Saturday, 8 January 2011

Green Woodworking

Green woodworking is a traditional way of working with wood that is unseasoned, ie in the green. The fact that the wood will shrink in a pre-determined way (and by a known amount) after the item has been made is used to the advantage of the overall piece. An example of this is when making a chair, the cross rails are pre-shrunk for 24 hours or so in a 'hot box' (ie so they won't shrink any further) and are then inserted in the legs.  As they legs dry, they will shrink and grip the cross rails, meaning that no glue or nails are needed.

Chairs and stools made from green wood are also immensely strong because the wood is not cut against it's grain which can expose weaknesses. The people who made the chairs in this way were called 'Bodgers'.

Mike Abbott, explaining safety procedures.

In September 2008, I was fortunate to spend a long weekend on an 'Introduction to Green Woodworking' course with Mike Abbott. It was a wonderful and inspirational experience, based in Brookhouse Wood, not far from Bromyard in Herefordshire. Part of the joy was simply being there, in the middle of a tranquil woodland, with no electricity or phones, living and working under a massive canvas sheet and with a couple of open fires on the go at all times.

Everyone mucking in to prepare dinner.

Toilet facilities were a palatial compost loo for your poo and a secluded strawbale to wee on. The shower was a trug bucket which you filled with warm water from the fire and hoisted up in the air. A hose pipe came out the bottom of the bucket and had a tap on the end to control the flow of water. It was an exhilarating experience showering in the open, although I was also nervous of running out of water mid-shower and having to walk back to the 'kitchen' for more.

One of the fires. This one fed the 'hot box'.

The working area contained several shave horses, foot-powered lathes, wooden blocks and a brilliant collection of tools, plus a selection of wood to choose to work from.

For my main project, I decided to make a small stool. It was amazing to start with a log - literally complete with bark etc and then to cleave it into four pieces, each of which would become a leg. Using initially an axe, and then a shave horse with a draw knife, the quadrants of wood were rounded off and suddenly transformed!
Stool legs, drilled and ready to accept cross rails.

In addition to the stool, I also made a candlestick and a babies rattle on the foot-powered lathe. The rattle is actually quite complex for a beginner because it has enclosed rings - Mike made one, then I tried. It was OK I guess! It is perhaps sad for me to say that one of the most satisfying things to feel and hear is  wood being cut perfectly with a chisel on a foot-powered lathe - mmmmm!

My rattle above, and how it should have looked below!
It was my first time on a pole lathe though.

On the last day, the stool was assembled (no glue or nails) and the final test was to put the stool on a branch of a tree and hang from it. Fortunately, it all stayed together! The finish it off, I used strips of Wych Elm Bark to weave the seat.

I had a utterly brilliant weekend - Mike and his assistants were great teachers, and the other course attendees were all fascinating people. We had great communal meals and a couple of drinks in the evenings too!

I came home with a massive smile on face, but smelt of sweat and woodsmoke! Oh the memories!

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