Despite the rain, about 25 people braved the elements to join us in a weekend of wood turning, coppicing, whittling and charcoal making in Tremayne Woods on the Helford, with many of us camping out on the Saturday night. The weekend was a great excuse to get very wet and muddy whilst learning some traditional woodland crafts.
The first job was loading up the charcoal kiln and lighting it. The kiln needed to burn for almost 24 hours before it could be emptied. However due to the very damp conditions we could have done with leaving it quite a bit longer as not all the wood had completely turned to charcoal.
We then spent some time helping in the traditional and sustainable practice of coppicing. This technique of cutting the trees at ground level takes advantage of the fact that many species of tree will regrow from the cut stump. Woodlands have been managed in this way for many thousands of years, but the practice has recently fallen out of favour due to the cheap import of timber from overseas. Rotationally coppiced woodlands support a huge variety of wildlife and the product, nice straight hazel poles, make ideal bean poles and fantastic charcoal.
We then learnt some traditional bodging skills. Bodging is a traditional craft, using green or unseasoned wood, turned on a traditional foot powered pole lathe. Until the middle of the last century, thousands of chair legs and backs were turned on these lathes by bodgers holed up in their woodland hovels famously for the Windsor Chair industry. Nowadays, mechanisation of the industry has all but killed this ancient craft. However, it is still a remarkably therapeutic and satisfying craft and some wonderful candlesticks, egg cups and stool legs were turned on the lathes during the weekend by our budding bodgers.
Participants also learnt how to whittle a spoon, cleave chestnut and use a shave horse. One young girl made herself a beautiful three legged stool from cleft chestnut and turned holly. Another young lad made his dad a spoon for Christmas and many other wonderful things were made, and skills learnt.