25 Mar

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200


If you’re ever wandering up in the Limb Valley following the Sheffield Round walk you will come across a traditional piece of construction made by my friend Dave Jackson and myself in 2009. We were asked by the land manager and local farmer to make a stock proof fence at the bottom of Coppras House Field to stop his cattle wandering down into the Limb Brook. We had stockpiled some lovely larch posts made from trees that we had felled in Stocksbridge, to the north of Sheffield. I had also, at the time, been asked to thin out a stand of well drawn oak in Ladyspring Wood near Beauchief Abbey – a stand of ancient woodland bordering the ancient boundary between what was Mercia and Northumberland.

It didn’t take a huge leap of imagination to realise that the best solution to the problem was to make a cleft oak fence using traditional green woodworking methods from the materials Nature had given us.

The technique is simple, yet effective execution takes patience and sensitivity. In essence, long poles of oak, about 3 to 3.5 m long are split into 3 or four pieces longitudinally by inserting a splitting axe into the end grain and forcing the long sections apart by driving alternate steel and wooden (oak) wedges into the resulting split with a big wooden mallet, or mell.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

The split can be controlled to stop it running off and ruining the fencing pole by accurate use of a carpenter’s or small felling axe. The small axe is used to sever adhering ‘cross grain’ fibres which tend to pull the split off line. This is cleaving – the oldest way of making a straight, workable piece of wood by separating timber along the grain – it results in beams which retain their innate strength, which do not warp or change shape significantly (unlike sawn timber which needs to be dried before working).

The resulting long poles are debarked and each end of the pole is carved with a side axe into a square tenon – part of the joint which will allow the fencing poles to meet at the post. The upright posts – rot resistant larch in this case – were dug well into post holes and the mortices (hole in which the pole tenon sits) were carved using box chisels and a mallet. Adjacent fence poles overlap each other within each mortice, locking the whole structure to make a very strong boundary fence.

Access to the Round Walk below Coppras House Field was controlled with a swing gate – also made from cleft oak from Ladyspring Wood, with mortice and tenon joints pegged and drawn with oaken dowels.

Dave on the left and a huge pile of shavings – resting on the frame of the Round Walk gate.

Gate Frame Dave and Henk


The final result is, functional (cattle proof), rustic (traditional), sustainable (all materials provided by Sheffield’s woodlands) and easy on the eye.

A ‘proper job’ as they say in these parts.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200



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