It felt weird driving to the course today, and knowing that it would be the last time I’d be heading there for a day with this bunch of people. Endings can be sad, and the course has been such a wonderful experience that there is some poignancy about it coming to an end.
However, on the drive, the greenness of spring was also just showing in the hedgerows, and some of the trees were even starting to put on their clothing of leaves. As well as an ending, the end of this course feels like a new beginning. There’s an excitement and anticipation about taking all these skills we’ve started to acquire (as well as the tools) and putting them into practise. I’m looking forward and wondering what we’ll all make of what we’ve learned.
And of course, there was finishing off to do first. Back in January, on the second day of the course, I cleft some ash for three legs for a chopping block, and I turned a handle for a maul. Now was the day to finish off.
The maul handle was green wood when I first turned it. As it dried, it changed shape; it’s oval now, not round. So the first task was to go back onto the pole lathe and turn down the handle to make it round again. I also tried to be precise about the end going into the head – both the tenon and the mortice need to be the same diameter. A bit of wire gave some detail to the handle too.
A maul is basically a piece of log on the end of a handle. This piece of log is going to be swung about, so we need to make sure that it’s not going to fall off the handle. This is quite important, so we’ll use three fitting techniques together:
- the handle is dry wood, and the head is green. As the head dries it will shrink onto the handle
- the handle will have a kerf (a slot made by a saw) in the end, cut across the grain. A hardwood wedge will fit into the slot and as the head is driven onto the handle, the wedge will push out the end of the handle.
- glue… in the slot, around the wedge, along the length of the hole in the head
I struggled hard to bang the head into place. It’s important that the wedge in the end of the handle doesn’t fall out, so the handle has to be kept in the upright position. By banging the handle down onto a block of wood, while holding the head (and in the process breaking two rounds of wood) I got it to within 1cm of fitting, but couldn’t get it any further. The correct technique is to just hold the handle vertical and drive it downwards onto a chopping block. The handle then falls into place. Physics is a marvellous thing.
I already have a chopping block, but it’s a little low, and I’ve used it for a bit, so I’ve a better idea of what I need now. The most important feature I want is a step and a notch. The step is so that I have two height options in one block, and the notch is to help hold things (spoons) in position as I axe them.
I drilled three holes in the base of a lump of wood. They were spaced at 120 degrees apart, and angled inwards. I drove the legs into position, and then levelled the block by sawing the ends of the legs. Then Maurice sculpted the step and notch using a chainsaw. Result!
And then the work was complete, and it there was time for some play…
Maurice gave a quick demonstration of how to use a pole lathe to make a tool handle. Using an existing tool as a template is a great idea. The other tip was to put the ferrule over the centre screw, after measuring its diameter and length. Then once the ferrule step is turned, the ferrule can slip straight on.
We also found out how to turn a baby’s rattle with captive rings. The trick with this is to use a special hook tool called a ferret. Turn the basic rattle shape, and then make a v notch at each side of the ring (around 8mm apart). The pointy tip of the skew chisel makes the V shape. Use a mortice chisel to waste away the wood at either side of the ring, then round the outside of the shape with the skew chisel.
A ferret releases the ring from the spindle. It undercuts behind the ring from each side. Sometimes the rings can break at this point. It’s important not to make the rings too wide, or the hook isn’t long enough to reach around behind them. Once the rings are free, the spindle is turned and smoothed.
We downed tools for an hour or so at lunch time to enjoy a barbecue on the balcony (sounds far more plush than it was). It was a struggle to get everyone to stop working, but we eventually managed it. Filling the workshop with smoke was the final encouragement.
Spot the difference competition
I’ll keep in touch with this bunch of people… We’ve learnt a lot together and from each other, and we’ve suffered through the extremes of a long British winter.