What a week! Loads of new stuff to learn and do and for the first time. By Thursday afternoon I felt really tired physically and glad to leave slightly early! Maybe partly because at yoga on Tuesday we worked on our thigh muscles and these were what we used a lot in the woods!
Wednesday began gently enough with us cutting more small trees with bowsaw and billhook to revise and get back into the rhythm of the woods after half term and a week of green woodworking. I tackled a thicket of thorn bushes working towards David who had started on the adjoining one. Thorns are not the easiest trees to fell because the wood is hard and the branches often contort and tangle. They grow at angles which can be hard to sned too. However I began to realise that it was a good way to practice using the billhook ‘with conviction’ and set me up for the afternoon.
After lunch Nick began teaching us how to use the felling axe. Before letting us loose on standing trees where we could do real damage to the trees or ourselves he got us learning on fallen trunks. He and Martin had sawn some of the smaller Douglas fir trunks which were lying around so that they were moveable lengths. He demonstrated how to stand for the job – knees slightly bent which was why my thighs protested the next morning! – how to swing the axe, how to recognise a good ‘V’ cut when we had made one and how to avoid chopping our feet or legs off in the process. We then scattered to find a length to learn on and were given the task of cutting it into pieces about a foot long for use on the workshop woodburner. All 3 tutors patrolled the area ensuring we were working safely and offering advice to help us do the job as easily and efficiently as possible. Given all the problems I had had with the billhook, both with ‘conviction’ and accuracy, I was rather anxious about this exercise but in the event, with helpful comments from the team, I managed it OK and whilst there was no way I could produce as many logs as Kieron or Stef who are both very strong and experienced with tools, I did manage to cut up 2 lengths of trunk in the afternoon and enjoyed myself.
|Andrew getting to grips with using an axe|
|Sue doing the same|
Thursday was a very different day with gales and torrential rain so we all hunkered down in the workshop with the woodburner lit. We actually burnt some of the logs we had chopped into length the day before which Martin nobly stood in the rain to split for us. Penny, who would have to cycle for an hour and a half to get to the wood, was concerned about her safety and when she discovered a branch blown down on her place needing to be moved urgently called Nick to say she would have to stay home. I was very relieved that she was being sensible. Barbara had a heavy cold and went home before lunch looking quite ill.
The rest of us got on with the shavehorses. We began by drilling holes with the augur bit for the legs – one at the front and two at the back. Because the legs have to splay out to provide stability the holes must be at quite an angle which makes the drilling hard. At one point I hit a particularly hard bit of wood – maybe a knot – and made very little headway so Nick kindly took over and persuaded the drill through it. By the time all 3 were made my body was beginning to protest! Then the edges of the holes had to be cleaned up with a gouge chisel. This was another first for me but with Martin showing me what to do and then supervising I managed it.
|A nervous moment whilst drilling the leg holes with the auger|
Although I had shaped the tenons the previous week I had left them slightly oversized as always in case they shrank as the wood dried. So it was back on the shavehorse and the fiddly job of offering them up to the hole, paring a little bit off, offering them up… Eventually they were a snug fit. It was then that I discovered that the front one was too upright because I had not angled the hole enough. I was so cross with myself`! Luckily for me Martin suggested that by taking a sliver off one side of the tenon, which was still quite tight, the tenon would be angled to the leg and might solve the problem. It did. Phew! Thanks Martin!
With the bench seat finished (it is in the right of the picture), lunch eaten and a fascinating discussion over our cups of tea on the effect of planning policy and building regulations on the working countryside, it was time to start making the vice for my shavehorse. I found a lovely piece of Ash for the uprights, split it and shaved off the bark. Unfortunately I made the split so the curve was from side to side rather than front to back and Nick decided that making it work was more effort than starting again. It was entirely my fault – I should have asked if it mattered which way I put the split.
Martin and Stef had offered to go and find more lengths for the remaining horses. Given that the rides had turned into streams and the clay mud was treacherously slippery this was very generous of them and none of us argued. There was enough in what they collected for me to have another length and this time I made sure that I orientated it correctly. Once I had removed the bark the next job was to clamp both lengths together and drill holes right through for the adjustable pin and the mortice for the top bar. This was done with the brace and bit and was quite tricky because the split had to be as vertical as possible in the vice and the holes exactly at right angles to it. I watched both David and Kieron do theirs and decided that at 3pm and feeling tired it was not a good idea to start such a precise task which also demanded quite a lot of energy. So I downed tools until next week. It is always OK on this course to pace ourselves and stop when we feel we need to.
Andrew had also got to a good place to stop. We travel together as we live quite close to each other and we were both concerned about the drive home given that there might be floods and fallen trees. So with the light fading we left the others to finish and went home early. That evening my legs were very stiff and I walked like a mannequin! Luckily by next morning the stiffness had eased and was soon worked off.
Words by Sue Laverack
Photos by David Hunter