Stairs and Fencing in Cleft Sweet Chestnut

Intro

This project involved working jointly with another company Quay Carpentry www.quaycarpentry.co.uk. The brief for their customer was to craft components to meet their outdoor stair design, which would link a terrace and have fencing along the top of the terrace. The timber suited for the rustic look was Sweet Chestnut. After discussing design options with Quay Carpentry the individual components were crafted for them.

Crafting the Components

The stair strings were planked by cleaving from large rounds of Sweet Chestnut rather than milling. This was important for the stair string for the turn because cleaving naturally follows the grain, compared to sawing that cuts through the fibres. This helped with the next stage of processing, which involved steam bending and setting on a former to obtain the desired shape. The handrail for the stair turn was also steam bent and set on a former after steaming for a couple of hours. This can seen in the preceding photo, which shows the handrail in the former after steaming.

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Two individual rustic gates were crafted. One would be used for the top of the stairs and the other along the fence line. These are shown in the next two photos.

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Each of the stair treads were cleaved from large rounds, similar to how the stair strings were produced. The newel posts, fencing posts and rails etc. were made from smaller rounds of Sweet Chestnut. The hand tools used were axe, froe, splitting wedges, draw knife, spoke shave, bit and brace.

Installed Stairs, Gates and Fencing

After the components were delivered to the customer, Quay Carpentry completed the installation. The finished work can be seen in the last photo.

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The customer was very pleased with the end result that produced a unique rustic look that is perfect for its function and rural setting.

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Bespoke Cleft Chestnut Panels

This project involved making a number of bespoke Sweet Chestnut panel infills, which were installed in the upper area of a barn. Sweet Chestnut had been used for the roofing components, so the customer was looking for the same wood to be used. The stair ladder and upright pieces to hold the Chestnut panels were made by a carpenter using reclaimed Oak. Due to the variability of the Oak pieces, each Chestnut panel was different in size and was custom made to fit each section.

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The handrails of the stair ladder were made from Sweet Chestnut and contrast the darker reclaimed Oak frame and treads.

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The panel spindles were made from cleft Sweet Chestnut pales, which were installed into mortices made in the outer frame. A froe is used to split the wood down the grain and a drawknife used to smooth the surface of the pales. The panels have a unique handmade look that blends in with the stone, exposed beams wood and thatched roof of the barn.

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Greenwood was used for all the Sweet Chestnut components. The final piece was a bespoke gate made to fit at the top of the stair ladder.  This was designed so that the gate could only open inwards, which was achieved by extending the top left section of the gate.

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This a good example of using green Sweet Chestnut for various interior components.

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Sculptural Trellis using Cleft Chestnut

Sculptural Trellis
Here are some photos of a bespoke trellis fence that is made from cleft Sweet Chestnut batons and rinded small diameter poles. Part of the inspiration for this design was taken from a Swedish style of rural fence and this was worked into a sculptural design to fit the needs of this project.

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A pole frame was constructed and fixed to posts either side of the gap in the hedge. The righthand side post was split down the middle and the poles were fixed inside before being bolted together.

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The trellis batons were fixed to the frame with galvanised nails.

Trellis Designs
Here are a few more examples of bespoke trellis that can be fixed to a wall or side of a building. Due the variability of cleaved wood every one is unique, so the designs that can be made are endless.

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Trellis made from cleft Chestnut is extremely durable and doesn’t require wood preservatives. The wood will weather to silvery grey overtime.

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Rustic Chestnut Gates and Fencing

Here are some examples of bespoke Sweet Chestnut gates and fencing that can be handmade to order. The Sweet Chestnut is coppiced sustainably from woodland, which provides a regular supply of quality wood to create naturally durable products. The wood is used green i.e. not kiln dried or air dried after removing the bark and much of the sapwood. Various green woodworking tools are used, such as a froe, draw knife, twybil, axe, to shape the Chestnut gates and fencing into the finished pieces.

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Natural shapes, bends and twists in the wood are incorporated into finished product to create distinct one off pieces.

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Products can be made in a range sizes, shapes and styles, so you can let you imagination run wild…

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What’s more coppiced woodland has a positive outcome for biodiversity, therefore by buying any wood products sourced from any coppiced woodlands directly supports future habitat management as well as the rural economy.

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There is always a good stock of Sweet Chestnut available in various sizes and lengths, so if you require something specially made to order or need to source some materials for your own green woodworking project, then we are happy to discuss your requirements.main website

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Low Impact Extraction to aid Woodland Restoration

Restoration of Native woodland on Ancient woodland sites has been growing in importance over the last decade as a mechanism for recovering previously lost or diminished habitat. For those conifer Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) that are deemed suitable for full or partial restoration, there are many pitfalls to avoid to achieve this goal successfully.

One such activity I’ll cover in this post is the extraction. The wrong choice made could seriously reduce the benefits of restoration to a woodland site. It could even make the situation worse than before the restoration, so careful consideration should be made for each site. If new extraction routes are required to get machinery in, and timber out, then this alone could cause serious damage to the existing ecological conditions and/or restrict the restoration development afterwards. The choice of extraction equipment is vital to give the site being restored the best chance to recover, create the right type of ground disturbance and avoid damage through soil compaction.

Over the years I have experienced two different types of low impact extraction the first being horse logging and the other with an Iron horse low ground pressure machine. Implemented correctly, both of these extraction types are very good for PAWS restoration. My experiences with horse logging were a few years ago when I volunteered some time to the Working Horse Trust based in Eridge, East Sussex. The Ardenne heavy horses that I worked with at the Trust are beautiful and powerful animals, capable of shifting significant amounts of timber through narrow extraction routes, without damaging the woodland floor. My lack of equine knowledge didn’t worry me as there were experienced and friendly people on hand to help. I seriously considered horse logging as a profession to integrate into my business.

Ardenne Heavy Horse with logging arch

Ardenne Heavy Horse with logging arch Weald WoodFair 2009

Iron Horse extracting 18' coppice poles

Iron Horse along a woodland ride extracting 18' coppice poles

However, after weighing up all the pros and cons I decided that horse logging wasn’t the right choice and opted for an Iron horse instead. This has proved extremely valuable to the business and has been impressive in a number of different extraction tasks. Like with a horse’s hoofs, the machines rubber tracks are good at disturbing the top layer to help unlock a sites seedbank.

The Iron horse and horse logging extraction methods are slower and more costly than other larger types of extraction equipment, but what price to you put on the damage the alternatives can cause?

Coppice site extracted using and Iron Horse

Coppice site extracted using and Iron Horse

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Going Batty

Last night I visited the outbuilding that adjoins the office to put the recycling materials in the collection box. Whilst I was doing that a bat swooped in, looped round just above my head and flew to the top corner at the back. I moved quietly forward to get a closer look and it had roosted by a rafter. I went back to the house and grabbed my camera. Thinking that the bat might be gone by the time I returned a minute later, I was pleasantly suprised to see it still there.

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Bats are often seen flying around the barns and I had tried and failed to take photos of before. This was the first time I had had a chance to photograph a roosting bat. It looks like this area is being used as a feeding site. There are a few large spiders webs at various points underneath where the bat had roosted. These had plently of insect remains and droppings.

I am a novice when it comes to identifying bats. However after doing some research I worked out the bat was most likely to be a Pipistrelle. The droppings were a good help with identification after I gleened as much as I could from the photo of the bat.

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The other photos I took of the bat were slightly blurred, so I didn’t upload those. After spending another minute in the corner, the bat then crawled through a very small gap at the top of the wooden dividing partition into the store. It spent a few minutes in there before scrabbling back outside. A few minutes later after the lights were switched off it flew out, presumably to find another tasty moth. This was a wonderful thing to see.

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Charcoal, the Good, the Bad and the Dirty

With the Summer weather improving there will be more opportunities to cook on a barbecue and dine with friends and family outside. You might not think that there could be many differences between brands of charcoal, but there are. In this post I will compare home produced hardwood charcoal with tropical hardwood charcoal. Unfortunately, the UK still imports the majority of charcoal consumed annually. British hardwood charcoal is a higher quality and a better product than that produced from tropical hardwoods, and here are some reasons why:

  • There are far fewer impurities in the finished product so it will not taint the food being cooked. The same thing cannot be said for that produced from tropical hardwoods.
  • It is easy to light with a taper of twisted paper, so does not need any lighter fluids or firelighters. When using lighter fluids or firelighters with charcoal, you will increase the chances of tainting any food being cooked from the extra residues.
  • Charcoal made from UK hardwoods has a high carbon content. It will burn slower, you will use less, so it will last longer than tropical hardwood.
  • UK charcoal production is often associated with sustainable forms of woodland management like coppicing. This type of woodland management enhances and maintains a diverse mix of wildlife habitats in our woodlands, thus keeping our woodlands healthy and thriving with wildlife. Whereas tropical hardwood charcoal often comes from rainforest and mangrove swamps, that use unsustainable and ecologically damaging harvesting practices in the form of deforestation.
  • Buying British hardwood charcoal helps sustain rural employment. It is more environmentally friendly than imported charcoal that has to be shipped long distances using more fossil fuels in the process. Importing less charcoal will, in a small way, contribute to reducing our trade imbalances.
  • Making charcoal is a good method for using up small otherwise unusable pieces of wood by converting them into a higher value product.

Based on retail price British hardwood charcoal is more costly than imported tropical hardwood charcoal. However, comparing purely on price is not a fair comparison as I hope you will appreciate from the points mentioned above.

There are many smallscale producers all over the country. Some do supply big retail outlets directly, but be aware that big retailers squeeze producers in all sectors. So if you can, try and source charcoal either directly from the producer or from small local retail outlets and distributors selling their products.

British Hardwood Charcoal in a round Kiln

British Hardwood Charcoal in a round Kiln

Charcoal for barbecues

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Some useful things about firewood

While our British summer is stuttering along with varied weather, I thought a post to help people who buy firewood would be useful, specifically, non-kiln dried firewood logs. So how can you tell good firewood from bad?

Ideal hardwoods that are most readily available and good for both open fires and woodburning stoves are:

Another good hardwood is Sweet Chestnut but it can spit out hot embers. Sweet Chestnut can be burnt safely in a wood burning stove, but you still have to be careful when the stove door is opened. All these hardwoods have a high proportion of woody material per volume, which means they have a high bulk density, so more wood means more fuel to burn.

Common hardwoods that are not so good for firewood logs:

  • Aspen
  • Poplar
  • Sycamore
  • Willow

Freshly felled these hardwoods have a high volume of water and less woody material. When seasoned the bulk density of the log is much lower with these hardwoods and that means less fuel to burn.

Softwood logs:

Several softwoods when seasoned burn well in a stove. However, you will get through more logs compared to good quality hardwoods. Larch being one of the better softwoods.

How to tell if the wood is of good quality:

  • seasoned firewood will have a lower odour
  • have loose bark and/or peeling bark
  • visible cracks & splits, especially on the ends
  • dead fungi
  • have a lighter weight

How to tell if it isn’t seasoned:

  • unseasoned firewood will have a strong possibly sweet odour
  • the bark will be firmly intact
  • the ends will be damp
  • the end grain will be more uniform in colour
  • the log will be much heavier as it is loaded with water
  • if part-seasoned there maybe moulds and active fungi visible

All wood will burn, but firewood logs that are wet will be no good.

The dangers and problems of unseasoned wood:

  • steam containing volatile compounds will be produced and will deposit in your flue lining or chimney
  • a build up of these deposits will increase the risk of a fire in the flue or chimney
  • the logs will be difficult to light
  • You won’t get much heat due to the higher water content, which defeats the purpose of buying the firewood logs in the first place
  • you could damage you’re woodburning stove. Always check what fuel types and quality are approved by the manufacturer for the woodburning stove

Delivery horror stories – why you should always check your load:

  • logs that were claimed to be seasoned but weren’t when they arrived
  • unseasoned logs disguised by a top layer of good quality logs
  • tree surgeon waste logged up and sold immediately
  • apparent seasoned wood delivered in the pouring rain uncovered during transit and dumped on the driveway

When a delivery arrives you often have little time to check the quality of the firewood and you can feel pressurised into accepting it. Any reputable firewood merchant shouldn’t mind you spending a few extra minutes checking a sample before accepting the delivery. If you consider the product to be poor then reject the delivery.

I once heard a story where someone bought hardwood netted logs in bulk and it transpired that the logs were only part-seasoned. The logs had to be dried out on radiators to reduce the moisture before they could be used in a woodburning stove. I’ve even heard of another case where leaves were still growing on some of the logs that were alledgedly seasoned!

In contrast to UK customers, buyers of firewood in France generally make more checks before accepting a delivery. Often firewood is being bought a year in advance and it will still be rejected if the moisture content is too high.

Whilst you might be restricted on how much firewood you can store, leaving your ordering of firewood to the last minute could limit choice and may increase the risk of getting a bad deal. There is a fair amount of effort involved from forest to delivery, so very cheap firewood should ring alarm bells, either its poor quality or may even be stolen.

Storing your wood
Make sure that you have a dry ventilated place to store your firewood; there’s no point in letting moisture return after all the effort to season the wood.

Don’t forget the kindling
Lastly do get hold of a good supply of quality kindling and make sure you don’t use contaminated waste wood as a substitute, as this will create noxious smoke. A small amount of British lumpwood charcoal is also good for starting fires.

Keep warm and enjoy your real fire!

Charcoal, Firewood logs and Kindling for sale.

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Old Beech Hedgerow

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I stumbled upon this old Beech hedgerow whilst walking in Dorset.

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Wood for?

A few weeks ago I attended a woodfuel seminar, which was a useful update to previous ones I had been to. This is certainly a market that over the years is developing significantly from the traditional log and charcoal products. There is a long way to go to a mature market and there will be bumps along the way before we reach that point. With new Government backed assistance through schemes like the Renewable Heat Incentive, the Forestry Commission launching a Woodfuel Woodland Improvment Grant and existing EU funding to aid the rural sector in development, the market could shake off many of the current constraints and propel itself forward very quickly over the next few years. 

This brings me to the question in the title of this post “Wood for?” One particular thing stood out at the seminar and it was not from the course content but came from another delegate. This person was already using a significant amount of wood for heating on their farm and they had recently taken delivery of an lorry load of hardwood. It transpired that the wood was mainly Oak. However it was not just branchwood corded up but contained main stems cut to cord lengths. As you can imagine a few of us winced when we heard this. There are several other similar situations I have heard about or encountered where quality wood resources are being diverted to energy consumption instead of useable timber products. There is a significant risk that such occurrences will become more and more common place over the next few years. The hope is that this doesn’t happen.

Sweet Chestnut stack of coppice produce

Stack of Sweet Chestnut coppice produce destined for fencing

Stack of Mixed Broadleaf coppice

Stack of Mixed Broadleaf coppice destined for the woodfuel market

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