Having decided that it was about time to get some âformalâ green woodwork training from experienced people that earn their living from the woods, I decided to book myself onto a couple of courses throughout the course of the next couple of years â and will now probably continue doing so for a long time to come!
The first of these ended up being one of the most enjoyable long weekends Iâve spent for many years, based at an old flint mill on the Beamish Estate in County Durham where Maurice Pyle has his workshop.Â Iâve included a little bit about Maurice below, taken directly from his website to ensure I represent him accurately!
Maurice started his career within youth training, personal development and outdoor education but it was whilst working within environmental education for Gatesheadâs Education Department that Maurice Pyle first discovered the joys of working with green wood using a few simple hand tools.Â The original woodcraft courses he organised for the local community in Gateshead were very well received and seemed an excellent vehicle to get people of all backgrounds involved with woodlands and woodcraft.
For the last 15 years he has enjoyed running a business which combines many aspects of conventional woodland work and traditional woodcraft.
The business has grown over the last few years in all departments but our biggest development recently has been the setting up of The Woodsmith’s Store.Â A complete service offering the best tools and books for the green woodworker and traditional woodworker.Â The buy on-line website, www.woodsmithstore.co.uk, was launched in November 2006.
In 2007 Maurice and Claire purchased an idyllic wooden house in a remote valley in the mountains of eastern Norway, a base from which inspiring woodcraft experience holidays could be run.
He is a trustee of the Bill Hogarth Memorial Apprenticeship Trust, regional contact for the Association of Pole Lathe Turners and member of The Carpenters’ fellowship.
Having spent a long time trawling the Google-net and looking at the vast array of training that is available for aspiring bodgers, I decided that Maurice was definitely someone that had the credentials to be able to cure any pre-existing bad habits of mine and guide me towards developing some skills that other green woodworkers would recognise as being correct and appropriate.Â But what to start with?
Obviously having the right tools is an important first step, but thatâs a relatively easy place to start â especially if you decide to use Mauriceâs store as your first point of contact for new tools or for advice on the right tools for a particular job.Â However, new tools can be relatively expensive and arenât a must have â itâs possible to buy decent quality second hand tools at craft fairs and car boot sales if you know what youâre looking for.Â Tools is one thing, but having sharp tools is even better â and if you can keep them sharp itâs the icing on an otherwise quite boring cake!
Soâ¦at least one day had to be a course on tool sharpening, and this is how Maurice advertises his invaluable one-day course:
Tool Sharpening (1 day)
Having sharp tools won’t improve you green woodworking skills but will make the work easier and safer, produce a better finish and make the process of using hand tools considerably more satisfying. Â This one-day course will provide information about sharpening most of the tools used in green woodworking, such as axes, billhooks, drawknives and turning chisels and gouges. Â Powered and manual techniques will be shown.Â This may be the most important course you ever attend.Â
Wow â what a great day!Â If I can remember correctly (which Iâm never quite sure I can!) there were three of us on this course, which meant that Maurice could spend a lot of time with each of us â âhoningâ our sharpening techniques (excuse the pun).Â We spent a lot of time learning, and practicing, how to sharpen all of the key green wood tools using both manual and powered sharpening and honing methods.Â I was even given the opportunity to restore an old spokeshave blade that had become totally rounded over time, and finished up with a razor sharp blade that was probably even better than it was when it left the manufacturer â it was really very satisfying.
I finished the day with the knowledge and understanding, and the foundation skills, to be able to keep all of my own tools in a fit for use condition â something Iâd never been quite happy with previously.Â Unfortunately, I also left with quite a long wish list of some of the most useful bits of sharpening and honing wizardry Iâd used on the course, and to good effect.Â It will take a long time for me to be able to save for the Tormek grinding and sharpening system, and some of the sharpening stones are really quite dear â but if they help to keep your edges sharp I suppose they are well worth the money.
What I found reassuring though was that provided your tools are well looked after and receive regular attention to sharpening and honing, you can get by very well with some fine abrasive papers and strips of leather bonded to hardwood blocks and round dowels â alongside a decent honing paste and some protective oil.
Upon returning home I set to making myself a set of these blocks and rods straight away (luckily, and quite bizarrely, I had an entire hide of tanned leather just waiting for a use!).Â Iâve found that spray mount doesnât work that well in sticking wet and dry to wood, and have yet to try a can of EvoStick spray contact adhesive Iâve bought instead â hopefully that will work better.Â I do however highly recommend Camellia oil to protect your tools â I think I got mine from Axminster.
Well worth a day, I may even book myself on it again for a refresher in the future â and take all my tools to make sure Iâm doing it the right way!
So what nextâ¦?
Having learnt how to make tools sharp (rather than how to make sharp tools â I fancy a course on that in the future, maybe with Ben Orford!) â I decided to have a couple of days with Maurice learning how to use them properly.Â The sensible place to start seemed like booking a place on his introduction to green woodworking course, over two days.Â The best bit I found about this was that I could book the two courses concurrently (that means so that they run one after the other â hence the long weekend!).Â This is how Maurice advertises this course:
Green Woodworking: An Introduction (2 days)
The essential course for aspiring green woodworkers.Â The bodging skills of cleaving, trimming, shaving and turning will be taught using a few simple hand tools such as axes, drawknives, gouges and chisels.Â You will learn how to use a shavehorse and a pole lathe.Â On this course people make their own rustic English style shavehorse to take away.Â This could be your opportunity to get fired up and inspired to learn a new and highly satisfying creative skill.
Over the course of the weekend Maurice took us through all of the key green woodworking processes that we were likely to need to produce traditional âcoppice craftsâ â including splitting, cleaving, shaping on the shave horse and turning on the pole lathe, alongside a lot of axe and drawknife work!
We started our project with some felled round wood, mainly ash although I chose to make my shave horse body from an oak log to give it a bit of extra weight and sturdiness â although this wasnât really necessary.Â We learnt how to use various types of axe safely and efficiently, from a splitting hatchet to create the legs from ash logs, and carving axes to rough out the billets for the pole lathe for the turned components.Â After the axe work it was on to the shave horse to âtidyâ the legs with an assortment of draw knives, and to get the pole lathe billets as near to round as possible to reduce any âchatterâ when fixed between the centres of the lathe.
There was plenty of axe and draw knife work to be done on the horse body, although the oak log I had so wisely chosen was a little oversize to be able to take the swinging arm, and rather than spend the whole day wasting the material away Maurice made quick work of reducing it to 6 Â½â with the chainsaw â leaving a easy job for the spokeshave to finish off.
To save time and to ensure the job was finished to a good standard at the end of the two days all the holes were drilled with a DeWalt rather than a brace and bit â Maurice had a high torque low rev model that was powered by a petrol generator that made the drilling far quicker but none the less accurate.Â It was still really important to ensure all the angles were right to splay the legs in the correct directions to keep the shave horse stable when seated on it!
Anyway, on to the lathe work.Â After some superb spiraling cuts through the work piece with the skew chisel I ended up with some turned components that I could be really pleased with â and they all fitted together like they had been made by a true pro!Â Must make mental note though â more practice needed with both skew and flat chisel (if I ever want to make anything that looks well designed and properly finished), if all Iâm after is an average job then Iâm a whizz with a roughing out and spindle gouge!
I had a little time left at the end of day 2 so rather than waste it I decided to try my hand at shaping the seat of the shave horse using a travisher.Â I think that this must have been one of the most satisfying parts of making my shave horse, starting with a flat âplankâ and carving contours in all directions to create a comfy platform for my behind!Â Loved it, so much so that Iâm now the proud owner of a James Mursell travisher â and will probably book a place on one of his Windsor chair workshops when I have the time available.
I could write for ages about these three days, as they were so fantastic.Â Needless to say though, I took so much away from these courses and am sure they will make me a far more accomplished bodger than I was when I started.Â I will definitely be booking with Maurice may more times in the future, and may even travel to Norway for one of his summer workshops in years to come.
If you need a recommendation, then they donât need to come any better than what Maurice is offering â great teaching, great advice, great location and great company, what more could you ask for!
Maurice Pyle â Woodsmith
The Woodsmithâs Store