What does Mike do in the winter?

I am frequently asked how I pass the time during the winter months, when I am not running courses.

Winter writing

Since 2002, when Tamsin and I produced our book Living Wood, I have often spent winter months working on new editions of this book or the newer one, Going with the Grain, which we published in 2011. After four editions selling 9000 copies, we now intend to let Living Wood go out of print. (As I write, there still around 50 copies remaining, so get in quick!) The second edition of Going with the Grain still has around 100 copies in stock and it seems popular enough to warrant a third edition. Over the intervening five years with over 300 new chairs being made, many improvements have evolved, and I’d hate it if these weren’t properly documented. So that’s a bad-weather job for the next few months.

Winter wooding

What else do I do? For my ten years at Clissett Wood and my first five years at Brookhouse Wood, much of my winter was taken up with woodland management and harvesting wood for milling, making chairs and for firewood. I described this in chapter 5 of Living Wood, summarising what I believed would be the ideal scenario. Being no longer involved with a woodland is a mixed blessing – no longer able to select the trees I wish to fell but also no longer having to swing a chainsaw and large lumps of wood in the cold winter weather – nothing finer though, for a fit young man!

Building sheds

However, I still enjoy sawing and splitting the firewood for our home, and in 2012 with the help of my son Dougal, I built a woodshed with two south-facing bays for storing and seasoning firewood.

This has worked very well but I had also been using another adjacent old shed that was steadily collapsing, so this winter I decided to demolish part of this shed and double the size of the newer woodshed.

I took the opportunity to remove the previous corrugated sheets, added four new sheets and increased the overhang of the roof to prevent southerly winds blowing rain onto the drying logs. Oh, how I missed the assistance of my teen-aged son, now studying music in Bristol. Instead, I had to drag Tamsin away from her creative stained-glass work to steady the poles and to pass up the corrugated sheets. Ten days without rain enabled me to take my time and to process the dry, wormy old timbers into superb kindling.

Keeping warm

So much for the dry weather and the extra overhang! Thanks to ‘The Beast from the East’, all that kindling now has a good coating of snow.  Nevertheless, Tamsin has been able to keep warm burning bits of dry old shed, while working away in her studio on some gorgeous pieces for the Blue Ginger Gallery, which re-opens with ‘meet the makers’ on 17th March. Meanwhile I have been able to sort through the backlog of paperwork in the living room, while building up an improving relationship with the new wood-burning stove that we fitted last year.

As I write, it is just starting to thaw and I can return to planning this year’s changes to the summer shelter and dining area, which are looking distinctly sorry for themselves under a carpet of snow. The new tarpaulin (twice the size of the current one) is still in its snow covered bundle waiting to emerge like a dragonfly, when the warm sun returns. I shall retrieve the set of chairs over-wintering with Ed & Rowena and hopefully greet their return with a new ash dining table to replace the disastrous attempt from 2017.

It’s hard to imagine right now, that in 11 weeks, when the courses start again in May, we’ll be out in the warm Herefordshire spring air again…………

The Greenwood Cottage workshop 2017
The early stages of a chair-making course

……………but that’s the delight of the cycle of an English year!


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