Tales from the Wood

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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


Beachcomber Jewellery - Adaptive Construction

A day's course on Cromer beach. The weather, thankfully, was very kind and despite being one of the cleanest beaches in the UK, we still managed to find lots of materials.

Back at the education room in the Henry Blogg Museum and overlooking the sea front, we assembled our finds into a beautiful collection of sculptural jewellery.


Mixed Media - Ceramics, Wood and Forged Wire

The kettle has a forged-wire and chestnut handle. The two smaller vessels have dovetailed steam-bent chestnut handles.

black vessels

The First Load

It's good to see the first load of wood leave the wood without a hitch. All overseen by Luke who's been supervising the whole operation from the beginning. He's the 3rd generation of this amazingly skilled, Norfolk forestry family and with his son and daughter are making a wonderful job of the initial felling project.

Replanting should begin in early winter and I've just heeled in the first oaks and hazels of the 1,100 new trees.



Clear Felling and New Coppice
The big project for 2017 has finally started. The clear felling and replanting of 3 acres of the wood. It's taken a lot of organising, but with the advice of the Forestry Commission we've made the first, fairly dramatic commitment.

The plan is to replant with sweet chestnut coppice alongside oak, rowan and birch - all site-native species which should thrive on this type of ground. The coppice will be put into a 10-15 year rotation cycle…Something to look forward to!


ClearFell 2

ClearFell 4

Brown Oak
My favourite wood at the present - brown oak is quite a rare find. The colour is said to be the result of fungal activity, but in this case I think it is more to do with long matured dead wood which has aged to a rich brown. Lovely to work with, not tough at all as you might expect from well seasoned oak, and in this case, being cut from near the root buttress, it has a stunning grain.

Brown Oak 1

Brown Oak 2

Brown Oak 3

Spalting: the good the bad and the firewood
We all love it, that beautiful spalted figuring, revealed in a turned maple or beech bowl; those amazing black meanderings that mark the boundary defences between two competing fungi. Well I've plenty of it, it just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Spalting is the rather poetic name for prosaic old wood-rot. And when a season's worth of timber is rendered unworkable, wood-rot is what it is.

The work I had planned was earmarked for an exhibition to be delivered by the end of November. Quite doable I thought: I had a store of timber from a spring-felled sycamore; lovely wood; clear and straight; cut into correctly sized billets with the end-grain sealed with wax to check rapid drying.

But as I started to shape it with a side axe (even admiring as I worked the pretty black lines slowly revealing themselves) it hit me. These pieces were to be charred in the fire, but rot, even mild rot, is disastrous. It doesn't just blacken in the usual orderly and predictably way but it smoulders away in uncontrollable patches, like an underground peat fire, creating holes and fissures, and in the worst cases leaving no more than a pile of ash.

Nothing I can do about it of course, except console myself that I have some of the most meticulously prepared and most beautifully figured firewood in Norfolk.

Spalting 2       Spalting 1