Tag Archives: sustainability
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Rules

27 Jan

Hernia

I’m not going to pretend that shifting two solid beech carpenters benches all the way from my studio to the beautifully restored old school that is the Grenoside Reading room was not a complete pain in the lower back.

But it was worth it to provide a decent stable work surface for the students, young and old, who joined my basic letter carving course on Sunday 26th January. The event was part of a Sheffield Wildlife Project in association with the Working Woodland Trust to encourage community understanding of the importance of Grenoside Woods for their own and the landscapes sustainability.

All 18 participants went away with a hard wood plaque with their own, or those of a significant other’s names – carved crisply with the aid of a small sweep chisel and a few gouges.

Max, Merlin, their dad Nigel and Sarah all had a good go with some decent off-cuts of Sapele, ash, sycamore, elm and cherry acting as a substrate. I have developed a method using shadow printed letters (120 pt plus) glued to the wooden plaque with aerosol glue – the students carve straight through the letters; a very simple method yielding a high success rate.

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When I was eleven my old woodwork teacher allowed me to use the very best tools in his collection, knowing that he could trust me to treat them with reverence. I think this can only be instilled if a teacher is generous with knowledge and the tools of knowledge. Novices may damage the edge of  a chisel, but it can always be resharpened. Students will not learn the respect and patience needed to achieve skill unless they are allowed to make their own mistakes.

Having said that when one young student (not pictured) started playing around with a mallet and waving a chisel around – un-chastised by the accompanying parent – I said this:

“I am not a teacher, and I play by very different rules. If you want to discover my rules please carry on messing about”

He stopped and carved his name rather well.

 

Special thanks to Sarah Sidgwick of SWT for organising the day.

Harmony

4 Sep

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Ancient Chinese tradition sets great store by the mythical figures of Fu, Lu and Shou – the three wise men representing harmony (good fortune), wealth (prosperity) and good health (longevity). This soapstone figure belonging to my grandmother I believe represents the scroll bearing scholar Fu – he stands about 8 inches high and in her flat always sat beside a large bottle of Dutch Gin, a box of Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes, a bowl of dice and the telephone on a moth eaten Persian rug laid over an antique walnut card table.

Normally the wise men as figurines are meant to form a triptych to work properly within the precepts of Feng Shui, but I reckon this old totem was powerful enough to work on his own. My grandmother, Hartje de Boer lived a long, rich and happy life.

I have used him here to scale a new table I built for a young tattoo artist – Ellen Morris who has designed something for me in the spirit of ‘a fair exchange is no robbery’. Here is her design

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A table for a frog:

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The coffee table is about 4.5 feet long and has a Zebrano top fixed to an oak trestle. I found the top board in a saw mill in Yorkshire and I thought it would look good in Ellen’s shop – the wood looks as though it has been tattooed.

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Zebra wood comes from Nigeria – my birth place. It is a threatened species – this piece was certified by the Rainforest Alliance as part of a programme to promote harmonious sustainable timber harvesting. The oak is from Forestry Commission sustainable sources. Finished in Danish oil and bee’s wax, the table is my own design. Frogs too are in decline globally – they are particularly sensitive to environmental degradation.

Harmony in design and life cannot be achieved by the veneration of a soapstone figurine, but Fu reminds us of the the need to strive for it. In this age of austerity barter and exchange may carry greater potency than financial transaction. Tables lift us from the ground and raise our spirits, and who can resist a frog?

Tread Lightly

15 Aug

It is only five months since I left my job as a Ranger working to conserve Sheffield’s lovely green spaces and yet I may as well never have been there. This does not make me feel sad at all. In fact I find it curiously liberating to know that all the work I did for Parks, Woodlands and Countryside, local school children, citizens and the landscape has already yielded to the ministrations of Mother Nature, the Green Man, Gaia or the Great Spirit – name it if you will.

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I came across this verdant patch of brambles and nettles today, replete with self set sycamore and dense vegetation in Chancet Wood, Sheffield.  I had kept it clear for ten years, by careful felling of sycamore, coppicing the hazel and strimming back the nettles and brambles every season. I used the wood regularly with local school children (Greenhill Primary) to explore wildlife, the changing seasons, green woodcraft, science and creepy crawlies.

Part of the Sheffield Round Walk, this lovely old wood leads walkers from the grander expanse of Beauchief Abbey and Parr Bank wood through Greenhill to Woodseats and Meadowhead to the splendid Graves Park. A cathedral of tall, drawn oak trees – some springing from ancient coppice stools march along the steep sided bank creating a peaceful respite from the busy city roads. Green and lesser spotted woodpecker, chiff chaff, Great Tit, badger, fox, myriad invertebrates (including some truly monster leeches in pools alongside the stream in the valley bottom) and lots of unusual fungi can be found in this urban green corridor – if you are quiet and prepared to visit very early in the day.

Today’s experience was a timely reminder of our transience. I build furniture and tools to outlast me, this is how I make, so why should I care that the woodland had forgotten my presence?

I think it is because despite trying to suppress my ego, I had forgotten how identified I was with my old job. To be a countryside or urban Ranger is, for all of us who have been privileged enough to be so appointed, a vocation. But is such a role sustainable in a climate of local government cuts and retrenchment?

The Wood will always adapt to human intervention – it will continue to just ‘be’ provided enough people care about it – it might even be able to ‘pay for itself’ to a degree with very careful practical management, limited timber extraction and partnership working.However, its true value cannot be measured. It is the very fact of its immanent ability to regenerate, grow over footpaths, wipe out our footprints that reminds us of our true nature. Hopefully there will always be Rangers working to protect, encourage, educate, show, care about The Woods and The Green.

Whether Rangers or Ramblers, Children or Pensioners, Chancet Wood belongs to all of us and … in the end, to no-one, because she belongs to herself.

Just like the lovely daughter (Polly) I had the honour to ‘give away’ to her handsome fiancé (Alan Howden) on Saturday August 4th.

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Let the dance of life begin……

Fi and the band Polly’s mum, Fiona (in blue) singing Sam Cooke’s “Don’t know much about History….”