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Bench for Paignton Zoo

Through Andrew Cowan of Arbor Ecology I was introduced to Kevin Frediani, Curator of Plants and Gardens Paignton Zoo, which is only a few miles away from where I live. The outcome is that I am to make a bench for a show garden at the Devon County Show, which afterwards will be installed at the Zoo. Kevin is very keen on sourcing and using local material and craftsmen.
The bench is to be be made from a fallen oak in the wildlife reserve in the Zoo, so our first job was to safely cut the trunk from the root plate and sit it on the ground. In the photo below, you can see this oak partly obscuring a woodland path. The path is an old track way dating back to when these were ‘working woodlands’ and coppice and occasional standard trees were taken out of the woods for use. Paths originally built for carts are quite narrow and, being overgrown, a tractor could not extract the tree; so we had to convert it before carrying it out.
Dave Ellacott the Reserves Warden also participated in this work.

I would have liked the butt to be cleaved into quarters and then into planks, but because of the way the tree fell, we could not get wedges into the bottom end. The butt forked at the top and I did not feel confident that we could accurately cleave through the fork. So Dave ripped down its length and we split that quarter out with wedges.

Jenny is standing on the first quarter to be split out from the butt and its starting the second split along the pith. It is always good to have a couple of narrow metal wedges as fat wedges spring out from the wood. We used 2 metal, 1 plastic, and a couple of wooden wedges to split this open with.

The only things holding the top quarter on are a couple of cross fibres which had to be cut before we levered it round to the chainsaw mill. Cross fibres occur when the wood does not split evenly and strips of wood are attached to both sides of the split.

Dave screwed a flat plank to the top side of each quarter and ran the chainsaw mill across and under the plank. We got 5 good 3-inch thick quarter sawn planks out and a number of split triangular sections, plus what was left that Dave will use for various projects.

The only way of getting them out of the woods was to carry them and we soon gave up the carrying and pulled them instead. These may not look very big but they are extremely heavy. Just as shire horses pulling logs or carts speed up on an incline, we found ourselves doing this quite instinctively as well.
It is great working with other people, as I tend to work on my own most of the time. I really appreciated that Dave could call in help from other people. If Dave and I had had to remove all the oak on our own, I would have not have had the energy to walk back to the van at the end of the day.

We had to tie a rope around the rear end of the plank as it wanted to slip off the track, down the hill.

At around this point we saw the first bluebell of the season.

I wanted to use cleft and/or quarter sawn wood as it is the most stable and will not warp and cup as it dries out, but we would have had to cut the tree into smaller pieces anyway as the chainsaw mill was too small for the diameter of the tree.
The wood is now all at my workshop, and next week I will start making the bench.

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