Brick, wood and stone, part II (mostly wood)

When we were in York last week I visited the Merchant Venturers Hall.  It was built between 1357 and 1361, before most of the craft or trade guild halls, making it one of the largest buildings of its kind and date in Britain.  It has a massive double span roof  supported by a row of large central timber posts.

I’m not sure the spotlights add to the beams, but they certainly make it very difficult to get a close-up of the very fine adze/side axe work on the beams.  But I managed a snap of the carpenters’ joint markings.

There were a group of ladies in the hall embroidering panels for a Bayeux-type tapestry of Harold’s other battle – Fulford in Yorkshire before the fateful showdown at Hastings.  I didn’t get a picture but had a chat about the work.

The hall has some interesting early chairs and chests on display

Beautiful carving, and , like Peter Folansbee‘s excellent (and finer) work in Massachusetts you can see various scribe marks setting out the pattern:

I love the way the setting out must have been completely forgotten before setting out on carving this one

That top frieze was never going to fit.

There was also a rather bizarre chair that is supposed to be an apprentice piece, illustrating various turning techniques (but excluding design considerations apparently)

And while very modern by comparison, this chair by Thompson of Kilburn is now a modern classic – don’t miss the signature mouse.

There were also a few good old windsor chairs

The one on the left looks like it may be from Nottinghamshire (the chair making tradition was not very well developed in Yorkshire, surprisingly, considering the number of people living here in the 19th century), the stick back looks pretty similar and is probably from the same area.

There were also some smokers drawn up around a table, the heavy turning on the legs suggests a Yorkshire origin.

Brick, wood and stone

Just spent a couple of enjoyable days in York, which is only an hour’s drive away from where I live.

The city goes back at least to Roman times, with various periods between then and now represented in buildings and artefacts.

There is a strong Viking influence as Eirik Bloodaxe took the city during his brief rule as King of Northumbria in the 10th century.  We attended a lecture launching a new biography of Eirik by Gareth Williams of the British Museum.  Dispelled quite a few myths like Vikings didn’t really have horns on their helmets, feathers of birds, maybe.  It was the annual Viking Festival in York so there was quite a lot Viking goings on, and even a few pukka Norwegians wandering about.

There is so much to look at in York it is a feast for the eyes, from buildings to carvings and the most magnificent Gothic cathedral in Europe:

This is just the South Transept which was badly damaged by a lightening-started fire in 1985 and has been restored, you can see how crisp the stone work is near the roof as I suspect this is part of the restoration.  At present the East front is buried under scaffolding for refurbishment and I was fascinated to see the hand carved stone awaiting fitting

There is much stonework everywhere you look, and because of its age there is a delightful irregularity

This is a wall of the Merchant Venturers’ Hall Chapel (of which more anon).  How much more appeal has this than some of our modern offerings, and what will they look like in 1,000 years time?

Much prefer these delights for the eye:

Merchant Venturers’ Hall timber framing.

And this:

The Hospitium, Museum Gardens.

And this:

King’s Manor, Exhibition Square (I’m sure that dormer window would look much better painted black though!)

To be continued …

Industrial greenwood working and croissants

I’ve been rather busy shifting the felled timber back to base camp.  I can’t get so near with the trailer so I use the Lift ‘n’Shift:

This little helper allows me to move logs that are too heavy to lift by picking a log up near its centre with a pair of dogs.  The long handle gives leverage to help pick up.  I fasten a rope on to help stabilise, note the cunning use of the log tongs to secure the rope, and the tongs are needed at either end – the felling site and stacking in the trailer. A load this size (although part of the load is out of frame) is enough for one old body:

The logs have then to be unloaded as well so a load a day is a very good work out.

I’m using some of this big stuff to make scratter axles.  A scratter reduces apples to a pulp prior to pressing for cider (hard cider) or apple juice (cider) (stateside translation in brackets). The size my local brewery wants is about the biggest my current set up can cope with.  I had to drill a hole to get max capacity in the horse – the billet is about 6 inches diameter after splitting and axe work:

Quite fun turning it down too, I’ve done one in sycamore and one in birch  They are just roughed out and then I’ll dry them for a few weeks/months and skim them round again once seasoned.

One of the ash trees I took down (another leaner) was partly hollow, I thought I could make them into natural bird boxes – watch this space:

Light and heavy felling

I was felling ash yesterday, here’s a link to a brief video of one of the trees coming down, as filmed by David (many thanks) who was kindly helping me out.

We took down ten trees, most of them were leaning, and therefore a little challenging especially as the site was sloping too.  We had the paths you may be able to see in the background closed off and all went well.  We took down a small beech two medium-sized ash, 5 sycamores, a small collateral damage ash and a massive (for the species) birch which was leaning at about 30 degrees from vertical, but which fell in the correct lie, after a slight nipping the saw incident.  We took down the small beech first and spread it over the path to protect it from the heavy birch impact and the path was indeed intact after the day’s work.  Then we took down the next biggest, the two leaning ash trees.  All trees were bucked and the brash stacked as we went along.  The timber will be extracted by hand later, but we had to leave it all reasonably tidy because of the very public access to the wood.  Finally we had the small sycamores to fell, and know what?  These last two of the day both got hung up in neighbouring trees and needed winching down.

It was a very productive day’s work with a wealth of timber for this year’s work, besides firewood and charcoal raw material, in due course after seasoning.

As we were about shot at by 3 we removed all the footpath closure signs and set off to see my mate Ian doing a bit of heavy stuff on the other side of the Wharfe valley:

Although this image is blurred (low light and rough ground!) it does give a sense of the movement and power of this machine (and the fear as it comes towards you!):

You’ve probably all seen this before, but being right next to a Logset 8H as it eats a tree is something else.  Made our efforts seem very low tech! We chatted to the forwarder driver:

He asked us what we’d been using to extract the timber, “Us two and a pair of log tongs.”

We worked on a slippery slope, but not quite as slippery as this looked to be (couldn’t check it out without going through a meter deep mud puddle):

So, there you have it.  Hand harvesting/thinning, and commercial logging, two sides of a coin.  The big stuff is going for fencing and pallets.  Mine just for the usual stuff.


New vice and hex legs

I’ve been having some time off making stock as people seem very unwilling to buy stock in January, and I’ve only just gotten started felling this year’s thinnings. I bought a vice screw some time ago, it’s this one.  I made a rather ineffectual tail vice with it and it was beginning to fall apart only months later (the vice that is, the screw was perfectly OK). But now after quite some gestation I have a new bench with a tail vice, that I’m rather pleased about: It really is green woodwork too, but looks rather too refined for the rough old workshop in t’woods.  I felled a decent-sized beech tree 2 years ago and it has been left in log since and is still rather green.  I’ve left all the bolts accessible so adjustments can be made as the drying progresses.  I expect there will be some planing to be done at least!  The bench top is 3 1/4 ” thick and mounted on tenoned quarter log legs with 1 1/2″ round tenons (thanks Veritas).  I put rungs across the short ends between the legs and then stacked a lot of wood on them to give some stability to the whole job.  It does seem pretty solid, and I was amazed when the vice actually worked second time (after I’d relieved the hole in the vice jaw that the screw goes through, and was binding/threading).  The finger joints are not particularly neat, but I think they are strong and glued and 3″ coach screwed as well: The vice runs in three (count ’em) runners, one running in a slot in the bench front. one in a slot in the bench end cap and a third one which is screwed to the bench underside runs in a saddle in the extension of the front jaw.  The bench end cap is bolted on as are all the vice screw parts and the bench front edge which I will be drilling dog holes in as required. I was reading Peter Folansbee’s post on his Welsh Stick chair project this morning and his previous post on this subject had inspired me to buy “Welsh Stick Chairs” by John Brown.  I’ve been putting off making a bow backed child’s chair for some time and I decided now was the time to make a Welsh stick chair version.  I like the style’s unfussy simplicity. Anyways, Peter is making his legs octagonal.  John Brown made his hexagonal (that’s 6-sided) – from square oak stock.  Well I started with ash log about 6″ diameter, cleaved it in 6, cleaned the sharpest edges off with the axe and got it on the horse (wayhey! the new dumbhead) I was going to use the draw knife to make it square, and then hesitated about what the next step would be … hum .. making it octagonal is easy – just take off all the corners of a square and you’ve got 8 sides.  6 is a different kettle of white-clawed cray fish.  So should I make two opposite sides into two sides each – yes that makes six, but then why would I make a two sides square and then knife them away – surely there’s a waste of time here, for four legs that means making eight sides square and then removing the work just done – doh!  OK I definitely need two opposite faces parallel, let’s take the inside and outside of the log: OK so now I need four more faces.  Hang on (thinks I), two of those existing faces look to have the correct angle already.  They are the faces from the original splits. Going back to grammar school geometry (loved it) the external angles of a regular figure (like a hexagon for instance) add up to 360 degrees and therefore the external angle to the bottom  (that is the now flatened centre) face is already 60 degrees,  Whoopee!  All I need do is put the two original split faces in turn down on the horse bed and cut the opposite surface parallel (well not really as the legs are tapered in their length as well). Turned out not too bad really: The light was going before I finished the last one of the larger rear pair.  Speaking of which there should be an improvement in the colour of these pictures when I install a white under tarp inside the green one which currently casts a horrible green tinge on everything.  Just need to source the said white tarp. The legs produced a host of business card material: Yesterday was a good day too, contractors turned up to take down the dead beech tree behind me that I’ve been having nightmares about, it made a hell of a crash when it came down: That’s only about half of it – it was around 3 foot at felling height.

It used to look like this (the tall one behind the workshop): Still plenty of water in the water meadows and a good sunset to boot.

If the valley’s flooded Spring can not be far away!

This was the view down the Aire Valley on my way to work this morning:

Not too bad though really as this is a flood plain that always fills up when there’s heavy rain.  We’ve had a few days of it now and could use a break.  However, Spring is not so far away now:

These are hazel catkins, and if the sun graced us with his presence there’d be pollen flying, I’ll be bound.  We call them lambs’ tails around here.

It was a bit of a poor day in the woods today; one indicator light gave out on the Land Rover, so that’s a bit of shopping needed.  Forgot my stock treen for sale, so had nothing to sell (not that anyone is buying much at this low time of the year.)  On the upside though a couple of people took my card as they were interested in green wood courses. And I made a memorial cross for a customer:

I have to carve the cat’s name on it yet “Louis”, bit of a challenge.  The timber is chestnut, by the way. Having a trying time with sharpening a V chisel properly, back to the grind stone I fear, the gouge at the bottom seems far too big, I think it’s the angle of the straight chisels that’s wrong.  May resort to chip carving it.

I’m enjoying reading Oliver Rackham’s book of the History of the Countryside (well the countryside of Norfolk, Suffolk and other places South!).  There is a lot in it about past management of woodland, and why we have so little woodland cover in England (supposed to be those bumming Neoliths with their damned stone axes, allegedly). Logs tomorrow, then felling later in the week.  Looks like the weather will be improving sometime soon.

What else is there to life but Google?

I follow a blog by Joel who works in Brooklyn. Here’s the link: Joel’s blog. He writes some interesting posts, mainly about woodworking and the tools for doing so. I visited his shop last October when visiting my son and his wife who live in Brooklyn. His most recent post is about a folding desk in New York’s Metropolitan museum and he also mentions the Google project for visiting museums virtually, like street view.

If you go here there is an interactive multimedia entry on Pieter Bruegel’s “The Harvesters”(and a much bigger, zoomable picture than the one below which misses much detail.

This is a splendid painting, and apparently the first true European landscape painting.  It is full of life and people.  People who work and then rest, eat out of wooden bowls, which probably have no flat bottom as they were not used at table (who being a peasant could afford a table in those days?).  They use wooden spoons to eat and drink out of large pottery baluster jugs.  The countryside is so alive with people, not machinery as it seems to mostly be now a days.

I feel empathy with the people in the picture as my near ancestors certainly worked with their hands, weavers, stone masons, horse doctors.  So many of the things in the picture can still be seen, but are by no means “every day” any longer.  There’s a wooden ladder for fruit picking (ladders have now either to be metal or wired for safety).  The wheat (or corn) is long straw, ideal for thatching, but our modern varieties are bred for short straw in the interests of efficiency and long straw has to be specially grown for thatchers.  There’s a scythe in use for the harvesting (is that a joke that he is about to hit the jug?).

So it’s a world takeover by Google – whatever next?

However, as a quick antidote just try Wolfram Alpha . It’s not a search engine, but it does some amazing stuff without all the garbage that now seems to flood out of Google.  Have a look at population data, mortality data, geography, colour names, genealogy.  It also does amazing calculations.  Very entertaining and useful.