Sunday, 25 November 2012

Week 3: Charcoal

When we emptied the charcoal bins from last week we found mixed results. The one which had been hard to light and kept threatening to go out was good. That one was riddled to remove the fine ash and bagged. The other bin, which had seemed to start well must have gone out because it was full of ‘brown ends’; mainly black on the outside but just charred a few millimetres in with the centre of the stick unburnt. It was decided that we would do an experiment to see if we could still make useable charcoal from these/ the empty second bin was charged with paper and kindling and the ‘brown ends’ piled in. We did not attempt to grade them for size or pack them neatly as those would have been very dirty, dusty jobs. Then we lit it and there was a surprising amount of white smoke indicating that the moisture content was still high. When this bin was emptied on Thursday it had worked – we had charcoal!

Knowing that this burn should be fairly quick and with the store for sawn charcoal wood empty we set to with bowsaws and cut up the wood we had dragged out last week before lighting the bin. There is something very satisfying about seeing a shelter neatly stacked with wood ready for use. I suppose a rather primitive ‘We will survive’ response!

The next job was to cut a new ride through a previously cut plot so as to shorten the distance wood has to be carried out. Working in 2 teams we aimed to start from each end and meet in the middle. The tutors had already identified the two ends of the ride but with so much new tree growth and thickets of bramble neither team could see the other to establish the line to cut along! Much shouting and holding slashers up high allowed us to navigate successfully. Nick told us of miners in Derbyshire using a candle in the window of their tool shed to keep their tunnel going straight into the hillside which reminded me of navigating into harbour using ‘leading lights’. These conversational digressions certainly make the course richer and more interesting! The pace is relaxed enough for them to be enjoyed and valued rather than resented for ‘making us late’.

The new ride
Then it was off to last year’s plot to learn how to split a log which is too big to move out easily in one piece. A chance to use the beetles and wedges made last week! The logs we were using were Douglas Fir and full of knots so we treated it as ‘just an exercise’ but in fact they split well.

We all watch Nick with the splitting axe whilst David holds it steady

Then wedges lengthen the split
Sometimes metal wedges are easier to use than wooden ones
Thursday’s task, once the charcoal bin was empty, was to drag more timber off ‘seven’, the plot we have been clearing of felled material. Nick gave us a firm but gentle, well deserved telling off for stacking the charcoal wood too high, parallel to the ride not at right angles to it, and not arranged with all the butt ends to the ride. Luckily for us it was lunch time so he did not make us take it apart and re-do it! But we will not make that mistake again.

Then we made ‘ears’ to go with the legs we did last week and learned to drill mortices with the augur bit. By the end of the afternoon one saw horse was complete. I realise that I am becoming much better at shaping with the axe leaving less to do with the draw knife on the shavehorse.

Words and photos by Sue Laverack

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