Friday, 29 July 2016

Treewright Green Woodworking 1-2-1

I don't have much green wood working experience so I sorted myself out a day with Robin "Treewright" Fawcett in Essex who I first saw at the Leyton Country Fair to which the fab Wild Man of the Woods used to go too.

 I mainly wanted to fashion an Egyptian bowdrill rig and hopefully make a superior MK II folding bucksaw to supersede the one I made some time back. I also had my eye on completing a Sami pot, and turning a length of hazel to make a pump drill if time, space and my skill set allowed, a skill set that saw me achieve my only ever senior school report D grade in woodwork! 

Black Wolf survival and bushcraft instructor Craig Fordham kindly brought his much used drill set along to their Bushcraft Show stand and I set about using my Christmas cracker present to measure it.

Once I'd got the necessary figures I set about making up a scale plan to take with me. The above sketch shows the drill with the integrated bearing block shown too. So I was armed with four projects in mind with the hope that I'd get three done or pretty much there.


Anyway, it was nice to have a short commute to do something with the clear supplied directions and an accurate postcode for the Sat Nav I was there in no time. Before I could say 'Ah, this is the first turning on the right' I saw a a small blackboard with 'Austin' and an arrow chalked on it-Nice touch!

I parked up and was immediately met by Robin's biddable dog Jed, followed by Robin himself and then his wife Vanessa too. The off-grid working area is roomy and well covered by a large canvas and wood shelter, and it had a shavings powered fire that always had a kettle perched on it.

We all had a quick brew and a chat before I started talking through the things I'd brought along (like my bucksaw), and ideas I had (like a copy of Bushcraft magazine to show Robin a Sami container) and then we got on.


He had a couple of large pre-turned pieces of Ash and we selected one to initially start re-sizing to make the Egyptian bowdrill. as it had a fair amount of spare at one end I suggested that the Sami container could come from it. I had thought about making one large enough to take a flint and steel but as it was an eleventh hour project idea I hadn't mentioned it to Robin and therefore he hadn't brought along a drill bit to do the job. No problem, we pressed on and I decided that I would attempt to drill it out at home.


So the combined drill/ container started to take shape. Robin is more than happy to take the lead and for a lot of the time I was happy to go along with this because a) I felt that not only would we get more made b) I wasn't confident when we got down to the precision stuff/ finishing off (remember that school grade) c) It was good to watch (and inwardly digest) a  seasoned wood turner work. That said when I wanted to step in I just asked and indeed Robin would hand over too at certain stages. The picture above shows, from left to right, the drill bearing block and part of the body to the left of the chord, and on the right side the other half of the body plus the 'male' section on which the bearing block would sit. The longer tube is the Sami pot with the two smaller sections being the 'sherry cork' like lid.

We sawed the turned Ash into it's marked sections, did all the necessary drilling, shaped the Hazel for the Egyptian drill and finished exactly at lunch time. The bearing block is a smidgen of a micrometre out but hey it will still work just fine and I could say that I'll sand it but I'll decline to do so because in all probably I won't.

Dinner done, more tea consumed and it was on with bucksaw mark II. Whilst the joints on the mark I model don't hold up to close scrutiny it works but isn't comfortable to hold, coupled with the fact that it is shop brought soft wood I felt the need for another. This was to be a more rustic model made of Hazel rather than the factory smooth look that I originally went for. 

So with my introduction to wood turning over it was onto a different set of skills, which started off with a bit of sizing up, considered head scratching, placing and marking. I have the 'Think twice, cut once' mantra in my head at all times with sharps but also Robin uses the 'Measure twice, cut once' mantra so the prep work was worth it.

So it was a little bit of Gransfors Bruks axe work on the middle spar to take a little meat off it, an axe discipline that actually wasn't too dissimilar to that required to rough out a bowdrill hearth board which I'm used to doing.

And after the axe work came a go on a shave horse with a draw knife, another new experience for me. The pole lathe and horse sort of reminded me of playing the drums in that you need to have co-ordination twixt hands and feet which I wasn't used to. This was mainly smoothing and de-barking with a little remedial wood removal. I left Robin to finish it off as I wasn't confident that I could get it to where it needed to be in the time available.


Just in case anyone out there likes a bit of sharps porn, I've included a shot of the carving axe, and a Japanese saw which cuts on the return stroke as opposed the more usual forward stroke.

The day had just flown by and I elected to finish off the busksaw at home because we would have been there for ages getting it to completion. The basic H shaped frame is done and drilled ready to accept a blade (a rather decent Bahco one similar to this), all I need to do is fashion a windlass which I have the wood for and sand the joints a little. The target of three projects done or pretty much there was achieved and yep, another sabbatical to do ticked off the bucket list.

Some more pictures here.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

1-2-1 Clay Pigeon Shooting

My late grandfather was a) President of the Skegness Lifeboat for what seemed forever to me as a child b) A decent fly fisherman verging on a Trout magnet (ponassed Trout here) and c) Owner of two shotguns and I never really had the chance to get involved with him with any of the three. I decided to get myself sorted on the last one and headed to meet Alex, secretary of the Lea Valley Shooting Association LVSA (Facebook page here).

After an email chat I sorted out a date for a 1-2-1 and had no problem finding the well signposted site. The drive in was decent (ie no potholes) and the expansive parking area the was on solid ground/ grass. I had kind of envisaged a more modest sized site up to this point to be honest. I was also surprised to see that folk could grab some grub in a small cafĂ© although it was a peak time thing. 

I met Alex and after sorting some paperwork formalities he asked me if I had any experience and proceeded to tell me a little about the firearm and associated paraphernalia. The above picture shows a yellow twenty bore, and a larger green twelve bore cartridge. The sizing is that if you take a pound of lead, divide it into (in this case) twelve or twenty equal pieces and roll them up the ball would fit in the appropriate barrel. A device called a choke at the business end determines the optimum shot spread distance and both barrels can be set independent of each other distance wise.

Having never fire a gun in my life my learning curve was rather steep, even to the fact that I found out that this launcher is called a Rabbit which launches a 'clay rabbit' sideways across the ground.

And so to my first session. This launcher has coloured clays for busy backgrounds, and the one in my hand became a souvenir in the knowledge it was safe from me bestowing it  harm.


This is the over-and-under (as opposed to side-by-side) twelve bore that I would be using. The protruding shapes around part of the barrels are to help eject the spent cartridge. Previous to that a tool was needed which is shown on a penknife that my Father-in-Law's dad once owned. I posted this image  on a Bushcraft forum to find out. 

And this is Alex, who posed for me to set my camera up on time lapse mode to take some pictures for posterity. He was very calm and clear with instruction as I set about taking out some clays from a Teal launcher (mimicking the duck's up-and-down flight). 

I was similar to Alex in that I'm sort of right-handed but hold the gun left-handed and I tested my eyes to find that my left was dominant which was good. So I start going through the process; make sure the gun was comfortable and in the correct position, eye down the barrel, re-position it to a set point down the range, open both eyes...

The first 'Teal' got away as I rather hurried my shot and didn't wait until it reached the apex of it's trajectory, the second one didn't fair so well and I got the empty cartridge which resulted in my first clay. It was very satisfying and in a way that took the pressure off a little, without being complacent or cocky. Oh, the headphones we used had microphones in to help communication-Brilliant.

I felt at ease with Alex's tuition and whilst safety ruled at all times there was the occasional moment of conviviality. If I was about to, or looked liked I was about to do something out-of-turn, he would subtley step in with a correction or suggestion.

We had moved on to a Crow launcher (again a flight mimic) which added a second trajectory to think about. Initially I'd found the gun quite heavy but had really got used to hlding it by this stage. My grandfather had said to me that if the gun fits you follow the look at the target, not down the barrel and he was right.

I'm guessing that the gun was primarily for right-handed usage as the top lever (to open the gun) moved from left-to-right towards me and try as I might most of my efforts to open the gun fully and successfully remove the spent cartridge weren't overly smooth or even successful. The first shot shows my first success which was almost as pleasing as my first hit. the second shows me ejecting the cartridge over my shoulder with a whiff of smoke included. It looks a bit Hollywood but was just one of those Mr Bean like moments I kept having. 

And for the latter part of my session I started to have both barrels loaded and in this instance I had to shout 'Pull', fire the first shot and then adjust myself to take the second shot upon the second 'Pull' command.

Even now Alex was suggesting tweaks and helping me it was in the both barrels loaded part that I hit my first clay full on which resulted in a big, satisfying smile, I should perhaps have kept that shell too and made one of these. The picture on the right shows my holding adopting a stance to hold the gun for an extended period. The barrels are visible and empty and pointing down, the stock is secured under my arm, the barrel is held with one arm supporting the other. A triangle is the strongest shape. 


The session drew to a close and it had absolutely flown by. For the last time I packed the firearm away with a well worked routine of it going in open to show that it wasn't loaded, it then gets balanced on your foot, then closed and then zipped up. I took my two souvenirs and asked about the possibility of Scouts attending which would not be  a problem. As we walked back it occurred that the area for shooting matched the larger-then-expected size of the parking. 

I bid Alex farewell and said that I'd sort some pictures out for him. I was pleased that I had a reasonably successful stint and I know this sounds cheesy but I thought that I hadn't disgraced my grandfather's legacy. If he was watching I don't think I would have drawn a Captain Manwaring-esque 'You silly boy' from him...Except for the cartridge ejection perhaps!

Plenty more pictures here

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Rutland Water Osprey Cruise

I've recently just been to see the Osprey pair in Rutland Water's Manton Bay nest site from the South side hides ahead of a family trip to try and see them from a different angle and platform, namely the Rutland Belle Osprey cruiseThis particular nest has now fledged but there is still activity near it.

Now the idea is that we turn up with our email showing our pre-booking at Egleton birdwatching centre on the Western side in a study room there, get given a permit to get out of the next car park (where the boat is) and have a little pre-cruise chat about all things Osprey over tea and biscuits. All fine and dandy and it is clear that Rutland is a real Osprey success story. 

The boat is caught at the sailing centre on the North side which is, say, ten minutes away. We all had a generous forty minutes to get there and park. We decided to crack on and being in quite an advantageous queue position we got onto the top deck at the stern which gave us a pretty much 180 degree view, and the on-board bar supplied me with a beer.

We initially headed for the mile long dam and then went the opposite way, roughly toward Manton Bay with the intention of seeing the Ospreys fish. On the way there was an events marquee not too dissimilar to the one in which I saw Ray Mears give a talk recently. Despite it being July there was a stiff breeze blowing across large stretches of the reservoir and we were told that this will make fishing hard, despite having the birds having eyesight 16 times better than ours.

We were kept abreast of what nature was presenting itself along the way by use of the clock face numbers (so, for example, the starboard side was three o'clock). We then heard the news that we had been waiting for, some Osprey action. A passenger had spotted it and got thanked publically...It was my youngest son! These pictures have quite a bit of a crop on them as the bird was hugging the shoreline where the water was a little calmer. It 'returned to base' empty handed although it did make a couple of dives albeit in the air not the water.

And this is a view towards the Manton Bay nest, there are two birds sat within view. I heard one passenger quip that it was a closer view from the hide than the boat which whilst it was true was a little harsh, the boat wasn't allowed into the area and this is a different experience from the land based one... 

Neither obliged us with any flight and we had to head back to do so in daylight. This horseshoe shaped body of water is vast and this shot is a while after we turned round and is towards Manton Bay. Now the duration from start to finish was quotes as three hours but I reckon it was about half and hour for the talk and two hours on the water. Well we saw Ospreys but sadly not any close up fishing, the adage of never working with animals and kids is probably relevant here. It is technically an Osprey and wildlife cruise and we still enjoyed the boat trip in it's own right and I would recommend it.

We decided to head back home and have a late tea. We did have a laugh at the slight irony of our more successful fish gathering trip than the Ospreys.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Badgells Wood Off-Grid Campsite visits 1 & 2

As part of my ongoing sabbatical (yes, I've mentioned it again but it is my current narrative) I wanted to get myself to Badgells Wood campsite in Kent. It is a more specialist in that it is more off-grid than your average site and indeed Black Wolf bushcraft hold regular sessions within it.

A brief roundup to fill you in on some detail: it's open March- October, has compost toilets and showers, it has specific pitches but they are quite separate, it's location can be seen here and prices here.

The wood is divided into areas which offer a differing experience, I had booked into the Great Park wood (the adults only mainly Sweet Chestnut part), there is also Tudors Spring which is for those who want close access to their car, The Oaks (general camping) and room for 'one or two' camper vans.


Upon arrival I gathered the wood I'd ordered (no foraging or own wood allowed) and loaded it into my portable quartermasters store for the duration-A wheel barrow and was told that there were some folk in the adults only bit but no one in the general area so I swapped. I wasn't being anti-social but I was there on the solo camp seclusion ticket.


I parked and headed up and right along a concrete path (over an old WW II trench) ,then did a left into the green section and of the four generously sized pitches named after birds I chose Wren, simply because it had  the best trees to chuck up a tarp in the shape of two sturdy Sweet Chestnuts, ideally spaced for a bit of tarp and hammock action (although it did rather bisect the pitch). My initial thought was that the pitches were perhaps aimed more at tents, at least in that area, nevertheless the view was rather special from whatever angle I looked out and I noticed a good display of honeysuckle in one corner of the canopy above me. 

The purchased fire wood was of a good size but I would suggest that unless you also purchase some kindling that taking a choppy thing to make some smaller lengths out of your supply that you can see on the left of the picture. I decided to start as I meant to go on and used a bowdrill to kick off the 'Bushcraft TV'. I had hoped to set up the time lapse on my camera but failed miserably so I'm using my positional test pic. It was rather satisfying as the recent rain had meant that there was a lot of moisture (and a little mud, especially on the paths) to contend with. Note the basic 'fence' behind me which marked out each pitch.


The bag of wood is a good size and it would have been easy to keep chucking an extra log on but I decided to go for a modest three to five log sized fire until I was cooking, and to my lunch of risotto with sausages rescued from my son's barbeque and cut free from their carbon coat and diced. The red and white number on the chair is a recently purchased Maasai robe in support of Woodland Ways' Bushcraft Foundation on it's first outing.


So with the fire lit and lunch done it was all about getting some clean lines on the old tarp. Rather fortuitously the wind was blowing away from the established fire site and I've deliberately taken the shot this way to try and give some scale to the pitch. I have my back to the farthest point and just beyond the tarp is the entrance to the right, with the fire just in he picture. I found some fairly straight lengths scattered around the pitch, and coupled with some old bracken lying by an attempted shelter further down, I had an au natural landing pad by my whoopie slung hammock. There is a little flint in the ground but I didn't have too much trouble pegging out.


Well that was all the necessary set up done, it was then onto some projects with the second one after the bowdrill being some Birch tar, and some ethereal-smoke-through-the trees-production.

And the whole day was powered by tea and coffee drink-wise and my bespoke trivet was just the job for the kettle. Incidentally there were washing machine braziers available if campers wanted.

The wind direction changed ever so slightly necessitating me re-locating my chair, but that said it does offer another angle on the pitch. This time the entrance is just beyond the trees on the right.

And onto another little project, that of making some charred seed fire lighting medium. Note the copious jet issuing from the hole in the lid.

And to the third and final camp view. This is over the basic wooden fence where the fire is.

I had a small afternoon window between projects so I decided to have a quick bimble further into the wood, and then decided that I wanted my time lapse bow drill picture so I did! Actually, practicing in damper conditions ain't a bad thing, narcissistic pyro picture or not. Actually, the picture sequence was rather good so I chucked them onto a Facebook photo gallery here.

Tea was a Chicken Chinese curry using this rather fabulous paste, I added a small stir fry pack and boiled up a portion of rice. I sent a most agreeable smell emanating through the canopy. A fine way to christen my new smaller sized Petromax Dutch oven too. 

I knew that the mobile quartermasters store was available and it probably meant that I bought more gear than I could really ever utilise on the duration of this camp but neatly stacked it was a case of wheeling it just under the tarp at night.

I had a nocturnal wander as the light faded but I wasn't hopeful of seeing too much. I heard a Tawny Owl and a couple of Foxes having a set to, but I saw no deer sign in or around my pitch but I still chucked up my trail cam. when I returned there was a bit of a chill in the air so I knocked up an impromptu reflector with more wood scattered in the pitch and used up the remaining wood (minus some that I kept for breakfast). I also used the Maasai robe which helped. I purposely hadn't looked at the time on a regular basis and every time I did it was way later than I thought which I took as a good sign.


I had a decent nights kip and used up the previously mentioned retained firewood for a breakfast fire. It also gave me the opportunity for an early morning smokey canopy shot too.

Beans and bacon minus the eggs I left behind in my trusty Primus saucepan, and a date and walnut bannock to power me through the morning.

As I let the fire die down I struck camp and made a wheel barrow run to the car. I utilised the wood used for the hammock platform and reflector in the perimeter fence and when I was ready to move off I had this small amount of embers to extinguish (my boot is on the left for scale). 

I'd planned to have more of a walk around, but to be honest I got rather absorbed in my own little world and once in situ the only words I spoke were when my wife rung. I also had a pre-arranged rendezvous Steve Kirk (who you may know from the  May Day Meet and the Bushcraft magazine) to have a photos session.

Well that was early July and I found myself in early October close to a Natural Pathways Nature Awareness Day in Kent so I decided that a cheeky overnighter the day before at Badgells Wood with the idea being that I would be close to the Kent Downs for the awareness day so I could have a lazy start.


After a quick look at  various camps I chose the same one as last time to utilise my time there, and as before before I got my tarp tent up and got stuck into camp life but the funny thing is it was actually drier underfoot in Autumn than it was in July. The highlight whilst I was warming the food for the hay oven (pictured above right) I watched as a Common Buzzard landed in a tree near me. He stayed briefly before flying off and I paced the distance out to fifteen of my paces.

When night finally falls dark means dark in the wood and I felt like I was lucky the only person in around thirty acres of wood that night which I confirmed when I left, that was a nice bonus.


What I didn't report on last time was the area just a short walk from the camping wood where the activity board, rope swing and new(ish) showers are. They warm up nicely and have an egg timer inside to prevent all the hot water being used in busy times and have Ecovor shower gel in too.

I'd thoroughly recommend Badgells Wood.