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Interesting as my current training may be, I am getting  bit fed up of sitting in lectures and writing stuff for exams, so it was a relief to be allowed outside to play complete a practical project.

The brief from the college was to go and find an organisation working with people with disabilities and ask if they need anything to help clients take part in the activities. I went with three other students to the city farm where I worked for eight months, who decided that what they’d like was wheelchair friendly entrance for the rabbit pen. “Wheelchair friendly” being defined as possible to just a wheelchair in and out without having to pull bolts or turn handles, in both directions, but without the rabbits escaping n the process.

The contraption above is what we came up with. As a wheelchair goes up the ramp and onto the platform, the weight presses the planks down, releasing the catch by the gate. The wheelchair can push through the gate which is hanging on those nifty sprung hinges you find on saloon doors in western movies, and when the wheelchair has gone through the gate swings shut, the platform springs up again thanks to two inflated wheelbarrow inner tubes hidden underneath, the door latches shut, and the rabbits are kept safely inside.

The plan was for the platform to be about ground level but we discovered the foundations to what looks like an artillery position right where we wanted to dig it out so it ended up rather higher. The ramp and barrier are by way of emergency solutions.

So far it seems to work. The gate opens and closes,  mass rabbit breakouts have been avoided.

Occasionally people  who know me through the blog ask why I don’t just ‘become self employed’ as a carpenter, instead of faffing about for another three years learning occupational therapy.

Apart from this showing a highly optimistic view of my abilities, in Germany a carpenter/cabinet maker is under the authority of the Carpenters Guild, which decrees that even after a three year apprenticeship, no-one is ‘permitted’ to be self-employed unless they have completed a master carpenters qualification. This takes another two years and you have to practically be an engineer or mathematician to get through it. It also costs 15 to 20 thousand Euros.

Most of which goes to the Carpenters Guild.

The result is that most self-employed carpenters about are (1) mathematicians; (2) in debt, (3) largely keen to keep the status quo going, having invested so much in it, and (4) paying members of the trade guild and therefore able to keep things the way they are*.

And then there’s the startup costs. Carpentry here is machine intensive and machines aren’t cheap: I’d have to take on a frightening amount of extra debt to set up a workshop. I’d then spend 20 years getting stressed out making boring chipboard furniture to pay it all off. Except that the machines will be ‘too old’ and ‘too slow’ in twenty years time, so I’d have to start all over again.

Or I can learn to be an occupational therapist, which frankly sounds a whole lot more fun.

I’ll also be at least twenty thousand Euros better off…

*Quote from one master carpenter on the subject: “I had to pay to get my Masters’ Qualification, so you should too.”

In a new challenge for the Great Present Making Project, Middle Son asked for a skateboard for his birthday. I suggested we make one together but he declined, possibly thinking that one of my making projects would last six months and would look and ride like it was made of a barn door.

His younger brother, being less familiar with my project making timescales and perhaps more optimistic about the results, jumped in and asked if he could make one with me, so off we went to the workshop.


Firstly, we found some Sycamore and walnut that had been gathering dust for years in the wood store. Sycamore is a creamy wood, while Walnut is a dark brown that goes even darker when oiled. We played with it for a bit and when Youngest Son had decided what he wanted we glued it and clamped it, then left it for the weekend.


First thing on Monday morning I ran the lot through the planer to smooth it off.


I then had a slight panic because I thought I’d made it too short. I have made some howlers in the past so I’m paranoid about this.

Fortunately I hadn’t, and once my heart rate had calmed down a bit I went on to the next stage.


This is after I’d cut end off my board and planed the main board down to about 15mm, which I was pretty sure was enough to stand up to being ridden on. I spent much too long faffing about trying to get the stripes all lined up before I glued the tail on. Then I hid for several days before finally getting the courage together to undo the clamps.


I further tested the join by sanding down the block at the back to make a smooth(ish) curve for the tail. I did this when Youngest Son was elsewhere as I was not entirely sure this would work.


When the tail didn’t fall off, I sanded the board so it was vaguely skateboard shaped.


Organised people would have marked the holes for the wheels before making the rounded shape of course, so they could use the straight edge of the board and get it just right. It took a bit of jiggerypokery with a engineers square to do the same from the centre line, but I think I got away with it.

After I drilled the holes I didn’t need the machines at work, so I could take the board to my borrowed workshop space on the other side of the city. People still ask me why I have an Xtracycle…


Now that no more machines were involved, Youngest Son could get a lot more involved in the final sanding and shaping…


…a job he took very seriously, working through to the finest grade of sandpaper we had. Then using the back of the sandpaper for the final bit


We were having so much fun we forgot to take any more pictures, so you’ll have to imagine us oiling and waxing the wood and sticking the grippy tape on the top. Beautiful Wife was around to photograph the wheel fitting…


And the first test ride. Youngest Son is delighted and so far the skateboard hasn’t even fallen apart.

Good morning and a happy 2016. I didn’t have a long night to see in the new year; my excuse for this is that I’m working this morning feeding the animals at the farm, but to be honest I didn’t have to take that shift: I just don’t like parties, especially when they dribble into the night.

Anyway, last week it occurred to me that I’ve never really come up with some serious resolutions on the new year, apart from a half-hearted goal to ride a century which I’ve still not managed. This is because I know I won’t keep them very well, for example: I won’t ‘get organised’ no matter how many resolutions I make in that direction, so that’s not worth the time writing it on the list. If I was organised enough to make a list, that is.

On the other hand, I’ve always wanted to make more stuff myself, and now I have access to all kinds of tools at work, so I decided that this year I could try to make all the presents and cards I give to friends and family for birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas.

That shouldn’t be too hard, should it? I spend most of the day with the children at the farm, making interesting things like lino prints, bird boxes, or candles, so there’s all kinds of possibilities there, and if I’m stuck for ideas I can still make something out of wood. Probably. It will help me be creative, and I’ll be able to do a lot of the making with my children. What could possibly go wrong with this plan?

People who know me will see the obvious problem: I’ll have to remember people’s birthdays. I frequently forget my own birthday. and last year I only realised it was our wedding anniversary the day after and that was because my Beautiful and (usually) Very Organised Wife was apologising for having forgotten it herself.

This project means getting organised, at least slightly, and staying organised, because I can’t get away with remembering one friends’ birthday in January and forgetting their spouse in July.

Still, it seems a good place to start. And writing about it here will hopefully make sure I stick to it.

Anyone who wants to join in is welcome to drop me a line. I promise not to sell your information to dodgy websites: I’ll be too busy trying not to lose it…


Long suffering readers may remember that I finished my carpentry course  about a year ago, when I made my ‘storytelling box‘. I’d wanted to make a tool box for my woodworking tools, but that plan was nailed by my health issues and the appearance of Beautiful Daughter just before the two-week project was supposed to happen: life was about to get complicated enough without adding more into the mix.

I made the simplest possible box and spent the time with my little girl instead: it wasn’t a hard decision.

However, I had made all the drawings for the toolbox. A few weeks ago I found them lurking under a pile of old bills, and it occurred to me I could have another go, without any time pressure or examiners watching me.

Here’s the first pieces glued together. The original was meant to be cherry wood, but this will be in scrap pine.

I can live with that.

If I manage to finish this before the end of my contract in March I’ll use it as a toolbox in the course I’m hoping to do. Unless there are too many mistakes. Then I’ll claim I always intended it to be a prototype, and make another one sometime…

On Wednesday I was working on the band saw at work, and managed to put my finger a little close to the blade. It wasn’t a big cut, mainly because I’d actually turned the saw off before reaching for the piece of wood I was cutting*, so it was only running on momentum, but this didn’t stop the children in the workshop running about the farm shouting “Andy cut his finger off” at the top of their voices.

While the children made sure everyone knew what had, or rather hadn’t happened, I got a lift with the Farm Manager (who gets the “quote of the day” award for her response to my apology for getting Sawdust in her nice clean car: “Last time it was a dead goat, an injured carpenter is a step up…”).  We went to the local doctor’s surgery, which was closed, and trailed through the traffic for the best part of an hour to a surgery in the next town but one, where they looked at the cut and decided there was no bone or nerve damage, and all I needed was stitches. They then wrapped up my entire finger in the most dramatic bandage I’ve ever seen, which made it look like I had managed to remove a digit and the bandage was the only thing holding it on, and making sure I have the rest of the week off, because I can’t operate machinery or wear gloves.

Which means I have to stay at home & play with The Boys and Beautiful Daughter.

It’s tough, but I’ll survive.

*I’m dozy, but not that dozy…

Bed onna Bakfiets

Once again, I am aiming for a niche audience here.

A while ago, the boys managed to break Youngest Son’s bed, which caused much consternation at the time, but I did finally manage to make a new side piece to replace the one that was broken. Because the bed uses mortise and tenon Joins, I had to transport the rest of the bed about five hundred metres up to the workshop during this process to fit the new section to the existing joins, then haul the lot down to the apartment.

As usual I spent some time massively over-thinking things before realising that all I needed was climbing ropes, blankets and wood clamps. The whole operation went pretty smoothly, so smoothly on fact that I forgot all about it until last night when I found the picture while desperately seeking a blog subject at the end of a quiet week…

So, here’s a couple more pictures of the stage I helped to build last week.

This is what happens when you ask artists to make a stage: they get all excited about making a piece of sculpture, beautiful on its own without a performance happening on it. Of course in practice that meant every upright was a different size.


A Proper Carpenter would have spent a day working out the radius of all the curves and then the exact sizes of the uprights to fit. We bent the curvy bits until they looked about right and measured from there to the ground and cut the wood to suit. It turns out that this works just as well, although we did have to stamp on some plywood sheets until they stayed put, and screw them down quickly before they sprung up again.


This was a joint project between artists from here and from our partner town in the Ukraine, so everything had to be discussed and translated in both languages, which didn’t speed things up,


However, stage was ready for the big festival on Sunday, and as far as I know it hasn’t fallen down yet.

As an added plus, I can now ask for several tools in Ukrainian, and you never know whan that may come in handy.


The long silence was not due to my having gone out on the lash to celebrate the end of the apprenticeship. That would be unlikely because 1: I am ‘somewhat’ older than the average apprentice and I don’t need any help to do more silly things in public, 2: An extreme introvert who tends to hide during parties, and most importantly 3: I really dislike the taste of alcohol. I appreciate this puts me in the running for the Most Boring Person on the Planet competition, but regular readers knew that anyway.

The last two weeks were mainly spent doing a translation job for a documentary (I now know enough about heart disease to make me seriously paranoid), getting my CV up to date, playing with the boys and Beautiful Daughter, and cycling through snowstorms to pick up ‘important’ pieces of paper from various offices.


Remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad organisation and poor time management.

Oh, and I now have the paperwork to prove that I’m a Real Carpenter, at least as far as the state of Baden-Württemberg is concerned. Still working in what we do next though…

The day began with us delivering our projects. There were two other students being tested, and they were busy unveiling very complex and very beautiful pieces of furniture that would have fitted quite well into an art gallery: a desk with glossy white surface atop an oak cupboard stood next to a tool box which opened in intricate ways to become a portable modelmaking studio. I couldn’t help feeling I was out of my depth.

Fortunately hand tool woodworking has something of a mystique even among carpenters, so the others were too busy looking at the carving on the lid of my box to notice the dodgy bits of the dovetails or the wonky hinges.

The exam was to make a child’s chair with a mix of traditional and modern joins. In seven hours. The three of us know each other and get on well, so we were more relaxed than you might expect. We also helped each other rather more than we were strictly supposed to, which I think irritated the examiners a bit, but it meant we all finished on time. As if this wasn’t enough, we also managed to discuss religion, ecology, global warming and the Tar Sands in the middle of all this.

Afterwards, we hung around for two and a half hours while the examiners poked at the exam pieces, and then at six thirty our tutor came out and told us unofficially that everyone had passed. We were not supposed to be told this, so I had to keep you in suspense for the weekend.

I am now a guild-registered carpenter in Germany, but I don’t have the paperwork so you’ll have to trust me for a couple of days…

Today I wandered over to my former employer’s workshop, tidied the tools away for the last time, swept the bench clean(ish), chucked some leftover pieces of wood into the bin, said my goodbyes, and left.


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