I’m not entirely sure how long I’d been standing there staring at the wood pile, and I’m not even sure what I was thinking about or what had brought me there but, I slowly focused on a big lump of Ash I’d manfully – ahem! – lugged out of the woods a while ago. It was an old piece that had been lying on the leaf-mold for a year or two and therefore promised some nice spalting waiting to be revealed. That piece of wood also held the promise of some lovely toasty evenings in front of the fire and some long, hot, deeps baths. A few quick swipes with the chain saw, a couple of swings of the axe and it was ready to be safely stashed in the log shed.
Well, I did get as far as a couple of cuts with the chainsaw, but then I ended up carrying a lovely, slightly curved, lump around to the workshop.
A little more standing around staring and drifting off into the vacancy of my mind ensued, before I finally got out the froe and ‘rustic’ homemade blackthorn mallet.
A couple of well place wallops and I was soon dividing up the log into manageable pieces – and, admiring some lovely spalting, imagining how this may look if I played my cards right.
A few more wallops, a good dollop of luck and I was ready to do a bit of roughing out, So, I went for my favourite axe ( a fella can never have too many axes, and obviously there is always going to be one he gravitates to, no matter how much he loves them all) and start to work on the intended shape. The aim is to reduce the bulk of the material to as close to the desired end result as possible so that there is less to do with the drawknife and spokeshave later.
The initial big, confident swipes gradually give way to smaller, more precise cuts, that can at times, almost be shaving motions – it’s at this stage you get a good idea about how sharp the axe is. Obviously, I had to stop my hacking and spend a bit of time sharpening my axe, which, surprisingly, or not, depending on your point of view, made a not insignificant difference to the amount of effort I had to put into each swipe.
Once I had the rough shaping done it was onto the shavehorse and some work with the drawknife, interrupted only to do a yet more sharpening – at some point in the not too distant future I need to take another day to just concentrate on sharpening tools. I took quite a bit of time, initially working quite quickly removing the rougher edges, before slowing down and working more gently and precisely, as I started to create the curvature I was looking for, focusing on the edge of the blade moving effortlessly through the wood, creating progressively thinner and finer shavings. I was quite absorbed in what I was doing, and getting more and more interested in the emerging grain patterns.
Next, was more time on the shavehorse, this time with my trusty spokeshave – I probably spent more time fiddling and adjusting than actually using – but, that really is a large part of the fun. Soon I was getting beautiful long wafer-thin shavings and, with each one, closer to my goal – beautifully grained, slightly curved pieces perfect for the back legs of a chair.
Then, happy with that, and imagining how they would look once finally finished and waxed to within an inch of their existence, I started working on the stretchers. At least I think they’re called stretchers, they could be runners, but anyway, those things that keep the legs securely together but apart. A little froing, axing, drawknifing, cutting into 3 and then some careful spokeshaving, with perhaps the odd expletive here and there for good measure as kept losing my grip and having to retrieve them from the piles of debris at the edges of the workshop.
Still lost in the magnificent grain and imaging how the waxed finish would shoot it into the stratosphere I began to put the pieces together just to see how they fit, and before I started work on the final spindles.
I was so happy with how things were going and how much fun I’d had getting to this point that I got a little inattentive, perhaps even a tadge cocky. Bitter experience tells me that this is always the precursor to disaster, but, like my axe and drawknife, I am not the sharpest knife in the draw – I have been accused, more than once, of being a bit slow on the up-take; there may be some justification to this accusation………maybe…….
I can’t say I didn’t stomp around the workshop, kicking a few things that had nothing to do with it, or that I didn’t shout at the chickens minding their own business outside. Thankfully, they’re quite indifferent to me and paid absolutely no notice, though maybe there was the quiet shake of the head before they wandered off to the back of the greenhouse.
Once I’d gotten over the ladies ignoring me, and finished venting, I reflected on it all and smiled a little as I tossed the fruits of my labour onto the kindling pile – I’d had a fabulous day. It had been quiet and warm, I’d been busy and absorbed, reacquainting myself with rusty skills and, at the least, learning when spalting is a little too far advanced to be usable in a structural piece.
Even when it doesn’t work out, it works out – wahoo! – I won’t make that mistake again.