Balnacra Arts by Vicky Stonebridge

Green-stick wood working.

Went on a greenstick working course today in Applecross. I only found out 2 days before that it was not a day course, but a two day course, and sadly by that time i had too many other work commitments. So I tried to sprint ahead and get as far ahead as I could to learn as much of the process as possible. I may have overdone it! Blisters and cuts are fine, but my wrist has turned to stone!

Meanwhile, the location was Cuaig the home of Leslie & Tom Kilbride of Croft wools, who do lots of spinning, weaving, dying and other rural & traditional skills.  The Trainers, Mike and Ryan from ‘ Helmsdale Charcoal and Coppice’, patiently guided us from chunks of freshly cut trees, to designing and shaping our own chairs and benches. They were assisted by some local folks who also know a lot about greenwood working.

Firstly wood was selected and knotted parts were cut out for the charcoal kiln while straight parts were put aside for furniture making.

The saws that we used for this were a special Japanese design that have big teeth, but only cut on the stroke towards you, they cut through the wood like butter and leave a really smooth cut surface.

I think we’ll all be placing orders for many of the tools we were taught to use today!
Lumps of wood were chopped up to roughly uniform size for the small 31inch kiln.

The kiln is an open ended cylinder, which sits on 4 feet. two are used as inflows for air into the base, and two are chimneys, these are set according to wind direction and can be moved around. the gaps at the bottom were sealed with soil.

This pattern was laid out into the bottom of the kiln to allow air passage into the centre, where a ‘charge’ of charcoal is placed.

Then shavings, more charcoal and wood is placed on top, leaving those gaps underneath.


Ryan lights a rag on a stick to poke into the vents to light the charge.


once the fire takes, more wood is piled on, then the lid is added.

this is sealed at the edges with soil ( carefull as the body of the kiln is now very hot – luckily we had two Firefighters on hand on the course so everything would be fine! )

The chimneys were place in the direction the wind was going from and…. then it was left to cook all day, Tomorrow everyone else will get to see the results and have a BBQ on the charcoal, i’m not jealous- much. Mind you, I have the lingering smell of woodsmoke imbued through every pore so that will have to do instead.

Meanwhile while this was going on, so was the woodworking. People selected their wood for a design of a chair or whatever they had in mind. there were straight lengths of Western hemlock which was good for legs, but grows with a spiral twist so isn’t good for splitting into slats.

then there was shorter lengths of birch and willow for splitting or working into seats, doweling or those horizontal bits that go between the chair/ stool legs  ( obviously i didn’t pick up all the technical terms ! )

The wood could be shaped with a variety of tools, side axes- very sharp and quite heavy or drawknives.  Mike and Ryan made shaping with the axe look easy but i seemed to be carving more out of my thumb that the chair legs. I also soon managed to blister. I prefered the shaving horse and drawing knife, although the axe was nice for removing the bark and shaping the ends of the soft birch wood.

Here is Pete, showing folks how to use the shaving horse and a drawknife.


here’s folks working hard.


and that much needed regular t-break kindly provided by Tom & Leslie.

and my 6 thingumy-bobs, 4 whopping great logs for chair legs not shown.
Did i mention how i’m not jealous about the others getting another day of this and getting to stay in yurts and swim in the sea this evening?
I will now be adding Augur, drawknife, axe, mallet and rasps to my wish list. In the meantime i have a plan of how to finish of my chair ( table? bookshelf, stool? thing ? ) with my penknife.

Just once the blister heals.

Mike runs a five day coppicing and greenwood skills course. That will definitely also be on my wish list, and hopefully We can find a way of getting these guys over to a Kirkton Woodland and Heritage Group event.   We have to buy, plan, fell and re plant our community woodland before we can start coppicing, but it is all very exciting that these traditional, green and sustainable skills are being encouraged again, often through the various community land / asset management schemes going on. There is nothing quite like working natural materials with your bare hands and no machines involved.

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This entry was posted on June 2, 2012 by in Blog and tagged , , , , , , , .
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