Wednesday 30 March 2011

A Tale Of Two Hammers

Anyone who knows me knows I love my tools, almost to the point of obsession (I think its actually well past this point but never mind) but there has been a chink in my armour. When I first started on a building site I was told I could do a couple of little jobs if I brought in a hammer and a tape measure so I went off to a hardware shop and brought them (and so began my apprenticeship...), the hammer was a Stanley Steel Master and the foreman I was working with said it was the one he used. I was proud of my purchase and I even managed to ignore all the "advice" on how to break it in (cruel tricks to play on a youngster). Ever since then though I've had to justify my choice of hammer on site as it isn't an Estwing like every other carpenter uses. I've been told horror stories of the heads flying off Steel Masters as they're not one piece construction and doing serious damage on their way back down to earth.
(old Steel Master head, well used and looked after)

My Mate Dan, who I sometimes work with, was the worst (or is that best) at taking the piss. "Why don't you get yourself a real hammer?" He'd quip. "When you can do with yours what I can do with mine, then you can comment." Was my normal reply, or something a little ruder perhaps, but all in jest. But for all his piss taking I was taken aback when he came over this weekend for my birthday and said he'd got me a present - out of his bag he pulls a new Estwing hammer. I was very touched and not sure what to say. "It was getting embarrassing working with a man who got his hammer out of a cracker, so I thought I'd get you a real one" A lovely present I thought, and one I will use for many years to come. I've enjoyed nine years with my Stanley Steel Master hammer but now its time to retire it to the workshop and break in a new one, I'd love to know how many nails my old one has knocked in (and bent over!). I did text Dan Monday morning to say thanks again for the present and how my hammer had already done more work that morning than the total his had done!

Tuesday 29 March 2011

New Axes

When my brother got his Gransfors Burks carving axe I decided there and then I wanted an axe made by this company, so when he and my sister asked what I wanted for my birthday I hinted towards this (as a present from them both as they are expensive). When I received it this weekend I wasn't disappointed. Not only had I got the Gransfor large forest axe but my brother had restored an old axe, making a handle the same shape as his carving axe and sharpening it up nicely. I need to put them both into use now and make something (or chop something down!), I quickly used the forest axe on Sunday to chop off a few branches from a tree in the garden and it's really well balanced and so so sharp - I just hope I can keep it that way!

Thanks Dave and Em!

Saturday 26 March 2011

Garage doors and nuts

I've had another varied week. From demolition in Birmingham, to changing kitchen hinges and putting up notice boards in an office, to hanging a pair of garage doors for a neighbour across the road. Still keeps me on my toes.
I was quite please with the garage doors, a pair of door is always more of a pain than hanging two doors separately. Getting an even gap down the middle whilst keeping the gap even round the outside is enough to make you swear (especially if its an old frame your fitting to, like the one today). Still he was happy and I enjoyed hanging them, although it would have been easier if he didn't want butt hinges and would have had T-hinges instead. I even applied the knotting for him (as I could tell he probably wouldn't have bothered) and filled the nail holes in the door stop.
At wood turning this week I turned a Banksia Nut, my wife popped it in my shopping basket when we were in Axminster last week as she thought it looked interesting.
Interesting it was, but I'm not a hundred percent convinced, I think I like symmetry too much for me to love it. It was also dusty and horrible to turn, still it's something different and I'll get one over on my brother when I ask him what it is (unless he reads this first!)

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Worcestershire Woodin'

After our tree felling course I wanted to learn a little more about coppicing and the history of it. I was recommended to read Worcestershire Woodin' - Hazel woods in a nutshell, the recommendation was biased though as it was from the author!

The book isn't a how-to but more a way things were told by someone who had coppicing in their blood, seven generations had worked and coppiced the same woodlands and Geoff Osborne was to be the last. The book is transcripts of conversations with Mr Osborne about what his family used to do. Talking to Ron and Richard, (the two that put the book together) Mr Osborne had long ago decided that coppicing was a dieing trade and when they asked him questions he said "why do you want to know this? Nobody wants it anymore. It's not needed is it?". They thought it was and managed to record and write these peals of wisdom before they were lost forever.

The book isn't a long read (about an hour), but it's really interesting and has many nuggets of information about coppicing and the way the countryside was in the past. It's told mainly through colourful characters and stories; illustrated with hundreds of photos. This book will sit nicely on my shelf along with my other woodland and woodworking books, a worthwhile read.

Monday 14 March 2011

From Coppicing to Birmingham

I do like the variety that my life seems to bring.
The week before last I spent with my brother coppicing close to where we grew up, on a beautiful river bank coppicing trees as part of a grant program. My brother's a tree surgeon and it's always enjoyable working with him, I always seem to learn lots and its interesting seeing timber from a different perspective.
I even fell my first tree all by myself (with a chainsaw, this was before the axe course - sorry the posts aren't in order).
Then skip forward a week and I'm just taking on a job in Birmingham that's been offered to me. Luckily it's in the middle of a park (the only reason I agreed to do it - I can pretend I'm not in the city!) gutting and then restoring a turn of the century park keepers cottage into offices and mess rooms. I'm going to be on site as a working Foreman and a carpenter so it should bring more variety my way as well as a full diary for a couple of months. The place needs a lot of work but it's always interesting working on old properties - you never know what you might find. Also on a clear frosty morning the park looks quite nice. You'd never guess we were working in a city!

Sunday 13 March 2011

Chainsaw Milling

This is a continuation from the last post.
The second day of the course was chainsaw milling, as my brother has just brought a chainsaw mill we were keen to learn a few tips.
It stated off fine, a short talk on fuel mixes and chains then fixing the guide frame and cutting the top piece like butter. Sliding it off revealed beautiful grain under it, I love that we're the first people to see the tree like that.
One thing we did learn was not to clamp the frame of the mill to near to the end of the bar on the chainsaw as this is what the instructor did and ceased up the chain, preventing us from milling anymore. It didn't matter though as we'd seen what we wanted to see and we even got to take some oak home in the process. My little van was unimpressed with the weight of three slabs of green oak on the way home though!
In all it was a lovely weekend where we learned loads and found muscles we didn't even know we had. I always think a much better way to learn about history is to go and do it. I think now though I want to learn more about coppicing and how to use the wood you gain from it, I've already got some more courses in mind!

I had to put this last picture in as it's like a painting of the past. I think its great that people are still practicing these crafts and for me this picture sums up the beauty of a coppiced woodland.

Sunday 6 March 2011

Tree Felling with an Axe and Chain Saw milling

My brother pointed this course out to me from the Green Wood Centre website and I thought it sounded like fun and as my brother had just brought a chainsaw mill he thought it might be a good place to get a few tips.
I went thinking that we wouldn't really get to fell a very big tree, just something to get a rough idea.
How wrong I was.
We started on a sliver birch about 12" in diameter and the other half the group (there were 6 on the course plus 3 instructors) tackled a tree of about the same size. This was so we could practice our axe skills learning what angle to cut at and how to place it safely without it slipping and cutting your boot (or worse). We did this whole tree with axes, no crosscut saw and it was a lovely feeling as it fell over, 180 degrees from where we had first wanted it to go!
The main tree we were to drop was a large oak, 30 inches in diameter at the base. The first cut was put in with a two man crosscut saw and then the "birds mouth" was put in with an axe, everyone taking their turn.
The final cut was then put in with the two man cross cut saw and although it sounds a little big headed my brother and I were the best on this. We could keep and even rhythm easily and at one point the rest of the class were going to place money on which brother would give in first! it took quite a while to drop the oak but it was a great feeling when it did fall, as it went it made that great sound you only get when a big tree falls over.
The hard work wasn't over though as we had to limb it up (sned it up) all with the axe and chop through the main trunk ready for milling on Sunday. Again my brother and me took great pleasure in pushing each other to cut through the trunk getting a big cheer when I made the final chop! I love the picture at the end and you can understand the pride the woodsmen in the past would have had when they fell a big tree by hand.
I will do the milling in another post as I've realised how big this one is!
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