Sunday 31 May 2009

More knives

I have just bought a few knife blanks from a firm in Germany to bulk up an order of food grade cold pressed linseed oil.

I have now made a handle from a small birch burl and the sheath is made from ash plank off-cuts

This is a Brusletto blade from Norway in a gorgeous brown burr oak handle. I am yet to make a sheath for it and I think I will make the back of the sheath longer.
I have posted these pictures on the British Blades forum and have found out that I have made and fitted the handles in the wrong way. These Scandinavian blades all have long tangs, so you drill a long hole into the wooden handle and glue the tang in. I made the handles in two halves hollowing out the space for the tang and gluing together. Oh well, live and learn.

The stone above is a natural mineral, cut from a layer of sedimentary sandstone in the Slovakian Mala Fatra Mountains which are known for their fine, uniform grit and high resistance to wear. A great stone for finishing and polishing, used with water and at a very very good price of 9.90 Euro.
The web site I got these from is

I made this last year using a Frosts blade I bought for £20, and used yew scales with brass rod to hold it together with. The textile sheath has a wood sheath inside it so the knife will not cut the stitching. This textile is not leather but plastic, left over from a time when I used it to make the flexible spine for wooden books. It is the same stuff they use for vegan shoes and is very strong, but does not have the same properties as leather, of course. I like this knife very much and it is one of my favourites.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Kiln dried burr oak

I have known Anton and Alison Coaker for many years now. They are farmers whose land is bang in the middle of Dartmoor. Anton diversified into saw milling some years ago, and has built this side of the business into a large and thriving concern. We also buy lamb from them every now and again and it is some of the best meat we eat. If you are local to Dartmoor do check out their website for more info on meat, hide rugs and wood.
I know this is not really green woodworking, but it is green in many other ways. For one, Anton sources his wood locally. Also, he is local to me and is an interesting bloke who cares a lot for farming and the land. I love my visits up there even though I spend too much, I am just like a little boy in a big sweet shop.

Last year I asked Anton to select a nice burr oak stick to saw up into one inch thick planks and to kiln dry it for me. I have just collected it and am now making up stock for galleries and the shows I sell at. For more info on green wood, air and kiln dried wood click here for a short article I have written.

Anton on the left carrying a brown oak plank, I was not allowed to buy any as it is all going up to Yorkshire for a floor.

Some of the burr oak in my workshop. I do not know how much I am to pay for it yet - all the measurements of how much wood I bought was written onto a plank of wood in big crayon - yet to be transferred into the invoice book. No problem; I trust Anton and know that he is a very fair bloke to do business with. By the way this is not normal practice, and as I joked, Anton has not just learned to write.

The first mirror frame to be glued up can be seen in the photo above. When sanded and oiled up they look fantastic. I think it is very important that I know the people who processed the wood, that they can tell me where the tree came from, and they are local. This way we are supporting our local businesses and keeping money circulating in the local economy instead of it going out the the area, or abroad, and paying shareholders in huge business that do not give a jot about anything apart from profit. I do also buy wood from the large timber merchants if necessary, but my aim is to buy locally as much as I can. Made and grown on Dartmoor or, and as they say in Devon: "proper job".
I have seen many people make mirrors over the years and especially at wood fairs so it can be a difficult market to make a living with, but worth it if you find your niche. The only way you can buy a mirror from me is by seeing me at a show or visiting me at my workshop, I do not send them via couriers and each one is unique.

Friday 22 May 2009

Paignton Zoo Bench for Show garden at the Devon County Show part 4

The Devon County show is sunny!! It usually only ever seems to rain during the County Show. I erected the bench on site on Tuesday, I hope to post some more photos of the completed garden when Kevin or Dave send me some. Meanwhile there is a bit more here at Grow up Devon

Dave phoned me up on Thurs evening to say the show garden had won a gold medal, which is fantastic news, it is good to be a small part of the winning team.

Here we go Dave has just sent me some photos

Sunday 17 May 2009

Trees for Health workshop area

A while ago I helped build a green wood working area for Liz Turner who runs Trees for Health. It is at Combe Royal, on a beautiful piece of land called The Meadow Project which is run by Devon County Council to help train people with learning disabilities, to help them find employment locally. The Meadow is 10 acres of woodland and wetland around a large pond. People are taught conservation techniques and gain hands-on practical experience of gardening and horticulture. After deciding what Liz wanted I drew up some plans, which then went to a structural engineer to check as Liz wanted a turf roof. I am careful to get things checked out professionally if it is not an area of my own expertise, and especially when they are used by groups of people. A cutting list was drawn up and a new local sawmill provided the wood which was larch and Douglas fir.

As you can see from the photos the workshop area had to be dug into a slope and it had rained a lot during the past few weeks; the mud did make life slow going. Liz had organized a group of volunteers to help, which speeded up the work no end. We had to dig 12 holes and put a 300mm cube block of concrete at the bottom of the hole as a foundation. I thought this was a bit OTT but it was specified by the structural engineer.

The construction was simple, rebating in the 10 x2 inch planks into the top of the posts and bolting everything together. The rafters are nailed onto them, on top six sheets of plywood, covered in a pond liner.

I never saw the turf going onto the roof as I was contracted for 3 days work, and the heaving mud and turf up a ladder was done by willing volunteers.

I was also asked to run a workshop to make pole lathes and shaving horses. This took place over two days and the group made two different styles of lathe and horse.

Tuesday 12 May 2009

Bodgers Ball

The Bodgers Ball is the yearly meeting and AGM of the Association of Pole-lathe Turners & Greenwood Workers. The last time I went must have been about 17 years ago, but after spending so much time on the bodgers forum this year I thought I would put faces to people.
In reality it is not just an AGM as we know them, but a mini festival; a coming together of like-minded people to share knowledge and to have a bloody good time. There were a few stabbings, but just minor ones, and self inflicted! It also held one of the best attended AGMs I have been to, as well as the shortest, which is strange as it was also converting itself into a limited company. Defiantly a well run committee.
I have never driven so far to meet a bunch of people that I have only previously met in cyberspace. At least it was, as always advised, in a public space. I also almost forgot, these people are probably the best armed of any, with the most fascinating array of very sharp edge tools.

I was one of the many people demonstrating, but the only person making fan birds which I think went down a treat.

I entered some of the competitions and actually won a first prize in the Field and Craft section for my green oak dragonfly.

Early one evening I went over to see Paul and made my first pole-lathe turned bowl. It went surprisingly well, as Paul was a good teacher. Mind you - I did have a slight advantage as I have been using a pole lathe for over 17 years. It is not easy to relax when learning a new tool or technique, and looking at my hands in this photo, I do not think I could grip that chisel any harder.

Ten people made their own pole lathes over the weekend, I will be knocking one up soon!

We had an auction, mainly of tools. The auctioneer who was from Dorset was very entertaining, sorry I can not remember your name. Yes, I did buy a big box of old tools and I think I got a bargain. The two chaps at the bottom left of the picture are Robin on the left, and Mark in the middle. I have been following their blogs for some time.

Where else would you find a bar still working after the marquee has been taken down by the hire company? Most people left on late Sunday afternoon and this photo was taken at about 8.30pm.

I like this one; a fairy circle? No this was the whittling circle many of the shavings made by Robin Wood's whittlers.

All in all it was a fantastic weekend and an event well worth going to. If you read this blog, do come and say hi to me at next years ball, which should be nearer Devon.

Monday 4 May 2009

Paington zoo bench 3

Nearly finished now, today the seat was cut to size and finished with the adze and drawknife. The seat will have temporary fixings onto the legs for the show, and I will use stainless steel coach bolts when it is set in its permanent position.

I have been making balancing dragonflies for sometime now, and a couple of months ago decided to see if I could make them from green wood only using an axe and drawknife, the results are great, and each one is slightly different. More on dragonflies in future posts.

Saturday 2 May 2009

Paington Zoo bench. 2

The timber has been sitting outside my workshop waiting for my other jobs to be finished so I can complete making the bench.
I selected the two most suitable pieces of 3 inch thick planks, one of which had a slight backwards curve in, the other was thicker but straight. Ten minutes with the chainsaw and both pieces had the same curve. After raising them off the ground with a couple of logs, the centre line and overall shape were marked in chalk. I like working with chalk, as it can be rubbed off and lines redrawn quickly and easily.

I cut the left hand side back piece with a chainsaw and placed it on the right hand side piece, again using blocks of wood to keep it level. Using a black marker pen I marked the final profile.

This was cut, then both pieces were levelled up on the blocks and clamped together using sash cramps. Using a technique called 'kerfing-in' the chainsaw was run down the centre wavy line. This is a way to get 2 boards to fit snugly together -well, almost - especially as I was using a chainsaw and not doing a straight cut.

The outside profile was cut and the two planks were made consistently thick by holding the chainsaw bar as if I was going to cross cut the wood, and swinging it rapidly from left to right. You can get a very good finish this way on any plank of wood.

I want the bench to have a natural tooled finish, without any sanding, so all surfaces are worked with an adze. When done well, an adzed surface is not smooth and regular, but it presents a tactile, faceted and natural surface texture.

I enjoy using the adze, it is held in my right hand against my hip. This is the fixed pivot point. My left hand holds the handle half way down, and the left hand lifts and pushes the adze up and down. The adze swings in an arc, and the bottom of the adze is curved so a thin scoop of wood is cut off. The only down side, is that I sometimes suffer from back-ache and so I use it for short periods of time. The two back pieces took four sessions, about an hour in total.

The sun came out, off came the jumper, the edges of the two seat backs were draw-knifed into shape. Green oak is very easy to work with hand tools, and it is a real joy to work without to much physical effort.

The two smaller back posts are cleft to form triangular cross sections. These are hewn into shape along with the front legs and are given an adzed finish.

I have a dedicated splitting axe, an ex-army one with a protective metal casing where the handle joins the head. This axe is blunt and I have been known to bash rocks open in Lime Regis to find fossils with it.
My favourite axe is the Gränsfors Bruk carving axe, the blade profile is perfect and is a good weight for spoons or heavier hewing. With most hewing and adzing work I work across the grain, this avoids the cutting edge from following the grain of the wood and going off course.

The mortices had to cut by hand as the wood was too wide to fit into my morticer. Once a mortice is marked out I drill out as much of it as possible, and using large framer's chisels I cut the sides square.

Dave came along for a day to give me a hand, here he is cutting a blind mortice in one of the two shorter back posts.

As the wood is shaped by hand with axe and adze, the marking out of mortice and tenons takes a little bit longer, as nothing is square. For this reason the shoulders of some of the tenons had to be kerfed in for a tight fit, I have found this to be the fastest way of getting a good fit.

Once all the joints are pegged together with wooden dowels, I use the draw-boring method to achieve a very tight fit, I cut off the top of the tenon if it protudes too far through the mortice. I use an adze again for this, the wood is green and so it only takes a couple of strokes.

The back posts and legs are all finished and it is time to fit the seat, more on this in my next post