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Well, it turns out there’s a lot to be said against using hardwoods for luggage racks. Sure, they’re nice and solid, but it made the bike turn like I’d cable tied a stack of bricks onto the front forks. As the route to college has a number of those ridiculous chicanes made to slow everyone* down when the cycleway crosses a road, it became a decision between taking up weight training just to get the bike around corners, or taking the whole contraption off. The rack also developed the interesting habit of sliding forwards and downwards, something I really should have expected if I’d been paying attention.

I think I could probably sort out most of the problems: I could make the rack lower, and about 8 cm shorter so it didn’t hang over the front of the bike as far, and add another fixing point to the forks so it doesn’t try to keep going whenever I brake, but at the moment what’s left of my brain is mostly engaged in trying to remember enough of my course to survive the first theory tests, so any bike related projects will have to wait for a couple of weeks until there’s spare capacity available.

*Excapt cars of course, because… er…

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…


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…

The farm has a ‘general’ kitchen used for all kinds of activities and one commercial kitchen used for preparing food for the homework club. which has to fulfill all kinds of rules and regulations. In particular, it should have a paper towel and soap dispenser: apparently failure to have one of these can cause an outbreak of biblical-quality plagues and the arrival of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (carrying a nasty letter from the Hygiene Department).

Of course we could buy a dispenser, but that would be boring and would require us to actually spend money, so the boss told me to “have a look and see what you think would work”.

I got together with some of the kids in the workshop*, and we made this.


I hadn’t done this sort of thing since I was officially signed off sick from my apprenticeship a year ago, and the space I had to fit the thing was squeezed between the wash basin and a fuse box**. I distinctly saw a spark come out of a hole I was drilling at one point but the cook is a former electrician and he assured me that if I had hit a live wire the resulting sparks would have reached halfway across the kitchen, so we carried on and I managed not to look too surprised when it fitted first time.


The piggy was made by incredibly competent student and former fashion designer M, who spent six weeks simultaneously putting up with me and the children, and somehow organising our chaotic workshop ‘when she had time’. Unfortunately she has since left the farm to complete her training as a kindergarten teacher.

There were mutterings that having a little pig in a strictly vegetarian kitchen is at least somewhat ironic, but we liked it, so there.

*We’re always encouraged to do this so the children can learn alongside us, make something for other people, et c. It also means that if we make a mistake, we can say ‘It was a learning project’…

**Germans seem to take a rather robust approach to electricity and water in close proximity. The same approach applies here to children and animals,  tall climbing frames, and sharp objects.



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…


Things normal people carry by bike: Books, laptops, shopping, small children…



Things I end up carrying by bike: swede saws.

 There is a good reason for this, honest.

I was given a large piece of lime wood (D: Lindenholz) to hopefully convert into carved spoons and other items. The wood has to be split or it will be damaged as it dries, which meant hauling it to the garden and attacking it with an axe and heavy hammer, and hauling it back to the workshop to cut into smaller pieces for carving.

The problem with this plan was that it required your truly not to leave the swede saw in the garden. Which I promptly did, and had to collect it with the Xtracycle.

Mind you, I noticed that drivers gave me plenty of space…

(I’m still open to suggestions for garden planting…)


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.

The logistics of getting this workbench into this room required half a dozen elements to be in the right place at the right time, including, but not limited to a van, a good friend willing to haul a forty kilo lump of beechwood and steel into the van and put up with my driving, in return for having his bike fixed…


…a patient previous owner who was willing for me to scrape together the money and get my backside into gear to collect, instead of just putting the workbench on Ebay (where he could have got a much higher price), and some very kind people who have allowed me to make a mess in their former bakery until the end of the apprenticeship without demanding rent.


Bakfiets demonstrating yet another advantage of bicycles for those of a lazy disposition: no need to carry stuff from the door to the workbench.


In theory this is a practice space to get ready for exams. Except that with three boys, there are far more interesting things to do than just make dovetail joins, especially when mum has a birthday coming up, and there is the possibility of making presents.


I can always do the dovetails after the present is finished.


Hopefully. If I’m allowed to.

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