Working with the grain

We’ve had some rough weather recently.  Here’s the River Wharfe in spate, the bankside alders are getting rather more than just their feet wet.  But today the sun came out and gave me this sunny view of the river.

I think the little birds must be a bit happier without the wind and rain:

Here’s one of the many coal tits that come to eat the sunflower seeds from the workshop bird tables.  They are fearless these days and ignore my thuds and hammerings.  This table is about 6 feet away from the workshop stove.

I’m currently making another of my rustic-style garden benches, this one’s in oak, the shavings and the work are quite different from ash, which is what I mostly work in.

Oak is somehow brittler than ash, and the shavings oxidise a pinkish tinge in the air.

I’ve split out the legs from a single log:

They then have quite a growing form as the shape is dictated by the way the log split along the grain:

After splitting I axed off the bark and sapwood, then worked them smooth with the draw knife.  The tenons are made with a Veritas tenon cutter which makes a very sound 1 1/2″ joint into a mortice in the seat made with a scotch-eye auger.  Here’s the seat before the holes are drilled.

I’m drying the leg tenons a little at home before fixing and wedging them into the mortice holes as the seat had been milled for a couple of months whereas the legs have been left “in the log”.

I also milled some ash today with some very colourful decay.  The two inch slabs must be good for table tops I reckon.

At last the days are lengthening again, and I was surprised by my own shadow as I was milling after luncheon, the sun shone through the leafless trees to the West.


Levens, two headed goats & stags’ heads

We went to Levens Hall yesterday.  Why do people think they need to fly around the world when there are places like this an hour’s drive away.  There was some fine craftsmanship and some outstanding tree-work. Look at this for walling! I think it is pretty recent. but the gates have been around for some time: I really admire what a smith can do with iron which, when finished looks impossibly unworkable. Here’s detail of another gate in he same garden. The work of the hall itself is fine too, we didn’t go inside – it was too sunny a day, but even from outside it is stunning, look at these downspouts and can head: The heart emblem is said to represent the winning card of a card game that acquired the house in days long past. These cylindrical chimney stacks with slate ‘pot’ took my fancy too! But the real craft of this garden took hundreds of years work to produce: Takes four gardeners a month to clip, feast your eyes and imagination! They have a blight problem with the small box hedges and considering the hundreds and hundreds of yards there are it must be a real headache.  The rest of the garden is stunning too with a magnificent fountain garden topped with pleached limes.  We chatted to two lady gardeners who were bending hazel twigs into natural plant supports.  We’ll be trying this at home. The whole place has a magical air (especially if you arrive before opening time) there is a surprise around every corner. Across the road is the deer park, fairly recently converted ( c 1700) from a medeval deer park into a leisure park.  There are many fine oak trees: And some examples of stag head oaks where drought has caused the trees’ branches to die back and then regenerate: The park has black fallow deer, sheep and Bagot goats (the current owners of the estate are called Bagot): Spotted a double-header amongst them The park is as interesting as the garden, the grass seems to be original unimproved pasture and full of flowers Some interesting replanting too, never seen a tree within a tree before! However, considering the amount of damage recently suffered from flooding in this district, someone really ought to be checking debris building up against bridges. Footnote Forgot my backup camera batteries and had to resort to the videocam for later shots, apologies for the poor quality.

NE American trees

I think I can count the varieties of trees in Strid Wood on both fingers, lets see: english oak, sessile oak, ash, beech, sycamore, alder, rowan, bird cherry, silver birch, elm, balsam poplar (non-native), holly, yew, hazel OK I’m over ten, but I’m struggling now, there are probably a couple of others, douglas fir etc.  On our trip to New York, and especially upstate in the Adirondacks I was bewildered by the tree varieties, most of which I didn’t recognise.  I reckon there were at least three types of oak:

white oak:

Scarlet oak:

I think there was red oak too, but I didn’t get my thrift store book (Reader’s Digest North American Wildlife) until we were coming away, so I’m relying on collected leaves and photos.

Here are the oaks (whoops, missed out the white oak):

And then the maples, I was quite at sea with these:

Then what I was thinking were chestnut (which I should have remembered has been wiped out) turned out to be beech with leaves much bigger than the beeches at home:

The one bottom right is something else, some oaks have leaves in this shape too but I don’t think they occur round the NE (live oak I’m thinking of, like to see one of these one day)

Then miscellanea:

The biggest one is Moosewood, this had puzzled me as it seemed to be a prolific bush, but this was just regeneration, it has an interesting stripey bark:

Then there seems to be basswood and cottonwood. You’ll know this tree my blogger friend Tico said (it is obvious when you know it – the bark is diagnostic) “Nope!” I said, well it’s shag bark hickory:

Back to the workshop and continuing the riven theme I made a tealight holder yesterday:

Coopers and canoes; other people’s work

Today was a good day.

A promising start, despite the wind and showers, with this post on the bodger’s Ask and Answer forum

If you think the craft is a marvel watch the video in Robin Wood’s post and see how one is made.  They don’t make cars like this!  More’s the pity.

At work no more tops of trees blew off like yesterday, narrowly missing two ladies of advanced years.  Bloody poplars, no good for anything but matches, but, just in case, I’ve taken four foot to see whether it makes a decent carved bowl.  From the last couple of poplar tops that blew off, I tried turning, that wasn’t very much fun.  The grain is rather coarse and breaks up under the chisel.

As I was fixing up the new Flying Shavings name boards:

I asked a visitor whether it was level, he helped out and then started asking about my tools.  He wanted to look at the maker’s name on my draw knife.  Turned out he knew a thing or two as he used to be a cooper.  We had a good discussion about how many coopers are left, where they are, whether they use a draw knife properly (on the shear), what sort of oak is used for coopering (Russian sessile oak, unfortunately post Revolution timber is studded with shrapnel and bullets, which is bad news for the sawyer), types of cooper (wet,dry and white (the latter for dairy goods)), the decline of coopering, why American oak barrel staves are imported to Scotland (Bourbon can only be matured in a new oak barrel), inappropriateness of American white oak for beer barrels (too much tannin that taints the beer), how herring barrels were sealed (not like beer barrels because they’re full of fish and you have to put the heads in from the outside, not the inside), sharpness of chisels (the one I’d made the day before not having a keen edge as yet, pending trials on the angle – it’s a beading skew). One of my best, most interesting visitors.

And while we’re on old stories, David, my fortnightly apprentice, told me a great one about an engineer’s tool box legacy.  In the engineering factory where he was apprenticed, the tradition was that if an engineer died in the traces (i.e. whilst still employed) his tool chest was raffled to the apprentices, the proceeds being either given to the widow or used to buy flowers (those were the days, eh?).  An engineer’s tool chest was not to be sneezed at, it had two shallow drawers at the top where all the sexy measuring instruments were housed.  On the death in traces of Victor Silvester (let us call him) his tool chest was duly auctioned.  David paid for his ticket, but was very disappointed to be unlucky in the draw.  However, when the ‘lucky’ winner opened the first shallow drawer he was greeted by Victor’s ‘work’ false teeth, he came to work in his best ‘home’ teeth and then changed into his work ones.  (I suppose you need to know where he died to work out whether these teeth were is best or second best!)

I thought it was holidays

But not if you work for yourself, and you work in green wood.

August is very busy, sorry for not posting. This week I’ve been to two events, one 111 miles away in Leicestershire’s Beacon Hill National Forest Wood Fair, and then Kilnsey show, just a couple of miles up the Wharfe river from my workshop.  It’s a stunning location on a pan flat flood plain site with Kilnsey Crag louwering over the whole proceedings. It is very traditional with a fell race to the top of the scar next to the Crag, lots of cattle classes and the finale is harness racing (also known as trotting) with on course betting.  It was a very cool start with frost on the grass.  After it warmed up a little, a plague of midges descended so we got a shavings fire going which smoked the blighters out.  Finally it turned into a glorious day, which was a jolly Good Thing as Kilnsey has been plagued by the wet Summers for two years.

Here’s how the trailer looks when fully loaded for an exhbition:

Just a pile of junk really, but soon turns into this:

It was an excellent location at the entrance to the REAL village section of the show which highlights upland Dales industry in four marquees, I was pitched at the entrance to the village so everybody came past and nearly all stopped to watch and quite a good few to buy, make orders or invite me to their own shows.

Luckily there was an amplified sheep shearing contest three times in the day, lots of calls of “Foreblows” and “Longblows”, as well as a fencing (post and wire, not rapiers!) demonstration which I decide not to compete with, but as they finished I had a ready-made audience.

The people visiting and showing were really friendly, and I don’t think I got a daft comment all day.  Some of the Dales children were very dry too.  Obviously in training for becoming Dales farmers.  Jane had a serious conversation with one 9 year-old and one of the key questions he asked, after establishing that I was in business “for mesel”, was “Has ‘e got a log splitter?”  I had a chat with a farmer from the top end of Nidderdale about alder and clog soles.

The Hampshire branch of our family turned up and a couple or three had a go on the machines:

Theo decorates a woodland elf.

Daisy attempts the amazing ‘cut the lady in half’ trick.

Jenkie had a go on the pole lathe – change from a power lathe, I must have a go on a power lathe some day!

At Beacon Hill National Forest event I entered my first log to leg race, and picked up a few tips to improve my rather poor results (last in both races!) for the APF big event later this month.

I also purchased a rather fine 9 foot by 2 inch thick slab of elm for bench seats:


The year of the last major UK drought.  It’s happening again.  In Strid Wood the fern leaves are dying:

There seems to be a big reaction to the very hard winter: flashback:

And dry Spring.  Seeds seem to be setting very early,

and disease is rife:

Notice the epicormic shoot growth at the base of the diseased twig.

I think the regeneration is very heay this year, look for all the ash seedlings in this patch, I think there are may be 14:

And there are the shy little oak seedlings in ones too:

Holly too, which is good as this is understory, or shrubs, which are dreadfully absent in Strid:

Even the slash and burn sycamore is coming back from two years ago’s felling:

Ok so I’ve been making things too as well as loking at them. Some of these:

And three of these:

Oh well nearly Autumn!

Hanging around the kiln

I’m going to have to change my charcoal regime.  I set it alight on Wednesday morning about 10:30.  It wasn’t quite full so I expected less charcoal.  I closed it down to tick over at 5pm and at 9am the next morning opened the air supply up again.  The smoke still looked pretty dirty, with maybe a hint of steam still in it.  However, I was able to ignite all three chimneys which I think should have been a warning that it was nearing time to shut down completely.  Well, I decided to go down to the workshop with the air on about half cock.  Stayed down there for lunch and when I got back to the kiln at about 12:30 there was no smoke! Bad sign.  Closed down double quick.  This morning (Friday) opened up, and nasty white ash at all three inlets – the charcoal had been burning.  However, got out 22 10 kilo bags, and as it was a smaller charge that was not too bad, but I reckon about 2 or 3 bags were burnt.  Next time I’m going to stay with it the morning after, I’ll have to bring some bowl or spoon work to do while I monitor the smoke.  On the positive side there does seem to be a growing demand for the stuff.  Now I need a market for the fines (dust and small charcoal) which are rejected at bagging. It’s supposed to be a very good soil improver.

This was supposed to be a day off, but the charcoal bagging took a big chunk out of the morning so I did a bit more on the chestnut bench (which needs a remake of one leg), washed the Land Rover and mended it’s driver’s side step which I smashed on a rock (and nearly punctured the diesel tank) while reversing the trailer in the woods.

I also shafted the second of three bill hooks I’m doing for a customer.

Pictures to follow.  Tomorrow I’m brewing and playing at the Rough Beats Festival at Clapham – our band is Dales Jam.

Still Springy here but the Hawthorn May blossom is just going over, one last look:

You can see other bushes further away on the hill in the background which is known as The Gib.

This morning I planted a small elm and smaller oak in the corner near the new gate to replace the silver birch, the stump of which is still to be reduced to ground level.