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I spent most of the weekend preparing for my first practical exams, where I have to teach someone something for half an hour. For my first attempt I chose to do a session on how to sharpen a woodworking plane, a choice I since regretted because it means carrying both my cast iron planes into college and back, but there we go. I’ve practiced with several people so I know how to approach the session, and I spent most of the weekend preparing lots of instructions for my ‘trainee’ to refer to. I also wrote a fifteen page report, which either explains my concept in flowing German prose, or fills a lot of paper with utter gibberish. I decided not to get anyone to proofread the first example so I can see if my German is up to the standard the college needs.

The college have very kindly let me do the test with just the tutor and trainee, instead of being in front of the entire class of 20 people, which would just make me freeze up. Of course this means organising an extra session, so they shoe-horned some space into Monday morning.

The test is at 1030 tomorrow. See you on the other side…


I’m getting behind on the gift making project; I’ve missed at least two birthdays and am trying to catch up this week. It turns out that making presents is often a lot more time consuming than buying them.

Being a smug, tree-hugging hippy can be harder than people think.

On the other hand, I am getting faster at making things like this. My first spoon took several days, then the next took two mornings, and this one took a couple of hours, most of which was figuring out how to clamp an ever decreasing amount of wood so I could get at it with a chisel.

Anyway, it is now oiled and drying, so I can get on with the next present.

Remind me how living simply and making stuff is supposed to be a more relaxed way to live?

I’ve noticed that when you are a carpenter, people expect you can do all kinds of things. Like run a spoon carving workshop at the farm. I’d never carved a spoon in my life, but a few YouTube videos later I cut out a piece of pine and made a demonstration model:


It’s okay. If you squint a bit. In a dark room.

Before someone else points it out, pine isn’t a great material for spoons, but we didn’t have any green wood so it was that or nothing.

The week after the workshop we were cutting down some trees on the farm. (I really should check these things before setting the dates of workshops…) and I was allowed first dibs on any nice looking green wood, so I took a piece of ash and made Spoon 2.1:

It was meant to be half a set of small salad servers, but it seems a bit more like a wooden fish, and oiling it brought up all kinds of scuff marks and dings.

Rather than try and make a partner for it, I found a piece of silver birch and made spoon 3,1:


A couple more attempts and I think I’ll be ready to make some as presents…


The Xtracycle as fitted onto my bike, consists of a frame, big panniers, and a piece of wood on the top, as seen in the picture above. On mine, the wood has been showing signs of wear and tear lately. Actually it’s been showing signs of wear and tear for several years, but as it wasn’t a ‘urgent’ problem, I naturally did nothing about it.

When I started working at the farm I realised I had access to wood and the right sort of tools to make a replacement. True to form I faffed about until last month, when I finally went hunting in the wood store for materials.

We’ve had various bits of hardwood donated over the years, which we rarely use as the children prefer to use softwoods like pine. The hardwoods end up at the back of the wood store gathering vast amounts of dust, so I dug up some Ash for the majority of the board, with a centre line made of beech, and two stripes from some walnut veneer. Notice the “carpenter’s triangle”. I’d like to think this gives my work an air of professionalism but we all know it is mostly there so that when I drop the lot on the floor I know what order they should be in.


After dropping the whole lot on the floor -twice- I glued it liberally and put the result in clamps. You are supposed to have surfaces that fit perfectly but my wood warped slightly as it had been stored for so long. I solved this by clamping the planks together very heavily, leaving then for 48 hours and hoping for the best.



There are no pictures of the cutting, planing and sanding, mostly because I needed both hands to stop the wood flying away and also because I wasn’t sure if this was going to work at all, so the next image is of the old and new spraydecks together. The new one is a bit heavier, but compared to the stuff I carry about normally, this is hardly going to be a problem. I hardly ride at breathtaking speeds anyway.


At this point I realised I’d probably better makes something to fit the board to the bike. Being fussy I wanted the new spraydeck to clip onto the bike like the old one, and also to have no screws visible on the top of the deck. Being pessimistic I also wanted to keep the old spraydeck in case something went horribly wrong, so using the old clips was out of the question. Eventually I settled on two beechwood clips. Pretend you haven’t noticed that the holes aren’t exactly in line.



Brackets fitted, as much by eye as measurements. This backfired when I realised the deck was slightly too far to the left, this was another reason to have the screws underneath: the mistakes are underneath too…

Being a tree-hugging hippy, I oiled and waxed the deck instead of varnishing it. This allows me to go on about how you can feel the wood, and whine about modern finishes being all plastic and chemicals, at least up until the deck falls apart.


So far it has survived the foul weather of the last week, not sure how it will react to the temperature changes of Spring though, I’ll get back to you on that…

valentine 2016

I’ve been a bit quiet about my resolution to make presents for people this year. I’ve been making different things, the trouble is that when I finish something or someone I give it to the intended owner before remembering to make any photographs.

Doing everything at the last minute doesn’t help either.


Still, at least I remembered Valentines Day, possibly the first time I’ve managed to do so in fifteen years of marriage, and last week I finally got myself into gear and made this heart for Beautiful Wife, on the basis that she deserves something for putting up with me.

Will try and be a bit better about photographing the next projects…


So, here’s the new office, looking appropriately like a hangout for tree hugging hippies.

I was asked to start work a day earlier than expected, because the person in the workshop wanted to ‘show me around’ before he went on holiday. What he didn’t add was “And then you’ll be looking after the workshop for two weeks.”


During the holidays anyone can come and make whatever they want, so I’ve helped build pencil holders, several ‘boats’ including a galleon, a yacht, and enough pirate ships to lay siege to a small island; three hobby horses, a waste paper basket, lots of swords and a dozen animal shaped bits of wood including this family of elephants destined to be a set of bookends. When I wasn’t doing that I was sharpening blunt chisels and planes and making sure nobody injured themselves in a permanent manner.

To make sure I didn’t cause too many disasters I was teamed up with a ‘summer worker’ who turned out to be highly competent with children, and sewing, fortunately, otherwise all those ships would have been without sails. I got on with the woodwork, using the bigger machines and dealing with requests like “I want a rudder on the ship connected to a steering wheel at the front so that when I turn the wheel the rudder steers the ship”

Next week the farm is closed while we all recover, tidy up after the summer, and the new staff get basic some basic training on how not to get bitten by angry goats and other essentials. If I’m good, they say I’ll be allowed to drive the tractor:


I’m told there are lots of other things to learn about running a farm. Not sure what those might be…


Woodcarving lessons continue, and for the last few days I’ve been making a bowl from pear wood. Now the only bits of my fingers that don’t ache are the blisters, so this post will be mainly pictures:

Stage one was making the inside of the bowl, which also involved working out what shape I wanted it to be. Here’s the basic shape rough carved:

Carved bowl 002

Then finished using finer chisels and then sanding to get most of the mistakes, imperfections out:

Carved bowl 003

My teacher, taking the subtle approach to rough forming the outside of the bowl:

Carved bowl 004

…which left us with something vaguely reminiscent of the Millenium Falcon.

Carved bowl 005

Further progress reports to follow as soon as my arms and brain are working together well enough to type again. And if you’re wondering what I’m doing this for, it does have a connection to the work I’ll be doing from September…

Carving_04It is hotter here than in Japan where my Beautiful Wife and family are, so hot in fact that I wore shorts yesterday. Conscious of my responsibilities to society I refrained from anything shorter than 3/4 length.

Meanwhile, I’m getting lessons in woodcarving. When I helped build a stage a couple of weeks ago, we agreed that in lieu of payment* I’d get some training in woodcarving  from one of the artists on the project.

She started this week by  saying “Okay, the first thing you need to learn: all those things you were told you can’t do as a carpenter? Do them…” Then she gave me a lump of Lime wood and told me to ‘play’: try things out, learn different methods and use as many different chisels as I could. I made a couple of hollows inside the wood, then and then carved this in the bark on the other side.

When my artist friend got over the shock she suggested a totem pole, but instead we decided a bowl made from pear wood would be less disturbing.

In other news, I’ve discovered the bottom of the wash basket.

*Because I’m technically ‘unemployed’. (Ha.) I can’t be paid in money. I would explain the system but you’d think I was making it up, and if you believed me you’d end up slamming your head in a door…

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