Monday, 20 October 2014

Birch Bark Boxes

I'm a big fan of Birch bark boxes. I've made a few of them, but it's not always easy to get decent bark here in the UK. I probably need to try a bit harder. I bought the marvellous book by Vladimir Yarish, which is inspirational, with fantastic colour photographs throughout. It's worth buying just for that, but it also contains step by step instructions on how to make a variety of containers and other objects (including shoes) from birch bark. Jarrod Stonedahl put a picture of a lovely antique tobacco box on his blog a while back.

One of the great things about this object is that it's quite small and therefore doesn't require a lot of bark. So I decided to have a go at making one. If you click on the picture, you can just about make out the stamped decoration.

It turns out that I had enough bark for two so I made another, this time with a bit of extra decoration inspired by Vladimir's book.

Today I visited the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and saw a fantastic example of a similar style. It's pretty dark and I only had my phone for pictures, so apologies for the poor quality.

More about the Pitt Rivers Museum later.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Elvaston Woodland Festival

Yesterday we enjoyed a lovely sunny day in the beautiful setting of the Elvaston Woodland Festival. This is the first time that we've attended this particular show and it is definitely something special. The event takes place in the grounds of Elvaston Castle and the demonstrators are scattered around the parks and woodland. It's also free entrance, which means that the local dog walkers attended for their usual saturday exercise, but could come and check out the stands as well.

Richard warming up after a cold night's camping
 This is perhaps one of the elements that I found most interesting and enjoyable as there were lots of people there that hadn't come specifically for the event, therefore you have an opportunity to reach out to an entirely different audience. We were demonstrating spoon carving and you could tell that some people were perplexed by the very idea of using wooden bowls and spoons and were even more surprised to see someone making them with an axe.

Testing out the goods with my breakfast
Unfortunately Richard had to leave at midday, which meant that I didn't get an opportunity to take a walk around to see the other demonstrators. So I'm afraid the pictures are all of me and Richard posing around our stand. Robin Wood was there with his lathe and Steve Tomlin was displaying the wooden ladders that had been made on a course at the same venue the week before the festival. It was also nice to meet some of the members of the East Midlands Bodgers Group.

My new workshop apron (made by Laura) featuring a handy axe loop
A little bit of whittling
Making stop cuts on the biggest spoon in the world

Monday, 15 September 2014

Old Spoon Carving Article

I'm an avid reader of Chris Schwarz's blog at Lost Art Press. Check out his most recent offering on wooden spoons here.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Bark Sheaths

Most of my carving tools are kept in a roll, but I like to give them a sheath in order to protect the blade better and prevent them from cutting through the canvas roll. The sheaths are all made from birch bark. It is a technique I first learned from Del Stubb's website Pinewood Forge. The next time I saw this kind of sheath was on Jarrod Stonedahl's blog. He showed some old ones with a slightly different style.

I was also lucky to be able to do a course on making them with Jarrod at the first Spoonfest in 2012. They are very straight forward to make and effective too. Birch bark is the most common material, but other materials can also be used. The first ones I made were with cardboard from a cereal box. Today I decided to have a go using Willow bark as it is easier to get hold of in the right thickness here in the UK.

You don't need much in the way of equipment. Just a sharp knife, a pair of scissors and a ruler.

Cut a strip of bark that is a little wider than the blade of the knife it will fit and four times as long. Fold the strip in half and then fold each end in to meet the middle. I've never had to do it with Birch bark, but i found it necessary to soak the Willow bark first.

When you flatten the strip back out it should now be in four roughly equal sections.

Make a cut lengthways along the middle of the two centre sections. This will be the outside of the sheath. Don't cut the end sections as these will be on the inside of the sheath.

You now need a thin strip of bark about twice the length of the original strip. this will be used to wrap around the sheath. Begin by tucking it in-between the outside and the inside of one side of the sheath.

You then proceed to wrap it around the sheath, weaving in and out of the cut portion. At this point I realised that it is quite difficult to describe this process in words, so I decided to do a short video of this stage.

So there you have it. hopefully that all makes sense. The Willow bark worked well and I'm sure there are other alternatives too. There are lots of variations you can try as well. I'm now going to experiment with using food dyes to colour the different strips.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

You've got to roll with it

It's been a while since I last posted so I thought I'd do a quick one just to say what I've been up to. I haven't done any turning recently as I'm trying to sort out the workshop ready for a few classes I'm doing in the next couple of weeks, but I have made the biggest tool roll in the history of the world.

This is to house all of my eyed augers. There's nothing in the picture to give a sense of scale, but the leather I've used is about half the back of a three seater sofa.

Along the same theme of tool storage, i also managed to make a sheath for my new Robin Wood axe.

I've yet to really put this axe through it's paces so I'll hold off writing a review till I've spent a bit more time with it, but so far I'm impressed.

As the weather was nice this afternoon I spent a bit of time in the garden with the two oldest boys and we managed to harvest some veg from the garden. Our tomato plant has been very fruitful this year and Jesse just snacks off of it. Our courgettes were a bit of a let down though and haven't really produced anything, but then today, on closer inspection, I found a giant marrow hiding in the bushes.

My first attempt to photograph the veg was sabotaged by Saxon trying to get hold of the few tomatoes I'd managed to rescue.

In the end I had to just hand them over.

Friday, 29 August 2014

So, who is Holt and who is Heath?

On Monday this week, Julian and I braved the British bank-holiday weather to attend the National Forest Wood Fair and took some of our wares along, to display and show other people and with the vague hope of selling one or two pieces.

We got there a little later than we'd planned, my eldest daughter Chloe came along to help, and we set up a rather tiny gazebo and tables in the pouring rain, resolved to the facts that we were going to get very wet, probably very few if any members of the public would be fool-hardy enough to get out of bed for such an event on such a day, and that we would most likely not manage to sell a single item.

Nonetheless, and with our moral undaunted, once set up, we stood and smiled and chatted with the slow trickle of people who had no doubt pre-purchased their tickets for the event and thought that, since they had already spent the money, they may as well see if it was any good.

Though I was glad to have had some shelter with us, the rain dripped through, filling the bowls on the top shelf and, if you look carefully, you can see the river that ran constantly across the middle of the table with the bowls on.
Bad weather aside, and at about 2 o'clock it actually stopped raining for about fifteen minutes, we had a most enjoyable time. We sold some spoons, some bowls, spatulas, spreaders and coat hooks - thanks to all those who offered advice on pricing our products. But the most enjoyable thing about the whole day, the best thing by far, was the great, friendly, helpful, encouraging, complimentary, appreciative people that we met.

So, thank you to all those who bought something from us - it is the most flattering thing ever.

Thank you to those who offered advice, especially those who have been doing this a long time and were very free with their wisdom.

Thank you to those who sought us out, having communicated via the net for some time - it was good to finally put a face to a name (James, don't forget to be in touch about how we can be involved in you grand scheme).

All in all, a worthwhile activity and well worth getting soaked for.

Sorry for all the pictures of spoons - I was kind of trying to catalogue the different styles I had carved before they went flying off the shelves - and I don't mean because of the wind gusting across Beacon Hill!

And not that it matters, but in way of clarification, Julian and I are both called Heath - there is no Mr Holt. I took the name 'Holt and Heath' from a line in the general prologue of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales:

'When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage...'
It means woodland and field and with Heath being our surname, and me liking Chaucer, I thought it sounded sufficiently arty-farty. Sorry for the confusion (and disappointment for all those hopping to meet the elusive Mr Holt).

In a bit of a pickle....

I was at a local auction house a year or so ago. I like to go every now and then to sit and look at what is on offer, get my hopes up for a purchase, only to have them dashed when the bidding goes way over my limit and I go home empty-handed. On this particular occasion I bid for and won a box of ephemera - I can't even remember what was in it that attracted me, a bunch of old wooden bow saws I think - and when I got it home I found a couple of interesting items buried inside, one of which I was hoping someone out there could help me to identify.

Firstly there was this rather nice little jointed box.

It has a hinged lid and wrought handle. It is rustic and roughly made with a nice carved pattern front and back. Whilst I liked it, and it has lived ever since on our hearth, and whilst it had clearly been made to look old (there is  a lot of surface gunk and muck), I didn't for a second think it was anything but a replica, mostly because there was something quite modern looking about the staples that hold the handle and lid ring on.

Then there was this:

Again, its wooden, roughly carved from a single piece of timber, with some basic decoration and five semi-circular hollows. Now, I am certainly no historian, but I thought I recognised this item as soon as I saw it. I seem to remember seeing one just like it in an old history text book from way back when I was at school. In this particular book it was called a Tudor pickle tray. It would be placed on the table at a meal or feast with various preserves, pickles or chutneys in the hollows to enhance and embellish the otherwise rather plain food.

I have since scoured the internet, convinced that if I searched for Tudor or Elizabethan or medieval pickle tray or condiment tray, I would be sure to get a positive result. However, try as I might, I have as yet found nothing.

What I was wondering was, does anyone out there recognise this item of treen? Does anyone know what it is - is it my illusive pickle tray? And if so, how can I go about discovering if it is real or not? I am not naive enough to think I have a genuine piece of Tudor tableware, but equally, I'd hate to think it was the real thing and all this time it has sat in my garage, gathering dust and rotting away.

Any suggestions?