Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Week 16: The Big Willow

Nick had clearly been concerned about the incident last week when the upper most branches of the tree I was working on fell on Jill and began with our work on the plot with a reminder to us all to be aware of where others were working and to warn them sooner rather than later that a tree was close to falling. Whilst I did not want in any way to avoid responsibility for what had happened I took the opportunity to remind everyone that my poor hearing means that my awareness of what is going on behind me is more limited than most people’s. I need to be more diligent about looking behind me but others can help by alerting me to their presence and not just assuming that I will hear them.

We then went on to look at the next 2 trees to be felled – both leaning and needing to be match cut; both big enough to warrant a team effort. Having looked at them both Nick asked us to divide into 2 groups bearing in mind that they should be evenly matched in terms of ‘youth’ which I took to mean energy, muscle power and skill. As the oldest, one of the lightest and possibly the least skilled and with no-one else making a move I opted for the willow and Andrew and Kieron chose to join me.. That left Stef, David and Penny to tackle the Oak. I am not sure if this was the even division Nick had in mind but it was what he got because he did n’t want to be bossy! Nick and Martin (Barbara was unwell and had stayed home) left us to it but kept an eye on proceedings and intervened when they thought we needed advice.

Andrew, Kieron and I formed a disorderly queue with our axes and jostled politely for equal shares of the work. With their bigger, heavier axes and greater skill they worked more efficiently than I did but I was pleased that my swings seem to be improving. We did a neatly matched pair of cuts and then a few blows on the back brought the tree down gracefully and slowly on its hinge. The top growth was twisted and tangled, the trunk was still attached by its hinge and supported on some of the branches so we had to work out how to dismember it safely without causing it to twist or fall unintentionally. Martin helped us to think it through and we all had a go at axing off branches. Martin, and later Jill, joined us to help sned. One branch was now vertical from the trunk which was still suspended above the ground. Martin decided that for safety he would axe it off as it needed a cut rather high for any of us to manage competently, but if we had dropped the trunk there was a possibility it would roll with the weight that was high up. We discussed other strategies if we were working on our own with such a situation but they were slower and more complex so we let him help us out! Then Kieron and I got on the two handed saw and cut the trunk into 2 more manageable lengths. Despite several brief but intense hailstorms we got the job finished by the end of the day.

The snedding ants get to work

The two handed saw being put to good use by Garry and Stef
A two handed saw will last forever once properly set up.  Here's Martin getting an old saw ship shape

Andrew had brought me today and used his long wheel base Landrover so that he could take Penny and her finished Shavehorse home – a shavehorse being difficult to transport on the bus or her bike! They had loaded it earlier but when we left we decided to walk up Steve’s ride to his yard and thence to the lane thinking it would be less muddy. Jill joined us with her bike. When we got to the gate we discovered that it was locked because Martin, who parks in Steve’s yard, had already left. Rather than go back we agreed to climb the gate which was netted on our side at the bottom making it more difficult to get a foot hold. Andrew lifted Jill’s bike over and we climbed. Penny and Jill managed it with panache; between being restricted by thermal long johns, jeans and waterproof over trousers which made bending my knees difficult and an uncontrollable fit of giggling I did it very inelegantly! A sack of potatoes comes to mind!

Having travelled to her home Andrew and I were even more more struck by Penny’s fortitude and determination in getting to the course.

Thursday was green woodworking as usual and I was very touched that both Nick and Martin had been thinking about the best way to construct my swing bench given that the weight is pulling down on chains rather than pressing down on legs. They had come to similar conclusions and a few more diagrams later we were in agreement. However the first task was to finish preparing blanks to become the spindles for the back. How many of these are turned on the lathe and how many remain as shaped by the drawknife depends on time and progress. Their length also depends on the curved piece I select for the top of the back and I have discovered that the longer the spindle is the thicker it must be or it flexes and wobbles on the lathe which may also affect how many I turn. I spent the morning shaping the willow I had cleft last week into straight cylinders using the axe and then the drawknife. The practice I got in over the summer making sawhorses certainly helped as I was able to do them quite quickly and can make a circle by eye and feel. 

Penny getting advice from Barabra on how to work weave her bean support

Sue's finished spurtle

After lunch I asked Barbara for the piece of thorn she had mentioned last week. Thorn is particularly good to turn on the lathe and she wanted me to have that experience. When we got the piece from the store it had a saw cut part way down but this seemed to be superficial so I got the froe and started to split it. That was when I discovered that the cut was too deep and stopped the split. I need a couple of shorter spindles for the front of the arms so decided to continue and use the piece for one of those. It was beautifully straight grained and I quite quickly had the blank I needed. I mounted it on the lathe and started to rough it to a true cylinder. Nick came to check that I was OK as I was working outside and the tutors were all busy in the workshop. He noticed that one end of the work had slipped and was off-centre which was why it was taking a long time to become round! He cut that end off and re-mounted it for me but once I had finished roughing I had a short piece much fatter at one end and rather thin at the other. Martin was walking past and came to see how I was getting on. After a brief discussion I decided to abandon it as a spindle but rather than waste the wood and the work already put in I turned it (literally!) into a spurtle for stirring my porridge. It was beautiful wood to work, nicely figured and with a smooth finish. To my delight and relief I managed to produce a fairly even thickness of shaft and to shape quite a nice thistle as a handle. I must trim the ends off and it needs to dry out slowly and even so may split but it was good to finish the week on a high note.

 Words by Sue Laverack
Photos by Sue Laverack and David Hunter

Week 15: Wayward Trees

What a contrast to the snow and drama of last week! This week we had two days of warm sunshine and it was a pleasure to be out on the plot on Wednesday. We were joined by 3 new people. Two are thinking of signing up for the 6 month course next year and wanted to come and see what it would entail. The third lives quite locally and is interested in short courses and maybe volunteering. It was lovely to meet them and they seemed to enjoy their visits.

We warmed up by snedding the rest of the wood felled last week then fanned out to find a tree to cut down I chose a multi-stemmed thorn. To my delight I found that I was using the axe much more effectively and getting bigger chips out. I still need to improve my accuracy but there is definitely progress! Mid afternoon though I nearly caused a nasty accident when the stem I was cutting was caught by the wind, suddenly twisted and fell in the opposite direction to the one I expected. The top branches landed on Jill who I had not realised was working behind me. Luckily she was bending down and facing away from me so the branches hit her back rather than her face which would have been badly scratched. A good lesson to pay more attention to what is going on all around me and to warn everyone in good time when a stem is getting weaker.

During a tea break I spoke to Bruce, our chairman, about learning to peen my scythe. It was during an open day for members of Coppicewood that I first tried a scythe and got the scything bug! He is hoping to organise a day when we can all go and explore his forest garden and those who have not tried it before can have a go at scything. He offered to teach me peening whilst the others try out the scythes. It is a very generous offer and I accepted quickly.

Thursday was green woodworking and I started to prepare pieces of willow for turning as spindles. I managed to get one straight enough from the pieces I had taken from home and a couple which will be good enough rounded on the shavehorse but are not quite straight enough for the lathe. I had also taken a piece of bird cherry which had broken off under the weight of snow and cleft it and shaped it as back ends or arms – exact use yet to be decided. Barbara has suggested I try to use some thorn for some of the spindles as this would be good lathe practice and she has some pieces I can cleave. That will be next week’s task.

Using figure of eight movements during sharpening avoids pitting the stone

Correct angle of the chisel on the stone

During the day on Thursday we also had a refresher course on sharpening.  We were shown how to use the oil stone to hone and edge on a smoothing chisel and how to get to the awkward surfaces of a lathe gauge.  Sharpening tools takes sometime but there is no doubt that the sharper the tool the better the result, the safer the task and the more enjoyable the job.

Words by Sue Laverack
Photos by David Hunter