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.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Cruck barn in crenver grove

 Raised and raftered

 At long last I am finally getting round to putting up some stuff about the timber framing project I've been running in my local woodland this summer/autumn.
Over two weeks, 12 people joined me in Crenver grove, to saw, slice, chisel and bore through a pile of lovely, fresh Sweet Chestnut timbers we had felled and milled earlier in the year. These kinds of projects dont really come round very often, and the opportunity to build a traditional cruck frame on site, in a beautiful woodland, with a great bunch of folk was most enjoyable

Pat cutting a housing 

There is something intrinsically satisfying about creating a building from the very trees that surround you,  a building capable of lasting hundreds of years, made from materials that quietly grow and will continue to grow. There is very little in terms of external input, really just the mobile sawmill and some tractor time shifting the trees, so it is an incredibly low impact building. Other than the odd judicious bit of chainsawing, the work was really about a few boxes and bags of good quality hand tools, and the desire and enthusiasm of the people involved.

Oooh lovely tools

 We were really lucky to have some great weather for both courses, so much of the time we were working with sunshine and bird song. I dont want to get too romantic about this but with the mix of weather, lovely people, woodsmoke, plenty of tea, wonderful materials and the sounds of hand tools being worked on green wood, the whole thing really did feel pretty special.

Plenty of tea

Most of the work we did would have been very familiar to a carpenter of medieval times, with the use of plumb bob scribing being used throughout. This allows for very accurate jointing of timbers, despite the wood being rough sawn and out of square.


We also used the adze alot to clean up the inside radius on the crucks and wind braces, which seemed pretty popular. It is suprising how quickly you can get good at this. One of my favorite tools.

Adam the adze

Ollie in action

All the jointing is done by carefully laying out the timbers flat and uncut, one atop the other in their relevant positions, then scribing, cutting and assembling, all in two dimensions.

Scribed and ready to cut

Crosscutting a shoulder

Assembled frame

 Timbers are marked using a tool called a timber scribe. Pretty important when you might have hundreds of unique elements in one building...
Most of the jointing is done with large mortice and tenons, with a wooden pin or peg holding it tightly together.

Carpenters marks with timber scribe and temporary steel pin

Once all the referencing is done on that particular layup, it can be dismantled and the timbers stacked away. Nothing is erected in three dimensions until raising day.

Heavy mortice chisel and a well cut tenon

I think much of the appeal of these green wood crafts lies not only in the aesthetic beauty of the objects being made (and the tools used), but also in a kind of honesty in the process. Its physical and no thrills kind of process, but the combination of care, skill and knowledge of material, and tradition passed down the centuries, results in something maybe difficult to define, but is immediately appealing to many people.

Cleaning out a mortice

 I felt by the end of each five day course we had managed to get to a pretty good level of understanding the fundamentals of trad timber framing. Actually these courses are always a bit of an experiment, because a balance must be struck between learning and simply getting stuff done, so I was really pleased that we managed so much. This has loads to do with the enthusiasm and drive of the participants and I was really fortunate in that respect. A big thankyou to all who sawed and chiselled and adzed..

Dylan chopping out and Jess on the boring machine

All the pictures on this post were taken by Rach weaver one of our course goers, so a massive thankyou to her for letting me use her brilliant images.

Tea break
Next up I will post some images and thoughts on the raising and raftering plus starting the shingle making...

Trusty shave horse for peg and shingle making

Monday, 19 March 2012

This summer I am planning to build a green oak / sweet chestnut barn in Crenver grove woods for the Sustainable Trust, a local charity involved in ecological restoration and enviromental education. The idea is to make a decent size building using trees from the woods, which can then be used to run future courses and educational workshops. As part of the process we are going to be offering a series of courses on traditional timber framing and ancient woodworking over the summer/autumn. This will be an opportunity to learn in-depth the techniques and skills needed to construct post and beam timber buildings using hand tools. I have been teaching this for nearly ten years now and am intending to make this course a special one, with loads of interesting tools and methods included, and a grand raising day at the end..

The courses will probably be 5 day duration over 3 weeks in the summer, with probably a week of voluntary work for shingling the roof. There are no finalsed dates yet, but if you are interested in attending a course you should contact Pip Richards who heads the trust-
01209 831718

spring in the air

It has been quite some time since I have posted anything but like the trees, the woodland workshop has been dormant for the winter and I have been busy with my more 'conventional' carpentry work. I have really enjoyed working on a barn conversion for a friend, making a kitchen, doors, laying floors etc but with the warming weather I am very much looking forward to getting out in the fresh open air of the woods and hefting an axe and a drawknife again..
Lin and I are planning and preparing for the next round of summer courses. Lin has been doing an amazing job designing and building our new website, which will be going live hopefully in the next week... I meanwhile will be busy sourcing wood for some of the coming courses and also playing with some new ideas for courses, as well as building more doors, stairs etc etc...
We will be displaying and selling at various shows and fairs from easter onwards. Here is a brief list.

Trerife Easter fair             8th 9th April 
Trelissick woodland day  14th April
Royal Cornwall show       7th 8th 9th June

Do come and check us out if you are there..