It really felt like spring is in the air this weekend. I was down near Derby pounding a couple of english ash logs to make ash splints for my baskets and courses. Hammering the log breaks the bond between the growth rings in the wood and allows them to delaminate, producing long strips of wood which are perfect for basket weaving.
It’s hard work but very rhythmic and surprisingly relaxing as there’s nothing to think or worry about other than the movement of the hammer and watching the splints peel off. Seeing the pile of material grow is very exciting and inspiring as I think of all the baskets that will be made.
I’m teaching several ash splint basket making courses in 2020 at various venues around the UK. Please visit my greenwood courses page for details or sign up to my newsletter for updates.
I was invited to north Wales to teach ash splint basket making to a group as part of the Halkyn Mountain Living Landscape project which is educating people about their local area and crafts associated with the landscape.
Ash splint basketry is still very new in the UK so it’s great to be able to show more people and I was very pleased to have several existing basket makers join us to learn about this different material.
During the weekend we cover the entire process of grading and dressing the ash splints, weaving a checkerboard base and then turning up the ribs and weaving the sides. A triple rim is attached and lashed into place after which we went outside to look at the process for pounding splints from a fresh ash log.
They were a terrific bunch who worked really well and were great, fun company as you can see from this photo!
I’ve been teaching another course on how to carve fan birds. These amazing birds are made from a single piece of wood without any glue. It’s a tricky thing to get right but I’ve developed my process now so that it’s can be achieved in a day. Whether you’re a beginner wanting to learn something new or a more experienced carver looking to expand your skills, fan birds are a fabulous greenwood project.
One year on from being awarded the Heritage Crafts Association Endangered Crafts Award, I’m incredibly pleased to have completed my first batch of Devon stave baskets. These are size #2: approx 18″ long and 12″ wide. Made from cedar with steam-bent ash handle and bonds with copper nails, they are incredibly tough baskets and perfect for harvesting produce in the garden, carrying tools or as a kindling basket.
Last week I was invited to teach a greenwood spoon carving workshop at Ordsall Hall in Salford. The Hall is a large former manor house and dates back to the 15th century with beautiful timber beams. It’s a fabulous building in the middle of surrounding business parks and with views of the cranes in Manchester city.
These craft courses are a new offering so it was great to have a busy, lively group learning how to axe and carve a cooking spoon from some locally sourced silver birch.
My scythe season normally runs from May to October with the majority of courses taking place in the spring and summer. However the scythe is a tool suitable for managing all kinds of vegetation and which can work in any weather. So when the Wildlife Trust at Bickershaw Country Park near Warrington got in touch for a scythe training course in November, I put on my warm layers and headed over.
The group have recently decided to try to bring back into management a small wildflower meadow and orchard which are perfect locations for scything. The ground is low-lying, on fairly poor soil and hasn’t been cut for several years so we were tackling long, overgrown grasses.
The group started with learning how to set up an Austrian scythe, hone the edge and the principles of cutting. Then we headed into the meadow to start work. It’s always brilliant to see how quickly people can start to effectively use a scythe with some proper training and for them to see how effective the tool can be. Amongst various comments about how much fun it was and how the scythe was easier and as quick as a strimmer, they cleared a big area and didn’t want to stop as we neared the end of the day.
Austrian scythes are lightweight, quiet, effective on a range of vegetation and, compared to a strimmer, a very cheap tool for land management. If you’re part of a group and would like to book a workshop for the 2020 season, please get in touch via email stevetomlin8[at]gmail.com
I had a fabulous time being part of the Show of Agriculture at Beamish Museum this weekend. It’s such a fantastic location and there’s always plenty to see and it’s so atmospheric to be there and in costume. Put it in your diary for 2020!
This is a great day out for all the family with lots of fun activities for children, unique crafts and furniture to buy. Professional demonstrators and performers will share their amazing skills, from sawmills and carving to wood turning, weaving, horse logging and many opportunities for you to have a go.
Visitor attractions will include the Vikings of Middle England camp, with crafts, re-enactments, combat and lots to entertain you. Arbor, the incredible 18 foot tall puppet of a tree – enjoy his show and walkabout performance, with some lucky visitors being given a tree sapling to take away. The Green Man is also not to be missed with popular songs and stories.
I’ll be there carving fan birds and will also have a selection of my wooden spoons, the Devon stave basket and other craft work for sale. Come and say hello if you’re in the area.
It was lovely to spend the day with the new rangers team at Preston Park, near Middlesbrough in the north-east as they learned how to scythe. The team are looking to start managing their wildflower meadow by hand to increase the biodiversity and make hay. They’re off to a flying start!
Visit my Learn to Scythe page for details of courses around the UK and how to arrange a course for your group.