Thursday, 14 July 2011

Spoon carving

Our first spoon workshop was run successfully on the 7th - 8th July with very agreeable weather for most of it. It was a real pleasure to sit down or a few days and explore the skills and techniques used in traditional Swedish carving.

Using razor sharp knives and axes isn't something that is familiar to most people these days so a fair proportion of the first morning was spent going through the quite specific safety elements built into each type of cut used. We were all told as children never to cut toward ourselves but in fact many of the most effective and efficient cutting with a knife is done this way.
Once everyone seemed comfortable using the knife on short lengths of sycamore we studied various spoon designs, then began making spoons in earnest using axes first, then knives and finally gouges for hollowing the bowls.

Its great to see a small group of people slowly become more and more absorbed into crafting something by hand with simple tools. Conversation slows and life is temporarily given to the relaxed but intense focus of careful hand eye co-ordination, complimented by the woodland surroundings and interrupted by the odd cup of tea...

Your first spoon is of course never going to be your best. By the morning on day two everyone had managed to shape a roughly functional eating implement, and were eager to begin on a second project, this time using cherry wood rather than sycamore, both excellent woods for the job, but cherry having the more beautiful grain pattern. This session felt really relaxed, with everyone free to experiment with their new found skills. No images of finished spoons as the final sanding is being done at home, hopefully I can publish some photo's at a later date...

One of the nicest things about carving green wood is how easy it is to carry out in an unremarkable way. Whether sitting in the garden, by the fire on a winters evening or listening to the radio or even with friends, we can all partake without the need for a workshop or expensive tools. Sure you can spend loads of money on all the best kit but I reckon less than £50 would set you up nicely.

Carving has a kind of timeless quality to it, it was something our forebears did a lot, simple, satisfying, creative, and if nothing else, a damn fine excuse to turn off the box...

Course dates for summer/autumn

Here is an updated list of courses for the rest of 2011.

4th - 5th Aug   Make your own shopping basket

10th Aug   Family friendly messing about with willow 10 - 12am

10th Aug   Messing about with willow 1 - 4pm 

12th Aug  Make a basket in a day

15th - 17th Aug  Introduction to green woodworking

20th - 21st Aug  Spooncarving

17th - 18th Sept  Spooncarving

22nd Sept  Messing about with willow

23rd - 25th Sept  Introduction to green woodworking

Please note we have decided not to run the one day spoon carving workshops as they have not really booked up, and we also feel one day isn't really enough time to properly explore the subject.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Sweet Chestnut bark seating

Whilst running the intro to green woodworking course we took the time to peel the bark from the sweet chestnut logs before riving them down, with the aim of using it for weaving, principally for seating the chairs that I will be making this summer.

 Using inner bark for seating is common in North America and no doubt some other places in the world but has only very recent precedent in the UK. Hickory is the most commonly used bark in the US but as it doesn't grow in Europe we have to cast around and experiment a bit. Chair makers here have had good results with elm bark, particularly wych elm, which was first tried, I believe, by Mike Abbot, and detailed in his fine book, Living Wood.

Having no wych elm hearabouts I am hoping the chestnut will make a good alternative, being very leathery and flexible in nature, as well as tough and presumably, because of its high tannin content, durable and resistant to decay.

It is important to peel the bark at a time of year that the sap is running freely, otherwise it is too difficult to remove, ie spring to early summer. The chestnut is very easy to peel when fresh cut at this time of year and we have tried both peeling with one longitudinal cut, then removing as a whole slab, or cutting thin strips (3/4" - 1") one at a time.

The outer bark should be removed with a draw knife and this is best done before stripping. We didnt have the time and have since found it can be cut away with a sharp knife without too much bother.

Once cut into strips the thick inner bark fibres must be crushed and softened gently by rounding over a stick or between your thumb and forefinger, then coiled and tied ready for drying.

I am hoping this method will make a great alternative to rush seating which is quite time cosuming to weave therefore expensive. The beauty of it is that you can complete a chair using only one species of tree, and it is a quick and attractive way of solving the seating dilemma, ie suitabilty, comfort, cost, availability.

I will keep you posted on how well this all works when I make my next chair.. 

Our first green woodworking course

After a very busy few weeks building and preparing the woodland workshop (and exhibiting at the Royal Cornwall show), we finally ran the first course proper. Despite a pretty awful weather forecast for the first day we felt pretty much well prepared and raring to go, with a good supply of fresh sweet-chestnut logs, sharp tools, tea and cake, and four enthusiastic nascent green woodworkers.

I must say that we could not have had a nicer bunch of people for our first go. Elizabeth, B, Kevin and James were as enthusiastic and keen to learn and share as I could have hoped, and everyone seemed to settle in really well. Pretty soon the woods were filled with the sounds of splitting, chopping and shaving wood, not to mention some great conversation, philosophical debate, and jokes that were highly variable in subject and it has to be said, quality!

Over the three days we covered many of the fundamentals of green woodworking, including tool safety and handling, riving, using a break, chopping (axe work), shaving, adzing, boring holes and shaping and fitting leg joints with wedges.

The aim of this introductory course is to provide students with a foundation of skills crucial to working with green wood, started with in the round, and processed using simple tools in a woodland setting. I feel also that it is important for people to take something physical away with them along with the all important knowledge and techniques learned. I was delighted that everyone managed to make a beautiful 3 legged or 4 legged slab bench to take home with them. The 3 legged benches are the basis for a shave horse and will be completed on a later 2 day course.

By the afternoon of the third day the workshop had become an absolute hive of activity, and I was really pleased and quite surprised at how confident everyone had become with the tools and materials. From my point of view as tutor that was the most important thing, but I also felt that everyone had had a really enjoyable and fun time in a beautiful woodland setting, and crafted something with their own two hands that was really worth keeping and that they would be proud of for years to come.


Thursday, 19 May 2011

Carving bowls

If you dont have a lathe, or you dont want a bowl or vessel that's circular, the only way to make it is by carving. The first wooden bowls would have been carved with stone tools, or progressively burned out with hot coals. These days the way to go is with a short handled adze and large gouges. I have just bought a new adze made by a blacksmith in Sweden, where hand-craft, particularly wood craft, is still culturaly quite strong. The tradition of carving bowls and cups has continued to the present day and takes some interesting, often stylized and beautiful forms, influenced by the Saami reindeer culture and of course the wood loving vikings.
 This is my first effort with said adze, made with cherry. I will leave the tool marks, the strong grain pattern of cherry is enhanced in a rather nice way by the undulations left by the gouge. These sorts of oblong bowls were used for kneading dough amongst other things, so are often referred to as dough-bowls. They would often be quite large, up to 2 feet wide, so I am looking out for some nice large section polar or aspen which carves well and dries quickly, giving a light, stable vessel.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Chair making

One of the nicest things to do with green wood is (in my opinion) the making of chairs. Strong, light, beautiful, functional; many of the characteristics a craftsperson aims for can all be seen in a well made chair.
This is one of a pair I made recently from sweet-chestnut. The back legs are steam bent and the pattern for the back slats is copied from an old chair given to us by a friend. Lin has done a lovely job on the seating, which is willow, quite unusual and uncommon but it works really well and is very comfortable as well as strong. I'm rather fond of this one so am keeping it, and it looks rather fine in the kitchen.

Why work wood green?

One of the reasons for using green or un-seasoned wood, is that it is much softer and easier to cut when it is in its fresh, recently felled state. When it is wet and full of water (sap) it is a joy to work with. Sharp tools glide through  fibres of even dense hardwoods like oak and beech, and require less sharpening than when used with seasoned timber. The other reason is down to how the material is converted from its original round log state, into smaller dimensions. In green woodworking,  mechanical or labour intensive sawing along the grain to produce planks, is avoided. Instead the log is split along its length, first in half, then quartered, and so on, until the required dimension is reached, a process known as riving. This is a most efficient way of conversion, but only if the wood is still green, otherwise riving becomes increasingly difficult as the wood dries out.
A happy consequence of riving is that the natural tendency of wood to split and check as it dries in the round or plank state, is reduced and usually eliminated. This means that a piece of green wood, split down and shaped into, for example, a chair leg, can be trusted to dry out without deforming or cracking. Because green woodworkers alway aim to use straight grained knot free material for ease of riving, items like chairs or tool handles are inherently strong and stable, having the grain running through their whole length, and highly unlikely to suffer from splittng or warping.
Another less practical reason for green wood-working is that it is so highly enjoyable. The whole process, from felling the tree, to riving and shaving, from drilling or turning, to sawing or carving, can all be done without the use of power tools. This applies whether you are making a tent peg, a ladder or an oak framed building. Green wood-working is quiet, fun and satisfying, with myriad different crafts from around the world included under the title. The tools required are relatively inexpensive and available, and the materials easy to acquire. It is an ancient way of producing wooden items without reliance on fossil fuels, or machines that need high levels of energy to run them. Learning it is to learn to work wood the natural way, by going with the grain and understanding intimately the properties and characteristics of an amazing material, thereby increasing our intimacy with nature, and providing ourselves with beautiful and useful things.

Friday, 15 April 2011

The new woodland workshop 2011

The idea for the woodland workshop has been germinating for a few years now. We have both been practicing and teaching wood and withy crafts for ten years or so now, and we always felt it would be great if we could move what we do into a woodland environment.
Teaching and indeed practicing/learning green wood crafts in the shade of a summer woodland, beneath a simple canvas shelter, with the sounds and smells of nature all around, adds a new and rewarding dimension to what we do and what we can offer.
In the next month or so we will be busy building the tarpaulin workshop shelter and kitchen area, a fire-pit, a temporary composting toilet, perhaps a small kiln for drying chair and stool components, and no doubt many other unforeseen things/ideas that will make the courses we run enjoyable and successful.
Watch this space for updates and images of how we are progressing, as well as info on new courses etc.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Green woodworking & basketry courses

Jamie & Lin Lovekin

We are offering a series of practical, hands on workshops based in the National Trust woodlands at Penrose, Helston in which we will explore the use of 'green' or un-seasoned wood, and the traditional tools and techniques involved in this absorbing and satisfying craft.

Learn the way of cleaving, shaving, carving and weaving, and the use of tools such as the draw-knife, glut & maul, froe and shave horse. Understand the working properties of different tree species and know how to identify them.

Our courses are designed to promote a sense of slowing down and finding a rhythm suited to natural creativity. The days will involve hard work, fun, birdsong, a few blisters, good shared food, the smell of wood-smoke and hopefully a great sense of achievement for all.

Diary Dates:

14th May Spooncarving

18th-20th May Intro to Green Woodworking

20th – 22nd June Intro to Green Woodworking

23rd June Make a basket in a day

24th – 26th June Make a stool from a log

6th July Make a basket in a day

7th - 8th July Spooncarving

11th – 13th July Introduction to Green Woodworking

14th – 15th July Frame Baskets

     16th July Spooncarving


21st– 23rd July Make a stool from a log


Phone Jamie or Lin on 01736 763676