Here’s a fairly late update from Jan’s wood. Since my last post, March in Cumbria has been a whirlwind of all sorts of weather. There was, of course the mad snow storm which blocked our main road, and then while most of England was bogged down by heavy, relentless rain, we had 2 weeks of gorgeous bluebird days, extremely cold and windy, but wonderfully sunny. I managed to warm up the camera long enough to give a little idea of where I’ve been working.As soon as I got back to the woods from a good trip to London, I needed to get back to the wood and play, learning from books written by those who specialise in this organic material. By learning to use and manipulate the greenwood’s properties like so many talented craftsmen before, I hoped to find way of developing a system that will allow me to create furniture. I’m a sucker for symmetry and I like to design the outcome, it’s the control freak within, however, greenwood does not conventionally work this way. Perhaps there could be a compromise? Cleaving is a fascinating process of knocking a blade down the centre of the wood. It will naturally split along the grain. If the split travels in the wrong direction the tool, called a froe, can be levered one way or the other to encourage the split along a clean line down the length of wood. Hence, to and froe! This has given me some beautifully symmetric material, albeit still organic and irregular.
Another brilliant use of greenwoods properties that I have always wanted to explore is shrink joints. When felled, timber has the moisture content of 30% upward to as high as 60%. As it dries the cells shrink. Greenwood workers turn dowelled furniture components, pre-dry them and use them in green mortise holes. These mortise holes dry and shrink around the pre-dried tenons – glueless joints. I love this method, using only the natural behaviour of the material to construct solid furniture.
So I mocked up a silly chair sketch. Crack Willow was really not the most sensible wood to use, I’ll admit. I have to add, during this point I was aware that this traditional process involves a long time. Greenwood workers are calm. patient souls, allowing their material to slowly dry or season. Unfortunately time is not my luxury, and in the scheme of trying to find an industrial process for greenwood, these exercises were not proving the right direction.While I was in London, and with access to the metal workshop at Uni I thought I’d have some fun making my own tool. I love the concept of cleaving, but I wondered if that moment of splitting could be capitalised to form extruded shapes. Would I be closer to making my uniform components from supple greenwood?
Nope. The middle ‘punch’ of my tool did a good job of dowelling my log, until it got wedged in the grain. As for the splitting froe wings, the split ran away in front of the tool as soon as it got it’s teeth into the end grain, so all control was lost. As this tool was a complex and lengthy process to make, I abandoned this idea. However it certain helped me understand the nature of the grain and inner structure of my wood. It did a great job of creating perfect tenons for my shaving horse legs!
While playing in the wood, making a shaving horse and fiddling with these ideas, I have become increasingly appreciative of my chainsaw. It makes light work of rough shaping and cutting to length, but it creates a great amount of mess. There are shavings everywhere! More about chainsawing next time…