Avatar Woodworking: working with wood

My birthday present this year was a two-day workshop using traditional woodworking tools to turn some freshly cut logs into a beautifully finished stool, complete with a hand-carved saddle seat. Yesterday I had the first day of the workshop, which was enormously enjoyable and satisfying. I’m going back next week to finish my masterpiece.

I sustained a number of blisters while using an axe, making these the most manly injuries of my life.

Anyway, I thought you would enjoy learning about some of the traditional woodworking tools that I used to work the wood.

Froe

This is a long blunt metal blade on the bottom of a big stick. You place it on a log and then smash it with a huge wooden club. Several such macho whackings will force it through the log and split it in two. This is highly enjoyable. If hammering your froe isn’t sufficiently noisy you can cast it aside and use an axe and a metal lumphammer instead, which will cause everyone’s ears to ring.

Axe

This is a sharp thing on a stick and you’ve seen one before. By putting a bit of wood on a block, and holding on to it with one hand, you can swing the axe at alarming speed towards the wood, and your fingers, causing bits to splinter off in all directions. If you are the sort of sturdy gung-ho chap who runs a woodworking course, you will do this with unbelievable force and precision, turning a log into a chair leg in a matter of seconds. If you are me you will spend ten minutes ineffectually chipping away at it while giving yourself blisters.

Shaving horse

For obvious reasons the mention of this device terrified me, but once I had been coaxed back into the room I discovered that it is a wooden apparatus, sometimes called a woodland vice, that you sit on. By bracing your feet against a footplate, you pivot a bar down onto your piece of wood, holding it in place while leaving both hands free to tinker with it. The wood can be released, moved and held down again with great speed by using your legs. I much preferred this device to both normal vices and normal horses.

Drawblade

This item has a name in two parts. “Draw” refers to the action of pulling it towards you. It has two handles, so you can grip it in both hands, and you pull it forcefully towards your stomach. “Blade” refers to the fact that, mounted between the handles, is a foot-long very sharp blade which, as mentioned, you are pulling forcefully towards your stomach. You can use this to shave slices off a piece of wood, turning an ineffectually chipped-at log into something resembling a chair leg.

Spokeshave

Once you’ve drawn your drawblade enough, you will have a roughly shaped piece of wood. To finesse its shape you can use a spokeshave, which is a little bit of wood, big enough to grip in both hands, with a razorblade mounted in the bottom. You use it in the same way, but get a much finer slice, enabling precision smoothing. It can also be used across the end grain to produce a surface as smooth as if you’d spent all day sanding it. I achieved a state of zen mindfulness while using this tool.

Adze

These tools vary between terrifying and precise. The axe was, for me, at the terrifying end of the spectrum until I met the adze. It’s like an axe, but with a longer handle, and its blade is curved and at right angles to the handle. You use it to carve curved shapes out of a piece of wood, and you do this by standing on the wood with your legs apart and then swinging the adze, with as much speed and force as you can muster, between your legs. Ideally you will hack lumps out of the wood without damaging your shoes or removing your own toenails.


Also this week, I used a hand drill to put a one-inch drill bit through a solid piece of ash. Next week I will have my first encounter with a travisher, which I expect will be used for extensive amounts of travishing, and I will then form a mortise and tenon joint using means I cannot yet explain.

I will, assuming I am successful, allow you to sit on the stool, and I will repeat to you the story about getting blisters.

Avatar Twenty one years on

A year ago, when it was twenty years on from the founding of Zyurisizia, I wrote a post about the fledgling nation that Ian and I helped to birth, and we had a short conversation about what its flag looked like.

My contribution was only that I had “a feeling it involved triangles”. Ian dredged up slightly more detail, recalling “triangles and a red circle, a bit like the Chinese flag”, though in what way that resembled the flag of China, which has no triangles and no red circle, I don’t know. We then recalled that territory was claimed by fastening the flag to the longest pole we could find, and planting that in the ground in various places.

Luckily I have now found my Office Memorabilia CD, so after a year of impatient waiting, you’ll be pleased to know the answer is now with us.

The capital city, which was the Office, was claimed with a hand-drawn flag on a 30cm ruler.

We then moved on to claim the Wildlife Area a few days later, by which point we had a more professional flag on a metre ruler.

I haven’t visited the Scholars Gate housing development to check, but I assume the flag is still prominently flying there somewhere.

For your peace of mind, this is probably all the Zyurisizia nostalgia there is to be had, so next year you’re probably safe from a “twenty two years on” type post. Still, lots of fun was had by all concerned.

Avatar The Pernickety Dickhead turns a new leaf

Past Chris was demonstrably a nightmare: see his previous exploits, part 1 and part 2. But he wasn’t all bad. By 2007, there were emerging signs that he might have started to mend his pernickety ways.

On 26 July that year, Past Chris was disappointed to find a foreign object in a tin of custard, but – not being particularly annoyed about it, and his mood being positively influenced by exposure to custard – wanted only to help prevent any future customer from suffering the same fate. With that in mind he wrote what amounts to a downright friendly letter to Ambrosia, manufacturers of custard.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to express my disappointment in finding something unexpected in my custard.

I was nearing the end of a can of Ambrosia custard – in fact, I should confess, I had given up trying to find something to pour it on and I was just finishing the last quarter on its own straight from the tin – when my spoon emerged with a small brown object visible as part of its cargo.

It looks to me like a flake of brown paint, though I haven’t investigated it in any great detail. I have looked at where the can was kept, before and after opening, and I can only conclude it was already in there before I opened it. In any case, I have taped it to some card and included it here so that you might be able to work out where it came from and stop something similar landing in somebody else’s dessert.

I have not included the can itself, but the date stamp on the lid reads “04/2009 18:30 7 107 D”. It is the full-fat, maximum enjoyment variety.

Yours faithfully,

Chris Marshall

For his troubles, Past Chris received a £5 voucher to spend on more custard. It pays to be nice. Past Chris was a changed man, pernickety no more.

Avatar Derbyshire review

Until this summer I had not spent much of my life in Derbyshire. In fact, I will list for you the times I have spent in Derbyshire, if you like:

  • Passing through on the M1 between junctions 24 and 30, multiple times
  • Going to Alton Towers, three times
  • Visiting some friends for a weekend in 2009, though they actually lived in Staffordshire, but we did visit Derbyshire for a visit to a park

I think that’s it. Anyway, I went back last week for a longer stay and I now have a much better idea of what Derbyshire is like. I am, therefore, ready to provide my review of this county.

Activities

In Derbyshire I was able to go in three caves, ride one cable car, climb one big hill and explore four pleasant towns of various sizes. I also looked at approximately five hours of scenery while travelling around.

I give Derbyshire three stars for activities.

***

Accommodation

I stayed in a nice flat with a view out of the front window. It had a kitchen with running water and electric lighting in all rooms. The bathroom had an indoor toilet and those fancy “waterfall” taps that were fashionable about ten years ago. If this is typical of all dwellings in Derbyshire then it is a very modern county.

I give Derbyshire four stars for accommodation.

****

Food and drink

I ate an average of three meals per day while in Derbyshire, with at least one meal in a pub every day. With the exception of breakfast, I was able to have chips with every meal, and did so.

I give Derbyshire five stars for food.

*****

Conclusion

Derbyshire has scored a total of twelve stars. Until someone rates another one, it is the only county that has any stars at all, which makes it objectively the best.

Avatar The kitchen of the future

We’re getting a new kitchen. This is an exciting time for us, and also for everyone we know, so please rest assured that we will be sharing stories and pictures of this thrilling adventure at every opportunity.

Having decided to buy our kitchen from one of the big kitchening retailers, we had the room measured up and then attended a design appointment where all the possibilities for filling a space with plywood cupboard units were explored in full. We compared paint samples, touched various worktop textures and considered the merits of many differnet taps. Finally, when our choices had been entered into the supercomputer, we held hands and watched as our brand new kitchen was rendered in Hollywood-style 3D graphics before our very eyes. The kitchenologist even printed out a picture of it so we could take it home and gaze on it in our own time.

Our present kitchen, as you may recall, has pale yellow doors and a wooden worktop, arranged in a U-shape around the walls and sticking out on a peninsula. Our new kitchen, which is going to be totally different and better in every regard, will have creamy off-white doors and a natural stone-coloured quartz worktop, arranged in a U-shape around the walls and sticking out on a peninsula.

While the new kitchen will be far better built than the old one, incorporating improvements such as the upper cupboards not leaning precariously off the walls and the worktops not soaking up colourful patches of everything we’ve ever placed on them, the clever 3D render is not that detailed.

When we got home with our print-out, we excitedly stood in the dining room and held it up at the appropriate angle in front of the old kitchen. It appeared for all the world to be a picture of our existing kitchen.

We have put the picture away.

Avatar Jousting update

Yesterday we went to an actual castle to watch an actual jousting tournament. Not a display for tourists where everything is choreographed, but actual real jousting, with proper spears, and people in real armour competing for actual prizes.

Norway were the winners. I will not be taking questions. Thank you.

Avatar More culture in the workplace

In May last year, you might remember that I brought a little classical beauty into the lives of my work colleagues when I anonymously gifted the Mona Lisa to the men’s toilets on the third floor.

I was under no illusion that this artwork would be permanently displayed, and so it was little surprise that, after ten or eleven months, it vanished without warning, leaving an empty frame to greet toilet-goers once more. To be honest, I was pleased it lasted as long as it did.

My quest to bring culture to the workplace has not ended there, though. No, it continues, with renewed vigour. Since the Mona Lisa was taken down I’ve chosen to assume that the Toilet Overlords at work aren’t keen on renaissance realism, so my latest contribution is something more abstract.

For gentlemen on their way to their most personal ablutions, I now proudly present Piet Mondrian’s Composition London 1940-42.

Avatar Car sweets

I don’t know what the weather’s been like up in the frozen north lately. Maybe you’ve had a bit less snow and a few days’ break from clearing the ice off your windscreen on a morning. But down here on the tropical borders between Hampshire and France, we’ve been having some fairly warm days.

On Monday it reached about 32 degrees here, which is jolly warm, I can tell you. I went shopping to the big Sainsbury’s, partly to stock up but also partly to spend half an hour in the air conditioning, and while I was in there I bought myself a little treat. I like to have some sweets in the car sometimes, and I am very partial to jelly babies. I got myself a bag of Bassett’s finest, and when I got back to the car I pulled them out of the shopping bag and dropped them in the driver’s side door pocket so I could reach in for some tasty goodness while on the road.

Here are some things I didn’t think about when I got home. I didn’t think about the fact that, if you park your car in the sun, the inside temperature quickly reaches a point about 30ºC higher than outside, so by mid afternoon the inside of my car would have reached a nice cosy 62 degrees. I also didn’t think about the fact that the melting point of gelatin is below 40ºC.

Anyway, the point of this is that on Tuesday I got in my car to go somewhere, and mid-journey, reached into the door pocket to find some delicious jelly baby treats. My hand unexpectedly entered a large gooey mass of melted jelly baby remains. I then got it all over the steering wheel too.

The jelly babies are irretrievable and could not remain in the car. They are entirely unsuitable for mobile snacking. So I’ve brought them inside and used a sharp knife to carve the jelly morass into bite-size chunks, which have an appearance somewhere between colourful jewels and gross melted sludge.

The moral of the story is: in the summer, have non-melting car sweets, such as extra strong mints or digestive biscuits.