Posts Tagged ‘Mike Abbott’

Making chair rungs & rails

Today started by steam-bending the last set of laths. Before I could do this, I took out the 2 sets that I bent on Sunday and fitted them into the setting jig. They needed packing out with a some slices of thin plywood to retain maximum bend.Laths in their setting jig

To make the side rungs and seat-rails for the 6 chairs, I used a log felled this April that had been cleft in half when making legs in a course this summer. It was 18cm (7″) diameter and I cut 3 lengths of 38cm (15″). As with the wood for the legs, this was best split into thirds. In theory, each third would yield 5 rungs and 3 seat-rails.

After cleaving the first of these lengths it looked as if I had the blanks for 6 seat-rails and 11 rungs, with 5 lengths of rejects – either run out during cleaving or defects in the wood.

The results from cleaving the first bit of log

By the time I had shaved them, this had gone down to 6 seat-rails and 9 rungs.

Rungs and rails after shaving

The beauty of working green wood is that one can happily reject anything that’s not right for the job. I had been thinking of cutting all of my spring-felled logs into firewood, so getting a load of chair parts out of this log is a bonus. Because it had been felled 8 months ago, I then left these shaved blanks in a tub of water for several hours. The idea was for them to soak up some moisture so they would swell a little. Then when I cut the tenons with the tenon cutter, they would shrink to the desired size. (After taking the photo, I placed a weight on them to hold them under the water).

The rung & rail blanks soaking

Those 3 sections of the half log just yielded the 36 side rungs and rails plus 4 back seat-rails and are now drying in the racks above the wood-burning stove.

Making chair legs

Yesterday I had a lovely day outside my workshop starting to make use of the ash logs I collected in the rain a few weeks ago making things out of trees. I had stacked the logs carefully as they had come out of the tree trunk.

an ash tree stacked under cover.

an ash tree stacked under cover.

I barrowed one of the sections from the best section together with a section from the butt section up to my cleaving brake outside the workshop. (In fact I didn’t get round to using the butt section).

 2 sections in the barrow

Using a selection of three froes, I cleft the section to yield the material for 6 long legs plus lots of other bits. It was surprisingly sensitive to pressure from the froe, which is why I used the micro froe for the later stages, so that the split wouldn’t run too far along the log before I could control it’s direction.

cleft in half with very big froe Starting to cleave the second halfThe blanks for 6 legs plus 5 other lengthsP1060127

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four of the legs came from just under the bark and had perfect grain. The other pair were from the inner section and had a slight wiggle near one end so I cut them shorter………..and the sun came out – wonderful! I made a peg to hold the ‘curtain ring’ which is the gauge to determine a uniform thickness for the leg.

 

 

 

 

Sunshine at last a curtain ring peg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However perfect the grain may appear, it is never going to be perfectly straight, which is why the process of cleaving and shaving has the advantage over sawing and turning to maximise the strength of the fibres running along the whole length of the leg.

wood is never dead straight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the other 5 lengths I was able to make 6 front seat rails and 16 laths (to be bent in the next day or so at the same time as the legs.

16 back laths 6 front seat rails

 

 

 

 

 

I also managed to make a couple of crests and a back seat-rail out of the remainder as well as 2 large tubs of kindling and a few little bits of firewood but it was to dark to get a pic by then.

A wonderful way to spend a relatively benign December day.

The Man who Made Things out of Trees

The Man who Made Things out of Trees

The Man who Made Things out of Trees

The end of October saw the launch of a new book by Robert Penn called ‘The Man who Made things out of Trees’. Three years or so ago, Rob featured in a TV series entitled ‘Tales from the Wildwood’, which I watched avidly, being entertained by his struggle to find ways of bringing British woodlands back into useful, productive management. I saw the publicity about Rob’s new book so ordered a copy online but was delighted when Rob then sent me a signed copy. It was rather smaller than I had expected and contained a few useful drawings but I was surprised that it had no photos at all. My wife pointed out that it was more along the lines of ‘nature writing’ rather than being a purely informative book, and books in this genre rarely include photos – it’s a book to read for enjoyment – a new concept to me.

I entered into the spirit of this nature writing and soon became absorbed into Rob’s story of searching long and hard for an ideal ash tree, then having it processed (unfortunately, as with his TV programme all planked rather than any cleaving) and finding a range of crafts-people to make it into useful wooden artefacts. The book is  obviously based on many of his experiences with the TV series, featuring the delightful Willie Bullough with his sawmill near Hay-on-Wye. Amongst other crafts-people, the book features fourth generation wheelwright, Phil Gregson, bowl turner and spoon carver Robin Wood, with even a cameo appearance from my good self. It is well written with many good descriptions of the people he meets on his journey. ‘Wiry, fit-looking, with a tuft of brown hair, square glasses, a gold earring and eager, searching eyes, he had the bearing of a Jester. If you had never met Robin Wood, this description captures him perfectly. If you do know Robin, then it has to make you chuckle.

Although the book has the structure of a story, Rob deftly weaves in a great deal of information related to the ash tree, and its place in culture. I had no idea that in 1911 there were 23,785 wheelwrights in England and Wales. He has obviously read widely and in the middle of his wheelwright chapter, Rob launches off for four pages into a brief lecture about ‘the modulus of elasticity’. Despite having worked with ash for 30 years, I had no idea that my raw material was made of microfibril which ‘wind around the cells, spiralling upwards, a bit like the coils of a spring’. This book has something for everybody.

Yesterday was wet and windy, so I was taking the opportunity to read a bit more of Rob’s book, when I received a phone call from Andrew Pickup, a forestry consultant at the firm Prior and Rickett, asking if I was interested in some ash logs he had for sale. (He must have picked up on my reading topic). Today was supposed to be dry, if rather cloudy so we arranged to meet at Weobley post office at 9am, about a 45-minute drive away. Unfortunately the rain band in the south of England had decided to wander a few counties northwards, so Andrew and I stood in the rain examining his six logs. They were bigger than I normally use but to justify the journey I agreed to take the one with the least crinkly bark, leaving the other 5 for  someone like Rob Penn, looking for some straight ash to get milled.

Andrew told me it contained 26 hoppus feet, which is the foresters version of a cubic foot. I said I pay £2.50 per cubic foot for chair-making wood, so after adding VAT and knocking a bit off for the knots, we called it £70. I measured about 5 metres of straight trunk before it became knotty, so sawed a 70cm length off the bottom end where the grain flares – this should make front legs for chairs. That left four lengths just over a metre, which I hoped would cleave straight and clean for back legs. I cut out the knotty sections (nice for any bowl turners – otherwise it will be for next year’s firewood – a reminder of an episode in Rob’s TV series!) then cleft the first section into quarters – very nice.

P1060045

 

Using a blunt axe and a wooden maul, I set about cleaving the metre lengths – better still. I worked out how many legs should come out of one of the halves – about 12. Not the ideal number. I would prefer 4, 8 or 16 to enable me to keep cleaving into halves. So now I chose to split each half into thirds, each wedge then yielding 4 legs on the outside, hopefully 2 more inside and then lots of other bits – either other chair parts or as Phil Gregson says in Rob’s book ‘just expensive firewood’. But without having paid for sawmilling or seasoning, my firewood works out at maybe twice the market rate, no more – and it comes ready split.

About an hour after I started sawing the trunk into lengths, I had the whole lot cleft into manageable pieces. It then took another 50 minutes to hump it over the barbed wire fence and load it into the van, fortunately right next to the fence. I had brought a wheelbarrow just in case but it was not needed.

I couldn’t quite fit in the metre lengths end to end, so had to stack them at one end – a bit of a pain but it looks very neat. The bits and bobs then fitted tidily in the remaining gap, along with chainsaw, axe, maul, wedge and the copy of Rob’s book that I had taken to read while waiting for Andrew to meet me. I then drove home, wet on the outside but glowing with the warmth of a 64-year-old who has just experienced that retirement is not necessarily the end of a fulfilling working life.

The economics of this little adventure? Timber £70, four hours skilled(?) labour (including driving) @ say £20/hour, plus 50 miles @ 40p/mile, gives £170. I could probably sell each of those metre long wedges @£10 and have all the material for front legs and firewood for free. Or I could make the back legs for the 30 chairs on order from Denmark, that I’m supposed to be making with Peter & Ben and still have enough wood for next summer’s courses. We’ll see.

In the meantime I’ll fit in reading the remainder of Rob’s book, which is inspiring me to crack on with writing the fourth in my own trilogy.

Mike’s final transhumance

 

A misty September morning on the Brookhouse Wood 'Verandah'

A misty September morning on the Brookhouse Wood ‘Verandah’

Transhumance is the seasonal movement of people with their livestock between higher summer pastures and winter pastures in the lower valleys. Since I established my enterprise at the end of September 1985, I have made such a twice-yearly journey, moving between my winter retreat and my woodland workshop for a series of summer green wood courses. To coincide with this 30th anniversary, I shall be saying a final farewell to Brookhouse Wood on the last weekend of the September.

  • From 7pm on Saturday 26th there will be a celebration around a campfire on ‘the verandah’ at my woodland workshop, of music, song and merriment. Bring food and drink to share. Overnight camping will be available if you bring your own tent.
  • On Sunday morning starting at 11am, there will be a procession along the lanes from Brookhouse Wood to the Majors Arms at Halmonds Frome
  • From 1pm there will be a spit roast (plus vegan option) at the Majors Arms where you can buy a selection of good local beers and ciders with fabulous views across to the Welsh Hills.
  • At 3pm the procession will lead to Greenwood Cottage where Mike will unload his belongings and visitors will be served with tea, cakes and scones.
  • At 5pm the procession will lead back to Brookhouse Wood where visitors will be able to depart for home. If some of you would like to stay overnight for a quiet celebration of the Lunar eclipse, then please let us know.

Mike’s final woodland courses

The extra course in September, from 14-19th has now fully booked but we sometimes get cancellations a month or so before the start of a course, so if you wish to take part in a course this August or September, don’t be afraid to send us and e-mail to see if any places have arisen – abbott@living-wood.co.uk.

If you’d like to be one of the first to attend our small-scale courses at Greenwood Cottage next summer you can see the first few dates on the previous blog. We plan to add more dates for next summer, once we have finished the courses this September.

Spring in the Woods

At last! After a mainly cold,wet summer last year followed by the long, cold winter, we started our first course of the year this week.

I think the miserable winter must have put people off the idea of a week in the woods, so we only had four bookings on this course but it gave me the opportunity to train up this year’s assistants. Stephen has returned as the main assistant, having worked with Barn as an assistant in 2009. Johnny, James and JoJo will be taking it in turns to work alongside Stephen in guiding this year’s students through their chair-making courses.

Stephen carefully sighting Hans as he locates where to drill into his chair legs

Stephen carefully sighting Hans as he locates where to drill into his chair legs

Yesterday the sun shone non-stop from the dawn chorus until sunset, so having made all the parts for the chairs during the first two and a half days, we moved some benches onto the field at the edge of the woods to start assembling the chairs.

James helping Ian assemble his side panel

James helping Ian assemble his side panel

We were also able to use the magnificent dining table built last year by Owen, Steve and the other volunteers. As well as using it at lunchtime, it also serves well as a woodwork bench with a view across the valley to the Malvern Hills in the distance.

Hans cutting a mortice while JoJo and Fransisco squeeze together a chair frame

Hans cutting a mortice while JoJo and Fransisco squeeze together a chair frame

By lunchtime our simple solar water heater had warmed 7 gallons of water to just the right temperature for a shower.

Fransisco replacing one of the water containers back into the solar heater after his shower

Fransisco replacing one of the water containers back into the solar heater after his shower

The next two courses are about fully booked but we still have places for the course from June 10th to 15th. After the dry cold March and the showers in late April, I fully expect a blazing June, so book a course place soon and you will hopefully be able to spend a creative week,  basking in the Herefordshire countryside.