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Even though I’m back in Germany and sitting at my desk , things are slowing down because of the joy of sending out CV’s to possible employers ready for next April when I finish my course (hooray) but then have to decide what to do with my shiny new qualification.

In theory I have lots of choice because I’m trained to work with people with disabilities and without, but also people with Pscychological Psychological illness and addictions, or in general education in a tech college or a training centre. The reality is that there are dozens of places out there that I could apply to, but only a few actually want anyone, and there’s no central clearing house so I’m having to search very carefully which takes ages. At the moment I’m putting a pin in a map somewhere that looks nice (Personal criteria being “is it outside of the city?” and “Does it have a railway station (Preferably with trains coming more than once a month)” and then searching for “Protected workshop” or “Integration workshop”, or something to do with education.

I’m not complaining as this is kind of a nice situation to be in: I can look for a pleasant place to live and for a job I enjoy, but it takes ages and it is nerve racking because my CV is rather long and rather unusual so people will either love it or chuck it in the bin, and there isn’t a lot I can do to change this. My solution is to say make it the way I want it to look on the possibly rather cocky basis that if they don’t like it, I wouldn’t be happy working for them anyway.

I seem to have collected certificates like cyclists collect spare parts for bikes, so I now have a good ten pages worth and that’s with the British ones reduced to A5 size and two a page: when I went to school they seemed to give us a certificate for every subject, which confuses German employers used to see one from your school, and ask why on earth I have a certificate from the ‘Northern examining board’ and also the ‘Southern examining board’. They brighten up when they see ‘Oxford and Cambridge’ but are inevitably disappointed when I explain. On the other hand the carpentry apprenticeship has to be accredited by the state and for some reason I need a separate one from the carpenters guild, and there are four for my machine operators licence alone which seems a bit excessive. But in Germany, I have a Certificate, therefore I am, so I’m not leaving any out.

My German is fluent but not perfect so I need to get it checked, which takes longer and much goodwill from kind friends, and there there are references…

Anyway, the goal is twenty packages, which isn’t cheap but it means I can say I tried, all going off to various places near and far in the hope of landing somewhere where someone wants an Occupational Therapist or carpentry trainer, refugee tutor, theatre coach or museum interpreter. The last one is a long shot I know but here’s a really nice open air museum up in the hills where they demonstrate traditional crafts like carpentry and woodturning.

Ah, for a working day wearing a smock, and making chair legs in a traditional barn…

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.


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…


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…

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.


I’ve been working on a project with some artists to build a stage in our town square for a big celebration this weekend. The idea was that it could stand alone as a piece of sculpture when there are no performances, and I think they asked me because they thought that being a carpenter with a background in theatre I’d know what I was doing. Thankfully I managed to finish the project without anyone realising otherwise, and was able to get to know a few of the local artists into the bargain.

The stage is a bit more complete now but I was too exhausted to get a decent picture. I’ll take one when we go to the performances.



Present construction: Wind chimes for Beautiful Wife made by All The Boys (One piece of wood each). The carpentry apprenticeship hasn’t been much fun, but now I have the skills to use as I want to…

With exams in a week, my days are taken up with revising and doing more maths equations than I ever had to complete for high school.

I’m still ‘off sick’ and likely to continue that way for some time, which is a blessing in disguise as I wouldn’t have managed to learn half as much if I was at work. Wanting to take full advantage of this unexpected extra time, I’ve taken to revising in ‘my’ carpentry workshop which keeps me away from the distractions of the internet and other things.

bedprog_01On the other hand, working next to the workbench means breaks are taken up doing something useful. The replacement section for Youngest Son’s bed is coming on nicely, and providing me with practice material for the practical exam in the new year. That sounds almost plausible if you read it quickly.


With a little help from the end user himself. I can’t blame Youngest Son for the dodgy join in the foreground: that was all my own work. Fortunately it won’t be visible at the end.

Besides, if you want perfect, you can go to a shop…


Having gone through a saga of getting hold of some wood, it is a little ironic that I finally achieved this while signed off as ‘unable to work’, even if the point of stubbornly learning to use hand tools is that I can be insufferably smug while making stuff without needing large and expensive machines.

It is, however, rather difficult to look insufferably smug while trying to cut a 240cm (7 ft 10 inch) long slab of pine by hand, and by the time I was finishing the third cut -you’d think two cuts would do but not for me: I had to go and cut in the wrong place and thus make the cut three times- the last vestiges of smugness were gone, along with the use of my knees. “Why knees?” I hear no-one cry: it’s because I’m using a Japanese saw, which cuts on the pull, so you have to be kneeling above the wood. I really need to sharpen my western rip saw.

Some smugness returned when I realised I’d at least managed to cut the wood vaguely straight, so it should be fairly simple to plane it to width next week.

Or when my arms work again, at least.

Suddenly it is the end of year two at college, so we had an exam. The system of putting everyone in a room and telling them to make something perfectly in seven hours because their whole future depends on it still seems very odd to me, but what do I know?


This isn’t the exam: it’s what happens when you get too enthusiastic with a hand plane and have to add an extra piece of wood to make up the difference. That long piece of wood is the replacement for 2mm that I took off by mistake: but for that lack of attention I could have started the next step on making a box. I’m choosing to see this as ‘character building’. Or something.

Anyway, the carpentry is now closed for three weeks and we’re off to the UK, which is always an interesting experience. I will have to get used to offering pounds in shops and looking to the right when I cross the road. We’re going by train which can be fantastic or stressful depending on how well the German and French railways, Eurostar and whoever is currently running trains to York¬† have got their act together. On previous occasions we’ve been through Brussels but this time we will catch a direct TGV to Paris, where we have to make our way from Paris Est station to Paris Nord without getting lost.

As the two stations are a few hundred metres apart and each the size of a cathedral, that shouldn’t present too many difficulties, but if you don’t hear from me in the next week, you know where to start looking.

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