Saturday 26 March 2011

Weird trees

Remarkable things happen in the natural world. One such thing was that while looking at a chestnut tree, its first branch had beech leeves on it. The trunk was chestnut, the leaves are beech, my brain hurt with these facts, this was impossible. I explored a bit more, all the branches above had chestnut leaves on, so what on earth was going on. I walked around the tree and behold a beech tree growing right behind and a branch of this beech tree was going right through the middle of this chestnut tree. No way, how could this happen?

Click on any image to enlarge
Twenty years later I revisited the tree, and here are the photos. You will notice that the branch has died but not that long ago, maybe up to 5 years.
Front veiw
Back view
Whole tree
It is a shame I did not take a photograph when I first saw it, I moved away from the area soon after. I do at least have proof that this can happen, but how did it happen in the first place?

I have seen similar things with yew trees, their roots especially can grow and fuse together. Then again the yew is one of the most amazing of trees in my world, they live for 1000`s of years. They rot out in the trunk and then send down aerial roots.

If anyone has any weird and wonderful tree photos send them to me and I may post them on this blog. Email

Sunday 13 March 2011

Natural stones 2, Belgium Coticle

Belgium Coticle, and how to flatten your stones.

The Belgium Coticle is still being quarried in the Ardenne region. This stone is a fine honing abrasive used with water. As far as I know you can now only buy the yellow stone which is cut and then glued onto the blue stone. This yellow stone occurs only in thin veins with a far greater mass of blue stone surrounding it. I have a few one piece stones from the days when they made bench stones from yellow vein still attached to the blue stone.
I have found that any cracking in the stone is not a problem and the stone works just fine. Notice how that I do not entirely flatten the stone in all cases. The dips you can see in stones 1 and 3 will soon ware out.

I have bought these stones in various states of disrepair, one which was used last with oil. The blue side of the stone up in its box. I thought this one as a natural slate type stone, but when flattening it fell out of its box to reveal that it was a one piece Coticle.  With the oil soaked stone all I did was to flatten on wet and dry paper, this process got rid of all traces of oil.
I do like the Coticle stones, they work just like a fine waterstone, and have a great feel to them. For far more info on these stones do have a look at this website, it will explain far more than I am willing to write up here. I have no affiliation to this company.

When first getting any stone, I always check how flat it is. All you need for this is a ruler, edge on to the length and then across the stone. If you can see any gap then the stone will need to be flattened. With natural stones this is usually very easy, All you need is some silicon carbide paper (wet and dry) and a flat surface. You will also need to check and flatten most stones at one time or another. With water stones I am always dressing the surface, with others stones it could be every year or so.

This is a very dished combination water stone. Lots of rubbing was involved, and another sheet of silicon carbide had to be used.
You will need a sheet of glass and something to spray a fine water mist. Quickly spray the glass and both sides of the silicon carbide paper. Place the paper on the glass and start rubbing all over the sheet with your stone. What grit is dependant on the hardness and dishing of your stone. I usually start with 80, 100 or 120 grits.

The Belgium stones are quick and easy to flatten. The Charnley forest was easy as well, but I used oil instead of water. Water stones are quickly dressed as well. The only stones I have had big problems with are made made oil stones, these can be very very hard and will not flatten with this technique. This does not mean that all oil stones of this type are as hard, I have come across some very soft ones, especially the cheap Chinese ones.

You may have seen the videos of the big boys getting out there 4x10inch, flat within 5 microns, diamond plates to quickly dress their waterstones. Diamond stones will flatten all natural and most made made stones with ease. The only issue I have is that they are almost £200 each. Be careful if you are using the cheaper plastic diamond plates, they are easily deformed and are often not very flat. Do check the flatness of all stones whether new or second hand

With water stones I have found the ceramic water stone flattening stone cheap and useful for dressing. I do start with silicon carbide if the stones need than just dressing.

You can use any glass plate you can find. Try and use only 3mm or thicker glass, mirror is fine to use as well. Do use the glass on a flat surface, MDF will do. Do not stick the paper down with glue onto wood or glass, it just wears out to quickly.
 I have shaped lumps of natural sharpening stone with hacksaws and old rasps. These rasps are old and no longer work effectively with wood, but they are great with a softer natural stone.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Natural stones, the Charnley Forest stone

Charnley forest stones

I have an unhealthy interest in sharpening stones. My collection is not large, well to some of you it may be. The easy ones to collect are the Arkansas stones, these come in various grades and colours from softer white washita to the harder black. These are still being quarried and sold, but often can be found cheaply at boot sales and the like. Sold on ebay for around £20 plus level.
There are lots of hard fine natural stones from Europe and China, these are cheap but often need flattening, even when brand new. I have not got into Japanese water stones apart from from synthetic ones, these can be very expensive and often come in odd shapes. Natural waterstones from Japan can be very very expensive.

The 2 stones I want to talk about are the Coticle from Belguim and the Charnley or Charly forest stone from the UK. This post is about the Charnley forest, my next post will be about the Belguim Coticle.

No two natural stones are exactly alike, and this can make identification difficult. The Charnley forest has a grey green colour, often with mottling or streaks in it. I have also seen pictures of these stones with red/brown streaks in. They are very likely to come in home made wooden boxes.

Many of these stones were hand made by craftsmen working from home. The only surface that really matters is the top, the edges are also squared. The bottom is often left in its raw state and plaster is used to bed it into it`s wooden box.

Below is some fascinating reading, I got from a TATHS publication, Natural 19th and early 20th century sharpening stones and hones, by Brian Read and Doug Morgan. This article was taken from H Butler Johnson The Charley Forest Whetstones Leicestershire Vol2 no.4 spring 1933. To enlarge the text click on the image and then click again when it appears in a new window.

I have a couple of Charley forest stones, and I must say I like them. They are a fine stone great for finishing your edge. The straight razor shavers love them and think they do provide a superior edge to other abrasives. They need to be used with a thin oil, 3in1 can be too thick and I find WD40 works well. I always look at all stones at any types of sale venue and usually buy them if they are natural stones. I have picked them up for as little as a few quid. These 2 cost me £25 and £10. It is great to rescue a stone, especially if it is a stone no longer being quarried.

Next post I will also show you how to get your stone into a flat and fit shape to use.

Walter Rose in his book The Village Carpenter first published 1937, describes the use of natural stones “….Of all modern appliances, I regard the modern oilstone as the most beneficial to woodworkers of the present time. In my youth we did not, of course, realise it, but now I see how very much we were handicapped by the poor class of stones then available. A few men were the envied processors of a “Turkey”; the only other variety known to us was the “Charnley Forest”…………          
All my father’s men used the “Charnley Forest”, a natural British stone resembling slate, I have vivid memories of the incessant rubbing that was necessary before a keen edge on the tool could be obtained on them. They varied slightly in quality, but even the very best were dreadfully slow; and all demanded an abnormal amount of labour, to lighten which we sometimes applied fine emery powder to the surface. This quicked the process, but left a raw unsatisfactory edge to the….. In the year 1889 the “Washita”, an imported stone, appeared on the English market, and was hailed with delight by woodworkers, who straight away discarded there “Charnley Forests” for ever.”