Only a bit of wood

It’s a funny old crowded place is London.  In this picture there only seems to be one person using a small digital device, and another taking a photograph.  This seems wholly unrepresentative of the general impression I get of how most people seem to walk about in The Big Smoke (as we used to call it) with their eyes fixed on a small screen.

The picture is at the Victoria and Albert Museum where Jane and I attended the Heritage Craft Association meeting last Saturday.  A very worthwhile use of time with some excellent sessions from a range of crafts people.  My personal favourite was a presentation of the craft of the letter cutter and how the skill is learnt, given by Lida Kindersley of Cardozo Kindersley Workshop in  Cambridge.  Three assistants and three apprentices, when a new apprentice is taken on someone must leave, and thus the skill is passed on as it was to Lida by David Kindersley and to him by Eric Gill.  Those little screens just can’t do what a hammer and chisel does in stone, make something with life – a bit like this:

Somewhat chaotic, but easy on the eye, and look!  There are a few guys having their Sunday breakfast and a chat.  Now even if your little screen is made of gold, does it look like this?

Actually, the little screen on my camera seems to have picked up one of those flying shavings, and there is a grey shadow on all these photos.  If a small screwdriver doesn’t get me into the lens to remove it, I think I may be looking for a new camera.

Here’s another rather chaotic assembly, the vile brutalist architecture of the Queen Elizabeth Hall with its wacky yeller staircase.  The River Taxi pier, and no, just a minute, not a boat on the Hall’s roof but a little temporary dwelling from Living Architecture. Another new tower looms in the background – The Shard.

It was a good weekend with lots of sunshine, but our trip up the Thames by river taxi didn’t come of because of this:

Thick fog – even thicker downriver, so the early boats didn’t run.

And here’s the bit of wood.  Could be a wooden boat (well it’s brown), and that grove of trees could have formed woodland elsewhere.

OK, off to check the overnight charcoal burn.

The boy’s new fence

Theo built a dwarf hazel fence in situ yesterday, and made a really good job of it I reckon.  Especially as it was both our first attempts.  It’s woven from the thinnest stuff I’ve taken out of Wood Nook.  It replaces a rather naff-looking nylon cord I had in the same place to discourage visitors coming uninvited into the work area (with its attendant sharp tools, hot stove, etc.  It should also help keep the shavings in the workshop, rather than spreading over the track.  The fence has proper bindings on the top with under and over weaving and wrapping around the end sales (upright poles).

I’ve been working on a split hazel hurdle too.  Not as easy as it looks in YouTube videos, so this hurdle will be destined for an inconspicuous place as its neatness leaves quite a lot to be desired, although it does have the required strength.  Here is a small section behind this lump of spalted ash I’ve worked up for a caterer to display cakes on (they wanted it just like this, honest!).

I’ve also been making a shave horse for a customer this week, here’s the finished article

And today it’s log making, working on the oak bench, finishing that large sycamore bowl, which, as predicted, is now as hard as iron, even to the sharpest tool.

London at the weekend for the Heritage Crafts Association annual meeting.

Scything & Laughing Squid

And Welcome to m’new website fresh from California.  Looks the same to you?  Hopefully yes.  I’ve transferred from the free blog software to the serious sounding paid for   I moved because the free WordPress has limitations – they keep it cheap by keeping it simple – so not much html allowed and no Java, very limited Paypal buttons etc. This also meant that I needed to find a host for the site and I’ve decided on Laughing Squid.  This host is based in San Francisco and leans towards art, culture and technology – just right for Flying Shavings huh?

Anyways, I’ve just about finished taking down coppice at Wood Nook and I’ve been finishing off another job there.

Using my new Austrian scythe to deal with a host of these:

Self-seeded Hawthorn saplings. Well, I say self-seeded, planted by birds in their droppings more like.  They were starting to take over an area which is like a glade in the woodland, and therefore valuable habitat.  A lot of them are very small, I think they are being nibbled by the rabbits which infest the area.

The scythe makes light work of controlling them

Notice the steep angle that makes the cutting easier and less brutal on the scythe with it’s slim ash snaith (handle).  The scythe blade is short and heavy (a bit like a light bill hook!) but even so, some of those saplings are a bit thick.  The trick then is to stand on them, bending them over, and then attack them with an upward sweep of the scythe before they  get straightened up again.  That sorts them out.

I suppose they will do the usual tree thing, recover and grow back stronger (“What does not kill us makes us stronger”)  But for now they are tamed a bit.

This should give the other flora a bit of a chance, the primroses are just starting to come out in this patch (but more in the shade).

But, man, it’s war out there.  No sooner has Spring sprung, than the little bitey creatures get going too –

Soon be Winter!

Charcoal ovens and witch charms (more stone than wood again)

We went to Skipton Castle last Saturday morning (cheapskates, there was a voucher for free family admission in the local paper – Craven Herald).  I was amazed to see how old Swiss army knives are – see them featured on the ancient coat of arms of the Clifford family above.

The castle is in very good nick to say its 900 years old, mind you the walls are 3 metres thick and it held out for 3 years under siege during the Revolution.  Part of the castle is still occupied by the Fattorini family, but the Clifford family managed to hold onto it for nearly 400 years.  Here’s a view from the back showing the occupied quarters (more like half – Ed.)

Anyways, the feature that struck me immediately was the masons’ marks on each window reveal:

It quickly became apparent that these marks are not only masons’ marks, but some are charms to keep something evil out of the castle by protecting the window openings and at least one doorway (couldn’t spot any on a fireplace though, but I’m told there is one such in the oak room above the shell grotto in the East tower of the gatehouse.)  Feast your eyes.  Apparently the genuine mason’s marks help to date similar parts of the castle and its additions and alterations.

This could be what we’re missing these days – perhaps we should get some of these in our house, workshops and woods to stop onslaughts from bankers, trolls, junk mail, deer, rabbits, squirrels and the rest?  I’ve got a glass rolling-pin I’m intending to fill with salt & hang by the fireplace which apparently has a similar preventative effect.

I guess these marks may have been made during the siege as the windows were added in Tudor times (before the Civil War) when they thought war in England was over (never mind, we’re all wise in retrospect.)

I really liked the roof timbers in this room (the kitchen I think, off the banqueting hall).  The room also has a garderobe just off, a view from the outside of which shows why it is also called “the long drop”:

There was a rubbish chute from the kitchen next to it.  This also shows what a good location for the castle was chosen in 1090 – just about impregnable up the North side cliff.

Another thing that caught my professional/businessman’s eye was this:

Any guesses?

I also liked the warm irregularity of this building in the courtyard.  Why don’t they build like that anymore?

Inevitably we had to do a little walk in the woods too.  Skipton Woods are owned by The Castle and managed by The Woodland Trust.  The ransoms (Wild Garlic) are just coming through.

Coppice work


I’m rather busy with coppicing just now and very tired when I get home at night, and the chainsaw elbow doesn’t help!  However much progress is being made and today I’m getting help from a group of students from Craven College as part of their Countryside Management course.

I’ve been so busy I’ve not managed to take photos, but may be able to get some today.

In the meantime here’s a brilliant little poem to put you on:

[With acknowledgements to The Edward Thomas Fellowship.  Illustration by Howard Phipps.]

(And thanks for the card Gus!)

The poem is by Edward Thomas born in Lambeth 3rd March 1878, killed at Arras on Easter Monday 9th April 1917.