It was the half-term holiday and the rest of the family were visiting my sister-in-law on the South Coast of England. That left me with the dog to look after and a free Sunday, so what better way to spend it than to support my fellow APT Northern England members Peter, Maurice and Tessa at a craft fair hosted by the prestigious Literary and Philosophical Society in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne. So, with a rucksack full of axes, knives and branch wood, the good folk of Newcastle were greeted with the spectacle of a man walking past the Central Railway Station carrying a lump of wood with three legs sticking out of it en route to the Lit and Phil.
When I arrived the circumstances were no less interesting as the various craft demonstrators were using space in the library, a wonderful, evocative space, with great towering stacks of books watched over by marble busts of the good and great of the City.
The greenwood crafts had been sited along with the book binders and the embroiderers in the adjacent library of the Mining Institute, another venerable institution whose buildings sit alongside the Lit and Phil. The room had a high glass ceiling and giant Victorian radiators. The Institute was hosting an exhibition commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike. Being surrounded by the banners of the various National Union of Miners branches, especially those of South East Northumberland, near my home, was very evocative.
With Peter’s pole lathe on one side and Tessa’s willow weaving on the other I set up my chopping block using one of the leather cohered seats to make myself comfortable. As I began hewing and woodchips flew everywhere it felt rather surreal to be green woodworking in the dry and the warm and surrounded by the archival resources of the Mining Institute. This was compounded when a small choir began to serenade us from the balcony singing a melody of songs including a rather beautiful rendition of the theme tune to Top Cat… ‘the indisputable leader of the gang!’
I didn’t get much of a chance to see the other craft demonstrations, but did get a chance to talk to the volunteer book binders of the Mining Institute who are doing such a good job safeguarding the many documents held in trust by the Institute, although it is a mammoth task, with many many books still in need of some tender loving care.
With free tea and sandwiches on tap this was the way to green woodwork demonstrating in comfort and style. The star of our set-up was undoubtably Peter’s have a go pole lathe and he did a great job getting a range of different folk to try their hand at polelathing. Tessa found that her willow was drying out a little too quickly in the dry atmosphere of the Library. One lucky visitor got a one-to-one tuition with Maurice on spoon carving and I got on pretty well with a birch kitchen spoon.
And so, as the visitor numbers ebbed away we packed up (it was great to have just one rucksack and one chopping block’s worth of kit) and I drew some more rather strange glances as I carried my chopping block back to the car park, noting the proximity of the Lit and Phil’s unloading bays for next time!
Sunday saw the July meeting of the APT Northern England group at the workshops of Tessa Rhodes. Tessa had kindly invited us to visit her set-up in the outbuildings of Moorhouse Farm Shop, near Stannington in Northumberland. Tessa had previously described her worshops as the ‘leaky mushroom shed’ and when we arrived we understood exactly what she meant! The workspace was situated in an old mushroom shed which did indeed have a leaky roof, leaving large puddles across the floor. Still, it was a generous space that more than accommodated her pole lathe, steam bending cabinet and various willow, ash and timber materials for Tessa’s yurt building project as part of her BHMAT apprenticeship.
Tessa and her mum had cleared a space behind the sheds to allow us to set up camp and to get stuck in to some green woodworking projects. The wind had done for the tarpaulin cover so we kept our fingers crossed that the clouds skimming overhead wouldn’t turn dark and threatening. The car tyre rim and willow offcuts made an excellent fire to boil our water and fortified with tea and cake from the farm shop we set to work.
Peter Wood had brought some beautiful planked oak, Dick Atkinson had a car full of augers and ash legs and I had a sycamore log destined to become a chopping block. Ken Surrey helped Peter prepare the plank to receive four legs to become a bowl carving bench. After careful measuring to get the right angles for a legs that would splay out to make a steady workbench Dick selected the right auger from his impressive collection to drill the holes.
Meanwhile the sycamore log received three legs to lift it off the ground and Dick made clever use of a bottle of water to mark the top of the log for a flat surface. With a quick flick of the wrist (and a handy chainsaw!) Peter levelled the block and it was ready for immediate use.
Next up was to shave down some more ash legs for the bench, so that an inch or so of the leg stuck through the bench and could be used as a dog for bowl carving.. Here I’m afraid got carried away with the draw knife and allowing my leg to stick too much through the bench and hence be too short. Sorry Tessa!
For lunch Tessa had promised us locally sourced sausages and, of course, mushrooms and she didn’t let us down. With the fire stoked up we were soon encouraged by the sound of sizzling and the sight of barbequing bangers. A delicious feast! We also had a very productive time planning the next twelve months worth of APT Northern England meetings. It was also really good to explore with Ken his knowledge of some of the woodlands around the North East that are managed by his employer, Tilhill Forestry, that our group could ‘adopt’ to keep an eye on in return for an occasional visit and access to some timber products.
After lunch the Tessa and her mum began the task of preparing some more of the planked oak to become the uprights and bars of a ??? cleaving break ???? whilst Ken and I began to dig the holes. A rusty old fence post (just what farmyards are good for!) helped to break up the subsoil to allow us to get down a good arms length.
Soon the uprights were in, rubble tamped down to support the legs and the holes drilled for the bolts to secure the cross bars.
It was really good to be able to help Tessa put in some of the kit to help build up her workshop as part of her developing green woodworking business. We all look forward to the next APT session planned for next year (and seeing the finished yurt!)
We have an active group of the Association of Pole Lathe Turners and Green Woodworkers here in the North East of England and meet on the first Sunday of every month. This month we were at the Flint Mill, a building on the estate of the Beamish Museum that is leased by Maurice Pyle and from where I run spoon carving courses. Maurice came for a couple of hours at the beginning of the day and regulars Peter Wood, Bill Oakes and Peter Simpson where also there.
Bill and Peter had brought their forges along and today we were closer to being the Association of Green Woodworking Toolsmiths! Here’s a couple of images of Peter’s forge at the top and Bill’s at the bottom. Peter Wood is on the left, Peter Simpson plus spoon is on the right. Click on the thumbnails for bigger pictures.
Peter’s is a DIY forge made from a car wheel sitting in a bucket and connected to a old vehicle heater fan powered by a car battery. Note the liberal use of gaffer tape! The charcoal came from a previous APT Northern England session a couple of months back. Peter was using the forge to straighten sections of car springs as possible raw material for bowl hooks.
Bill’s set up was similar except he was using a chunky lorry brake drum as his forge with a silica plate on the base with a T bar with holes to supply the air. Distaining modern technology, Bill used good old fashioned footbellows to get his charcoal glowing. His project was to turn a cheap mason’s hammer into an adze, requiring a lot of shaping of of the head. Much swearing came from this direction!
One advantage of having these forges going was the opportunity to speed up the boil time for our kettle!
Peter S was carving a spoon from alder using his new Svante Djarv knife with a beautiful oak, leather and horn custom handle which is now featured on my website here.
Dodging the charcoal embers I was testing my my new bowl horse with the spalted birch blank in the images in the previous blog entry. Still some design features to iron out and I need to adapt my bowl carving style to fit the horse, but overall I was pleased with the ability to quickly release the bowl from the horse to switch positions. At least nothing broke! Maurice and Peter W kindly donated some ash to shape some better legs for the horse.
As usual a really good day, with lots of useful discussion, including a potential project to work with the National Trust at Gibside for a green woodworking demonstration event and thoughts about planning our meetings for the coming year.
Next month I hope we can visit Tessa’s leaky mushroom shed wokshops. I can’t wait!
So I took advantage of the half-term holiday to finish a bowl horse that my pal Peter Wood had chainsawed a couple of months before. The design has been inspired by the bowl horse of Pennsylvanian bowl carver David Fisher, featured in this thread from the Bodgers Ask and Answer forum.
The body is made from sycamore with a 10 cm slot carved into it and then holes drilled along the side at about 7 cm intervals. The rest has been made from whatever old lumber was lying around the garden, so that the dumb head arm is from a old piece of farmer’s fence, the dumb head itself is oak from the firewood pile, the footplate recycled from the sycamore slot, the backrest an old piece of cherry and the legs include some really old elm that has been kicking around the back garden for at least five years without rotting- amazing wood!
A real mongrel of a bowl horse then, but I’m really keen to start to use it. As you can see from the blogs below my old Black and Decker workbench tends to get used to help me out with carving bowls, so I’m keen to use something that has a more traditional feel to it and as David describes, allows for the bowl blank to be moved about much more easily in the horse to move from side to side. It is heavy but I’m hoping to take it out on demonstrations.
Here’s Lauren demonstrating the bowl horse in use. She’s using a Karl Hanson gouge with a polyproylene end to rough shape a spalted bowl blank. I wish the sun shone like that every day in Northumberland!
Last Saturday I was pleased to be able to join Bob Fleet and Gavin Phillips on the banks of the Tweed in Peebles as part of the Tweed Valley Forest Festival. It was a two hour drive across from Northumberland to the borders, enlivened by a barn owl on the A696 just before Otterburn.
The high winds and rain meant that all the demonstrations took place inside a large marquee, which required constant attention during the day to bang in pegs, add extra guy ropes and generally make sure it didn’t take off.
We found room at one end of the marquee, next to Red Kite Yurts for Bob’s pole lathe, a couple of shave horses and my bowl carving bench. There wasn’t a lot of room as we had to make space for the Scottish Conker Championship rings! I’d heard that Bob was the first competitor to be knocked out in the inaugral games last year and he didn’t do much better this year, driving home a good hit which smashed his own conker!
Later in the day Gavin arrived with his bowl lathe. It was touch and go whether he would make it because Clare has broken her wrist, but she was able to come in the ned, her re-set wrist well plastered. Here’s Gavin with Bob’s wonderful bodger’s hat, made from the fibres of some exotic leaf.
Despite the excitement of two pole lathes on the go, the greatest attraction was making gypsy flowers on shave horse. Indeed for the boys in the audience it wasn’t even this, it was Bob chopping the sharpened ends off the hazel rods that was the biggest draw, as they shot into the side of the marquee from the chopping block.
Next to this my bowl carving demonstration didn’t stand a chance. With Bob attaching magician’s balloons folded into sausage dogs on the end of the pole lathe and Gavin in full-on bowl lathe mode I realise I’ll have to up the showmanship quotient to stay in this league. Wait until the next event in the Scottish Borders, guys!
This weekend I began to carve a bowl from a birch log.
The birch had been hanging around for over a year in my log pile and was being attacked quite vigorously by fungi.
When I split the log, the effect of the fungal attack on the wood was obvious.
Birch is quite susceptible to fungal invasion. The patterning it causes in the wood is called spalting. It weakens the wood but if the rot hasn’t advanced too far it is still workable with care and the resulting bowl has some wonderful patterning on it.
Using an axe I removed the bark from the blank. The axe has an asymmetrical bevel allowing it to bite into the wood. This particular axe has been rescued from a second hand tool stall, reground and rehandled using ash.
Once the bark had been removed I used an adze to begin to shape the bowl. To get the most interesting grain patterns I am carving into the rounded part of the half log. The bowl is resting in a specially chainsaw carved log with three prongs that allow a bowl blank to be held in a variety of positions.
Once I have a rough shape with the adze, which is great for quickly removing waste wood I move onto using a gouge to shape the bowl more carefully. The advantage of carving into the top of the half-log becomes clear here as there is now a flat surface to allow the blank to be secured (cheating a bit here and using a workbench!). In fact with a flat bottom, flat sides and flat ends the blank is quite controllable at this stage and can be chocked up in a variety of ways.
Once I’ve got the bowl pretty well roughed out I begin to remove wood from the base of the bowl, underneath what will become the two handles. The pencil line marks the point where the bowl begins to flatten out, but I’ll use trial and error (and feeling with my fingers!).
The pencil mark on the side of the bowl shows the profile I’m trying to achieve here.
Some more hewing with the axe will get remove the edges of the handles. Because the spalted birch has less strength than normal wood I’m having to be careful that the corners resting on the chopping block aren’t damaged.
So the very first entry on my very first blog. What an exciting adventure! To start of with I’d like to play around with the image feature on the blog to make sure I understand it.
I enjoy spooncarving, carving functional objects from green wood, and I’d like to share with you an image of a spoon I’ve carved.
This spoon has been carved from hawthorn. I love the warm brown colours of the wood and the wiggly figure in the grain. On the handle I’ve had a go at chip carving with some Celtic knotwork. The spoon has been carved from a naturally bent piece of wood to give the crook in the handle. The knot in the bowl shows where a side branch came out that may have caused the change in direction of the branch. The wood has been treated with walnut oil which will slowly oxidise to form a tough, hardwearing coating that has penetrated into the wood.
If this interests you check out more on my website at http://www.spooncarving.org.uk.
So, more up-to-date green woodworking projects to come on these pages. Stay tuned!