Mick's musing moments
MICK’S VICES May 2021
Just thought I would catch you up on the saga of the wood vices. You may recall I bid for the three vices on Facebook Marketplace and secured them with the help of my brother, although I couldn’t collect them until the Covid rules allowed, as they were in South Wales. So the first day Wales was set free I was on my way to pick them up. My brother was as stir crazy as me and couldn’t wait to get on the road. We decided to meet half way between Cwmbran and Shrewsbury in a garden centre in Hereford. It’s a Blue Diamond generic garden centre but it is a big one and we felt sure the cafe would be open - no such luck.
So, as I promised my brother lunch we searched for alternative venues, well he did, I just chilled and drooled over the vices,” Right were going to Mc Donald’s.” What!! I hate Mc Donald’s.” “Tough there’s nothing else open.” At this juncture the joys of driving through Hereford started to slowly dawn on me again, for fifty years they have been talking about a bypass, but two ancient water meadows either side of Hereford always sink the plans (drain them fast move the hippies on) and so you are stuck with relentless traffic jams, and boy did we join one on the way to Mc Donald’s. Thirty minutes later I see steam coming from my brother’s car. Actually, it wasn’t his car it was coming out of but his ears accompanied by strange gesticulations and head banging on the steering wheel. Then just as the traffic started to move, he pulled over and running back to my car yells “Change of plans we are going to Pizza Express, it’s nearer.” I hate Pizza!! Cheese on cardboard. Still on we go, another half hour of misery, and we arrive.
Now at our ages the first priority is always the toilet. John sets off at a run and is met by a burly doorman - face mask check, sign in with the NHS app c heck. Now my turn, I don’t have the app. John has disappeared into the toilet and I am left to explain I haven’t downloaded the app and Steam now coming from my ears now with legs tightly crossed. So I just stand and wait, and wait, and wait. By now I’m in pain and thinking seriously of storming in anyway, but in the nick of time John appears and sign’s me in while I break the sound barrier getting to the loo. Later while chatting over our drinks I ask him what took him so long and he explained that he had to do a ‘doo doo’. You could have said, I almost wet myself waiting, cue John falling off his chair laughing. Oh, the joys of getting old.
Anyway, back to the vices. As you can see from the pictures they were in a sorry state having been left out in all weathers for a year. Out come the wire brushes and the liberal use of WD40. The main screws were rusted solid so these had to be freed off by heating them with a blow torch, and once they were free things moved along apace. The three vices are in various stages of restoration. The biggest one, which is a Record No 53e and was the biggest wood vice Record manufactured has jaws which open to 15 1/2 inches allowing me to actually sit in the vice jaws when fully open - the jaws width is 10 1/2 inches, it’s a monster of a vice. All it needs now is a paint job finishing. The two Parkinson’s are also near completion, a paint job and some new wood jaws to fit and there done. I’ve really enjoyed restoring the vices it’s let me use my old engineering skills - never happier than when in my overalls filing and drilling. Anyway, they should now give someone another seventy years of service. So as you can imagine while I’ve been restoring the vices the chisels and knives have been totally idle so after the Bank Holiday is over it’s back to the ladle and wand. It goes without saying but take care all, can’t wait to see you all again, have fun carving.
MICK PRICE REKINDLES HIS MOTIVATION TO CARVE BY TAKING A WALK INTO THE WOODS OF HIS CHILDHOOD
Having decided to look for a stick to carve into a wand, my mind turned to a wood with the potential to supply a good source of suitable material. Having lived near a very beautiful wood for most of my childhood and still living about five miles away, the choice of Nesscliffe hill was a no brainer. My friends and I were so lucky to live in Nesscliffe and to have the run of the hill when it was privately owned by Lord Bradford, if we saw someone else on the hill in those days it was a big event. We roamed that hill literally day and night, and we got to know every inch of it. Climbing to the top of young spruce trees and swinging them until we could reach the next in line, for hours. Running along what we called the ledges on the cliffs below Oliver’s point, which were in fact thick tree roots clinging to the sandstone, and if you fell, well the leaf mould usually broke your fall. We also had access to the highwayman’s cave in those days and would race up and down the worn steps whenever we wanted.
But look at it now, having been bought by Shropshire Council in the nineteen nineties it’s become overcrowded, littered, muddy and the cave sealed off. It was a wonder to see where the highwayman Humphrey Kynaston lived when he wasn’t propping up the bar of the Old Three Pigeons. To see where Kynaston’s horse slept, his hearth still smoke stained five hundred odd years later and his carved shelving can only to be seen in a book now. Don’t get me wrong the hill is still a beautiful place and well worth a visit, you can wonder at the carved names of the old sandstone workers thirty metres up the rock faces of the old quarry as sharp as ever. But take my advice, get to the hill about ten o clock in the morning on a week day, after the early morning dog walkers have gone.
As a reminder to me of my advancing years I can remember them planting the Dawn Redwoods (Metasequoia Glyptostroboides - try saying that after a couple of pints or three) on the lower slopes near the car park it’s amazing how big a tree can grow after fifty years. They are magnificent now and still only babies unlike yours truly.
So anyway my walk begins, past the Dawn Redwoods on the lower slopes then into the beech woods, the beeches are into old age now, many have dead branches that can be a good source of fallen logs for carving. The grove used to be a lot thicker but many trees have fallen in high winds. Don’t know what the wardens would say if they saw you with the wood, I must find out. A stiff but short climb to the top, I used to run up it, brings you to a grassed area - this was a summer playground for Lord Bradford where he would hold large summer tea parties for his London friends. Then along the path to the right towards an area I know well, you pass under arches of Rhododendron Ponticum and this is the area I’m looking to find my stick. The hill is thick with Rhododendrons at this point, they grow out over the cliffs and are massive and dense, we used to walk over the tops of them for fun until a friend fell through, luckily the leaf mould cushioned his decent down the cliffs in one piece, a fifty foot slide. My mate Rob Harris, a lucky boy but winded.
You may ask why choose this spot, well Rhododendron is a wood that grows in many strange and contorted ways, loops, twists, strange angles, just what I’m looking for. It’s also called the spoon makers friend, especially if you are looking to carve a ladle as you need the grain to extend around a bend - just what the Rhododendron does in spades. The strange twists in the wood may give me inspiration for my wand, fingers crossed. The wood is not poisonous but the flowers are, people have become very unwell from eating honey from bees foraging on the flowers, buyer beware. There has been a concerted effort on the hill in recent years to eradicate the rhododendrons mostly because they are invasive but also because they are a vector species for root rot (Phytophthora) and a reservoir of future reinfections. I’m afraid it’s a losing battle at the moment as they just spring up from old roots or seed. There are plenty of cut branches about and as I’ve mentioned they are trying to eradicate the rhododendrons so I do not feel guilty about collecting a few branches.
Below is a photo of a piece of wood I collected to create a ladle, I couldn’t find anything suitable for a wand so I shall be looking for a blackthorn hedge and hope for the best.
MIKE PRICE REKINDLES HIS MOTIVATION TO CARVE FOLLOWING MONTHS OF LOCKDOWN - SEE HIS SPOONS click read more below
Hi Stewart, it seems I need inspiration and motivation to get carving these days, without the weekly incentive of the carving club meetings I was finding any excuse not to get back into it. So you can imagine my surprise at just what sparked my interest again, it wasn’t Angela asking where all her wooden spoons went although that has a bearing on this narrative later. In fact it was the gift of some chain sawed Lime logs I was given last year now dried enough to work with.
My aim was to just get them into workable squared off sizes. So only having a small band saw (picked up at a car boot sale for 15 quid couple of years ago) but not big enough for the size of logs I had, I proceeded to hand saw the logs into rough shapes, getting a good sweat on in the process and giving myself a good work at the same time.
Then I thought I would try out the collection of wood planes I bought of a fellow wood worker, that Bill put me onto last year. He really gave Bill and I some fabulous bargains, he let me have the planes for five pound each on average, one is fetching over one hundred pounds on eBay in poor condition and I told him I will cherish them and look after them. You know how men are with tools.
Anyway, out came the plane’s, now this is where the magic happened. Being a machine tool fitter in a previous life (before BT) I was well used to working with tools, but not so much wood tools. Taking time to get some knowledge from YouTube on planing techniques, and learning how to sharpen them properly, another hidden dark art, and I set too. Soon I was getting the shavings along the whole length of the log, which gradually was turning into usable wood as if by magic, checking with square and flat edge I was in a world of my own and the shavings were by now over a foot deep. The rhythm and the sheer pleasure of planing that wood combined with the work out was the catalyst to get out the chisels out, this is where Angela and then my Grandson come into the story.
Having not seen me for hours she popped into the garage with a cup of tea and spied one of her old spoons covered in paint you can imagine words were said and new spoons were mentioned.
Right says I, a spoon but not just any spoon a spiral tapering spoon at that. But just to be difficult not from the wood I had so much enjoyed preparing earlier, no I would use some hardwood from the door frames we had just had replaced with plastic sacrilege I know, but I’m getting too old to keep up with the painting and Angela wanted the wood not to just sacrificed in the wood burner.
The first spoon took a day, then once the process was mastered, I could make one in half a day, even without a spoon knife. Then I thought let’s get my grandson involved if I could, no problem, nine years old and all for it, so last Thursday he produced a usable spoon, spoke shave tick, saw tick, gouge and mallet tick, you get the picture, I think we may have a new recruit. Anyway I hope you have stuck with this until the end, pass it on if you think the gang would be interested, a happy story all around for Dave, Rory the grandson happy with his spoon, Angela happy with her spoons, Daughter in laws with theirs, Angela now says think of something else already, ah well, all the best Mick.
The Bonanza of Free Wood 3 March 2021
Just thought the gang might be interested in another journey that some free wood has taken on. Me being a hoarder, (Angela claims) when offered some free wood pallets and crates from a building site just up the road from us I had to accept. My thoughts were, good kindling for the log burner if nothing else, so with the help of a dump truck the wood was deposited in the field behind my house. Over the next week or two I slowly dismantled the crates and took my chain saw to the pallets.
The crates were put together with corner metal cleat steel bands and plenty of nails. Damn them nails. But eventually I managed to strip the crates down and store the wooden slats and the two-by-two posts. It was the crate wood that piqued my interest, it was bent, twisted, warped and split, but immensely strong, red to golden yellow in-various hues, I thought there must be some use for it beside crates. The crates were made to carry natural stone slabs that came from India so you can imagine the wood has to be very strong, what could it be?
Quick search on the internet took me to Kota India, to a company where the crates are manufactured to order, from eucalyptus wood. Eucalyptus wood - wow, a new one on me. Carrying on the research it seems that eucalyptus wood is resistant to termites (my spoon should be safe) rotting, burns well, I can testify to that, but is prone to splits, warping, and cracking. Some Indian manufacturers have tried to make furniture from it but have given up. We shall see what happens when my spoon is finished, the wood was actually easy to plane and had a lovely tight grain, gouging out the bowl of the spoon was satisfying and finishing it with my new Mora spoon knife was a pleasure - once I stopped nicking my fingers. The other plus side was the lovely aroma coming from the wood as you worked it, I love the smell of eucalyptus oil so I really enjoyed working on the spoon. It’s amazing what ‘rabbit holes’ a gift of free wood can take you down.
Free eucalyptus wood anyone?
Yes, more inspiration if it was needed 5 March 2021
Yes, more inspiration if it was needed, I just happened to be watching the same program as Angela for a change, after soaps, and before football. Me in charge of the sky remote in the lounge, Angela in the kitchen lounge diner, warmer after the cooking. But no sky. j k. Rowling was explaining where she got her ideas for the inclusion of individual magic wands in her Harry Potter books. Bearing in mind that we have a fanatical Harry Potter fan in the family, also being the magnanimous sort, I decided to watch the program with Angela for a change in the kitchen lounge diner!
What caught my interest was two old blokes in a wood surrounded by sawdust, piles of timber, old tools, and a nice smoky bonfire, my idea of heaven. The one chap looked big and round, the other looked like Mr Pastry remember him, most of you should. You expected mice or birds to pop out of their pockets after fighting past the straw stuck to their apparel at all angles, hedge backwards sprung to mind, countryfied? is that even a word, apparently not, our instructors in the art of wands-man -ship appeared one slice short of a loaf. Any way you can guess what they were up too. That’s right carving wands.
But only from wood cut in the mornings with their trousers tucked in their socks after drinking dew from a spider’s web, and after a full moon of course (made some of that up). Who knew there were so many superstitions about carving a magic wand? To be honest some of the wands were not that good twisted old sticks with the bark removed. But boy oh boy the prices some people are prepared to pay for a hand carved wand (cut in the morning with trousers tucked......stop it) perhaps not so daft after all.
Anyway, I shall be out one morning in the near future looking for a suitable stick to carve for my granddaughter Elsa, this will go with some of her official Harry Potter branded collectible wands, seems her parents have more money than sense. You can rest assured I will be following all the protocols related to wand manufacturing to ensure the magic is stored for use by our budding little witch, our good little witch of course. My inclination is to carve a wolf’s head at the top of the wand tapering down to a short barley twist, and then tapering to a point. Anyone fancy joining me in this very worthwhile project, you should write to me on real paper, set it alight and throw it up the chimney, I shall retrieve your message as soon as I finish my first magic wand, let’s have some fun. Happy carving.