Cankered Ash

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

Cankered Ash is a beautiful wood. Ash is so often beautiful anyway but Cankered Ash is wonderful. It has all the sorts of things I really enjoy with wood. It is unpredictable and moves after it has been turned – even if it is turned quite dry but especially if it is turned fresh. There must be a lot of stresses in it. It often has a particularly good colour and sheen to it, rich and deep. And, of course, it also has holes in it! Quite why they are appealing I don’t know but it isn’t only me. It seems that the more holes there are in a piece of wood the quicker it sells.

The most expensive bowl I have sold was a Cankered Ash bowl. It was £150. It was a very large bowl and had to be this price but it still seems like a lot of money to me, though I see plenty of wooden turned bowls on the internet for more. Anyway, I put it in a local gallery and went into the gallery about a week later. I couldn’t see the bowl and wondered what they’d done with it. I thought maybe due to its size it had to be moved. It just never occured to me that it had been snatched up within days but that was the case.

Cankered Ash bowlI have recently been turning some more Cankered Ash. When I came to photograph the bowl I just didn’t seem able to do it justice so I took a video. As soon as I’d started doing that I realised I could also show people who didn’t know what Cankered Ash looked like as I have an Ash tree in the garden which has Canker. So I have a video on Youtube about my latest Cankered Ash bowl.

The Sap is Rising

Friday, April 17th, 2015

This time of year is so wonderful yet intense, isn’t it? The sap is rising, the garden is getting sorted, everything is growing, the birds are nesting, the days, though getting longer, are way too short. I can hardly drag myself in from the garden before dark but then I’m so exhausted in the morning it is hard to drag myself out of bed.

I have a wonderful commission with the wood turning so that has to take priority. When I feel I can allow myself to stop it is straight out to the garden. I can see the vegetable garden as I am wood turning which is both wonderful and can be a constant reminder of what needs to be done. And if the sun is streaming in it is even more tempting to leave the dusty workshop by early afternoon.

Flowers and Veg gardenThe vegetable garden is an oasis of order in my chaotic wildlife garden and I want to keep it so. I know without regular weeding it will soon revert to nature and be harder work for me. So the veg. garden is my priority. I have most of it weeded, where needed it has been given manure and I’ve even managed to plant some of it. I’m not too bothered about the planting – the soil is still cold and the vegetables will soon catch up if planted later once the ground warms up. When I look at my previous years’ planting dates sometimes it has been weeks later yet it always works out fine. I do like a few early potatoes though. The other vegetables which have already been planted are more so I can see where I’m going with the garden and so I don’t have to plant all at once.

Weeding the garden feels like it has taken forever. This is partly as all the Foxglove, Daisy, Self-heal, Feverfew, Forget-me-not, St. John’s Wort, Lemon Balm, Wild Strawberry (and probably a few other I can’t think of as I sit here typing) have to be carefully lifted, with a bit of a root ball if possible, and healed in somewhere in the wildlife garden. As I’m finding places to put them I am delighting in the changes in just one year. Everywhere I look there is new growth busting forth. All my little trees unfurling their leaves for their second year here, the fruit trees (bought last summer through a very generous gift from a beloved friend) are coming into flower – the Damson are blooming already, the Plum not far behind.

There are tadpoles in the pond. I have now confirmed what the rustling I can hear above my head as I am in my workshop turning. Today I saw a Blue Tit with nesting material in its beak, disappear into the roof.

A Blue tit's nest built on top of a swallow's nestI understand the Swallows are back in the area though I haven’t seen them yet. I wonder how they are going to feel when they find out what has happened to their nest! This is in another shed as sadly I can’t allow them into the workshop as they are so messy, especially the young ones just after fledging and their mess does stain wood rather badly!

Miniature chair

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

miniature chair for Eisteddfod handmade from LaburnumThis miniature chair is made from Laburnum and commissioned by Cymdeithas Ceredigion to be given as a prize at their Eisteddfod. Deceptively simple but this chair was actually very tricky to make. The two sides had to match, the back had to be in proportion, the sapwood had to line up perfectly between them all and there could be no sapwood at the back of the seat or where the back and seat meet. I had sawn, planed and seasoned four to five times this amount of slices but these were the only four that would work together. They had been seasoning for a year as wood cut in this way is more prone to splitting than if it is cut along the grain. (These slices are cut at a diagonal to the trunk.) Therefore if I made a mistake there was no second chance. And since the integrity of the piece depended on the simplicity I couldn’t cut these slices up and glue them back together.
The size and shape of the slices also meant there was a limit to the use of machines so it really was hand work – slow and careful. The back ended up lower than I had first intended making the feel of the chair more cosy and domestic rather than regal and throne-like but I’m happy to say that was the wood choosing how it wanted to be. Also if there had been a slice of wood for the back where the sapwood had been less mottled I would have chosen that. The chair is about eight inches high and five inches across if I remember rightly.

Learn more about the chair in my earlier blog here and more about Laburnum here.

Cadair Cymdeithas Ceredigion

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

Cymdeithas Ceredigion has honoured me over the last three years by asking me to make a chair to be awarded as a prize in their Eisteddfod. The first year was for a full sized chair. Last year and this year I was asked to make a miniature chair. This is the chair I made this year and a brief description which went with it along with the translation.

Tresi AurCadair Cymdeithas Ceredigion made from Laburnum

Ond ai dyna’r enw? Beth am Feillion Sbaen, Coed Sbaen, Bedwen Sbaen? Mae’r enwau ‘na i gyd wedi dod o ardal De Ceredigion. Chwedl glywais i oedd i’r pren ddod i mewn i Aberaeron yn y 1860au fel “balast” mewn llongau o Sbaen, wedyn gâth ei ddefnyddio fel pyst ffensio a thyfodd. Sa i’n gwybod a ydy’r chwedl ‘na yn wir ond mae’r enwau ‘na yn cadarnhau’r cysylltiad â Sbaen. Ta beth, mae’r pren yn gysylltiedig â’r ardal a dyna un rheswm wên i’n mo’yn ei ddefnyddio. Hefyd gyda’r pren newydd tu fas â lliw mor wahanol i’r hen bren yng nghanol y bonyn wên i’n mo’yn creu cadair wahanol.

Daeth pren y gadair ‘ma o Benrhiw-pâl. Fel arfer erbyn i Feillion Sbaen dyfu mor fawr â hyn mae fe’n hollti yn y canol. Braf wêdd cael bonau cymaint sy heb hollti. Mae’r clawdd nawr yn tyfu yn ôl yn braf a bydd y ffaith ei bod hi wedi cael ei thorri lawr neu “coppiced” yn dueddol o gryfhau’r coed.

Rwy wedi sgrifennu mwy am Feillion Sbaen (ond yn Saesneg) ar fy “blog” ar fy ngwefan

Golden Chain.

But is that the name? What about Spanish Clover, Spanish Wood, Spanish Birch? These names all come form South Ceredigion. The story I heard was that the wood came into Aberaeron in the 1860s as ballast in ships from Spain, then were used as fencing posts and took root. I don’t know if the story is true but those names confirm a connection with Spain. Anyway, the wood is very much a part of this area and that was one reason I wanted to use it. Also with the sapwood being such a different colour from the heartwood I was able to make an unusual chair.

The wood for this chair came from Penrhiw-pâl. Usually by the time Laburnum has grown this large it has cracked in the centre (a star shake). It was wonderful to have trunks this size that weren’t split. The hedge is now growing back and the fact it has been coppiced will help it grow back stronger.

Read more about the making of the chair here and about laburnum in Ceredigion here.


Turning Mushrooms

Sunday, March 1st, 2015

Phil came to stay last weekend. Having taken to wood turning like a duck to water when he first tried, naturally he wanted to have a go again. (I, of course, expect everyone who tries their hand at turning to love it but suprisingly not everyone does.) When I asked Phil what he’d like to turn he said “mushrooms and earrings”. I was delighted at this. Something a bit different – where he could choose the design as they weren’t something I’d been making for ten years unlike the bowls. Years ago I’d made mushroom shaped nightlights and boxes where the top was the cap of the mushroom but I’d never made ornamental mushrooms or any type of jewellery.

Turned wooden mushroomsBoth Phil and I did a bit of research and he decided to go for mushrooms with a wide base to keep them stable – with a natural edge to the cap there is no guarantee they will be evenly balanced enough for a narrow stem so they would end up having to be put into another base.

In very little time Phil had turned 5 mushrooms of varying woods and slightly different designs – each having its own character. He then turned a larger one to go in the garden.

Time was now running short so Phil turned his hand to the earrings. This meant introducing him to different tools and different techniques. I pointed out that the greatest difficulty with turning a pair of earrings was the word “pair”. So we also looked at ways to help make a pair such as templates and callipers – also keeping in mind that handmade should allow for a slight variation. I chose Laburnam for Phil to turn as it is a close grained wood that is pretty and will take a high polish. Phil turned a pair of drop earrings with a simple but elegant shape. I would have been proud to wear them. Unfortunately we didn’t have the “findings”(what strange jargon! – meaning all the bits and bobs that would turn them into a pair of earrings) so I haven’t as yet seen them complete.

Turning Mushrooms, Phil’s View

The last time I visited Roni I turned a few bowls.  I loved it, although a source of heat in the workshop would be nice.  Anyway I was keen to do some more turning.  The question was what should I try to make?  I would like to turn some more bowls but I also wanted to extend my understanding of working on a lathe.  The answer was to try something entirely different, so I came to making jewellery and turning mushrooms.  My reasoning was simple, I like jewellery and have contemplated making it the past.  I had thought about making  steam punk items, there is something about the look that draws me to it.  The other thing that came to me was turning mushrooms.  They look good, are varied in their shapes and sizes and each one would be different.  Perfect.

Roni was supportive, as usual.  She also did say that jewellery would not be easy. The items are small, need to be balanced and well finished.  I should have listened to her.  I did make a pair of nice drops, but the frustration!  She started me off by practicing on a small piece of wood making some fine and delicate cuts and curves.  Me, being me, just wanted to get on with it!  If you ever want to start wood turning jewellery take my advice, practice and practice. Once you have mastered the techniques of creating good, precise curves and shapes then start making jewellery.

Getting the drops to be balanced took time, but it was worth it.  At one point I thought that I would just give up.  However, Roni made a cup of coffee and I had a cigarette.  I went back to it and under her guidance I finished them!

The mushrooms.  Well, I loved making them.  I am still in awe of what Roni does.  She sees the bowl in the wood and draws it out.  I began to understand how she feels when she looks at a piece of wood, not that I am claiming any of her talent, quite the reverse actually.  I just had a slight feeling of what it is that she does.  She gave me a branch and said “what does the mushroom in that look like?”  I looked and began to see the mushroom.  She said fine, then do it.

By the end of my stay I was planning where I could set up my own workshop in the garage!  I was also checking what excess equipment Roni has that I might be able to “borrow”.  I am sure that, after the workshop is set up, the first time I have piece of wood set up will be nerve racking.  What will be most nerve racking is not having Roni stood there to say that I can do it, make a calming cup of coffee and say something encouraging.

Thank you Roni.  Now, the next time I come down what I want to make is………………………


The Secret Ballot

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

The Secret Ballot

The secret ballot is something I think we all take for granted nowadays, whatever our political leanings or even if we feel that “whoever we vote for the government gets in”. However, we don’t have to go very far back in time when the secret ballot was but a dream in some people’s vision for a more democratic future.

Yr Hen Capel, Llwynrhydowen, where the congregation were locked out as they hadn't yet got the secret ballot.

Yr Hen Capel, Llwynrhydowen

Troad Allan (Lock out).

This Unitarian chapel became famous in 1876 as the congregation were locked out of the chapel and the graveyard for three years. The landlord, John Lloyd, Alltrodyn was a Tory and he felt that the minister  Gwilym Marles Thomas, who incidentally was Dylan Thomas’ uncle, was formenting rebellian and encouraging his followers to vote against the Conservative landowners. The minister continued to preach outdoors, with his back to the locked and chained chapel, to a congregation of up to 3,000 people. There was national interest in the scandalous “troad allan” and a fundraising campaign saw a new chapel opened. Eventually, after the death of the landlord, this chapel was also returned to the congregation by his sister.

A Slate in Time.

I read the interesting history of this chapel, where incidentally Frank Lloyd wright’s family worshipped, in the local paper. There is an appeal to sponsor a replacement slate for the roof. The slate can be sponsored in your own name, a relative or remembered loved one. A register of all the sponsors will be kept in the renovated chapel. The hope is to complete the work by 2016 which is 140 years since the chapel became famous. It feels like a lovely way to say thank you to those brave people who voted according to their conscience risking hardship and the displeasure of powerful people before the days of the secret ballot.

For more information visit and to donate £10 per slate click here.

A Special Bandsaw

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

My special bandsaw - Thos BeecroftMy bandsaw is like no other. I was so lucky to get it and appreciate it every time I use it. It is thanks to Huw that I have it. He spotted it when it had been dismantled from its old job and saw the potential and restored it for me. Everyone who uses a bandsaw is admiring or even slightly envious when they see it. This bandsaw is the machine I would find hardest to replace if anything went wrong with it.


So what is so special about the bandsaw?

Label on bandsawWhat makes it so usable to me is the size of the table and the throat. The throat of this bandsaw is 4′ which is much wider than normal. It makes it easy to saw a sheet of plywood or similar. But most importantly for me having such a big table means that as long as I have the strength to heave a lump of wood onto the table I have a chance of sawing it into a managable blank to put on the lathe! It does have its disadvantages. The blade is 19’8″ long amd there are 4 separate guards to take off when changing the blade as well as a couple of other fiddly pieces to remove. However it is all worth it. In theory the depth of cut is about 15″ which is very deep but Huw suggested I didn’t attempt this depth since the saw wasn’t originally designed for wood.

The History of the Bandsaw.

The bandsaw started its life as a material cutting bandsaw in a local garment factory. The factory closed when M. & S. decided to use a factory abroad leaving 300 people out of work (a lot in a rural area like this). The social cost of cheaper clothes is high!

Perhaps bandsaw is the wrong word as originally there was a knife edge rather than a saw blade. This photo showsGrinders for sharpening knife edge o bandsaw the grinder attachment which could be brought up to the knife as it was running to sharpen it. This table is only about a quarter of the original table which I have, though sadly I never saw it all set up. Because it was a knife edge it didn’t have the bearings behind and on either side of the blade just below the table and at the bottom of the blade guard which stop the blade wandering too far. Huw made these for me and also bought and set up a new motor and switch for the bandsaw.

So not only do I have a wonderful bandsaw to use but I have a bandsaw which has so much history attached to it. See more of  Thos Beecroft machines here.

My Big Lathe

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

E. G. Wilson metal spinning lathe now adapted as a wood turning latheThis is my favourite lathe and was in fact the first lathe that I bought though I didn’t use it straight away. I can turn up to 24″ diameter on this lathe.

I love the history associated with this lathe. It started life as a metal spinning lathe – something I’d never even heard of when I first had the lathe. It was in a poor state and I had to derust then paint it. There was no tool rest and when I was asking Huw to make one for me I really didn’t know what I needed. This tool rest can be moved at a couple of different points wich is very useful. The middle section being something that Huw had (in case it came in handy at some point, I should think!) and adapted for this.

Roni Roberts turning a column on the EG Wilson lathe

it is obviously winter – I’m wearing plenty of layers!

This is a solid and heavy cast iron lathe. However, it is also firmly bolted to the concrete floor for turning Burr and otherwise out of balance big bowls. In many ways it is not as practical as could be. There is no hole in the head stock so I can’t put a centre in it. When I’m turning between centres I use the chuck shown with a centre bit in it. It is also rather short between centres for table legs (especially including the chuck and thread adapter). I am also thinking of getting rid of the front part of the bed. I had originally been reluctant to do this as it took some of the history away from it but now I feel the practicalities are more important. I would also like to make it variable speed. At the moment the lowest speed is 300rpm then it goes up to 850rpm which is such a big leap for a large out of balance bowl. So hopefully over the next few months there will be changes to this old E. G. Wilson.

Viceroy Short-bed Lathe

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Viceroy short bed latheThis Viceroy short bed lathe is a wonderful lathe. I can turn up to 16″ over the bed and if I wanted and needed I could also turn larger pieces on the outside. However since I have another, larger lathe I’ve never set this up for outboard turning.

This lathe has been converted to variable speed running from zero to about 1400 rpm. This is great as the belts for the different speeds are harder to change on this lathe than my little Scheppach. So I have an inverter mounted on the wall and a three phase motor. There was a three phase originally on the lathe but unfortunately not the right one for the job. Strange to my simple, unelectrical mind that three phase was needed when it runs off single phase!

The lathe was in the ceramics department of a college and they decided they didn’t need it and were just getting rid of it. A friend of mine who worked in the department wondered if the lathe would be of any use to me and carefully protected it against the weather and offered it to me which I was delighted about. I, with the help of my friend who had rescued it, had to get it into the back of the van I was using the day I visited. Needless to say it was very difficult but I was determined to succeed, especially as I had a suitable vehicle and was far from home making picking it up another day extremely difficult.

tailstock for ViceroyThere was no tail stock with the lathe. Huw contacted Viceroy and an elderly gentleman sent the plans for the tail stock for Huw to use to make one. I contacted Viceroy a few months later to send him a bowl turned on the lathe but was told he’d retired and no-one seemed to have an address for him. I was very sorry I hadn’t managed to thank him properly for his kindness. Just goes to show how important it is to reply promptly especially to thank someone! The wheel on the back Huw rescued from an ancient combination machine, the only part of which I bought was the planer-thicknesser which will plane 24″.

The Smallest Lathe

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

This is a ScScheppach bench mounted wood turning latheheppach (dmt450) 5 speed bench mounted wood turning lathe. This lathe was the first lathe I used seriously. And I did use it seriously considering it was a small inexpensive lathe. It was bolted well to the bench and within months I was turning bowls up to the maximum diameter of 10″ (150mm). And these weren’t always round bowls either. I had already been making furniture for several years so I knew how much I liked the natural edge and the beauty of the wood in its fullness, not cut into a straight line for my ease of use. I was very impressed with this lathe. It did everything I asked of it which was a lot. It was quite a long time later that I learned that these lathes are usually only used for turning things like pens and lace bobbins. I would never subject it to that sort of strain now I have more experience but it is still in use.

The lowest speed is 650 rpm and the highest is 3000 rpm. One of the things I started making early on was the Tea-light holders and the lowest speed on the lathe is rather high for drilling a hole this size. I think this is the only real frustration I found with the lathe. I’d never used variable speed so changing the speed with the belts felt easy enough.

When I bought this lathe in May 2005 from Timberman Huw and I were looking after his mother (with dementia) in their home and I was finding it frustrating as I couldn’t get a decent amount of time at my home in my workshop to make furniture. I put doors onto the covered area out the back of theirs (it was originally the coal hole) thereby turning it into a tiny shed. This had just enough room for the lathe on a bench, a cupboard underneath and a grinder. I started turning and never looked back. Every time Huw’s mother was comfortably settled I’d be out for an hour on the lathe. Initially it did add some stress to the already stressful situation of caring but it was also an escape. As I learned and became more confident with the tools, etc. the turning became a much needed form of relaxation. I was happy to spend more time there freeing Huw to have more time for his work and to socialise with others. The small shed was all I needed as I was able to keep my wood and saw my blanks at home.

After a few years I was able to swap this lathe for a rather larger lathe but that is another story…