Blogs, it seems to me that there is a race to produce the most read blog. Hmmmm 1 million visitors per day etc – ive spent my entire life wandering as far as i can from competition – see its a bit like this -
Were supposed to live in a world where democracy and such like is the key. So why when they have the big racing car races – those who go around fastest start at the front – if i was driving a formula one car and didnt start first i would know i would have no chance so why compete?
so now i run my own races, with me the only competitor – hmm, a winner all the way. Yussss, i think i can compete on those terms.
Im not a terribly succesful person in terms of the modern world – i gave up on banks when they started emptying my accounts to pay for charges such as £30 for being over the overdrawn limit(sometimes by as little as £1) £30 for arranging it and £30 for informing me of the fact. And then not paying the cheque. To me it was very simple they were charging me for a service they were not providing. It was a game i bitterly resented playing, particurly as there was no viable alternative.
After a couple of years of this it was simply far better to try and do everything with cash – well as much as possible. To me my work was sacred, to mix it with mere money was sacrelidge but i had to live. In fact i later developed a bit of a mysitque with some clients telling me they were honoured that i was going to work for them – that really made my efforts worthwhile.
let me give you some idea of what i was doing.
I started the following morning co in 1979 – that was mainly a furniture making business – in Devon, westcountry,England.
My brief if you like was simply to use the materials provided by nature. So from time to time i found myself working alongside farmers – tree surgeons, lorry drivers and builders and of course other furniture makers – not to mention sawmillers and landowners – felling trees, converting them to usable material and then drying or kilning the stuff – all on a shoestring – no loans,nothing.
Often the trees would be provided free – sometimes i had to pay, but i got to know how these things worked – for instance – you do not burn walnut – why? well somewhere in most peoples phsyce is a thing which says it wont burn, or it burns poorly – hmm who burns walnut eh?
The other thing was that if i was offered a walnut it had surely been offered to many others as i only paid firewood price and everybody knew. As a result i baught trees others wouldnt – at firewood prices.
Amongst the sucesses with walnut was a large ripple walnut – that is the entire tree was rippled like the finest silk. Nobody wanted it because it appeared to have no colour – another was 6 very large walnuts in a farmyard which were obviously rotten – but the top branches were full of burrs – well they were probably rotten too but if you only paid firewood prices —
i was offered an amazing tree by a client near Crediton – large country house and all – we became great friends and i made a lot for her.
The tree was massive and looked very healthy – the trunk branched some 8 foot up to 2 trunks – these two were about 3 foot thick, the main trunk itself was some 4 foot plus.
Frank the plank came to fell the beast – because we had spotted some bees coming out of a hole and he wanted a colony. Down the monster came, i was so happy – it looked fantastic and i would have maybe 5 tons of pure walnut – well the fact of it was that it was shattered into thousands of pieces and useless. This is a common feature of many specis. We tried everything – cutting from different directions, cutting skew – you name it – even different sawmills including Frank who had a moblie sawmill.(over 30 years i had over 30 large walnuts of every kind and type)
The bees died – Frank liked whakky bacy, in fact it was his downfall (not arriving on time(often by days or weeks), spending hours chatting, too much time in the pub)- his wife left and he was left desolate eventually, so life goes. The bees died because he put them in a cardboard box, then in the boot of his car and drove for a considerable distance. The bees frightened, clumped together and suffocated under their own press – a well known occurance.
Working this way was utterly fascinating and extremly healthy – moving large planks, mixing with very strange individuals and all the time learning.
Richard one day said to me – would i like to visit an unusual sawmill out near Honiton – Well that sounded interesting.
The sawmill was down a lane, down a lane and further still. The first thing i saw was a sign advertising cactuses – then a table (with cactuses) and behind that a gate leading to a large barn. Inside the open side i could see the biggest circular saw blade id ever seen – no guard of any kind, i dont even remember a riving knife.
I dont remember the names but i was introduced to several characters and asked if i wanted some cyder. Well then it was into the cyder barn under the saw. Coor barrel after barrel – huge oak affairs too.
What would i like?
Well i had to work and it was very strong stuff so i steered clear.
Then into a caravan by the gate and everyone tipping up large pint glasses with gusto – except me. I felt that possibly it was dangerous to mix sawmilling with cyder, idly i wondered if any had lost fingers as this is usualy the first to go – fuckme sideways – it seemed not one of those present had a complete set – one or two even had hands with only 2 fingers.
As we sat there the guy who owned the mill suddenly gripped my arm and pointed to the post box hanging from the gate – LOOOK – this nuthatch uses the letterbox every year for some months, the postman knows not to stick the mail in there when he is in residence (she) and indeed there was the bird buisy hopping in through the opening.
Then he pointed to the downpipe of the gutter on the building opposite – looook see the blue tit – last year she had 5 young. Every year they build in that downpipe, i dont know what they do when it rains, but it does often. And so it went -
After a very pleasant while – would i like some lunch? Well ok, but i thought about the work waiting for me at Appledore in my workshop.
So it was down a lane and down another – across a river ford then up to a huge pub. Inside, more booze then “which was best – Turkey burgers or beef burgers” Well i replied turkey. Then a huge bag full of burgers was passed over the bar and off we went back to the sawmill.
Lunch was very peasant and more cyder – every time i said no thanks. Finally – “you come here, eat our food, enjoy our company but you wont drink with us!!!” well that said he was right – i was being selfish HIHI.
Crikey that stuff was strong.
Well lunch finished and it was time to go see the timber. There was a very exciting stack of ripple ash hiding away in a corner. All 2 inch stuff – how much would i offer – thought a bit , did some calculations and offered half of what it was worth – that was met by a snort.
So someone produced a harmonica and we sat out in the orchard under a good sun – bees buzzing around and the gentle devon burr filling my ears. Richard as allways had a great many connections and was honing up on old friendships – me i was just at peace, it was truly wonderful.
As the day wore on more and more people appeared – mostly old men – we all sat in a very big circle drinking cyder and talking. The guys with the mill were steam engine enthusiasts, particurly traction engines – they had one, a very nice one. They got it after the boiler in the last one burnt out.
So i said where is the old one – they pointed to the next field and there it stood – in one corner, nearly covered with weeds. Beautiful example of a technology that lasted for only a few dozen years then vanished – i spect its still there.
Well the day wore on and more cyder made the rounds - it has a lot in common with vinegar and is really only tolerated because of its alcholic connections – that is it somehow has the ability to make one far more drunk than anything else of similar strength. (i never saw any money change hands – there was something so very comforting about the scene – there were well over 20 people there at the end so it must have involved a considerable amount of the drink)
It began to get dark(with that kind of golden twilight more in the mind than anything else) - i felt completely at peace – it was a very delightful event and never to be repeated – (full diary write up at the time – one day)
As Richard and i said our goodbyes the mill owner said heed had a word with the boys and would be delivering the wood on wednesday.
I knew what the stuff was worth – i had offered half, no way could i pay full price.
Wednesday came. Soon enough a small truck appeared, my heart sank – what was i going to do ? – it was unloaded and then came the moment – half price YESSSSSSSSS.
The wood was from a number of trees – good clear boards – i had some of it kiln dried at Tiverton sawmills – they had a new vacuum kiln – beech brothers in Exeter had one and it could dry woods of thicknesses unheard of in an unbelievably short time but it had drawbacks.
Wood is alive. That is it moves – the reason wood cracks is because the movement is too much and this is normally associated with moisture. So you expect it to move if it is too wet, but not if it is dry.
Another process occuring in wood is destressing. It takes time more than anything. Steam kilned wood is very denatured as far as stress is concerned. dehumidified wood, not so much but its easier to work – vacuum kilned wood only has the moisture removed, not stress.
i made a large table in the ripple ash for a client in Bristol who owned a large silver shop there. It moved like mad but because of the construction it did not matter and we were all pleased.
Later i came to do a lot of work for Grey Harris and co, including hundreds of silver coaster bases – i never found out exactly why he came to me all the time as my work was good but not spectacular and twice as much as any of the amateur turners charged – maybe it was because of the wood – i used iroko – because the stuff made one caugh the story went round that it gave one cancer – checking this out i found it had no foundation – in fact this facility had a great use – in later years i had some troublesome visitors who would simply sit and talk as i tried to work – me and myself had difficulty enough without anyone else butting in, so the solution was to have a board of Iroko and stick it through the planer just as they were coming in the door – it was usually met with “i dont know how you can work with that stuff, it really gets in my throat” Then they would leave hihi.