Death to the trees – huh?

Many people do not appreciate why trees are cut down in managed woodland. From my point of view they are cut down to provide me with raw materials. From an environment perspective they are cut down for the benefit of woodland.

I work in a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a govt. designated area of land where development  and other activities are regulated.

On Monday I will be cutting down trees.  Here are some of them:

These are self-seeded sycamores.  Nothing wrong with that. Except that this is a SSSI.  With a management plan.  This is not wildwood.  There is none in England.  All woodland in England has been managed for hundreds, and in some cases thousands of years (OK more than 1,000 years is thousands – right?)

Strid Wood SSSI is so designated for these reasons:

“Ordnance Survey Sheet 1: 50,000: 104 1: 10,0000: SE 05 NE
First Notified: 1985 (December)
Other Information:

The south-west bank is intensively used for recreation, and nature trails have been set out.
Strid Wood contains the largest area of acidic oak woodland and the best remnant of oak wood-pasture in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The wood is set astride the River Wharfe which here runs through a deep steep-sided valley cut into Millstone Grit and Carboniferous Limestone.

The southwest bank has been much altered by forestry practice. The native oak Quercus petraea, and ash Fraxinus excelsior are accompanied by plantations of beech Fagus sylvatica, sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus, poplar Populus sp. and conifers such as larch and Douglas fir.
The very edge of the river however remains largely neutral, with elm and alders. Soil conditions on this side of the valley appear less acidic, and the ground flora is rich, with stands of dog’s mercury Mercurialis perennis, ramsons Allium ursinum, sanicle Sanicula europaea and sweet woodruff Asperula odoratum. The uncommon yellow star of Bethlehem Gagea lutea is found here.
The wood is valued by naturalists for its important populations of many groups of plants and animals. There is a rich bryophyte flora, several species being rare of very local in distribution, including Dicranum montanum, Cinclicotus mucronatus, Fissidens rufulus, Nowellia curvifolia and Sphagnum quinquefarium. A wide variety of fungi occur two species Coprinus subpurpureus and Deconica rhombispora, being first British records. Woodland management by selective felling rather than clear-felling has ensured a continuity of tree-cover, and has favoured the growth of a rich lichen-flora: indeed Strid Wood is considered one of the best lichen woods in Yorkshire.
Amongst the most notable species recorded are Arthonia didyma, Thelotrema lepadinum, Cladonia parasitica and Endocarpon pusillum. The wood is also noted for the occurrence of the local molluscs Acanthinula lamellata and Lauria anglica.

Over sixty species of birds have been recorded, forty-four of these breeding, including pied flycatcher, wood warbler and goosander.”

This is the designation by the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs.

OK so, ash and oak are the principal inhabitants, they are being encouraged and the invaders, mainly sycamore and beech are being discouraged (cut down).

Ash in Strid is a prolific generator and if left alone would produce a woodland of over crowded trees.  So what we do is remove some of the weaker trees, so that the small trees can become big healthy trees that will go forward for years (and centuries) to come.

Here are the marked men:

The little ones here are just taking the ground goodness and light away from the larger ash tree at centre right.  So the ones with the green spots will be cut, and the bigger ash will flourish.  This is not wild wood – the trees would be much bigger – it is managed woodland.  Enjoy.

Like the sunset:


This book was a birthday present from the New Yorkers (my son Will and his wife Eva).  It is an extraordinary book, a collection of articles researched by school kids in the late 1960s and first published in a Northeast Georgia school magazine.  This volume (and there are at least 10 more) concerns home life in The Appalachians and is full of first-hand stories of a life gone by with pictures diagrams and photographs.  It reminds me of The Whole Earth Catalogue vein of culture. It tells history in a much more immediate way somehow that some books on English country life which, while interesting and informative, seem to be more remote from the people who lived e.g. in The Yorkshire Dales as the information about the people is less and more about their skills and equipment (However, I was reading a fascinating account of oatbread making in Life and Tradition in The Yorkshire Dales by M Hartley and J Ingilby but that’s another story!).

Anyway in Foxfire amongst a lot of other fascinating things I’ve not had a chance to read as yet there’s a picture of Bill Lamb’s shave horse.  I think this is the most minimalist horse I’ve ever seen.

It was used for dressing shingles.

I thoroughly recommend at least this volume of Foxfire (which is the first one) and I will definitely be dipping in to volume 4 which appears to have a something on the pole lathe:

(By the way, I’m aware of the criminal problem with the editor in later years, but he has probably suffered enough over that)

And on that subject I can report that the Japanese style minimalist cleaving break works really well.  I’ll take a photo today of the one I’ve made from a sycamore log I’ve had lying around.

What’s this tool?

My brother Tony bought this yesterday in Todmorden market.  We’ve been trying to find out what it was used for.  It’s the wrong shape and too uncomfortable for a shoe horn, although the shape suggests a similar use.  It’s not in Eric Sloane’s Museum of Early American Tools and Google image searches have proved fruitless.

It is iron, blacksmith-made with a little scroll on the end on the hook.  The edges are not sharpened.It’s 7 1/2 inches long overall.

Anyone have any ideas?

Quick update.

After extensive searching through tool books, the nearest I’ve come is a similar item used for running molten lead into a stone socket when fixing e.g. upright iron railings.


Pied Beauty
GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

(last two lines optional)

In the bleak mid-Winter

It’s not all that bleak:

Just what these sprouts are, uncovered by foraging Blackbirds, I’m not sure.  Definitely not bluebells, or chives which they certainly resemble.  In theory they should be Dog’s Mercury as that’s about the first woodland plant to show in Strid Wood.  I’ll keep my eyes peeled and report once they’ve put on a little more growth.

Although the plants are readying for Spring I’m still burning a bit of wood in the stove which today added a little extra something to the sun light.

Wow see that sunlight shining through the shelter – the worst is over!

Dibbers,tables, tips and squaring

Nothing too exciting to report at the moment so this is just a little update.  I’m mainly busy renovating the workshop during this quiet season, when I would really like to be felling (but waiting on others).  I’m making a new bench.  I must do a before and after shot.  The old one is so chronically bad, I hope it holds out until the new one is ready.  I have a lot of work to do to make the new ‘un including a lot of squaring of 3″ square stock as I am going to install a tail vice.  Here is the work in progress:

Reminds me of being at school, where I took woodwork class for a year in the first year at grammar school.  First lesson was squaring a piece of wood – I think it ended up as something for wrapping string onto. The bench is to be from a beech butt I’ve had kicking about for two years.  I milled it with the chain saw and the bench top should be about 15″ wide and about 3″ thick.  This will be luxurious compared to the half log I’m working on just now.  I also produced a new milling jig for the saw so the first slab is cut true.  The old ash one had developed a nasty and inconvenient warp.

Now here’s a little tip for people who have to take tools out of the workshop:

It’s a simple leather bit holder.  The bits are of the size that gets lost very easily, especially when they live in the cordless drill box, which occasionally lands on the floor upside down (there must be a host of things buried in the foot or so of shavings in the workshop, I’ll explain why they never get swept up one day).

For my birthday my lady wife gave me an unusual present (well actually it was a joke!)

Spot the present:


Yes it’s the orange one (why do people do that?).  I copied it a few times today in spalted beech.  It will be a cheap alternative to my T-handled de luxe models.  I know, rubbish eh, but you’ve got to keep the passers-by happy and I sell loads of these.  I suspect a lot of them are bought as presents, but probably don’t end up in cupboards like ours did to be discovered five years later!

I’ve been selling a few bird tables so here is the latest replacement. Ash shigles for the roof and a rather rustic feel (not like the orange ones to be had in DIY superstores)

I used to hate making these, but now I’ve got the production down to a manageable process it’s much easier.


And just to cap off this post here’s a modification to the stove flue outlet:

No more rain down the chimney!

New year … new bench!

Yes, I like the start of a new year, there’s a whole virgin year, unspoilt to go at, rather like early morning with all the day ahead.

I’ve been promising myself a new bench in the woods.  The old one is rather a mess: cobbled together tail vice that’s splitting apart, partly burnt from an early  forging accident, another big split the wrong side of where the holdfasts anchor, and worst of all the flippin top is far from level.

I’ve been holding back from this job, partly because of the busy Christmas season, and partly because I need to mill a large piece of beech for the new bench top and the last time I used the mill there was a major problem – it stopped cutting (how can a chain saw going full rip not cut ?).  So prior to giving in  and lashing out on the expense of a new pico narrow bar and matching ripping chain, I thought I’d give it one more chance.  Firstly I sharpened the ripping chain, only this time I checked the depth gauges.  I don’t know how this has happened, I always check them on the regular chain, but the ripping chain needed several strokes to lower the gauges.  So that would be why it stopped cutting, I’d finally sharpened the chain into the ground and not kept up with the depth gauges so they were preventing the cutters taking any shavings at all!

The milling went well, reducing a beech bole to a manageable 11 inches square piece ready for milling bench tops.

Even the sun shone, and a nice warm breeze blew most of the saw dust away (eugh! can’t stand the stuff)

Rather short of photos as I was a bit busy, but now I have two large planks ready for making up.  Resharpened the saw, changed back to the normal bar and chain and cut one to length – 4′ 2″ like the old one. But a consistent 3 1/2 inches thick, rather than half-round.  Now I need a working, but unfussy plan for the tail vice.  I’ve been browsing The Workbench Book for inspiration and I now have half a plan.

On the subject of books, and The Workbench Book in particular, like the Internet, don’t just take everything for granted.  I used the rough drawing of Drew Langsner’s dumbhead horse for my recent modification, only to find the measurement of the arm in the book gave 30″, this turns out to be the length of the arm inside the joints, rather than overall.  My 30″ arm needed drastic lengthening to compensate.  But gave an added bonus of being able to fit a cross footrest that I’m happier with than the little plate that is more standard on dumbheads.

I took the opportunity to provide a child-height cross treadle hole too.