Archive for January, 2013

National Beanpole Week 2013

National Beanpole Week 2013 (13th to 21st April 2013)

OK, so you haven’t heard of this before and you think it’s a wind-up right ? – Wrong….

In the UK we actually do have a week in April each year dedicated to the promotion of our British woodland and coppicing and especially Hazel coppicing which produces great beanpoles.

Hazel beanpoles cut from my woodland

Pea Sticks from my wood

Pea Sticks from my woodland

As a coppicer myself and an advocate for the rebuilding of our rural traditional skills I am encouraged to see this particular rural skill and business promoted in this way.

Hazel beanpoles are far superior to the imported bamboo sticks and have been used as a support for growing beans for a couple of hundred years or so.

Hazel coppicing also produces great Pea Sticks, these are the tops of the hazel and are very bushy and provide great support for growing peas.

Follow this link to lean more:



Allotment Greenhouse Catastrophe

I managed to get to the allotment today after nearly two weeks of bad weather including a week of snow which resulted in around 25 cm of snow in my part of S. Wales.

We had just had two days of heavy rain which had washed away a lot of the snow and I had purchased a few kilos of first early potatoes that I wanted to start chitting so this was an opportunity to get into the potting shed and sort out the potatoes.

To my dismay, I arrived to find the whole roof of the lean-to greenhouse on my plot had collapsed under the weight of all of the snow and had fallen inwards.

My new 'open plan' greenhouse...!

My new ‘open plan’ greenhouse…!

I had started off my winter onion sets in pots there last November and they were doing very well in the cold greenhouse and luckily, the way the roof had fallen, it had missed most of the young onions so I will be able to recover  and relocate them.
I can see the onions through the glass but I can’t get at them at the moment until I can untangle all of the collapsed roof.

Read more…

Final Episode (7) Green-Wood-Working-My-First-Years-Journal

Mid-July –  We set about making  a clearing approximately 12 yards x 8 yards in a spot that had seven or eight Alders all about 20 yrs old. It is on a slight slope and adjacent to the woodland entrance so vehicular access was good and it was fairly central to most of the wood so moving cut wood from the coppicing coups will be fairly straight forward and so we set about moving in some of the larger pieces cut Hazel that we had coppiced back in March as the raw materials for the outdoor workshop toys.

The plan was to use the Alder trees as the supports for the various devices we were going to build, in this way, I hoped to maximise the integral strength of the equipment and minimise the risk of theft and/or vandalism.

I wouldn’t put any nails, screws or fixings into the trees but use “U” shaped clamps, rope lashings and wooden clamps to secure the structures to the Alder trees. This is an important aspect because at some future  point, someone will come along with a chainsaw to fell the Alders and If i’ve left large screws or nails in the tree then i’d be adding to the risk of injury to the chainsaw operator.

During August, September & October I installed a couple of chopping blocks made from a fallen Larch and built a large cleaving break with integrated saw horse and built a heavy duty drilling board/jig. I created a second ‘rustic’ shave horse between two Alders which sort of evolved and ended up as quite a unique design that I hadn’t seen anywhere else so I might even have actually invented it without realising …!.

The basic construction of this shave horse is two horizontal Hazel logs around 3” diameter that sit adjacent to each other and form the bed with a semi-circular cross cut at each end on each one that forms a joint by cupping around  the verticals of two upside down “Y” branches of Hazel which are about 2 1/2 “ diameter.

A threaded rod goes through each end of the bed and the vertical uprights and when tightened, the whole structure locks together very tight. This is completely self-supporting and works equally well as a stand-alone shave horse that is ridiculously stable as it stands on two ‘legs’ at the front and back formed by the upside down “Y” branches. It’s fixed between two trees in my wood just for security to stop it ‘walking’ or should I say trotting off…!.

I plan to do a blog specifically to cover the design & build of this innovative shave horse for anyone who wants to knock one up quickly.

And wait for it, I got to build my Pole Lathe as well, it’s fixed between two Alders with a spring pole made from Rowen and a single hardwood beam bed. The bed, treadle and pole are fixed (or padlocked) and stay in the wood but the poppets and tool rest I take in and out. So that was another of my tick boxes ticked.

Here’s a You tube video tour of the Outdoor woodland workshop….

My Woodland Workshop

Building the outdoor workshop, like making those early willow and hazel panels and then later on, the shave horse & sheep hurdle etc gave me valuable general construction experience and this would be very easily transferable to temporary shelter building out in the field which has great synergy with my bushcrafting interests.

Whilst all of this was going on I was also quietly working out how to make Sussex Style Trug Baskets using traditional materials and I recently finished my first prototype which, out of all my projects to date was probably the most challenging and the most satisfying. It has a steam bent riven Ash handle and Rim, White Willow slats, Hazel feet and copper & brass fixings.

Here’s the first Trug Basket I made….Like my other projects, it’s far from perfect but by making it I learnt how to do it better for next time.

My first Trug Basket

My first Trug Basket

My first Trug Basket

My first Trug Basket

It’s the first week of November 2012 and we were getting ready to start our 2nd season of Hazel coppicing and under-story thinning in a couple of weeks but whilst cutting through some Cherry crotch logs for cheese boards with the electric chainsaw I injured my back (trapped the sciatic nerve somehow) and i’m seriously compromised and unable to move much so coppicing is on the back burner for now.

Lovely wild cherry crotches (wooden boxer shorts..!)IMAG1858

Lovely wild cherry crotches (wooden boxer shorts..!)

Mid-December – After some weeks of not being able to do anything, even walk, I am starting to mend a little and to aid my recovery i’m getting into my garage workshop a little each day and working slowly on my second trug which will be a Christmas hamper gift for my son. I’m trying steamed Hazel for the handle and rim this time. Because of my back issue I’m doing everything in what seems like slow motion and time is marching on so i’m now under pressure to get the basket finished in time for Christmas.

I tried hard to correct the mistakes I made in the first trug and after a final spurt and after a couple of issues with the Hazel handle & rim I get it finished 3 days before Christmas and it’s looking not half bad actually… It’s a large basket and perfect for a hamper.

My second Trug Basket

My second Trug Basket

2012-12-23 11.42.59

My personal journey has now caught up with real time and we’ve reached the end of 2012. It’s been an amazing journey over the last 12 months and I’ve learnt such a lot and I’ve realised that actually, my journey is not over, it’s just beginning.

My daughter continues to learn quickly from her ol’ dad and from others and has now set up her own natural wood craft business and has developed some great products both from green wood and seasoned wood which she markets through craft fairs and on the web through Etsy and Facebook.

I continue to learn stuff myself on a daily basis and remain in awe of the amazing work that other people are producing. There are so many talented people around.

Looking back over the last 12 months or so I can’t actually believe the journey I’ve been on and I do pinch myself frequently as I know that I am privileged to have been able to embark on it in the first place.

If you have been following my journey then thank you for giving up your time, I hope you have enjoyed it and if any aspect of it has inspired you to do something yourself then that would be an added bonus for me.


Episode 6 green-wood-working-my-first-years-journal

It took a few seconds to gather myself as the pain in my ankle was like a hot knitting needle being shoved through it.

In the darkness I’d stepped on the edge of the lane where the tarmac met the verge which had been washed away and there were several inches of drop and my ankle just folded as my leg went outwards.

I’d got heavy walking boots on and I could feel my ankle swelling by the second and I didn’t know what damage had been done but I resisted the temptation to take my boot off at the time so I half hobbled half got carried back to the accommodation block and my room. I managed to get my boot off and soaked it in the shower for a while and examining it, It didn’t seem broken so I put a strap bandage on it and got myself off to bed.

After a long night of ouches ! every time I turned over I awoke in the morning to an ankle some three or four times normal size and absolutely no way of putting my weight on it.

I was 3 ½ hours driving time from home and it was the last half day of the course and I was struggling…! I spent the whole morning with my leg up wrapped in ice and following advise from a fellow attendee called Manu (her nick-name). She gave me an ankle support and extra strapping and after lunch decided to drive home myself as the alternatives were just to problematical. It was against everyone’s advice I have to say but I was determined so I strapped it up hard and put my heavy boots on.

Bob and a couple of the others got my car from the car park, loading it up with my gear and the shave horse and sheep hurdle and helped me limp over to it.

I’m not really sure how I made it back because my car has a heavy clutch and the whole journey was on A & B country roads south through Wales with endless gear changes but anyway, I did it and duly went to hospital to get it checked out.

Inverse sprain with torn ligaments was the verdict which as time has since proved, was even more hassle than breaking it because it would have actually healed faster.

My woodland was waiting for me to return with all of this newfound experience and enthusiasm, this was no time to laid up I told everyone, I’d got wood to whittle but pushing my luck would have damaged the ankle even more so I had to resign myself to endless days with my foot up. The days actually turned into weeks of hobbling around with absolutely no chance of walking on rough ground, even crossing the lawn was a challenge.

It’s now the last day or so of May and I make my first trip back to the woods for what seems an age. The paths are growing over, the field layer is a mass of green where the light has got in between the cut Hazel and the Bluebells had already started dying back (I’d missed them blooming) and all my plans for the woodland workshop are a distant memory but walking tentatively through the area we had coppiced back in late Feb/March I could see that the cut Hazel stools were now all shooting vigorously and they looked really healthy and that was a good feeling, all that hard work had produced exactly the right result.

There was no way I could do any work in the wood at that stage, Half an hour was all I could manage on the ankle at a time on rough ground before it went up like a balloon again so I used the time to do some bits at home.

Remember that Willow woven conical obelisk that I had cobbled together back in February at the Green Wood Centre that had eneded up on the car roof rack ?, well I took it all apart and using all of the thick vertical rods, I re-engineered it as a square obelisk, turned a finial for it out of green Rhododendron on my small electric hobby lathe and it looked pretty good so it went away happily as a green wood gift… This was the willows final incarnation:

Re-engineered Willow into SQ. Obalisk

Re-engineered Willow into SQ. Obalisk

On my travels I had seen a ‘giant’ hazel novelty pencil which had stuck in my mind but I had no idea how it was made at the time and I had read somewhere about making a whistle out of wood so my garage workshop became my temporary home whilst my ankle was recovering and I set about making stuff…!

I’d seen some ‘Bug Houses’ and bird tables & feeders in the shops and thought I could do better than that so I added those to my list.

I fancied having a go at some ‘arty-farty’ Hazel sculpture as this was something I could do in the back yard and my daughter had been keeping me supplied with bits of Hazel out of the wood so this went onto the list as well to keep me occupied as I hobbled through my recovery.

Mid July – I’m confident that my ankle with stand up to working in the wood now and I had reformulated the plans for the woodland workshop having had to abandon the first idea as the site I had chosen back in the winter turned out to be still too boggy.

My Daughter borrowed a petrol brush cutter & PPE from a friend and we set about clearing the new workshop site, I was in business again and feeling lucky…

Episode 5 green-wood-working-my-first-years-journal

Sheep gate hurdles used to be an iconic part of country life and have been around in a more or less similar form for hundreds of years and they had several uses but the main ones were the folding of sheep in the fields & hills and the folding of sheep at markets and they were made in their thousands even up to the 1950’s but then lightweight metal fencing and mesh came along and the traditional wooden hurdles were phased out.

Every region had their particular style and size but essentially, they consisted of two main vertical ends and several (5 to 8) horizontal rails with some form of diagonal bracing and often, a central vertical brace as well. In the main, they were made from Ash or sweet Chestnut or occasionally Hazel, depending on regional availability of the wood. The main construction principle though was the same, Riven timber rails were tenoned and the riven ends were mortised.

Sheep hurdle making requires some degree of technical accuracy in the creation of the mortise and tenon joints if they are to be strong, hold there shape and not split and so Bob Shaw was on hand to run me through the main points I needed to know.

I decided to make my hurdle as a ‘scale version’ because I had to be able to fit it in the car to bring home and the shave horse was going to pretty much fill the car on it’s own so we opted for a ‘test piece’ size of around 3ft wide x 2 ½ft high, ideal for use as a small ornamental garden gate. As it turned out, the finished hurdle resembled the Kentish style although I didn’t know that at the time.

“and then when you knock in the nails to tie it all together he said, make sure you blunt the ends first so that they shear the wood fibres and don’t separate the fibres as that splits the wood, then bend em over on the back into the grain of the wood”.

NAILS I exclaimed, I’m not using nails, I want to do it the traditional way with wooden pegs…..Bob promptly gave me short thrift along with a lesson on “real traditional” hurdle making.

It seems that wooden pegs were more of a romantic notion in hurdles and that the reality was that flat iron nails were used and their ends bent over because this produced a strong hurdle and wooden pegs just got mushy and loose over time…!

Hurdles are hard work, first the logs (Ash in the case of my hurdle) have to be split (cleaved or riven) and then shaved to remove the bark and the long riven wedge shaped pieces of wood had to be shaped with a draw knife to produce a uniform cross section.

Once that’s done, the rectangular mortise holes have to be produced and the ends of the rails have to have the tenons put on this is where the skill comes in as the two tenons on a rail have to align in the same plane and they must have parallel sides and tapered top/bottoms so that when the joints are assembled, the pressure on the tennon joint is longitudinal to the vertical end rail grain and not sideways, this ensures the mortise holes don’t split during assembly and use.

I settled down to the tasks in hand and again felt entirely at home and in control of the tools and in the fullness of time with every muscle in body hurting, I finished the hurdle along with Kate at the end of the Thursday before the course finished on the Friday lunchtime.

Smug ?, I most certainly was, I looked at the finished article no really believing I’d made it. Now it was far from perfect but it was mine and I would know how to correct the issues for the next one so that was good enough for me.

Gate Hurdle made at CAT

Gate Hurdle made at CAT


My shave horse made at CAT

Now I don’t want to sound posh or anything but we are a two shave horse family now because I’ve since made another one…! My first one (as in the picture) has developed a lovely silver grey patina and lives with me at home and has been tweaked a couple of times since it was made to increase it’s functionality but my other one, made more recently, lives elsewhere…we’ll come back to the second shave horse later.

Back to the plot… The weather that Thursday night was horrible and was raining really heavily but it was quiz night at the tiny ‘local’ village pub up the valley from CAT and so after our evening meal (did I say that CAT only do veggie meals so I’d spent a whole week without meat…!) some of us got our wet weather gear on to trek the mile or so up the valley to the pub.

It was a great night, I hadn’t done a pub quiz in donkey’s years, which is probably was our little team got thrashed good and proper by the locals…! So armed with our hard won booby price, we trekked back down the valley back to CAT.

It was seriously dark on the small country lane, we were in the middle of nowhere and we literally couldn’t see the road under our feet for most of the way back and we only had one torch between us and we had sort of split into two groups as some of us couldn’t keep up with the others…!.

The other group in front of us had the torch and that was ok for most of the way but the gap between us got wider and wider until by the time we got to within 200 yds of the centre, they were already there.

As we turned the last bend to approach the driveway to the centre we were all chatting away happily when bosh… I suddenly dropped like a stone…the pain was just unbearable and there I was rolling around on the edge of the lane in the pitch black….

The Grass Is Greener Where You Water It

Is this a better way to do stuff ?

I love this, short and sweet and so very true…

The Grass Is Greener Where You Water It « bekahoutsidethebox.

Yesterday you said tomorrow – Just do it…


Yesterday you said tomorrow - just do it...

What a perfect quote…


Timeline Photos.