Thursday, 20 May 2010

Twisting birch back bench.

Just returned from the wood with another nearly finished project. I was working on this freeform bench with an ash seat and silver birch legs and back. I started turning the spindles on
the recent Designers Week course and had them drying in plenty of time. What a pleasure it is to turn silver birch! Yummy! I had a little experiment steam bending a few of the turned birch spindles but they mostly decided to break at the knots.

I had intended to put two back rails on this bench, but decided in the end not to obscure the curved rail and twisting spindles on the right hand side. Drilling all the holes at crazy angles without help, but using two sliding bevels, sticky tape and a large amount of 'guestimation' was interesting. This is something I'm getting used to so I can work on my own when needed.

I still need to put a few butterflies along the split in the seat, level the legs, and general tidying up. I'm hoping this will be ready for the Ellesmere exhibition coming up in mid June.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Welsh Stick Chair course 14th - 19th May 2010

The Welsh Stick chair course is a popular course bringing together some of the more rustic inspired chairmakers and also those looking for a more refined looking chair. Ro, on the right is a returning course student and was also assistant volunteer cook on this occassion. Previously she has made two very wild chairs which perhaps reflect her personality? Here she is working out the placement of the arms and back for a seat for herself. Characteristics that keep coming back in Ro's work are knotty bumps on the rail at the back, slightly odd arms, and a non-symetrical seat (usually with a rotten hole in), alongside knobbly legs etc. She had an old ash plank, some Rowan for the legs and arms and had found a knotty ash branch for the back rail. I helped her drill the legs in the seat after much deliberation.

Chris Eckersley, one of the Furniture Designers on the Designers course came along to make some tressils for a table to go with Designers chairs. A couple of the woman wanted to make outdoor benches and here you can see Gudrun working out the placement of the legs and angles with them.

Jo, (the cook on this course) had also come along with her large stash of dried chair legs and yew seats to try to marry some together. Plying her hungry co-workers with plenty of homemade cake, home grown dexter beef from her small holding and all kinds of preserved pickels and treats, Jo dropped some heavy hints that she was in need of drilling help as her elbows were a bit dodgy. Here you can see Jo quickly posing for the camera before Paul is handed the drill back to get on with the hard work! Come on Paul, only 3 more seats to go!

Jo also kindly brought me 3 fresh sheep fleece that had been shawn just that day. 1 ram lamb jacobs, and two jacobs x cotwolds lamb fleece. Very soft and lovely dark colours. I decided to wash these in the woods as the weather seemed pretty good. It took most of an evening to boil enough hot water over the campfire, and half fill the metal dustbin (washed out mind you). I put a good dollop of soap in the water till it became slick and then gently submerged two skirted fleece in the hot water, leaving them overnight. The next morning the rinsing in the shower hut began, giving it all about 4 rinses of warm water until the water ran clear. Then, hanging the fleece up to dry out in the sun, and turning it occasionally, most of it was dried in a day.

Then some bright idea was to catch all the volunteers in the newly found jacobs fleece-wig. I am still waiting for the photos of Jo and Matt to get back to the moment I think Ro looks the most naturel, and Paul looks more like captain caveman.

One of our course participants was Matthias from Denmark. He had seen the Mastercrafts programme and just had to come and 'do it'. He had a gift for picking things up visually very quickly, and managed to turn himself a bowl, make a hoop backed side chair and also try out some rustic stool ideas. He also had the habit of whistling a half finished tune throughout the course which made a few of us chuckle. Matthias's clogs had some fascination for people here too, and since they had worn out while he was here, he donated them to me for plant holders. On his way home he was selling sheep skins from Poland and was hoping to come back to Clissett Wood as a volunteer in the future.

So here is the line up of the finished chairs and benches.
Well done group!
Finally, I would like to post this picture of Ro attempting a 3 way split of some knobbly ash. I believe she was looking for 3 equal legs, and I caught her doing this without guidance... How many wedges have you got in that piece of wood Ro? Well, I guess we all have days like this...

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

St Fagans - National History Museum of Wales

A proper bodgers day out!  Jo, Jane and myself went to St Fagans National Museum of Wales near Cardiff to see Welsh stick chairs and find anything else of interest. Although the weather was seriously cold, (well it was Wales), it was a totally absorbing experience for all of us. I hadn't been before and was intrigued to find the collection of buildings and interiors showing the changing patterns of living. Over forty original buildings from various historical periods in Wales have been re-erected throughout the 100-acre parkland. (Visit their website here

In a red painted cottage, upstairs was this most fascinating ceiling we had ever seen, like living inside a basket! We couldn't unfortunately find anyone who could tell us about the inside of this roof, on the outside it was thatch. The two rooms had the most beautiful feel to them, sparsely furnished, but absolutely stunning. Note the wonderfully curved cross beams above the green four poster bed. For me the beauty and simplicity of these buildings had a real purity about them. Reminiscent of the Shaker style, the clutter of life is kept to a minimum. Craft and functionality come together to make a wonderful balance.

Nearly every aspect of the buildings, from the structure to the tools hanging up, the chairs, beds, spinning wheels (both Jo and I being spinners too) and various treen in even the most basic of buildings were of interest to us. All three of us felt like naughty school children - getting told off for handling the spoons and bowls, caressing the stick chairs, and aged worn settles. There is something about wood that makes you want to touch it, especially something that is well used and lived in. Jo with tape measure and camera to hand, took notes of dimensions and designs of Welsh stick chairs  for upcoming projects.


The rooms are pretty much unlit, so we found ourselves peering into the darkness in search of objects.

More to come on this post soon...

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Making a Bowl Lathe with Ben Orford

Just some quick snaps from the Make a Bowl Lathe & Bowl Turning course with Ben Orford.
This morning Ben took us to his workshop and showed us how he made the tools we were finally using after 4 days of making our lathes. You can see the expressions on some of the course participants faces - confusion, admiration, intrigue. An entire week of great tuition and passion for his subject. More to come soon...