Tales from the Wood

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Last Sycamore Vessel?

Here it is, the last black sycamore vessel…well probably.

As there are no more suitably-sized trees to be thinned, at least for a while, I'll be turning my attention to other projects. Sweet chestnut will have to feature in the future, particularly as I've planted over a thousand, and in the meantime there's a few, more mature, chestnut specimens to be felled. Sweet chestnut has very different working characteristics to sycamore, it cleaves easily but isn't great for turning and burning.

Chestnut coppice is a wonderful material, but it will be a while untill we're ready to take the first cut. In the meantime, I can only wonder how the new saplings have managed to survive and even thrive after the long Norfolk drought, but I guess being a predominately Mediterranean species it has adapted to these drier conditions.

With climate change, now a certainty, the planting of new woodlands needs to take heed of these newly predicted climatic patterns as it will only be a matter of time before we see our traditional broadleaf woodlands struggling to regenerate and survive.

Last Sycamore Vessel ?


Pine Needle Black

I'm having a break from charred sycamore vessels. Mainly due to an unpredictable loss rate (I guess inevitable, when you torture a perfectly good piece of turned wood with a blow torch) and now that most of the thinning has been done, we're running out of suitable trees.

So, after some experimentation, I'm making a few black ceramic pieces with chestnut handles.

For previous work (below) I made a wood-fired muffle kiln, to carbon-impregnate the ceramic body after a previous stoneware firing. The new batch however, will be blackened in a similar way to the Raku process: removed from the kiln at red heat and immersed in a carbon rich material. Sawdust is usually used for this, but pine needles create a wonderfully deep black that seems to really impregnate the body.

I took a macro-photo to see the blackened body in detail - nothing particularly conclusive about this, but it seemed a good idea at the time and I wanted to test the new macro attachment for the phone-camera. Impressive little gadget I thought, for something that looks little more than a fancy tie clip!

Version 2



Overstood Sweet Chestnut Coppice

It will be 14 years until the new chestnut coppice is ready to crop, so until then, I'll have to make do with some rather old and neglected specimens - classic 'overstood' coppice that hasn't been managed for years. Not really a worry, as there is always plenty of straight usable wood even in the most untended and sad looking individuals.

This is a characteristic, which in my experience is relatively unique to sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa). Even when crowded out by insensitive over-planting it doesn't seem to contort and twist like, for instance, hazel or ash. So riving it up and shaving it down for steam-bent handles, it's still an absolute pleasure.


Emma et al

So soon after the planting, a series of storms (the most recent being Emma) did their very best to flatten the new sweet chestnut coppice. A little disheartening, but most saplings survived the ordeal and after rehousing in new tree guards they are now ready for their first spring.

Storm Damage 1

Storm Damage 2

Sweet Chestnut Coppice

Probably a rare event in modern arboriculture, but at last, the first sweet chestnuts are planted as part of a new coppice.

The 1000+ specimens are being complemented with 20 clumps of oak which will eventually be thinned to leave 20 oak standards. The chestnuts will be coppiced on a 14 year cycle as will the hazels planted on the edges.

Interestingly, there has already been a distinct character-change in the bird life visiting the site, with barn owl, green woodpecker and linnets being regular visitors.

Also, those mixed oak and conifer edges look perfect for woodlark, but maybe that's just wishful thinking.


The Bronze Foundry Project

Now that the newly felled hectare of wood is ready for replanting, a good deal of small-wood has been stacked in situ. These stacks will season over the coming year and what isn't collected will be left to decompose naturally, serving as habitat piles.

The idea is to eventually make charcoal from the small-wood and use this for a small, woodland bronze foundry. Quite experimental, but based on some good archaeological research on charcoal-fired furnace technology combined with contemporary concepts, particularly ideas related to wood gasification.

To this end, I've just completed a small test furnace (in this case, propane fired and based on a design by Olivier O. Duhamel) which I'll use for ceramic-shell bronze casting. This, I hope, will provide a sort of 'control variable' for the new project and will also get me back into the practice of metal casting, which I've neglected for a good few years now.

Felling Complete