As well as this blog, I also have a website and Instagram page with lots more images of my work as well as a few more stories.
If you like woodcarvings, you might want to have a look.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Forest School Leaders Course

Over the last couple of months, I've been working towards getting  my OCN Level 3 Forest School Leader qualification. The sessions have either been at Lawrence Weston City Farm in Bristol or at 'The Retreat' near Bitton (which is between Bristol and Bath) and the course was mainly taught by Jon Attwood from the Forest of Avon Trust.

Forest School is an educational system which is becoming more popular in recent years. It draws some ideas from other teaching systems such as Montessori, Waldorf Steiner and Sloyd and is about giving young people a chance to interact with and learn about the natural environment.

This also includes using tools and lighting fires, which many conventional schools can have difficulty in doing because of insurance worries, lack of facilities etc. The element of carefully controlled risk is important to Forest School as it allows young people to learn how to deal with risk in a sensible way.

My teaching work often involves using sharp tools and being outdoors and so it was great to be given the chance to learn more, not only from Jon but also from the other people on the course. One highlight was Asafo teaching everyone how to do gumboot dancing around the fire.

We also took campfire cooking to levels that I've never seen before! Grilled caramelised pineapple slices anyone?

Workshops in Shirehampton, Bristol to make a bench for a local nature reserve

Today I got on the train to Shirehampton in Bristol, to start a three day project over three weeks making a bench to go in the 'Daisy Field'. This is a nature reserve near Shirehampton train station, which has been planted with a small orchard. We have been making a bench to go there.

The work is being done in a fifteenth century Tithe Barn, also in Shirehampton, which has recently been renovated and is now used by community groups.

This bench making project is being run in partnership with the 'Wild City Project', who have invited me to run workshops in pendant carving before around Bristol. Another group called LinkAge are also closely involved in organising the event.

LinkAge look to bring young and old members of the community together on projects that allow each age group to meet and work with the other (and also have a great time!)

The bench will be made of Sweet Chestnut and Oak, with possibly some larch as well. Carvings along the back will commemorate the area being used as a 'remount depot' during World War One. Horses and mules were bought here, many from the Americas, to be trained before going into battle.

Image from:
Everyone got stuck in and had a go with tools that were quite new to some of them, such as the drawknife. The bench is going to look good!

Sunday 24 November 2013

The Lord Mayor's Chapel, St Mark's Church in Bristol. Could you guess when these misericords were carved?

This church is in the centre of Bristol, next to the Council House. It's quite appropriate, as it is apparently the only municipally-owned church in the country.

The church was built in the thirteenth century to serve the Hospital of St Mark, which was founded by Maurice de Gaunt. It was a monastic hospital and for over three hundred years it gave food and care to one hundred poor people a day.

When Henry VIII broke up most of the monasteries during the Dissolution in the sixteenth century, the Hospital was surrendered and the Bristol Corporation (the city council) bought the lands belonging to it in 1541. It was used by various local schools and was granted to French Hugenot refugees as a place of worship in 1687.

In 1722, it became the official place of worship for the Mayor of Bristol and the Council and it has remained so to the present day. This was in part because of a dispute with the Cathedral, which faces the Lord Mayor's Chapel across College Green. In 1788, the Mayor got his own back by allowing John Wesley to preach in the chapel when the Bishop of Bristol had forbidden Wesley from preaching in any of the city's churches.

There are several interesting things kept at the Chapel, including the ceremonial swords of the Bristol Corporation. Unfortunately, one of the most interesting chapels had building work going on due to repairs to the church organ, so it's stone memorials couldn't be photographed. Helpfully, the interesting features of the chapel have information boards near them.

These stone corbels date to the thirteenth century and would have jutted out from the walls to hold up the roof. They may have been used as infill in the walls later, or were taken out during restoration work in the nineteenth century. Nearby are some medieval wall paintings on display, moved from elsewhere in the chapel.

The oak choir stalls have some beautifully carved misericords under the seats and carved faces as bench ends. Many of the faces are of Green Men. Here are a few:

How old do you think these carvings are?

Well, although they look quite medieval, they were actually carved far more recently. The choir stalls were only installed in 1888! The crispness of the carving does give the game away a little. They don't show much wear and the finish is much more precise than is usual with medieval carving (I suppose that reflects the advances in the making of carving tools during the nineteenth century). The expressions and the foliage carving are wonderful all the same.

If you would like more information, the Chapel website can be found by clicking here. It is usually open 10am-12pm and 1pm-4pm from Wednesday to Sunday, but it's worth checking before you visit by calling the Lord Mayors Office on 0117 903 1450.

Monday 11 November 2013

Medieval-style woodcarving blades by Dave Budd, finished with handles

Here's some images of the medieval-style blades that were made for me by Dave Budd in Devon, which I've fitted with handles made from spalted hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). You can see more about Dave making them in the previous post.

Spalting is fungal action within the cut wood that causes the bands and patches of colour. The next stage would be rotting, but hawthorn timber is tough stuff and the spalting in this wood doesn't seem to have affected it's hardness much, if at all. I haven't seen any particular references to spalted wood being used in medieval tool handles, but if it looks good to me then I suppose it probably did to toolmakers then as well.

Following Dave's advice, the handle for the socketed gouge (the biggest one) was carved to fit into the cone of the socket. Some beeswax was put onto the carved bit before it was pushed in and knocked into place. The wax seems to hold the blade and handle together, whereas gluing might fail with the repeated shocks of mallet blows. The other tools have tangs, spikes that go into the handles.

The forged steel has the look that I wanted, since most if not all tools from those times would either be made by blacksmiths or the carvers themselves. As a guide to size, the largest gouge is about 13" (33 cm) from end of handle to edge of blade.

Two very useful sources for reference information on tools of the period were the St Thomas' Guild blog and

If you are interested in the history of woodcarving and carving tools in particular, here is a link to an interesting web page about Viking tools and materials: vikinganswerlady