23.12.06 this time of the year is traditionally the busiest time for firewood but seems to be a bit quieter this year because of the warm weather. Its probably just as well because Tommy the tractor is playing up and overheating despite having his radiator replaced. In the quiet spot before I start in Stoney Hazel I have started on the 'tool shed' a monstrous timber frame construction. Its great fun making enormous mortice and tenon joints. The aim would be to display it at the next beanpole festival. Also I've done a day helping Rebecca Oaks on a slash and burn project at Warton. The aim is to remove scrub from the limestone and burn it on site, because you cannot get a vehicle up there to take the rather nice looking poles out.
4.12.06 Well sorry about that I dropped my digital camera on the floor at home it several bits flew off and the camera hasn’t worked since. I had to wait until my birthday to get another one and I’m back in action again now. What’s happened in the meantime? Well I’ve now completely finished in Sow How which is a relief. I will not work woods without some sort of deer fence in the future. Which is just as well because I've lined up a section of Stoney Hazel woods from the National Park Authority. Its got nice straight oak poles in and a lovely well maintained deer fence round the outside. On the way back from looking at Stoney Hazel I travelled along a valley at the back of Grizedale which had a beautiful view over Esthwaite Water and into the central Lakes. I've been milling up some yew and amongst some great one inch thick boards I've also got these 30inch wide by 2.5 inch boards. The grain on them is incredible.
19.09.06 Back in the mists of time I impregnated birch logs with shitaki mushroom spores. This was pretty unsuccessful as season after season went past with only a few birch polypores appearing on some of the logs. After a couple of years I brought the most likely looking log home and that sat at the side of the house for another year or so. Finally I decided it would be better as firewood and it was duly chopped into short lengths. When I came to move it , covered in shitaki mushrooms. Now shrivelled and inedible. Ho hum. Last week saw the Woodland Pioneer’s event put on by BHMAT. This event seems to get bigger every year due to ever increasing numbers of people coming back year after year. This year there were around fifty people and its initially a bit daunting when you see them in one bunch at the start of the week. By the end of the week I’m knackered but know everyone. I get the attendees to make an oak bench from a single log and I’m always amazed at how different the stools end up from similar looking logs. The teaching bit gets noticeably easier as the week goes on and everyone gets used to wielding razor sharp tools .
06.09.06 The summer holidays have been and gone and the charcoal season has once again stopped dead half way through August. The lull before the firewood season now gives us a chance to get some jobs done and prepare for the ‘Woodland Pioneers’ where I am teaching next week. This has mostly involved putting new handles on axes and adzes and getting in rounds of wood so the participants can make a stool out of a log. Woodland Pioneers marks the end of James’ apprenticeship. He will be the first to pass through the BHMAT apprenticeship and set up his own business. He is wanting to specialise in greenwood furniture and here he is finishing off a low table for his exhibition.
18.07.06 There’s been all sorts going on in the last month. Charcoal is continuing to be in demand with the hot weather , I’ve been to Chopwell Forest festival for the first time demonstrating shake making and I’ve also spent a week volunteering putting shingles on the National Trust’s Footprint building at St Catherines. This has been a bit of trial with shingles going on, coming off and then going back on again. Its got to be right but the roof is a boat shape and the contracters are pulling their hair out trying to get the roof beams right.
An eventful month has passed since the last update. After a prolonged cold spell the temperature has now risen to a steamy level and an element of lethargy creeps in. The weather is ideal for jobs like peeling oak poles and timber framing , but filling charcoal kilns with 3 tons of wood while wearing thick chainsaw trousers can be pergatory. This month has also seen the sales of my new ‘BBQube’ box into its first outlets at Hayes garden world and Grasmere garden centre. Fingers are crossed for good sales . incidently I turned up at Grasmere with a pallet of 60 boxes , ‘no that’s not right ,we ordered 16 boxes’ ho hum must listen to my answer phone more carefully. The end of May featured our ‘Coppice Conference’ which went very smoothly . Probably most useful were the afternoon visits to different woodlands. I walked round with the great coppicing oracle Colin Simpson as we looked at High Wood (which we cut about 2 years ago now ) and then down through a patch of derelict coppice towards Dorothy Farrers Spring wood which we also cut some years ago. While walking through the derelict bit people were saying ‘whats the problem with this bit of wood , there’s loads of trees?’ . Colin was starting to get a bit exasperated with this attitude ( from amongst others the forestry commission and the woodland trust ) as he repeatedly pointed out that the wood would end up with dominant species only and all the underwood would disappear. Colin need not have worried as when we all got into Dorothy Farrer’ spring wood which is now back in rotation the reason for coppicing became clear. The wood was alive with birdsong , particularly willow warblers and was a young vibrant bit of woodland rather than a dark decaying lifeless wood. While looking round the woods in Silverdale I saw a Duke of Burgundy butterfly which are quite rare these days and have noticed more pearl bordered fritileries than the last few years. I have also been to see the early stages of the new strawbale/timber frame/cob wall low energy building that the National trust is constructing and its going to look spectacular. It is a tear shape and I’m hoping to help put the shingles on the roof which should be fun with the sha
04.05.06 Wallop! spring has landed overnight and after the snowy scenes we now have wood anemones , swathes of wild garlic that fill the air with their pungent aroma and the first calls of the cuckoo . I have now had my first show of the year ( the beanpole festival ) which was slightly disappointing . The problem seemed to be the wrong sort of people in that there weren’t many people there intent on buying things for their garden even though there was every conceivable wooden artefact . However the weather was nice and I met lots of old friends . On Wednesday I went over to Stoney Hazel to help out Saul with the last of his cutting of hazel . This is a beautiful bit of woodland up at the top end of the Rusland valley and Saul is doing a good job of renovating it although the hazel stools are now so sparse that it will probably need some planting to get it back to a worthwhile density . After a hard days sawing we stopped off at Rusland church to pay homage to Arthur Ransome . His grave lies in a quiet corner under yew tree looking out over the Rusland valley .
21.03.06 Daffodils have yet to come out in force in Lakeland , further put off by another dump of snow that cut off access to the kilns and woods and closing schools . This has sent me scurrying to the barn to finish gates and fix graders . Talking of the barn another incidence of the strange coppice karma , just when I am at my most cash strapped because money isn’t coming in and I’m buying trailers a bill appears from the National Trust for 2 years back rent . Oh well had to happen sometime . My two brothers came up for some walking at the weekend , and we conquered Blencathra (without oxygen ) . The longer winter has led to the charcoal and firewood season overlapping and the general feeling talking to other coppice workers is that they are hartily sick and tired of doing firewood and would like a bit of peace and quiet to get on making things for the looming craft show season . Despite the firewood we have been steadily producing charcoal and it rapidly disappears as soon as we make it . I had a phone call the other week wanting us to sell them charcoal for £350 a tonne as a place in Felixstowe was making it for that . For this price I feel like buying it myself as we cannot make it for less than £550 a tonne .
07.03.06 I was asked to axe off the spongey woodwormed wood from old beams in-situ at a house overlooked by Ingleborough . Unfortunately the windows were boarded up so I couldn’t see it . The beams were nearly cylindrical by the time I had finished as all the sapwood was removed to leave the heartwood which wasn’t touched by the woodworm . On the whole its been a pretty dry winter but a cold one . The firewood season has been a lot longer than the last few years and its been difficult keeping up with demand . Charcoal season has started early as the first B&Q allocation goes at the end of February , the wholesaler I supply has now taken on my 2 stores and 5 others , so I have had to ship 2.4 tonnes off to him and start burning again . This is a bit fraught when the kilns are up a steep track and there’s snow and ice about . The first burn of the year flared in a spectacular fashion and the charcoal from that side of the kiln was smaller pieces than the rest of the kiln .
30.01.06 It’s a busy time at the moment with a large shingle order for a school in Cockermouth and a weeks felling in a public wood at Arnside all appearing at the same time . Mustn’t grumble about having too much work . As usual the Landrover factor rears its head as the Arnold the new Landrover could detect the possibility of money coming in and cut out at Bowland Bridge while towing a heavy load of bird box blanks . When the AA man turned up after the usual prodding and poking and scratching of head he then proceeded to get a laptop and plug it into a hidden socket under the dashboard . “I’m having trouble communicating with the ECU” . He then removed the drivers seat to reveal something not out of place in a telephone exchange , thick bundles of wires connecting to a sandwich box . No luck there and I ended up being towed into Kendal . It turns out a computer controls everything about the engine and no amount of hitting with hammers will cure it . What happens in darkest Africa when the computer goes down? The weather has been superb this last week and we’ve been down at Arnside by the estuary thinning trees in a small public wood . The first day was a nightmare , despite signs up at 5 different entrances to the wood a pensioner would turn up with dog , feigning ignorance of any signs . The next day we put up more explicit signs and that seemed to work a lot better . The tides were very strange at Arnside last week with hardly any water appearing at all , by contrast this week there will be 10.7 metre tide on Thursday so get down to Arnside for more boring action .