charcoal burn was a failure.  Just closed it down too early so the kiln was full of brown ends and hardly any charcoal.  Just have to fire it up again and leave it a bit longer with a higher burn rate I think.