I think I make life hard for myself sometimes.

I make garden benches in a particular style.  The style avoids many square angles, straight edges and all those luxuries that make joinery easy to fit together.


Starting assembly

Who else would use round peeled oakwood for a crest rail, combined with slabbed waney-edged chestnutwood for a saltire back, and riven hedgerow oak for end frames?


Embryonic end frames


Saltire components

Making mortise & tenon joints can be demanding; just how does one lay out the two joints to fit the armrests – where does the front through tenon fall, much deliberation, center finding, and, well, some guess-work, I guess.


Chase the mortise

I’ve found that a full-sized drawing can help with some dimensions.


How long’s that arm rest to be?

Starts to come together gradually.


Getting there



I should stick to helping people make bears.


Bear & fox.

But then, there is some reward in going out on a limb.



Clothes rack detail.

Reusing 17th century carving motifs.


Sycamore chopping board

Redesigning the iPad from the outside:


Thicker, heavier.

Ah, perhaps life’s not so bad, after all, I do have the privilege of living in God’s Own County (Yorkshire, where it’s always sunny).


Culloden Tower, Richmond, North Yorkshire


Richmond, Yorkshire

IMG_0288Cockpit Millennium Garden, Richmond Castle

Get a new head & make a spoon

I’m trying to refine my spoon carving skills.  Making spoons is not my main day job, and I’ve had slow sales, then in the last week, I’ve sold three, taken an order for an engraved one and had the best one I ever made stolen (it was made from a crooked branch and was a cranked ladle with a pointed pouring lip – birch, if you see it, smack its bum and send it home, it had a hook on the back to hang it off the side of a pot – here it is:


I’m going to concentrate on making this spoon as seen in the above series.  Pretty small and thin and with endless opportunities for decorations at the top (the commissioned one will have  a hazel nut, echoing the wood type).

There is no Summer in the UK this year – the Jet Stream has gone on holiday apparently! However, the meadowy sides of the road into Bolton Abbey don’t seem to mind, these spotted orchids have grown very tall:

I’ve been making the shave horse modification as  Peter Galbert has neen kindly telling us about.

I got to the final stages today

Planing the base of the bed – from sweet chestnut.  Look how you can hold a piece of wood.  Holdfast at the far end. A dog underneath to slope it 10 degrees (or 1″ in 4″, I believe) and a dog aside, to stop the work wandering about the bench. It looks so rough as I was using the scrub plane.  Finished it off with the jointer.

I did some glueing yesterday. This is the leg with the ratchet.  Notice the filled tooth where I drilled for a dowel in the wrong place whilst talking to a passerby.  I don’t use steel cramps much but they were very useful this time, and here’s a wooden one …

Blimey!  Bit of an bondage moment, but these pieces are very technical.  The wooden cramp is great.  I tried to make one (an other unfinished project).  They work so well , I must make some more.  I acquired this one at The Bodgers’ Ball this year in Devon.

This is the old horse stripped down readying for the new Smarthead (© Peter Galbert).

The slot needed enlarging:

I noticed the original cut-out was done with the chainsaw, I was a bit quieter this time and chopped it out.

That’s about as far as I got as I managed to break the top-toothed member in testing.  I’d used ash and the gluing hadn’t taken (lousy planing I’m afraid t have to blummin’ admit (again)).  I’ll be remaking it in elm – no way that’ll split.

Watch this space but I’m off work for a week now, breaking in my new clogs

… so don’t hold your breath.


Hole filled

Here’s a (rather blurry/soft focus phone) photograph of the peeled oak gates installed.

I’ll take another when I return with the oak drop bolt with renewable pin.

Many thanks to Dave for his sterling help – it was definitely a two-handed job to get everything looking good when there are no right lines to follow.

I delivered this renovated bench today too:

It’s another hand tooled finish in chestnut.

Wild About Wood coming up this weekend at Castle Howard.

Workbench Book

Working with wood has a prerequisite of holding the wood while you work on it, even if the holding mechanism is your hand or another part of your body.

I’m currently reading this book:

It was written by Scott Landis and published in 1998 by Taunton Press (funny, I seem to be building up a collection of their books). The book sets out the development of the woodworking bench and then looks at a large range of benches currently in use in some detail.  I’m looking to rebuild my workbench in Strid as it’s a bit too rough and ready to work the tail vice properly, and I have a very tempting half butt of beech just asking to be milled for the job.

My old one (unmodified) was like this .

I’m also hankering after a dumbhead shaving horse, which get some good exposure in Landis’ book.

But first:

two more chestnut benches;

4 walking staffs;

internal dog gate and panel;

mend a Suffolk trug handle;

possible bike shed;

more dibbers;

more bowls;

more stools;

High Head green gathering ;

Get charcoal forge in operation;

harden and temper Bohemian bearded axe;

chopping boards;

and so it gos on …  makes me tired just thinking about it!

A noisy start to the day

There a few visitors to Strid Woods early morning, especially if the weather is dull like today, so I spent half an hour making big noise.

I was using the newly hardened and tempered cold chisel to change a disused oil drum into a mini charcoal kiln. First job is to remove one end which will become the top of the kiln, and the removed end will be the lid. I cut three nicks in to stop it falling back inside. Then three holes in addition to the existing one in the other end for air intake.

I should be using this kiln at a couple of shows this Summer, but I’ll need to trial it first.

I then turned my attention to the drain pipe bird table project. A customer asked if I could mount one of my bird tables on a pipe that grey squirrels can’t climb. This is my solution to boring a 2 and 1/8th hole with a 1 and 1/2 inch auger so the pipe will fit in a heavy log enabling it to stand on a patio without permanent fixing.

Rather tricky drilling overlapping holes, but the little inch and a half oak insert was a great help. I then just enlarged the center hole with a chisel leaving three places around it where wedges can be hammered in to stabilise the job. This is what it looks like finished:

It is far too tall, but I’ll let the client decide what height they are happy with.

I also finished off the bench a couple of days ago and delivered it today:

Another long horn beetle got in on the act. I like this finish and I’m doing a repair to two benches for another customer and they also liked this finish, so it will be much knifing in the woods for a couple of days. I now have both handed crooked knives too, so I’ll be able to switch from left to right a bit and rest muscles alternately.

Hanging around the kiln

I’m going to have to change my charcoal regime.  I set it alight on Wednesday morning about 10:30.  It wasn’t quite full so I expected less charcoal.  I closed it down to tick over at 5pm and at 9am the next morning opened the air supply up again.  The smoke still looked pretty dirty, with maybe a hint of steam still in it.  However, I was able to ignite all three chimneys which I think should have been a warning that it was nearing time to shut down completely.  Well, I decided to go down to the workshop with the air on about half cock.  Stayed down there for lunch and when I got back to the kiln at about 12:30 there was no smoke! Bad sign.  Closed down double quick.  This morning (Friday) opened up, and nasty white ash at all three inlets – the charcoal had been burning.  However, got out 22 10 kilo bags, and as it was a smaller charge that was not too bad, but I reckon about 2 or 3 bags were burnt.  Next time I’m going to stay with it the morning after, I’ll have to bring some bowl or spoon work to do while I monitor the smoke.  On the positive side there does seem to be a growing demand for the stuff.  Now I need a market for the fines (dust and small charcoal) which are rejected at bagging. It’s supposed to be a very good soil improver.

This was supposed to be a day off, but the charcoal bagging took a big chunk out of the morning so I did a bit more on the chestnut bench (which needs a remake of one leg), washed the Land Rover and mended it’s driver’s side step which I smashed on a rock (and nearly punctured the diesel tank) while reversing the trailer in the woods.

I also shafted the second of three bill hooks I’m doing for a customer.

Pictures to follow.  Tomorrow I’m brewing and playing at the Rough Beats Festival at Clapham – our band is Dales Jam.

Still Springy here but the Hawthorn May blossom is just going over, one last look:

You can see other bushes further away on the hill in the background which is known as The Gib.

This morning I planted a small elm and smaller oak in the corner near the new gate to replace the silver birch, the stump of which is still to be reduced to ground level.

Chopping a bench

Hi again!  Still Spring here with Red Campion, Ramsones and Corn Cockle blooming away.

So, today I’ve been making a bench as ordered.  The top is from the chestnut I bought from the estate.  As mentioned before,it typically grows with a twist in the grain so is unsuitable for splitting and so I milled it into planks with the chain saw.  This left me with a stack of slabs – the outer round sections from squaring up the butts.  One of these will be the bench seat:

Rather rough looking.  The first job is to hack away the first three or so rings of sap wood which, as in oak, is unsuitable for long life, being prone to attack by fungi and insects.

The sap wood is the light-coloured stuff.

Now I’ve cut it to length (4 foot 2) so it’s a bit lighter to work on.  The off cut will make a table, I’ve decided.  It’s light enough to go on #4 chopping block for the bottom section. Cutting off the sap wood from the edges needs consideration to be given to the direction of the grain twist; I need to chop down along the grain as it rises out of the twist, otherwise the grain splits into the body of the timber – bad thing! Chop from one end at one side and from the opposite end on the other side.

Done!  What a lot of shavings:

Some people ask if I ever sweep up – silly question!  This stuff is too valuable as an insect repellent – when smoldering in the stove.

OK there are a couple of faults, dead knots:

The end one would annoyingly very nearly do as a hole for a leg, except it only slopes back and not sideways too as it should.  I think I’ll make a dummy leg to shove in there and see what it looks like.  The surface is fresh off the chain saw mill.  This will be an out door bench so that may be the way to leave it, or maybe plane it  .. or adze …

Decisions decisions …

Here’s the log for the legs (and a spare pair for the table):

Lucky people there’s also a view of a couple of drumsticks (honest – that’s how they were specified) and a bag of my charcoal.

And here are two of the legs:

Sorry, they’re out of focus.

Watch this space for more, interesting assembly line production of – the bench!  Coming soonish to a blog near you (well not before Saturday.)