Sunday 17 April 2011

Devonshire Batt, the sandstone scythestone from Blackborough

Dan and I went to see if the Yandles woodworking show was worth Woodwright Designs showing or demonstrating at. On the way back home I decided that we should see if we could find the home of the Devonshire "batt", and so we typed  Blackborough into the satnav. I knew of this stone through some research and had already found a bit of interesting information from the website about the village.
We arrived in this small Devon village and found a very informative display board about the whetstone mining in the area. We also met a gentleman called John who told us more about the industry and pointed out where to look for the mines.

I had better point out that the Devonshire "batt" is a scythe stone. A scythe stone is used to sharpen scythes, which need to be sharpened many times a day. The scythe was used for cutting everything, from grass, wheat, weeds and scrub.
To view the image below, just click on it and click again to make it big enough to read. This makes very interesting reading and will tell you everything you need to know. I am just to lazy to type it out.

These are some pictures of the hill, when you walk the footpaths you can see that there is a wide ledge formed around the hill where the miners worked.
In these pictures the mounds are where the miners roughed out the whetstones throwing the discarded materials either side of them.

Dan and I of course had to pick up a couple of likely looking stones to take home and try out. There is a bit of hard chert mixed in with the sandstone which is too hard for sharpening with.
Above is the biggest bit which has been shaped using an angle grinder and belt sander. This stone is 8.5 x 3.5 inches. Below is another smaller stone.
These stones are coarse, and I would only ever use them for rough honing of primary bevels. I only picked up a couple of stones and the grade of them is probably very poor. John told us that there were various grades of stones and the miners would have been selective. He also told us that because of the geology that the largest sized stone was the size of a horses head. This means that only small stones could be made, and large grindstone wheels certainly could not be manufactured.
If you click on the image  you will see the scratch marks this stone left in the bevel of my pocket knife. I would say that the marks left are comparable to a coarse carborundum stone.
I am slowly forming a collection of natural stones, most of which are very hard and fine stones like those from Charnley Forest. These "batts" are certainly on the other end of the scale. I would also be amazed if I was to find a whole "batt" at a sale.
I would now also like to find out if there is anything in the middle of the region of a 1000grit, that was mined in the UK.

Monday 4 April 2011

Probably the best eating spoon in the world

Hubris has not taken over my soul, and I do not believe that there is a perfect this or that. I believe we can get close, but the thing is, we are all individuals with our own likes, ways of moving, doing things etc. What is perfect for you may not be perfect for me.
However, I embarked on a project a few years ago: to make the perfect eating spoon - and for me, I have made it. How long this will last I do not know, I may make another spoon I fall in love with, that is perfect for me at that time. I realise that spoons are often specialized implements, suited for serving, cooking, eating, and racing. There are many perfect spoons and crap ones as well.What is important in a spoon is not only how it performs, but design and aesthetics, and the story that goes with it.
I have taught green wood work for many years now. In the past I got very caught up in the notion that people had to make a good spoon, turning, etc. I realised slowly that it is the process of making, the process of learning a new skill that is important, not the final outcome. We all have to practice and it is only through making and doing that we improve.
 I was in Cornwall with my family on holiday, camping in our bell tent, when I made this spoon.
Cloutie tree at Madron Holy Well. It has been a tradition to tie cloth or personal objects to trees at Holy wells as a prayer or offering 
We visited a few Holy wells and when visiting Madron Well there was a lot of small trees and shrubs cut down to improve access to the site. I of course had to take a small log, no more that 2 inches diameter back to the camp site. The wood was blackthorn, the shape of the wood dictated the shape of the spoon and you can see the pith on top of the handle.
The spoon is asymmetrical, the handle round in cross section, with it arcing in a compound curve. I love this spoon and have used it for over 4 years now.
In using the spoon I found that it was in fact a very good eating spoon. The flat end of the bowl which fits up to and into the mouth at that perfect angle, for me.
The curve in the handle fitted me and the act of getting food from plate to mouth was comfortable and natural. I got thinking about ergonomics and design and thought I could make the perfect eating spoon.

 I have made a few of these spoons, trying to reproduce the same ideas and shapes. Above is a beech spoon that is the "one". These 2 spoons I use every day. My breakfast is eaten with them and when appropriate my dinner. They are used for porridge, soups and casseroles, in fact any food that can be eaten with a spoon. The bowl may be shallow, but it does work well with thin liquids. In fact I think that all eating spoons should have shallow bowls.
 I do not treat my spoons, they are just wood. They may not last forever, but that is the nature of wood and humans.
As I write this article, I realise that the first proper spoon I made was when I was living under a large but adolescent oak tree, in a teepee. The spoon was going to be a large cooking/ serving spoon. I had a major accident with it, I can not remember the exact details but either a split developed in the bowl or I cut a large portion off it. Out of this disaster I made it into an eating spoon, which in design was similar to this one. I used it or most meals for many years, but spoons can have accidents and this one went the way of most spoons ever made. It was broken beyond repair and went into the fire. I only have a memory of this spoon, no images.

 Above is a spoon I made for a collector of spoons. What sort of spoon do you make for a collector? I could have made a £400 love spoon, a £200 contemporary spoon, an £8 spoon made as fast as I could.
 I made a spoon that had a personal story to it, but I did make it from a beautifully figured wood. London Plane or Lacewood - and it had a lovely tight burr to it as well. It is also sanded, which I do only with some spoons. It is also oiled to bring out the grain and colour.

 I have been meaning to write this post for some time. I was prompted to do so because a friend, talented green woodworker, and tireless campaigner Robin Wood posted a blog on the perfect cooking spoon. I too have my own take on the cooking spoon, but that is for another post. What I love about this spoon making is that we all come up with our own design and ideas and stories about spoons. We may start off by copying other designs but we soon develop our own unique style, after the first hundred, or so, spoons. Trying to make the perfect spoon is a great way of learning and I urge you all to attempt the perfect spoon.