Tales from the Wood

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Spalting: the good the bad and the firewood

We all love it, that beautiful spalted figuring, revealed in a turned maple or beech bowl; those amazing black meanderings that mark the boundary defences between two competing fungi. Well I've plenty of it, it just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Spalting is the rather poetic name for prosaic old wood-rot. And when a season's worth of timber is rendered unworkable, wood-rot is what it is.

The work I had planned was earmarked for an exhibition to be delivered by the end of November. Quite doable I thought: I had a store of timber from a spring-felled sycamore; lovely wood; clear and straight; cut into correctly sized billets with the end-grain sealed with wax to check rapid drying.

But as I started to shape it with a side axe (even admiring as I worked the pretty black lines slowly revealing themselves) it hit me. These pieces were to be charred in the fire, but rot, even mild rot, is disastrous. It doesn't just blacken in the usual orderly and predictably way but it smoulders away in uncontrollable patches, like an underground peat fire, creating holes and fissures, and in the worst cases leaving no more than a pile of ash.

Nothing I can do about it of course, except console myself that I have some of the most meticulously prepared and most beautifully figured firewood in Norfolk.

Spalting 2       Spalting 1

A European Spring Lathe

Lots of queries about the lathe that's been appearing recently.

It's a spring lathe based on a design by Roy Underhill who, I believe, found the original in an ancient German manuscript. The beauty of the design is that it can be fully taken apart by knocking out the frame wedges and then easily re-assembled at workshop venues.

It has two underslung spring poles with an adjustable bridle connecting the two - so an infinite variety of spring tension is possible.

All the students below are first-time wood-turners and yet they got to grips with making components for their woodland sculpture amazingly quickly.

A fascinating variation of the tried and tested pole lathe, and with lots of constructional information on the web, it's very buildable.

Spring Lathe 1

Spring Lathe 2

Spring Lathe 3

Flotsam 2: High Tide
Another selection of materials for 'Natural Selection'. This trawl was made after a particularly high tide. Iron, cardboard, rubber and salt-bleached roots.


Natural Selection: an exhibition of synthesised invertebrates
Opening in February at the NWT's Cley and Salthouse Visitor Centre, a show of artworks based on materials collected from the two local reserves. I've been collecting flotsam from the shoreline which, as you might expect from a storm-beach, ranges far beyond what we might consider natural !


If you go down to the woods today you really will get a big surprise
As a postscript to the previous tale. A very sobering paper published in Science (1) indicates that invertebrate numbers have nearly halved as the human population has doubled - and all this within a 35 year period.
(1) Defaunation in the Anthropocene: Science 25 July 2014: Vol. 345 no. 6195 pp. 401-406