Leatherwork course

I recently spent of couple of weeks staying at Cherrywood helping out a little and enjoying the free time in the woods to get on with making a few things. It was really nice to have all the materials you need just a short walk away in the coppice after being in the city where as you can guess it’s not so easy! While I was there Rob Exton ran a bespoke intro the leatherwork course for a really keen lady called Sam, he offered me a place on the course to get me up to speed ready for assisting next year : )

Rob Exton teaching in the cherrywood kitchen

Rob Exton teaching in the cherrywood kitchen

For me this was really useful, even though i’ve already made quite a few things most of my learning has been through internet tutorials and copying pictures :p  Rob is an experienced and thorough teacher and we managed to cram in all the essential techniques plus more into one day especially considering the short days this time of year.  The first thing that everybody who attends these courses makes is a simple purse from through dyed leather, this teaches you the basic techniques of using the awl, stitching, finishing the edges and fitting poppers.

Simple leather purse made on the intro to leather course

Simple leather purse made on the intro to leather course

We then went on to cover wet forming (shaping the leather when wet so it keeps the shape later), pattern making, cutting and dying as well as talking about all the tools you need and the cheapest place to aquire them. Sam went away with a purse, knife sheath and a few other projects to get on with including Rob’s own version of a leather covered notepad. While we were doing the course I immediately fell in love with using the ‘stitching pony’ or saddlers clamp, this is a simple device used to hold the work piece in place whilst your stitching (up until now I was using my knees!) making the process a whole lot faster.A take on the saddler's clamp used to hold your leatherwork whilst stitching. Made from a curved cleft ash branch.

So as soon as I had time I went out and found a suitable branch of ash with the right bend in it and made one for myself. The branch is split in half then each half is thinned down a little and given the right profile. All that’s left to do then is put some leather on the top and bolt it together, it’s quite simple but still took me a few hours! If anyone would like one of these then contact me and i’ll see what I can do : ) I’ll be posting the pictures of some other bits I got on with while I was staying there, many of them need a little finishing when I have time. I spent some of my time there getting on with finishing the new shower building, this is important to me seeing as it will be my shower next year! So for now I will leave you with a picture of that and some others from around cherrywood . . .

The latest cherrywood project we've been working on. All the timber is from the woods, including the oak roof shingles every one split by hand!

The latest cherrywood project we’ve been working on. All the timber is from the woods, including the oak roof shingles every one split by hand!

View looking out over the coppice down St Catherine valley

View looking out over the coppice down St Catherine valley

A cosy turf-roofed log cabin at Cherrywood

A cosy turf-roofed log cabin at Cherrywood. Warmer than my room at home!


Billhook Sheath

 Not so long ago I went to the Bodgers Ball which is the AGM of the Association of Pole Lathe Turners and Green Woodworkers and whilst I was there I bought a nice billhook for myself. A billhook is an old tool which used to be common throughout Britain and Northern Europe and were used for a variety of different tasks such as hedgelaying, brush clearence and coppicing. It’s the Euro version of the machete or parang.


Page from the 1950 ed. Elwell catalogue

Traditionally they would have been made  by local blacksmiths to the requirements of the craftsman and over time many of the shapes and weights were established as local patterns. This picture gives you an idea of some of the variances in regional patterns.

The billhook I now own is an Elwell 3901-9 which is a ‘Tenterden’ pattern from Kent. It’s lighter than most i’ve seen, being designed for hurdle makers, and makes it less tiring when using it for clearing brambles etc.

 As with most edge tools I needed something to protect it and carry it about in so I made a new sheath for it. Again it’s made from veg-tanned leather but for this one I tried dying it with very strong coffee, you just make some coffee and then reduce it to 1/3 its original volume. The result is very natural and characterful I think, I may use it more in the future . . .


The sheath before I start stitching


The back of the sheath with the belt-loop stitched


Finished billhook sheath stained with coffee

The Cherrywood Project

Nestled in a beautiful wooded valley just outside of Bath the Cherrywood project is the place to go in this area if you want to learn traditional green woodworking. Established about 8 years ago, Tim Gatfield is changing the 40 acre woodland into a working hazel coppice with broad-leaf standards, using the timber to create needed structures and for use on courses.

Every Thursday is volunteer day at Cherrywood and since last summer I have been going every opportunity I’ve had, but lately work has stopped me so I couldn’t wait for the spring project week this year!

Project week usually involves a lot of the bigger jobs and this year despite it raining every day an incredible amount of stuff got done. I’m not going to list everything but one of the main things I was involved in was improving the outdoor bath. The bath was built the previous year with an enamel bath-tub surrounded by a mixture of stone and cob leaving a space underneath to light a fire. The stones and cob act as a heat sink so the bath stays hot long after you’ve got in, perfect! This year we added a decking and boardwalk made from larch extracted and milled on-site and planted what will be a living willow dome for added privacy : )

A week later I went back to assist on the basic green woodwork course, where people with absolutely no woodwork experience come to make various styles of stools. It was a really good experience for me, learning how to do something then immediately helping others to do the same means you gain a lot in a short space of time. This is the most intense course with regards to learning new skills and everyone who took part coped really well making some beautiful and unique stools.

Everyone happy with their completed stools!
(photo courtesy of Rob Exton)

Handy spoons

 I’ve been making spoons now for a little over a year and along the way have made some pretty awful ones and some that I love to bits. The other day at spoonclub (don’t laugh!) with a few friends I made a little tea spoon out of a bent bit of rhododendron from Cherrywood and have since been using it to make my coffee : )

Rhododendron tea spoon

 It’s based on a Swedish style of spoons with a little hook at the back traditionally used to stop ladles falling in the pan, but this one sits nicely on the side of my coffee maker : ) It makes a lovely addition to my tea/coffee making set . .

 Creating stuff, whatever it is, is always something to be proud of but for me  making an object that combines functionality with good aesthetics is so much more satisfying. This is especially true when I’ve set out to make an item to serve a certain purpose, its more time consuming but it’s definitely more fun than IKEA!

Here’s some other things that have made it into my kitchen . . .

Silver birch serving spoon

Two spatulas made from Sycamore. The one on the left is left-handed so i’ve kept that one for me and given the other to my friend Ostins.

A few eating spoons made from Cherry and Sycamore

Swedish style spreaders

Knife sheath for Phil

 My friend Phil from work asked me if I could make him a sheath for a knife he had been given by his dad, he wasn’t sure where the knife originally came from but it’s got some interesting engravings on the blade which I cannot understand at all! 

It was a good chance to make another sheath which is always satisfying especially when you get a good fit. It’s made from veg tanned leather and is wet- formed after stitching it by hand to take the shape of the knife, the leather is then dyed using a Fiebings dye. The hardest bit apart from making the pattern to get the right size is to get the dye to take evenly to the leather without buying enough to soak it in!

 I’m very happy with the way it came out and i’m looking forward to making more sheaths, another reason to buy more tools :p

The beginning of a journey!

So this is it, a blog!

I never thought that I would want one, let alone need one, but as I seem to be making more and more things for myself and others I feel there is a need for me to have a point of reference on the internet. At least when people and friends ask me what I have been up to I can just point them in this direction and not just say i’ve been making spoons and stuff (usually followed my sniggers and crude spoon jokes!)

So after nearly a month of faffing around i’ve finally started to post some stuff on here, the idea is to share what I have been up to, who i’ve met and things I have learnt and found interesting all relating somewhat to traditional crafts and practices. You never know I might even be able to sell some bits and pieces!

I hope sincerely that I will not bore you to death but will be enjoyable to read occasionally, even if your not really interested in some of the things I write about : )