Sunday 14 June 2009

Scythe and Green Fair in Somerset

The South Somerset Green Fair and Scythe Festival
is one that I attended with my family, as visitors. I knew that we might meet a couple of people we already knew, but unexpectedly saw many familiar faces.
On entering the show the first few stalls were tat and tool stalls. Oh what heaven for me, and a 'come on, lets look around the whole fair' from the family. I had a quick look, but managed to get back to have a proper look a bit later. I bought a cross-cut saw in more or less unused condition, and a pot or kettle hanger for an open fire.

This old Allen scythe was on sale, a fearsome beast, a predecessor to the bush-cutter and rarely used these days.

Next we met up with Steve Tomlin, who lives north of Dartmoor, and who is a bowl-turner on the pole lathe, and spoon maker. As with most green woodworkers he also makes all sorts of other stuff like hay-forks, and snaths, which is the proper name for scythe handles.

On the stall next to Steve was Mike Abbot with course details, a few books for sale, and his shave horse.

Above is Mark, a member of the Landmatters community. The last time I saw him at his pitch was in Totnes market, over a year ago. Mark sells Gransfors Bruks axes and Frost knives. Not only a seller of edge-tools but a creative writer and deep in conservation here with Lucy.

Just around the corner was alarge marquee: The Scythe Shop. Outside of this were lots of wooden stumps with metal anvils set into the top. Apparently, with Austrian scythes the edge is peened every 4 or so hours of grass mowing. Peening is the hammering of the scythe edge, which make the metal edge thinner. The angle of the bevel of the scythe is long and very acute, which makes for an edge which is not durable, but can slice easily through grass. In America and Britain we do not peen the edge but grind it instead, our blades having a different profile to Austrian blades which makes them easier to grind. Peening will also case-harden the edge. The edge is then honed with a very fine grade wet stone.

A lovely home made snath, made by Steve from Ceredigion. I hope I have remembered your name correctly.

Mike Abbot author of Green Wood working, competing in one of the many heats of the scything competition. Is grass mowing the new pass-time for bodgers?

The finalists of the competition waiting to draw lots, to see which square of grass they will be mowing.

Mark Allery just finishing off his square in the final.

Mike, again, demonstrating the use of his hay rake. All the grass is raked off the competitors square, so the quality of the cut can be judged.

This is Marks finished square, sorry Mark but as you know it is not the best cut square on the field, but nonetheless I was well impressed with how quickly you cut your it.

This is what really good mowing should look like.

Friday 12 June 2009

Making Tar from birch bark

I had a go at making tar from birch bark.
So what is this tar good for? Glue, for gluing in arrow tips into the shaft; and it is an antiseptic; but I wanted to extract for waterproofing and preserving wood.
If you have ever burnt the bark you will know it burns very well with lots of black smoke. In bush-craft circles it is known as natures fire lighter. When walking in birch woods you will see fallen trees, the old ones are nothing more than the bark holding a soft sponge of decayed wood. The bark can last for years but the wood can rot out within a year. The bark contains all sorts of tars, oils and resins which are extremely resistant to decay. It is these that I wanted to extract, and so I made a small kiln from a tin with a small hole punched in the bottom.

This tin was placed on a paving slab and metal sheets on blocks so I could put a collecting tin underneath the hole in the bigger tin.

The kiln-tin was filled with birch bark, some of which was rolled up and put in end-on, most of it just stuffed in. In future I will roll all of it up, and place end up in the kiln, as horizontal layers can stop the tar from running out of the hole. The lid must then be placed on the kiln.

Pile lots of wood and shavings around and over the kiln and set light to it. Add more wood when necessary. Looking at the photo above you can see lots of smoke coming out of the hole. I think I am wasting lots of tar as this smoke stains black, anything it comes into contact with, and is sticky.

As you can see I have a problem. The smoke and gases coming out of the hole have ignited, and this has also ignited all the collected tar in the tin. This happened a few times, so the next time I will bury the collecting tin in earth to stop air getting to the gasses and smoke, so hopefully no ignition.
The kiln was not very air tight, and as the fire burned down the kiln drew air in through the hole in the bottom. You can see in the photo, a few flames around the tin lid. The bark inside the tin was now obviously alight. I did get some big blobs of tar falling out.

All in all I think that I failed as all I got was a cube centimetre blob of tar. I think I should have got far more.

Stockholm Tar

I would like to try and make Stockholm tar one day. This is extracted from pine tree roots, and Sweden was Europe's most important exporters of this tar. Stockholm tar kept the British Navy afloat by waterproofing the wood on the ships as well as rope and steel. It is still used for treating cuts on animals, and also for soaps for skin ailments.

If anyone knows any more about 'the destructive distillation' of wood, please let me know. Do any charcoal producers set up their kilns so they can also extract the tars? I have only heard of this happening in industrial factory production.

Thursday 11 June 2009

Fan bird video

A Video of me at the Bodgers Ball making fan birds, filmed by Stuart King

Monday 8 June 2009

The Contemporary Craft Fair

The Contemporary Craft Fair is the best show I do in terms of the range and quality of crafts on sale. Everyone is selected and for that reason it is the best craft show in the South West.
As some of you know I have a foot in various camps, yes that's right I have 5 feet! My first love and passion is green woodwork, followed by making and designing seating, then comes sculpture, photography, and the list continues. I have been demonstrating at this show for some years now and I appreciate that it has demonstrations of traditional crafts whilst showing contemporary crafts.

I love demonstrating and passing-on my knowledge. This year I was not only worked on the pole-lathe and made spoons, I was also showed how to make fan birds. It rained all day on Saturday and I did not have much custom in the way of sales or people watching my demonstrations, so I managed to make up plenty of blanks for Sundays demonstrations. It is fine to do a half hour plus demo at the Bodgers Ball but most people at other shows tend to wander off half way through, so in great Blue Peter fashion I have birds in various states of completion. Fan bird demonstrating is a bit like the never ending story: as new people turn up I have to go back and explain how I start the birds.

I met Chris Nangle for the first time at the show, I have been seeing his work all over the internet for some years now, and have much admired his outdoor seating. Chris gave me one one of his oak bowls. I am sorry about the quality of the photos, I could not have done worse if I tried

The DevonFurniture Makers stand was next near my stand this year. Here is Allen, in front of his elm mirror.

The Craft fair has a very large children's workshop tent where all sorts of things are made whilst parents can have a good look around or relax and have a drink. There is plenty of entertainment as well with Punch and Judy, choirs, singers and comedians.

Below is a photo of Sarah James, the show's organiser. This photo is taken at about 6.30 pm on Sunday as I was breaking down the stand. As I turned up on Sunday morning I saw Sarah spread straw in the car park over the churned up mud, a consequence of Saturdays rain. I have never seen a show organiser take such an active role as Sarah, so well done to her and her team. This fair is one of the best and well organised shows I have been to. It is a shame that so many organizers at other fairs are not as conscientious.