Thursday, 3 October 2013

Love parachute

I love this image of the parachute we use for shelter. In fairness it was probably more effective as shade than rain shelter this summer, but it is an excellent, cheap and easy to set up solution to shelter in the woods.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013


I find that my spoon-carving is like many things in life. My enthusiasm for it comes and goes for no particularly obvious reason, but I find myself having times of almost no carving, followed by periods of intense whittling and playing around with forms and ideas.
All sorts of things might prompt a period of carving, a new tool, finding some interesting wood, or even just sitting round a fire.

Spoon-carving is in a way a kind of sculpture, a playing with shape and form, but it is also in essence a practical thing, a prosaic and practical work of art perhaps (if that is possible...)? It involves making decisions about form, aesthetics, usability, practicality, use of material and probably lots of other things.
 Making a spoon is on one hand a simple process, and yet it involves decision making on many different levels, a bit like life in general really..

Because of its size, humble nature, and relative (deceptive) simplicity, spooning condenses the act of making and allows the attention to focus most satisfactorily on the basic equation of craft - object, hand, and tool - perhaps this is why it is such an enjoyable thing to do; for a short while nothing much else is happening but the simplicity of making a spoon. Because there is little on the periphery to distract, the mind is able to relax into the process.

Craft in general has, or can have this pleasing aspect of being focused on the basic and the physical, taking us out of the realm of the intellect and the world of electronic information. Or in other words, a great excuse to turn off the telly and do something creative with your own two hands.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

July courses

We have recently completed our first 9 day run of courses in Crenver grove. The whole thing went like a dream, blessed as we were with beautiful sunshine every day, plus a steady stream of the nicest folk we could have wished for.

Lin ran three different basketry courses, and I ran the spoon-carving course.

Here are some images of the various things we were doing.

We are resuming the courses in September. See the website for dates, prices and availability.


Saturday, 22 June 2013

Weaving ways

Here is some of Lin's recent beautiful work in willow.

Tall baskets with Lin's recently cut home-grown willow behind 

Spiral weaving

Trad Irish skib

Skeined shopping basket

Nature's colours

With pussy-willows

These next are the result of a commission for four large lampshades for someone's home.

 Gorgeous sculptural willow weaving, with organic flowing shapes. They are about 65cm tall.

Oval shopper

Gathering basket

Hourglass trug

Willow flowers


This is a snap of the stump of the Sweet chestnut tree we felled last winter for shingles. Already there is strong growth bursting from the base, searching out the light and space created by opening the forest canopy.

The coppicing of trees, if done well, is one of the few methods of husbandry that we do where the net result is largely beneficial for both ourselves and nature in general.
When a deciduous tree is felled during its dormant period (winter), it will regenerate itself the following spring, sending out many stems of new growth.

 Cutting a tree in regular cycles can easily increase its life-span by three or four times, also massively adding to the amount of biomass it produces (material we, and other animals can use). This also means the tree locks up more carbon from the atmosphere.
 Opening areas of the woodland canopy to sunlight increases growth of under-storey plants and flowers, encouraging insects, birds and mammals. Thus the biodiversity of native species is sustained over the centuries.

The woodland health and ecology is maintained, whilst providing us with fast growing material that can be used in myriad ways to produce countless practical items, shelter, fuel, food etc, not to mention areas of relative wildness essential to human emotional well-being.
Green woodworking and basketry are built on this system of coppicing and pollarding. Craftwork requires excellent quality material; clean, straight, long lengths of wood and withy that can be riven or woven. The coppiced tree uses the enormous energy stored in its root system, to push out new, multi-stemmed growth, and the individual stems must compete for light. The end result is the beautiful coppice wood we desire.

The trees we have felled could, in 10 or 20 years, be coppiced again, to make baskets, fencing, furniture, building timber and many other durable and pleasing things. We will  have been involved in a genuinely renewable and sustainable process.
Not so long ago our entire country and much of Europe ran on the products and fuels from coppice woodland. Without fossil-fuels, trees and woodland would be the most important source of energy and material we have. Unlike fossil-fuels we can harvest them in a way that does not harm our ecology.

Trees are the most wonderful things we have at our disposal, and we cant live without them. We should celebrate them more, but understand that we don't need to just preserve them, like natures museum pieces in protected enclaves; they can provide us with almost everything we need if we use them wisely, and we worked out how to do that a long time ago.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Laying the shingles

Not done a great deal of work on the barn roof over this long, wet and cold winter; certainly not as much as we had planned, but today was a beautifully warm and sunny May day and we are starting to make real progress on one side of the roof.

Over the winter we felled a really nice straight grained, knot free sweet-chestnut that should hopefully provide us with all the good quality stuff we need to complete the roof.
Once we have ringed a few sections of the trunk into 18 inch lengths, we split them initially with a maul and steel wedges.

The quartered sections are then split with a big froe and carried through the woods to the barn.
   It is constantly surprising how easily the chestnut splits, even at this large diameter.


Chestnut has many great qualities, not least of which is the small amount of sap-wood present, meaning most of the wood is perfectly useable, and fit for long years exposure on a roof. Its natural durability, combined with its ease of riving  makes it one of the best woods available in Cornwall for green woodworking. 

  While the team got stuck into making shingles, I got on with laying down some of the stock we made earlier in the year. I'm using 38mm copper nails to fix them as steel nails will corrode and rot out quickly  with the combination of rainwater and the tannic acid in the wood.  

Only 6 inches of the 18 inch shingle is exposed, meaning each run of them is covered with the next two successive ones. It is quite possible to be able to see light shining through chinks from the inside of a properly shingled roof, and have no leaks at all.

Only finished shingles are taken up on the roof but they still occasionally need a wee trim to make
them fit snuggly to their neighbour. A shingling hammer has a little hatchet blade on its back. 
 We are putting these on while they are still green so they can be nailed on with no fear of splitting them with the nails. If they were seasoned we would be forced to pre-drill. Time consuming..

  Work doesn't get much better than this really, sun on your back, birds singing, good wood and sharp tools. Of course doing this kind of project is massively labour intensive and is made enjoyable because of the team-work involved. It would be more of  a slog on your own, but perfectly achievable given the time.


Sunday, 11 November 2012

Batten and shingles

Autumn is truly here and the leaves are falling, so its time to get the roof covered, starting with nailing down  battens and making  shingles.

The rafters and batten are cut from local larch by Jo sawmills, and they gave us some really nice stuff. 4"x 3" rafters and 2 x1" batten.

The batten is spaced at 6" centres to match the exposure of the shingles, which are 18" long, meaning the top 12" of each shingle is covered by the next layer. We nailed the batten down with galvanised nails to prevent corrosion. The durability of the larch means that it will easily last as long as the shingles, which can stay good for 70 years and more.

You make  footholds as you go. The ends get trimmed evenly once all is nailed down.

Larch has a lovely salmon colour, and is commonly used as planking for wooden boats, giving an idea of how durable it can be. There is a massive amount being felled country wide because of the phytophera contagion that is attacking it. Its nice to be able to source it but I worry whether we will see much locally in the future.

While the batten was being laid some of us started splitting out the shingles. Sweet chestnut is our choice of wood for the job, being easily splittable and very durable.

We cross-cut the bolts to the required length, then split them down the middle using a froe and mallet. Sweet chestnut is a joy to use in this way and splits incredibly easily. The most important thing is that the tree used is very straight-grained and knot free, otherwise the cleaving becomes difficult and the wastage gets unreasonable


You get a nice satisfying crunch as the fibres of the wood cleave apart, revealing the long story of the tree as it grew quietly in the woodland.

Then its time to trim off excess with a good sharp axe.

The drawknife then finishes it off with a nice smooth taper.

We will be needing over 2000 shingles so a long way to go, but there is no sense of hurry about this and meeting up regularly with a team of keen green woodworkers will be a great way to spend some  coming winter sundays.