Coopers and canoes; other people’s work

Today was a good day.

A promising start, despite the wind and showers, with this post on the bodger’s Ask and Answer forum

If you think the craft is a marvel watch the video in Robin Wood’s post and see how one is made.  They don’t make cars like this!  More’s the pity.

At work no more tops of trees blew off like yesterday, narrowly missing two ladies of advanced years.  Bloody poplars, no good for anything but matches, but, just in case, I’ve taken four foot to see whether it makes a decent carved bowl.  From the last couple of poplar tops that blew off, I tried turning, that wasn’t very much fun.  The grain is rather coarse and breaks up under the chisel.

As I was fixing up the new Flying Shavings name boards:

I asked a visitor whether it was level, he helped out and then started asking about my tools.  He wanted to look at the maker’s name on my draw knife.  Turned out he knew a thing or two as he used to be a cooper.  We had a good discussion about how many coopers are left, where they are, whether they use a draw knife properly (on the shear), what sort of oak is used for coopering (Russian sessile oak, unfortunately post Revolution timber is studded with shrapnel and bullets, which is bad news for the sawyer), types of cooper (wet,dry and white (the latter for dairy goods)), the decline of coopering, why American oak barrel staves are imported to Scotland (Bourbon can only be matured in a new oak barrel), inappropriateness of American white oak for beer barrels (too much tannin that taints the beer), how herring barrels were sealed (not like beer barrels because they’re full of fish and you have to put the heads in from the outside, not the inside), sharpness of chisels (the one I’d made the day before not having a keen edge as yet, pending trials on the angle – it’s a beading skew). One of my best, most interesting visitors.

And while we’re on old stories, David, my fortnightly apprentice, told me a great one about an engineer’s tool box legacy.  In the engineering factory where he was apprenticed, the tradition was that if an engineer died in the traces (i.e. whilst still employed) his tool chest was raffled to the apprentices, the proceeds being either given to the widow or used to buy flowers (those were the days, eh?).  An engineer’s tool chest was not to be sneezed at, it had two shallow drawers at the top where all the sexy measuring instruments were housed.  On the death in traces of Victor Silvester (let us call him) his tool chest was duly auctioned.  David paid for his ticket, but was very disappointed to be unlucky in the draw.  However, when the ‘lucky’ winner opened the first shallow drawer he was greeted by Victor’s ‘work’ false teeth, he came to work in his best ‘home’ teeth and then changed into his work ones.  (I suppose you need to know where he died to work out whether these teeth were is best or second best!)


Strid Wood is about 10 miles from home, so every morning I get into my Land Rover and join the throngs on the road:

Strid is under the mist here:

I’ve been making bowls recently, practicing for when we take the big Birch tree down in our garden.  I want to make a dough trough to commemorate the tree and my father who planted it some 30 years ago.

I made a carving block yesterday that holds the blank whilst gouging out the inside .

Doesn’t look much, but it makes the job much easier, especially if you sit down to work.

I’m also experimenting with a new knife,

it’s actually a hoof knife for farriers, but the pattern is much like a crooked knife used for carving inside bowl shapes:

The above isn’t really a fair test for it as the timber is casualty Balsam Poplar, supposedly no good for anything but matches, and very fibrous.  It was also just about dry by the time I tried smoothing down the earlier cuts.