Thursday, 15 December 2016

Mead Attempt Version 2.0

I had my first  attempt at mead last year after I saw  professional forager Mark Williams (Galloway Wild Foods) post a fairly bombproof recipe which allowed natural yeast in unpasteurised honey to do it's thing.


This was basically a 1:4 or 1:5 ratio of honey to water and let it get on. When it had done it was drinkable but was very dry and lacked any hint of sweetness which I put down to the honey yeast processing all the honey to alcohol. 

Fast forward to the Colchester Medieval Oyster Fayre where I purchased a jar of runny honey to have another go. As I chatted to the apiarist stall holder he asked me to reconsider using his honey for mead as it wasn't necessary to use such a good one. I agreed and in return he offered me a (another) bombproof beginners recipe for JAO mead.

I did scoop a little of the honey in with the shop purchased stuff just to say that it was in there, but the difference is that the JAO one uses common old bread yeast. In addition to orange slices and sultanas I did one batch with Meadowsweet flowers in for a bit of extra flavour.

I had to carefully chop it up and insert it in the neck because the crushed flowers would smell (and indeed are) medicinal if I wasn't  careful.

and so it all started off on 18th August all cloudy with bubbles falling over themselves, especially the standard batch into which I added a little cinnamon stick and a clove.

Just before we reached September the bubbles slowed noticeably and a thick sediment started to appear, and then a few days later the Meadowsweet bottle slowly started to show signs of clearing a little.

Well to fast forward I tried the Meadowsweet one first a few weeks ago and  whilst it was a little different (it had more of a cider like taste) it was still very dry. There wasn't any airlock bubble action so I tried adding a little more honey...which set off the remaining hardcore yeast. I decided to warm it through very very gently and add yet more honey which has given it more of the desired sweet taste but I can't see me taking brewing up with any seriousness in the near future.

World of Bushcraft Seasonal Wreath Workshop

And so the sixth trip out of six to the World of Bushcraft Centre in Bedford had arrived and constituted my last organised outing of both 2016 and indeed my sabbatical (which is taking a bit of getting my head around). As  I arrived and saw evidence of pre workshop activity.

There was a hive of behind the scenes activity with a meeting of several instructors happening, Christmas orders being sorted and then I turned up to pin Joseph down for two hours. We had a quick chat and  this included a lot  of Scout talk as we are both leaders, then he ran through knife safety; he felt a bit silly doing so as I am competant with one but credit to him for sticking to his guns and covering that base anyway. I did say that an individual could give the impression of competancy on social media and be a total liabilty in the flesh so had no problem listening.

We then looked at the previously steam bent Hazel lengths that I saw on the way in, discussed the bending technique and how one should look, and indeed could look with the risk of elbows (angles) forming.

And then over to the homemade steamer to retrieve another Hazel length

Annnd a quick dash to the stump to start working it. I expected wood that had been subjected to steam to be hot but it actually surprised me just how hot the wood was. It certainly made it very biddable though.

We then trimmed and tied off the Hazel to form the frame's shape after tapering both ends to fit snugly together.

And then it was onto systematically loading the foliage onto the frame. In a way it was similar to the  Coil basketry workshop in that once the initial prep was done it was doing the same stuff repeatedly, starting with the base foliage which in this case was Leylandii. It's not really a fault but I think that sometimes I'm a bit  too precise and  methodical with some projects   (the Willow basketry workshop springs to mind too) and I spent too long laying down the base foliage. 

I decided to spend the remaining time that I had placing the fancier greenery roughly in place and then finishing it off at home, especially as we were losing the light. I'm pleased to say that Joe did make a decent amount of tea for us (for a change!) and we scoffed some Diam bars that I'd brought with me. 


As I got ready to depart I briefly saw Jason Ingamells to say 'Hello' to as he moved between meetings and Joe presented me with a gift voucher to book another weekday workshop in recognition of my regular visits during 2016, a nice touch indeed.

After a bit of shaping trimming tying and the addition of some Mistletoe I purchased from Waitrose I now have a fulsome and colourful seasonal wreath loaded with Pagan symbolism!

Suggested further reading:-

Kuksa workshop

Map reading workshop

Coil basketry workshop

Willow basketry workshop

Net making workshop

Bushcraft and Scouting

Sunday, 4 December 2016

First Attempt at a Full Tang Handle

Well having made a drop point full tang knife blank on my recent Kaos  Blacksmith day (well lucked out 1-2-1) with Ross Berry which I'd never done before I now have to fit some scales to it...Which again I've never done before.

I decided to broadly replicate a knife I had made for me a few years ago and purchased some birch scales, black liners and brass loveless bolts. The scales were  basic ones (as opposed to top end) because I didn't trust myself not to make an unrecoverable mistake. I decided to get this journey down in words and pictures to both look back on, and to help anyone else attempting this skill. 


Firstly there were a few criss-cross marks left on the knife blank spine from it's former life as a steel blank,  and there were a few post hardening and tempering dark marks on the blade which would need sanding off and I did this first.


Then to the scales which I used a pillar drill that Ross had in his forge for accuracy. I drilled the pilot holes for the loveless threads  and then part drilled the larger holes to accomodate the fatter loveless bolts. With hindsight I would have drilled the larger holes a little deeper. Back  at home I fastened one scale on at a time, drew around the tang with a fattish marker pen and cut them out. I used a large line on purpose so that when I cut them out using a jigsaw I knew not to cross it to leave a little spare.


Once I'd got the basic scale sanding done (including making the internal face of one of them flush) I then cut out the liners, again with a little spare, roughed all the surfaces up and glued a scale to a liner using two part glue and clamps. I've seen many glues mentioned when researching this subject but I found a DIY store own brand one has left them gripping like you know what to a bear's fur. As well as the aesthetics of using liners I'm also told that they help as a useful material that bonds well to wood and metal.

So far so good but I but I was now at the stage where a full on sanding fest was both unavoidable and needed. Oh for a belt sander! I masked the cutting edge and sanded around the edges whilst they were roughly bolted onto the blank, worked on the edges whilst both unbolted from the blank and bolted liner to liner.

I kept checking and re-checking that both sides were level on a regular basis, as you can see here the right hand side needs a little more work. I used an orbital sander, sandpaper and wet and dry.

Once I'd got the scales/ liners close but no cigar to the shape of the blank I decided to fix them all together. I felt that I was at the stage where an over zealous burst of sanding would leave me thinking that I should have measured twice and sanded once. I roughly measured the depth of the scales against the loveless bolt length and decided to drill the whole way through as they were almost at that stage anyway. I has a run through and then committed to the same two part glue...And had a temporary banana fingers moment. 

I'd initially decided to go with two bolts and then at the eleventh hour gone for a third. I screwed one bolt in, unscrewed the thread, inserted the bolt on the other side and then screwed right through leaving the threaded part sticking proud both sides. Ironically I couldn't get the bolt all the way through on the extra middle bolt so I left the bolt sticking out some way, cut it off when dry and then threaded it in the other side and again cut it off.

So the post gluing report reads that the middle bolt is more decorative than the other two and that I got a small amount of adhesive on the scales. I'd imagined that I would so I was pleased that I'd not sanded closer before sticking the scales as I could sand it off. The only thing I wish I'd done was to leave the liners a little more flush at the front of the scale (where it meets the blade) as I realised that I couldn't really sand it any more without abrading the blade surface. They are close but it is a bit annoying.

I used a metal file at this stage to smooth down the cut threads and the top of the front bolts as they stuck up a little due to the front being a little thinner than the rest of the handle. After that it was a case of working through the grits again using a coarse sheet on the orbital sander, to medium sand paper to a quick tickle with fine 600 grit wet and dry until I couldn't catch my nail on the liners. The final sand with the scales on was the main reason that I didn't leave the blank with the natural forge finish on it as I would have sanded the tang shiny.


I was then at the stage where I felt that I couldn't improve on the sanding job that I'd done and that it was time to apply a finishing coat of oil to the scales. I plumped for boiled linseed oil over Danish oil (cheaper and useful for applying to my garden furniture at a later date!).

Linseed has an unfortunate quality in that it can spontaneously combust if left in certain conditions on a rag, so once I'd wiped the knife over I burnt the clothes that I used to a) dispose of them and b) See how they burnt. I have to say that I expected the applied match to make them go 'Pfff' as they ignited but it didn't happen. However they did burnt steadily for some minutes and they seemed to burn in a similar fashion to charcloth, and being black probably added to this. The linseed oil made me think of the smell of putty into which it is added. If you are from a younger demographic you'll probably have to look it up, and whilst you are searching look up the joke about putty and toothpaste...

 Overall this has proved to be a very satisfying project, both making the blank with Ross and to finishing up with a usable knife. I've mentioned the odd  thing or two earlier but there are a few more that I wish I could sort; the handle is a tad too long which resulted in the scales finishing about a centimetre short of were I'd actually like them to. I'd like to have liked to have got a noticeable palm swell on the handle but equally it's tapered towards the front and is comfy, with hindsight I would have stuck a lanyard tube in and I wish I'd drilled just a little deeper when I had the pillar drill usage as a couple of the bolts are in holes that are just a smidge too flared. It's that situation where if I were to do another full tang knife that I would take on board all the minor learning points and probably make a much slicker job of it.

That all said they are only cosmetic, the knife is fully functional and rather handsome. Just the little tapered tang neck knife and  a couple of sheaths to make...

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

World of Bushcraft Net Making

And so a cold sunny Wednesday saw me head to the MK41 district to my fifth of six World of Bushcraft workshops, this one being net making with senior bushcraft instructor Adam Logan. After a brew he showed me some previously made nets for catching both fish and fur and did a little legality talk. As we were outside the brews Adam made probably kept us alive as there was a real nip in the air.


We then started on making the top two rows from which the net forms. I'm normally pretty on the ball with knots (see here, here, here, here and here as examples) so the fact that I couldn't quite suss out net making did frustrate me as the knot is a sheet bend which I am familiar with albeit tied in a different way for a net. 

So as I started to make the top part of my net my banana fingers did initially let me down but I got there in the end. I said to Adam that I didn't mind too much if I the workshop net wasn't  a pretty boy example because I was just as interested in getting the techniques sorted and a bit of practice in.

LHS picture credit:Adam Logan 

Once the top part was sorted to the correct length I threaded a line through the top loops to tie up, and the row to which the needle was still attached was at the bottom ready to be added to.


And this is the start of the net threaded up tightly between two points so that I could work on it with an over, under through, clockwise turn, under, through and pull. 

Picture credit: Adam Logan

It is quite literally like knitting and you just rinse and repeat for the vast majority of the time. I also learnt how to expand and shrink down rows and add new cordage in (this was linen by the way) and I reached a suitable finishing point with the odd minor hitch (no pun intended) along the way. Despite the fact that it was cold and the repetitive nature of net making I found that the time just flew by and it's with thanks to Adam that I got the net making monkey off my back.

The other recent World of Bushcraft workshops I've attended to date are:-

I've also done a 1-2-1 Bow Drill Session with Jason Ingamells to review my technique

Stonehenge and Avebury Rings

The very first blog page I did was about an impromptu visit to Stonehenge. The page is long since gone but I wanted to revisit the site because it was before the new visitor centre was opened and I wanted to tie it in with a visit to Avebury Rings which was, ahem, a stones throw away.


With the weather set fair I booked my visiting slot (which you previously didn't have to) and as a National Trust member I got in without charge to this English Heritage site. The guy in the ticket office said that because it was a quiet day I could do the stones visit or visitor centre at any time but I'd booked the first slot to make sure that the amount of folk at the ring was minimal.

The cursed M25 had slowed my journey and I'm guessing that I caught the second shuttle of the day (they run every five minutes) as there were a few folk already there so I decided to do the first circuit and get the shots and then cruise round at my leisure thereafter. Having been before I did a second circuit and headed back and it was only when on the shuttle back that I realised that there was a free phone app that I could have downloaded beforehand.

When the shuttle alights you are guided back to the centre through the shop (neat hustle), I walked briskly through but before I left the site I tried and purchased some Christmas Mead. It was rather nice and, minus the spices, proved that I had made a decent brew myself recently.

And onto the visitor centre. After passing through a near 360 degree display depicting the site 'back in the day' it was onto the artefacts. They are largely arranged in central cases and there is a fair bit of stuff in them but it gave me the feeling that there is a lot of space not filled with anything, although to be fair the space is probably filled with tourists in the high season.

After a quick look around the 'construction workers huts' (which where either shut or had  a sparse amount in) and a nosebag in the car I set off to the National Trust run Avebury Rings which took me through part of an army range and I had the bizarre experience of an armoured personnel carrier giving way to me as it venture across to the other side! 

Just before reaching the car park I pulled over to take a picture of Silbury Hill which is Northern Europe's biggest man made mound. There is some uncertainty as to it's use and  I love that we don't have all the answers about the ancients and what they did.


As this was a quick jaunt after Stonehenge I hadn't read up about the site and  was genuinely surprised at the size and scale, and I've now discovered that it is indeed the biggest ever stone circle site. The village of Avebury is a quintessential  one with some chocolate box houses but it is pretty much sited within the rings with several roads crossing it too so it is carved up between several fields.

 I'd recommend walking boots or wellies and I'd also suggest a little more time than Stonehenge too because it isn't as compact and indeed you can go in and amongst the Avebury stones which adds a little mood to the walk, only shattered by a brief 'Whump, whump' from the nearby army range, and an incessant whirr from an army helicopter just after. I rather like the above left hand side picture with an ancient and modern place of worship together and indeed Avebury chapel (out of shot) is partly built of sarsen stones, the smaller modern pillars denote where stones have been removed.

After visiting both the main attractions I have to say that I think Avebury has the edge; don't get me wrong the Stonehenge site is brilliant and Avebury, ahem, didn't run rings round it but it is rather touristy with coach tours arriving in fair number as I left, and of course a shop with every conceivable souvenir item stamped with the iconic image. I'd say the shop and café make up half of the new centre. The Alexander Keiller museum barn wasn't open on the day I went which was a bind, this only left the stable gallery to visit which lost out to a drink in the café. It was only when I returned home that discovered that this was the building with the artefacts in and not the barn...Read up first is the lesson to learn I guess.

The journey revealed more isolated stones and barrows (man made burial mounds) and I've often wondered what our countryside would look like when it was much more wooded than it is now, but equally what would the Wiltshire area have looked like with all the henges and barrows in place?