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Edale

A couple of weeks ago I got back from another wonderful Spoonfest. The problem with teaching is that there never is enough time to talk and carve. I taught a lot of sharpening workshops, gave a sharpening talk and sat in the spoon chair, and then drove home.
Among many people from all over the world was Phillipe Steele from the States who has set up the Spooncarving, Green woodworking and sloyd Facebook page. Years ago I sold him a spoon via the Bodgers forum, apparently this was one of his first bought or traded spoons.

On a quick break from teaching I found Phillipe by the fire with his axes. It was interesting to find out that his hands are not really much bigger than mine but his handles are massive. So massive in fact that it would be dangerous for me to use these axes. For Phillip these are fine and he has problems with smaller handles, which cause him a lot of pain.

Most of you know that I like smaller handles and I do bang on about it. Tool handles are personal and it is very important to have handles that suit your body. So experiment and find out what works best for you.

 Below is my hand holding the axe. Not much difference in hand size, but difficult for me to use.

 Martin was flashing his gold leaf about, and Keith happened to be sitting quietly when all at once he was gilded with a golden spoon on the forehead, talk about gilding the lilly.

I met a lot of wonderful people and wish I could have spent a lot more time chatting. I bought yet another axe, this time from Robin who has designed and is having made very nice axes. It is good to see a functional, affordable axe on the market.
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Knives, sheaths or boxes?

I have come to the conclusion that boxes are better than sheaths for storing knives in, this includes hook knives. This is because most of my carving takes place in the workshop, at shows, or at home. These tools don’t do bushcraft. Knives rarely go back into the sheath when carving, but they do go back into boxes. This way I am less likely to have accidental nicks in the blade.

Made entirely with hand tools, axe, plane, saw, chisel, knife and drill. The wood is ash, bits and bobs that have dried out in my workshop that was stuff not use on the pole lathe.

This box was made for my MaChris knife. The hinges and catch are dovetailed into the main box. 
These boxes are great for practising chip carving techniques. Using ash is  a challenge as it is very hard.
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Adze in the hand, part 2

In the last post I reshaped the handle on the large Gransfors Bruk adze, this time I replace the handle entirely on my small GB adze. There has always been something wrong with the small GB adze, I have never felt comfortable using it. I have shaved the handle down as a smaller handle is more comfortable to grip over longer periods of work. I also reshaped and made the pommel smaller, all to no avail. I feel that handle length is the real issue here, it is too short for comfortable and efficient use.

Time to make a new handle. It is possible to get the old handle out without wrecking it, a little bit of patience is required. All I used was a medium sized flat head screwdriver and a hammer. The new handle was made about 3 inches longer. As you can see the adze handle is the same handle as on the hand hatchet. Why use a an axe handle on a well made adze head? In my experience of using tools, handles are not interchangeable between axe and adze and if you do use the wrong handle the use and functionality of the tool is compromised.

This new handle makes so much difference to how the adze handles, what is more important is the strain is lessened on my body. I am not sure if this is the best shape of handle, but time will tell. It will be easy enough to take the one wooden wedge out and replace the handle. Removing the old handle and making and fitting a replacement took me less than an hours work. I am not sure whether I would recommend you doing the same, it depends on your ability and experience. By nature I am a cautious man and would say leave well alone unless confident in your skills.
I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on handle length and shape, and if you prefer the Gransfor Bruk, Hans Karlssen or S Djarv adzes. If you can not  or do not want to leave a comment then email me at info@seanhellman.com

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An adze in the hand, part 1

Using tools with bad handle design is fine for short periods. Do any amount of work with these tools and the body hurts. Do not assume that a maker of tools will put on the ideal handle. From my experience we all seem to have our own personal idea of what makes a good handle. A handle for one person will not always suit another.

I have a large GB adze, and I like it. I would class it as a good all rounder, great for wasting wood from a bowl and great for sculptural work. The problem I have is the handle. For some sculpting work it is too short and that bloody chunky fawns foot on the end, a hand wrecker. They have just stuck an axe handle onto it.

When I use an adze my right hand holds the pommel and this arm or hand is fixed against my body. My left hand swings and guides the adze. The fixing of the right hand is vital if I am to get a smooth cut. Holding this pommel is hard work as it does not fit my hand, so out comes the edge tools to shape it. I sand it smooth, because facets, unless very small, help cause blisters.

Working with wood on the ground and swinging the axe through the legs means that I am bending over way too much. Holding below the pommel means that I have to bend over even more. The adze is fine if you are working vertically or on raised work as the hand is below the pommel. One day I will put a slightly longer handle onto it, too long and it will change the arc the head swings through, and it will not cut as fluently and the bevel will need to be reground. A longer handle will also help with my back issues. 
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Shrink pots for the National and Woodland Trusts

The National Trust and the Woodland Trust have come together in partnership to buy and manage 500+ acres of woodland next to Castle Drogo on Dartmoor. This woodland is mainly a commercial mix of softwoods and was being sold as a great investment for capital growth and sporting potential. What delights me is that another chunk of land is now open to public access and is being managed to increase local flora and fauna. The management back to indigenous woodland will take many years. 
Beccy Speight DG Woodland Trust (left) and Dame Helen Gosh DG National Trust(right) 

Mick Jones (pictured far right) of the National Trust commissioned me to make gifts to exchange between the two organisations. The Trust decided on a couple of shrink pots made from silver birch cut from the woodland. The lids are burr oak from nearby Parke at Bovey Tracey.
The pots were made in 3 weeks from freshly felled wood. This was a bit of a challenge in that I had to force dry the wood, carefully weighing it each day until it reached a stable weight. The pots were left out in the sun during the day and turned round each hour or so.

A link to Adrian’s A Dartmoor Blog – Views of the National Trust’s Dartmoor General Manager.

http://adriancolston.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/fingle-woods-celebrations/, for more information about the celebrations of the partnership at Fingle Woods.

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Box, Buxus sempervirens

Lovely wood, very hard and very dense. Carving it with a knife is hard work and will take a long time. Obviously, green it will be a tad softer, but still very hard. I was at the Blackdown Woodfair this weekend, and a member of the Blackdown Hills Hedging Association took me to the back of his van. One never knows what to expect. After a bit of gentle English bartering.
Me, How much would sir like for this?
Him, Oh I don’t know. Me Ummm. ummm um arh um, how about £15.
Him Oh I was hoping for £20.
Me, Okay £20 then. Would you mind bringing it over to my stall later, I don’t have any money on me at the moment.

Over the years I have collected a bit of box, all bone dry and ready to use. I mainly use it for tool handles.

 This lump of box is 8 inch diameter, which is large for box. It has been down for 9 months or so and has one large split across it. In the workshop I cut  along this split, it was remarkably dry. With box I would recommend splitting it in half lengthways and then stacking to season. Most of the stuff I have is in the round and have all split.  If you do get some green box, split and store under cover straight away. The colour can be quite yellow at times, but often a nice creamy colour. Left to dry in adverse conditions it can easily start going grey in places.

 This is part of a 4 foot length that I bought at Westonbirt show for a fiver, it was cheap because it had these spiral splits in. Cross cutting it revealed that it had grown at such an angle off vertical that it has a lot of reaction wood. The splits really do not go that deep.

I am not worried about the spiral grain and reaction wood as I will be making handles rather than dimensioned planks for cabinet work.

I used box for as a handle for the MaChris that Jon Mac and Chris Grant gave me. Being so dense it can be finished to a silky smooth surface. A tactile finish that the hand falls in love with. The wood scraps very well and a cut finish with a sharp knife is glassy smooth. If sanded then work all the way through to the finest grits.
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Scythe fair 2014

Mainly just pictures for this post, just to give you an idea what it was like.
The food was great and lots of it.

Not that many English scythes in this line up, mostly Austrian. 

 My good friend Mark Allery, not only a great bodger but also a championship scyther.
Nick Gibbs of Living woods fame. In the great British spirit Nick is planning to fly over to France with his homemade helicopter hat. I see Nick at most shows and he makes and sells toy helicopters in-between drumming up business for his magazines. I have an article about putting wooden handles on a MaChris knife and a fan bird push knife, in the forth coming issue.
 The line up for the finals.
Of course with all those sharp scythes it got a bit much for some.

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End grain with a record No 4 smoothing plane

You may have thought that from the last post that I turn my nose up at No4 and 5 planes. This is not the case and I have tuned and got to know intimately my jack and smoothing Record planes. A well tuned and sharpened plane is a joy to use, no more so than getting a perfect finish on end grain. In the past I would go for electric sanders, these days by default I pick up hand tools. In fact I think it is quicker to plane the end grain to clean the saw marks up, and then to give it a final fine sanding, rather than to try and sand the 2 end grain ends. It also gives a better flatter finish.

The wood is Douglas fir, English grown, 8 x 6 inches. Unfortunately English grown Douglas grows way too fast. I have used American stuff before which usually is very slow grown with up to 30+ rings per inch. Slow grown Douglas is a very different wood to fast grown stuff and is certainly a better quality wood. I prefer working with slow grown softwoods any day.

I used my Record smoothing plane at a skew across the grain after planing a fine bevel around the edge to stop wood splitting out. I also tend to  work from the edge into the middle and stop short of the far edge.

Skewing gives a far better finish, rather than pushing the plane inline.