Tales from the Wood

Lorem ipsum dolor

Lorem ipsum dolor

Norfolk Wildlife Trust Workshop

Another workshop at the wonderful NWT Education Centre overlooking Cley Marshes. Bird-based this time, but Looking forward to the insect sculpture workshop in January where we will use Norfolk reed cut from the reserve.

Screen Shot 2019-11-27 at 13.16.11

Screen Shot 2019-12-03 at 20.53.41


Until I sort out a mini saw-mill of my own, I've been getting some hardwoods planked up at a local wood mill.

These planks are from a fine ash tree which we felled for the new plantation. It's been down for nearly 2 years now, so won't need too long to season.

The planks are slowly dried using the traditional stickered stack. Very simple in principle; the sawn planks are stacked under cover and spaced with wood stickers. Lots of free-moving air and a little time should do the rest.

The apocryphal rule of allowing a year of seasoning for every inch of thickness is not, I have found, particularly helpful - a moisture meter however is indispensable. This ash, for instance, is at about 30% moisture content. By June next year it should be at a useable 20%.

It's no coincidence that folklore acknowledges ash as the finest of firewoods and this is probably due to its very low initial water content. Mind you, 'low initial water content' doesn't sound quite as poetic as:

'Ashwood wet and Ashwood dry
A King may warm his slippers by'

Ash Planks 1

Ash Planks 2

Ash Planks 3

Norton's Woodyard

This is where most of my felled timber ends up; the splendid woodyard run by the Norton family.

While I was there, I picked up some fine oak logs, They've been down for a few years now, so should be partially seasoned, and they seem very sound and clear (with few checks, side-branches or knots). Unusually, I was also able to find a lovely piece of English elm.

The douglas fir I sent down to the yard 2 years ago has now returned from the local sawmill. Now 'worked up' as construction timber, it's ready to build the new drying shed.

Now that sounds like the very definition of 'neighbourhood sustainability' (and not a grant in sight!).





There's still very little sycamore thinning to be done, so I've been using up some very nice oak, which I set aside some time ago. These four vessels are in oak with steam-bent chestnut handles.

Oak & Chestnut Black Vessels

Black Ceramics, Chestnut, Oak, Sycamore and Box

A real adaptive challenge : combining ceramics with wood.

After a lot of 'on the spot' experiments, I've just completed these 4 pieces. The fastenings turned out to be relatively simple. A reinforced hole in the ceramic body and either a sprung forged-wire handle or, as with the steam-bent chestnut, a metal peg, capped with boxwood.

The boxwood has been seasoning for 3 years and is incredibly tough to work (I'm told boxwood was once used to make hair combs) so in these pieces, as it's doing an important structural job, box it has to be.


DSC_0013 (1)


The moth trap produced two splendid hawkmoths last night. An eyed hawkmoth (Smerinthus ocelatta) which refused to show its eyed wings for the camera, and a poplar hawkmoth (Loathoe populi). Lots of micro moths too, which I have yet to identify - and probably never will !

Eyed Hawkmoth


Wood Stack 2019

Just in time for summer seasoning: the double windrow of split timber for next winter.


Layed Hedge and Spring Growth

The first section of hedge has now been layed, and after just a few weeks, the first signs of new growth are showing. Always amazing to think, that with just a few millimetres of stem left at the severed base, the sap still finds a way through.

Layed Hedge

Hedge Leafing Up

Elvers (Anguilla anguilla) Marble Carving

On the beach at Trimingham, amongst the storm-tossed rubble, I came across this piece of marble. Probably Carrerra - but only a small fragment - perhaps the remains of a Victorian washstand. Who can guess? It carved beautifully, and polished up to that lustrous sheen one can only get with high quality marble. I wonder if I'll come across some more?



_DSC0349 2

Low Energy Ceramic Composites

Ceramic composites are becoming increasingly prevalent in the new technological fields of precision engineering. However, very little translates, so it seems, to arts and crafts practice.

It's a complex and sometimes an eye-wateringly difficult subject, but at it's simplest level, it can be viewed as a way of extending established ceramic methods by exploring different components to form sintered bodies. Or in other words, using other materials besides clay!

To cut a long story short, I've been testing some simple composites to try and cut down firing time. It certainly seems to make sense to reduce energy consumption, but also, as an interesting spin-off, it became apparent that a simple way of constructing, was to use folded-paper moulds. This technique proved nigh on impossible with standard clay slip, for more reasons that I can list here, but with a carefully designed composite, it casts up strongly and the paper mould can easily be peeled off (and recycled). Glazing is also straightforward.

As to firing times. Well, to achieve a comfortable low-fire (raku) temperature, it takes about 10 minutes. And no, absolutely no pre-firing needed!




The Art of Hedgelaying

Way back in history, when I lived on a farm in Staffordshire, hedgelaying was part-and-parcel of everyday field maintenance. It ensured that field boundaries were stockproof and the hedges dense and secure, It gave the hedgerow-birds good tight cover for nesting and provided seasonal employment for the local 'Hedgers and Ditchers'.

I was lucky enough to be taught the art by two of Staffordhire's best; Bill Windley and Geoff Key (1985 British Champion) but despite the illustrious tuition, I was never more than a jobbing, rather than a hero hedgelayer and never did particularly well in local competitions.

But, I really loved it; there's nothing better on a freezing winter's day than a few hours grubbing around in a hedge bottom - it keeps you warm as toast and you can see a real transformation, as the neatly sloping pleachers follows your billhook and axe.

Now living in Norfolk, I've found much less evidence of hedgelaying: beets and potatoes have taken over from sheep and bullocks. However, staring me in the face, for too long now, there is a good 150 yard stretch of overgrown hedge bordering the wood, and it's ripe for laying.

The principles of hedgelaying are fairly simple, you thin the individual hedgerow trees, cut through each stem with a slicing cut, leaving just enough bark and cambium to enable the sap to rise, and then, carefully bend the stem (now a called a pleacher) down into the previously layed section.

Iv'e made a questionable start, but by the end, I guess I'll be back to average!

Hedge Laying 1

Hedge Laying 2

Hedge Laying 3

Hedge Laying 4