Last week (seems like at least a se’night ago) I attended another course (well it is holidays season).  It was held in Edale, Derbyshire as a conjunct to Spoonfest, organised by Robin Wood and tutored by Jarrod Stone Dahl.

We were making and learning to use a knife used in North America by various native tribes living in the Eastern states.  It is called the mocotaugan and is alien to the shores of Albion as it is used held in the inside knuckles palm up, thusly:

The mocotaugan has a whole battery of myth and legend surrounding it, but it is also a very useful tool, so we were all tool-makers for three days (OK, 2 days, I managed to miss the first day, but caught up).

Jarrod had provided the steel (O1) blanks roughed out, so the first job was to file them into shape and then take the edge back to flat to avoid burning it in the forge.  Then it was up to Robin’s workshop to do the hot stuff.

O it’s getting late and I have a course to run tomorrow so I’m going to let the pictures do most of the speaking:

Jarrod explaining the simple blacksmithing techniques required.

Robin’s propane gas forge, based on a farrier’s set up.

Bending the tip.

Duly bent.

Heat treatment – quenching in spent chip fat.

Alternative tang as used in the old-fashioned-days.  Requires an open dovetail and binding.

The examples, some experimental, brought along by Jarrod.

My knife fixed in the elm handle.

This is how it’s used.

The class’ set of new knives.

Great course, good folks, great and gentle teacher.



A unique event.  A fieldful of people getting together to share knowledge about spoons and a lot more spoon-related knowledge.

Spoonfest was organised by Barn Carder (AKA Barn the Spoon) and Robin Wood, as a weekend international extravaganza incorporating workshops for people just starting out spoon-making, engraving spoons, carving as a work-out for the body, rather than punishment, bacon butties, local beer, large piles of a dozen species of wood to sit and carve and burn on the camp fires.  There was no competition, there was a spoon shop, also a very diverse display of spoons from around the world.

Some of my favourites:

Fred Livesay, all the was from Minnesota. Fred discovered his woodworking skills at age 10. He later trained as a wheelwright and carriage-builder for seven summers, and then went on to study Scandinavian folk art, decorative arts, art history, and museum studies, and boy does he carve beautiful spoons!  I got to know him later in the week and he’s a great gentle guy (like all the spoon carvers I know, I wonder why that is?).

Next up Jarrod Stone Dahl’s fine spoons.  All his spoons for sale in the shop were quickly sold, but he carved a cherry one for me later in the week when I was on his knife-making course (see next post, blimy I’m still two and a half posts in arrears.) Here it is:

I think I’ll add some paint to the handle when it’s dry.

These are Jogge Sundquist’s.  He really is the master of spoons. A couple of the very fine ones at the bottom are his father’s. Wow!  Jogge gave a great demo on the Saturday – I’d missed his talk and class on the Friday as I was still in Cumbria.

There were just too many spoons to post here, but it was a real feast for the eyes and the brain.  There were lots of great friends and new friends to meet too, here’s my mate Sean, we snapped each other.

He looked very stylish in the new haircut and T shirt that everyone was wearing.

Steve Tomlin gave a very good seminar on improving your spoons.  I found this really helpful.  I also found Terence McSweeney’s workshop on stance while carving and working in general very helpful indeed, I am very aware that it is easy to damage your back without really trying, but keeping it straight whilst working is a good route to keeping it healthy.  Thanks very much chaps!

I enjoyed the Sunday morning sermon on the search for the patron saint of spooncarving (St. Peter Damian) by Martin Hazell

The finale was a massive spoon club event where spoons are worked on for 5 minutes and then passed round until they are finished.  Here’s what the results were of a class Fritiof Runhal ran the week before:

And here are the carvers lined up ready to work on 12 different spoons over an hour:

What a great weekend!  Many thanks to all who put in so much work to create such a successful  fulfilling event.  Hope you can manage it again next year.

Swill baskets

Jane and I have been away for a few days in The Lake District.

We camped on a farm in the Furness Fells and enjoyed some late evening sunshine in a very peaceful landscape.

There was only one other tent and that was Emerald’s who was also attending Owen Jones‘ swill basket-making course.

I awoke on Wednesday to the slow drone of a distant tractor cutting grass for silage, and an otherwise peaceful sunrise.

I’ve been building up a new cyclocross bike on a new frame and adding in new 10 speed parts to the re-usable parts from two bikes that are well past their prime (but faithful servants for many years).  The final piece in the jigsaw build arrived in the post the day we were setting off.  It was the bottom bracket and so I had to do a rush job setting up the cranks and gears.

It was very sweet to ride a new bike without creaks and groans from a dangerously cracked aluminium frame (the new one is good solid steel.)  Looks quite good too (or would on a proper photo rather than a phone one).

I rode up the side of Lake Coniston, headed for Brantwood, when I felt some play starting in the near side crank – result of the speedy build.  Limped back home for breakfast on one pedal so as not to damage the inside of the loose crank.  It was a good morning for walking the bike up the hills, and quite novel for me!

When we arrived at Owen’s a couple of miles from the campsite, the first job was making the wood ready.

Owen is a great teacher and carefully explained the method of picking the best coppice oak timber and how best to make use of its length and avoid dodgy areas like the very butt end and the top end where live knots start becoming prevalent.  You can see above, behind Owen the hazel measuring stick.  It’s marked to give the two shorter lengths for spelks (pronounced – spells) which are the thicker ribs of the basket and the two longer lengths for taws (pronounced – tars) which give the finer weavers.

So this makes a bit more sense have a look at a swill basket:

This is my basket prior to finishing the weaving of the taws, which run the length. The spelks in the picture run top to bottom.

So after selecting and splitting the young oak saplings we ended up with four piles ready for boiling.  Enough material for 10 swills (or thereabouts, it was a full-on course with a lot to take in, and I’ve been to Spoonfest and slept since then!).

The boiler is wood powered and sits at the back of Owen’s workshop:

The hazel rods prepared to be boiled and bent into the bool which forms the rim of the basket can be seen siting atop.

Riving was the next job after the oak had been boiled for a couple of hours, soaked overnight and re-boiled.  A heavy splitting/riving knife is used to half the billets and then a lighter riving knife as the subsequent splitting progresses until really thin malleable spelks and taws are produced.  Learning to feel which way to bend the material to keep each side of even thickness is very satisfying.

Pretty hot work for the hands and knees, so some protection is added to the knees in the form of towels fastened with thin oak ties.

The material is dressed to the correct thickness and roughly shaped to form the various parts of the swill.  Quoting from Owen’s excellent little booklet on the whole process they are named: Lapping spelk; Narrow bottom spelk; Broad bottom spelk; Top spelk; 1st turn down spelk; Kessen; 2nd turn down spelk; Bool spelk.  Then the taws: First taw; First straight’n; Second straight’n; tacker; narrow working up taw; Second working up taw; narrow bottom taw; broad bottom taw and Finisher.  Few, when you’ve worked them up and woven them in – each one in it’s own way, you have an oak swill basket.  It is not easy but very satisfying.  Here are some of the crew with their li’le nicks (the technical term for this size of swill)

Owen’s courses are very popular and fill up rapidly once announced – all full this year I believe.  Check out Owen’s web site for courses or ready-made swills here.  He also appears at a host of agricultural shows etc, details on the website.




Poles and hazel coppice

A customer needed some 8″ by 8′ poles for a play house (sounds like an interesting project).  I thought I’d left some at Wood Nook that size, but when I got there none to be had.  However, it did give me an opportunity to have a look at how the hazel coppice was re-growing.

Rather pleasing to see about a yard of new shoots coming through the brash.

I ended up felling a couple of dead elm trees in an adjacent wood to get the 8 foot poles (thanks Michael) and got them onto the Land Rover roof rack (silly me, no picture).

Back to Bolton Abbey, stopping in a gate hole for lunch just outside Burnsall (what no picture?).  Loaded up the trailer for Halifax Show.  I couldn’t get the poles for the lathe and shelter straight fore & aft because of the elm poles up top which needed transferring to the customer’s van back at the car park outside Strid Wood.  So the poles ended up sticking somewhat jauntily out at the side a foot or two.  I intended to straighten them out after I’d dropped off the elm (Ah but!  The road to Hell is paved with good intentions!)

Meanwhile,  I had to unhitch the trailer and do an emergency run for a lady with her three children, one of whom was injured.  Also meanwhile there was the air ambulance buzzing around – hard to make out from under the canopy of trees.  Later, found out it was on a rendezvous with a road ambulance that had a lady who’d fallen in the river on board, thankfully she hadn’t fallen in The Strid, from which few emerge alive.  And later still staff were recovering another casualty from the ford on the other side of the river, who’d fallen from his electric scooter.

What a day, I was glad to be on the way home, then the trailer started banging a bit – damn!  The jockey wheel had dropped down.  No damage though, secured it and on my way again.

Now my way home with a loaded trailer is up our village passing through a culvert under the Leeds Liverpool canal.  I remembered I’d not sorted the poles, so decided to go up Priest Bank, which starts with a bit of a narrow S-bend over a swing bridge over said canal. A car was coming downhill and I pulled into the side, so did the poles – into a road sign.  Bust the two longest ones.

However, I’ve now found a couple of replacements, obviating the need to go to BA on me day off.

Just need to drill a couple holes in one of them, the other’s the pole for the lathe, on which I think I’ll be demonstrating turning some potato crushers in spalted alder wood at t’show.

And in between fetching them and putting some sourdough to rise I broke my brewing record time, finishing by 9am!


A bit of rain and a new chestnut table

I’ve been working on a new small table today.

It was warm and sunny first thing but gradually rumblings started in the heavens and then they opened

It really was coming down in stair rods as we like to say when the drizzle is a bit thick

Anyway, I didn’t get wet, but the table I’d gled up and put in the sun to dry off did get damp, before i moved it back under cover.  Unfortunately this created some black staining as I started tooling the surface.

This is the combination of moisture, steel and the tannin in chestnut wood.  Never mind, it’ll probably be sunny tomorrow and I can finish it off.


Oak taps and rockers, made to order.

I like doing one-off jobs where people come to me and ask, “Can you make a magic wand.” or “Would you be the right person to see about some hazel poles.” or “I’d like a rather odd rolling pin making for adding texture to clay slabs.”

A while ago a customer provided me with drawings to turn a couple of parts for a rocking horse.  His job was to convert said horse from a sprung frame type into a traditional wooden rocker type.

My job was to turn the parts in green oak separating the rockers at back and front ends, also washers to fit them to the rockers.  This was as high a precision job as I do.  It involved turning them over-size and then reworking them once completely dry so that accurate sizes were achieved.

The finished job appears below – great to get feedback like this.

The same customer came back to me last week with plans for half a dozen beer handles for electric pumps in The Craven Arms, Appletreewick.  This is a stunning old pub, previously featured in these pages (here).  They will replace plastic ones on lager and cider taps.

The taps were made to a free-hand drawing and had to look hand-made, I hope you agree with my customer that they pass muster.

Watch out for another post on this subject after I get a chance to see them installed.  They have brass studs in the top when finished.