Tales from the Wood

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Eel and Moon in Portland Stone

After a break from stone carving, I've returned to it with a vengeance. More specifically, I've returned to it with an electro-mechanical hammer.

It's been an interesting decision: will I be avoiding the repetitive strain of continuous hammering, only to replace it with continuous vibration and Raynaud's syndrome ?

I needn't have worried; the new machine is very smooth and quiet and very different to the pneumatic hammers I've dabbled with. I guess only time will tell, but I've made a commitment to spend at least the next year working in stone - maybe in combination with other materials.

This Eel (Anguilla anguilla) is carved in Portland stone and is part of a new sequence of work that focusses on our British fauna, in particular, those species in decline - quite a wide area of study !


Eel 1

Eel 2

Eel 3

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.


Ceramic-Shell Bronze Casting

Here's a brief thumbnail review of the ceramic-shell casting process. I've pretty much followed Duhamel's studio process, but with a few modifications. I've also been trying an all-in-one casting process, where the raw bronze is held within the ceramic-shell cup and the whole construction is brought up to temperature in the furnace: The bronze melts and flows into the mould beneath it. The problem is, as the shell often has fine hairline fractures in it, so the highly fluid bronze finds a way out because it doesn't solidify on meeting a cool exterior as in a conventional pour. More work needed here I think.

Ceramic shell

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