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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASomeone visiting our garden recently may have commented on my presence half way up a sycamore tree, and wonder what possessed me to climb up there.

The reason was an urgent need to make some candlesticks.

Obviously.

Being a carpenter, it turns out, makes you first port of call for anyone wanting anything vaguely creative to do with wood. I’m very happy with this as I really like giving people a hand made gift that will last them a good long time. On this occasion someone asked me to make candlesticks for the tables at her wedding reception.

Unfortunately she asked me the day after I ‘tidied up’ all the suitable branches that had fallen over winter.

After much searching I found a sycamore tree lurking at the bottom of the garden. In the distant past someone obviously took offence to this tree and cut it down, whereupon it went feral, fired off branches in half a dozen directions and ate the fence. In a blatant disregard for the boundaries set by civilised society, it was now growing through the fence, partly in our garden and partly in the overgrown pathway between our garden and the one down the hill.

Therefore it is our tree. sort of.

The first attempt to remove one of the more accessible branches resulted in it falling into the neighbours garden. Fortunately no-one was in, and no damage was done so I dragged the remains into our garden and dismembered it.

For attempt two I cleared a way to the branches over our garden and went to work with my swede saw. This made it about a third of the way into the branch, and promptly got stuck. Being pessimistic, I’d prepared for this and brought a rope. Of course I hadn’t actually tied it to the tree  but that was a minor detail and easily rectified.

Thus I was now to be found halfway up a tree.

Getting down was easy enough, Getting down without landing on my backside in a bed of nettles less so but I managed it with minimal stings. I went and pulled the rope. The saw fell out of the tree. I went and cut a bit deeper until the saw jammed again and repeated the exercise a couple of times until there was a creaking noise and the whole fell down.

It was at this point that I realised it is always to good to have a rope longer than the branch you are cutting, or an escape route.

The bruises will have gone down by the wedding…

I am currently obsessively cutting wood joins in preparation for the end of year exam or the collapse of civilisation as we know it, whichever comes sooner. The exam is in two weeks so that is the main focus for now. I’m getting better, slowly.

Dovetails aren’t used much  in modern carpentry, as the industry is based on machines making semi-disposable chipboard furniture which can be put together in a few hours, and will be replaced in a matter of years*, so anyone practicing traditional woodwork is considered pretty strange. I can live with that.

When I’m not practicing woodwork I’m spending a fair bit of time doing maths equations which will form most of the theory exam. We won’t use those much after college either.

Still, it keeps the system going…

*and is full of formaldehyde.

One of the many phrases my dear mother had to say, several times each morning.

Well, now I did. It took several more months than I’d like*, but finally, the bed for Youngest Son is finished, meaning that he no longer has to sleep on the floor.

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I did learn a massive amount about working with real wood, not least that modern woodworking machines aren’t really made for this, so sometimes hand saws, mallet and chisels really do work better, with the added advantage that they don’t suddenly turn themselves on and nearly remove the ends of your fingers.

On the other hand, it was quite disturbing how little advice was available apart from ‘use the machines’: very few of the very experienced carpenters I work with have ever made a join like this, so I had to spend a fair bit of time working stuff out for myself. I did wonder at times if I should have made a few practice joins instead of just leaping in and promising a bed, but the idea of being dragged off to get a bed from a furniture shop provided powerful motivation for not giving up.

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The joins looked pretty rough in places, but it is amazing what a bit of sandpaper can do. I used this method because we’ll need to take the bed apart again if/when we move house, and ‘normal’ joins wouldn’t allow for that. Besides, I wasn’t convinced I’d get the cuts perfect so the wedges would hide my mistakes allow for some adjustment. Because I was using joins no-one locally had apparently attempted in living memory there was a question of how they would stand up to regular use, but after a week of being a bed/trampoline/climbing frame, the frame hasn’t shown any sign of wobbling or squeaking.

I brought the bed home on the Bakfiets, which only added to the strange eco-warrior/treehugger/village idiot image but which worked perfectly well except that I completely failed to take a picture.

Now I’m getting all manner of suggestions for future projects, and I’ll make a start on some of them as soon as the garden has received some attention, and I’ve fixed the headlight for Beautiful Wife’s bike, and done all the other extra jobs no-one tells you about when you read books on ‘living simply’…

*This will not surprise my parents either , from memories of how long it took me to do anything when I lived at home…

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Eldest Son and I tried to do some planing with an electric planer, the idea being that we can reclaim old timber and make cool things out of it. The planing didn’t work as well as we’d hoped, mostly because electric hand planes are not really made for this. Still, we had fun working together and trying stuff out.

Eldest Son is marking points where he is not entirely satisfied with the finish. Will have to think up a better method.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast week I was given my ‘Half yearly’ report for year two of my carpentry apprenticeship. This means I’m just over half way through.

In Germany an apprentice learns a trade with a company, so you really do learn on the job. It is great because a lot of young people learn a trade, but I’m hugely disappointed how much a carpentry apprenticeship here is about speed, money and feeding machines, not skill and love of woodworking.

I’m in a minority of one on this, so my goal now is to finish the apprenticeship, get my certificate, and look for some extra training in traditional carpentry. Meanwhile I’m getting as much practice as I can and currently that means making a bed for Youngest Son with simple mortise and tenon joins.

Last week a horrified colleague asked why on earth I was working with Japanese saws, chisels, and a drill inherited from my grandfather when there is a hall full of expensive and complex machines a few metres away. I replied that when my son sleeps on this bed I wanted the knowledge it was me who made it and not a machine, and because I wanted to build a future in working with wood, using my hands, not a computer screen. The joins aren’t perfect, but if you want perfect you can go to IKEA and get a perfect, soulless bed. This one is full of imperfections, and full of love.

Then with impeccable timing, the bedpost split.

Anyway, soon after this conversation, the tutor at a woodworking school I’m interested in posted a particularly passionate article on his blog about educating people in traditional woodwork, I commented and told him the story above. He replied:

So discouraging and yet I know it’s true.. …Hang in there, what we are doing is making a difference… …your letter just won you a free nine-day course here at the school. Just let me know when you want to come by choosing a date on the scheduled classes.

Emphasis mine.

So at some point in 2015 I’ll be off to this school in North Wales.

Even a feeding chipboard into a machine for eight hours didn’t stop me grinning for a day afterwards…

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This is now the view from the bottom of the Mighty Steppe.

The Throne Room is the result of some pretty creative thinking on the part of our chainsaw wielding friends a couple of weeks ago. They decided it was a waste to let all that lovely wood burn, and it would be much more fun to make a circle of benches where we could invite friends to come and hang out on summer evenings.

The invitation part was mentioned several times. I suspect an ulterior motive.

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The Throne itself was cut from the trunk of the tree and simply turned sideways: there was no way it we could move it any further. It took three of us about twenty minutes to get this into position, so I’m not worried about it moving.

It still needs some work, mostly sanding and oiling so it is waterproof and doesn’t lose the lovely colouring in the wood. It will also need drainage holes and/or a roof or the seat will stop being a bottom rest and become a water feature.

Still, it’s a bit more interesting than a standard garden-centre bench.

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I can’t oil the bench until the wood has dried out, which could present a problem. Observant readers will notice the original trunk and roots lurking in the bushes behind.

I’ll need to make a fire hole in the middle of the circle. When I’ve finished digging the veg beds, chopped all the new firewood, cut more of the brambles…

And people ask why we don’t have a television.

Last week we went to an apartment where the previous occupant had been affected by dwarfism so several sections of the kitchen unit were very low. As the current occupant was rather tall, they had decided that these needed to be raised to the normal height. They also wanted them fitted in exactly the right place to provide an unbroken surface across the kitchen.

Work units are heavy, so The Master Carpenter decides to send the apprentice, ie, me underneath to hold the thing up while he screws the fixtures into place. That way he had both hands free and, as he puts it, if the whole thing collapses before he can fasten the screws, there are plenty more apprentices out there.

This plan fails as the work unit is bigger than me in all directions and I can’t support it all at once: a bit like the little dutch boy on the dam, wherever I hold it another corner drops down.

Seeing the problem. The Master Carpenter holds the front of the work unit steady, and holds the back up with his size 43 boot resting on a handy radiator. This results in him lying on his back on the floor. It also leaves half of the work unit unsupported.

Seeing this, I slide into the same position on the other end of the work unit: hands at front, holding it straight, boot supporting the back. Great. Everything in position. Master Carpenter instructs me to get the drill.

Drill is on the worktop.

Miltilingual swearing fails to magically bring drill any closer.

Try reaching for drill. As my shoulders are braced on the floor this is less than effective.

As I flap about knocking things onto the floor, I’m just thinking it is fortunate that the customer isn’t seeing this, when they decide to come and check how we are doing…

Plane

After the last post, Phil asked “How about a picture of the Plane?” So here is the plane we raced across a city to find.

This picture comes courtesy of my dad, (Who has lots of pictures here) because our main camera is having ‘issues’ so there will be less pictures until we find out what they are.

dontellmum

A couple of weeks before Japan, Beautiful Wife was out for the day so Youngest Son and I  made a mess built a wooden aeroplane.

I don’t have a workshop at home, so the kitchen has to double up for these occasions. As you can see I’m as badly organised at home as at college. We tidied up just in time before Beautiful Wife got back.

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Sometimes I have to bring my work home with me. This is a holder for large steel rings, as used in some of our machines. I’m not sure what use such a thing would have at home, but there we go.

We are making a chair this week. This presents interesting logistical challenges.

More useful, though.

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