The Austrian scythe is a thoroughly modern tool but it was great fun to be asked to teach a Learn to Scythe course for some of the staff at Beamish Museum in County Durham this weekend.
The weather was hot and sunny and the course coincided with the museum’s Georgian Fair so our novice scything team got plenty of onlookers and made a great addition to the other activities going on.
I really enjoyed the cameraderie and joking among the staff which would surely have been the case among a real scything gang of the era.
Haymaking season was well-known as a time when men and women would have chance to meet and spend time together in the fields to gossip and court. Our season, even though it was only one day long, was no exception.
On Friday, the hottest day of 2017 so far, I was teaching a group how to scythe in Derbyshire. The course was organised by Derbyshire Eco-centre as part of their programme of events but hosted by Gus & Fash on their beautiful smallholding nearby.
We used the shade of the barns while we set up the Austrian scythes to fit each person and adjusted the blade to work as efficiently as possible. Then we did some preparatory practise and the students learned how to sharpen the scythe by two different, safe methods.
We were scything on a slope but that is no problem for the scythe and we also cleared nettles as well as mowing the lush new grass while enjoying the sounds of the birds and views over the countryside.
My next Learn to scythe course on 2nd June is fully booked but you can still get on a place for the course on 22nd July at Sedbergh, Cumbria. Simply email me stevetomlin8[at]gmail.com to book your place.
A big part of what makes handmade items so special is the relationship you have with it. That might be because you’ve met the maker (online or in real life), know where the materials have come from, received it to mark an occasion or simply through the patina that comes with years of use.
My good friend Robin Duckmanton has only been making windsor chairs for a few years but already he is making some of the most stunning work I’ve seen in the UK. Last year he asked if I would trade one of my ash splint pack baskets for a chair and I jumped at the offer. At the time, I didn’t know what he would be making but knew it would be special and, as you can see in these photos, it is.
Robin works completely by hand so all of the turning is done on a pole lathe and the seat is carved using an adze, travisher and, most importantly, huge amounts of skill and time. It’s statuesque, elegant and yet strong and every bit as comfortable as it is beautiful.
Rob says there’ll be a website soon but in the meantime you can follow his work on instagram: @redwoodchairs
One of my favourite things to carve and a great project for learning carving techniques is a butter spreader. Popular in Scandinavia, they are much less well known in the UK than they ought to be.
The key to making them easily is to split the wood only just bigger than the finished article so you’re not having to carve away too much and you make the most of the timber. A special splitting tool called a froe is useful to have but you can split timber successfully just with an axe and mallet.
This sycamore, on a recent spoon carving course in Wales, just wanted to be spreaders and split beautifully into a dozen perfect blanks.
My craft course season is well underway for 2017 and this weekend I had a brilliant time teaching eight lovely people how to carve wooden spoons at the Woodland Skills Centre.
As always, we start out with freshly-cut, greenwood logs – birch and sycamore this time – and craft them into fabulous cooking and eating spoons with a cheeky butter spreader thrown in too for knife practise.
On a two day course like this there’s lots of time for beginners to develop the skills and try out more challenging carving techniques as well as learning how to sharpen the hook knives and axes. Thanks all, I had a brilliant time and look forward to seeing your future spoons.
I spent last weekend at the Bodgers’ Ball, the annual event of the Green Woodworkers Association in the UK. I entered one of my ash splint pack baskets into the competition and was very pleased to be awarded first place, thanks to everyone who voted for it.
The current issue of the Allotment and Leisure Gardener magazine has a review of The Scything Handbook by Ian Miller.
It’s great that scything is getting this kind of coverage but a shame that the reviewer has been told that this is the “first new book on scything for 35 years”. My own Learn to Scythe book was published in 2015 with both Filbert Press and Ian Miller being aware of it, scything is a small world!
There is a more in-depth review of the Scything Handbook in this issue of Windrow magazine in which my own book gets several very favourable mentions:
Tomlin’s ‘Learn to Scythe’ is a more concise guide, with lots of colour photographs, and a more modern feel
If your sole aim in reading a book about scything is to learn the skills however, then I suggest Tomlin for a clear and concise manual.
So for a modern, concise guide to learning the skills, Learn to Scythe is available to buy directly from me £10 + £4.50 p&p
The 13th West of England Scythe Fair will take place on Sunday 11 June 2017
I will be one of the teachers leading a two day masterclass at the fair on Friday 9 and Saturday 10 June. This course is aimed at:
- mowers with some experience who want to develop their skills
- team leaders managing volunteers or staff
- people who want to teach scythe use to others.
The cost is £125 for individuals, £150 for organizations, £90 concession for unwaged. Meals are provided. Camping on site is available.
There is also a beginner’s course on Saturday 10 June.
For more information or to book, please contact Simon on 01297 561359 or email@example.com www.thescytheshop.co.uk/courses.html
Rusland Horizons is a three year project working to revive traditional skills and increase people’s awareness of this area in south Cumbria.
Last weekend, I taught a group of local people how to carve wooden spoons from freshly cut greenwood timber. Carving outside in the spring sunshine with lovely company is part of the magic of spoon carving, it’s a perfect hobby to take with you when you’re on holiday camping.
We worked with some small diameter silver birch as well as some larger cherry wood, carving cooking spoons, butter spreaders and eating spoons over the two days. As always, the main focus was on learning safe and efficient use of the tools.
First, axe work:
Then lots of different knife techniques for shaping, hollowing and refining the spoons.
It was a lovely peaceful time with lots of good chatter, focussed attention as well as the sound of my first cuckoo of the year. And, of course, some great new wooden spoons.
Find out about my other courses on my greenwood courses page or you can book me to come and teach spoon carving at your own venue – email me for details.
Splitting open a log is always exciting for me. Everything I make starts with the log and that moment when I see it’s texture, how straight the grain is and its colour. The colours in this current piece of cherry timber which I’m working is some the best I’ve ever had. Cherry is always beautiful with pinks intermingled in the heartwood and shown off by the contrasting cream sapwood. In addition, this cherry has a distinct green streak through it as well as gorgeous flecking.
Currently, I have the following spoons available from this special timber:
Cherry tasting spoon 1
Cherry tasting spoon 2
Unfortunately, it’s in limited supply so all of the spoons I carve from it will be limited editions. Once it’s finished, I’ve some good sycamore to start which I’m sure will have it’s own beauty, but not these amazing colours.