Pollarding Ash Trees

We have quite a few young ash trees which we grew from seed gathered from local trees and planted out around 8 years ago. Whilst the vast majority of our ash trees are being grown to coppice, we have some that are under grazed by free range chickens.

Ash Pollards
Creating our Ash Pollards

Pollarding trees is a bit out of vogue but we decided to give it a go with these trees to allow us free access between the stems but still provide a good canopy for the benefit of the hens.

Research suggested that we were now at the optimum diameter to initiate a pollard and create a ‘knuckle’ from which future growth will occur.

From BS 3998:

7.10 Pollarding
If pollarding is to be carried out, it should preferably start soon after the tree has become established and is between 25 mm to 50 mm in diameter at the selected height of pollarding (often 2 m to 3 m). The initial pollarding cut should be made at a height which reflects site usage but which, if possible, allows some of the pre-existing foliage to be retained, in order to maintain physiological function and thus reduce the probability of dieback or death. If the tree divides into a number of stems or branches below a height of 3 m, these should be individually cut so as to initiate a “candelabra” framework.

If the stem has attained a diameter of more than 50 mm, but less than about 200 mm at 2 m to 3 m height, pollarding may still be initiated. The tree should be cut at or near the same height as a younger tree, but extra care should be taken to retain some existing branches. Larger trees should not normally be treated in this way (see Annex C for severe cutting for special purposes).
Once initiated, a pollard should be maintained by cutting the new branches on a cyclical basis. The frequency of the cycle should be decided according to site management objectives, species, age, condition and/or any product that might be required. Selective cutting, whereby some of the pollard branches are retained within each cycle, should be chosen if this would help to prevent dieback and decay in the stem.

Branches that grow after pollarding should normally be cut at their bases in order to encourage the formation of a knuckle after a number of cycles. If, however, the pollard cycle has been allowed to lapse over many years, the crown should instead be reduced (see 7.7) to the minimum necessary to fulfil current objectives. These could include the relief of any mechanical stress that would otherwise be likely to cause the stem to split apart. Even if the stress on an old pollard branch is severe, it should not be cut back to the knuckle, since the removal of all its attached foliage would probably lead to physiological dysfunction and decay. It should instead be shortened by cutting just above a suitable lateral branch [see Figure 2, R(c)], or failing that, by retaining a live stub from which new shoots could grow.

If crown reduction would be insufficient to safeguard those branches that are most likely to fail, they may be reduced to stubs in one operation (a “pole thin”), while the remaining branches are shortened so as to retain enough of the leaf-bearing twig structure to sustain the tree.

NOTE Retention of live stubs on lapsed pollards will often help to reduce the risk of serious dysfunction and hence decay and weakness developing below the knuckles.

Using just a trusty Silky Zubat hand saw it didn’t take long to do the deed. We still have no signs of the inevitable Ash Dieback disease so hopefully we will see the new growth get established over the next few years.

All material recovered from the hen pen will be utilised. The brash will be chipped for use in log boilers and the larger logs used for craft projects, replacement tool handles or sawn up and sold as firewood for log burners.

Wood fuel collected from Ash pollarding
Wood fuel collected from pollarding our ash trees



Harvesting Basket Making Willow

Having packed away the fresh wreath making ‘production line’ for another year our next job is to get our home grown willow rods cut and into storage for processing as willow whip tips for floristry, straight sticks for crafts and little log bundles for picks to decorate next year’s wreaths. These items are sold all year round on our Wreath Supplies website.

Harvesting basket making willow
Freshly cut rods of willow for basket making, crafts and sculptures

After Christmas we start harvesting the willow to fulfill any orders for full length willow rods received.  Don’t worry if you haven’t ordered as there usually is a surplus and the rods are available to buy for willow weaving, basketry and sculptures at just 20p each.

In response to those people who want to create their own products from scratch we do allow people to select and cut their own willow rods directly from the field. This is priced at £30 an hour (or part thereof) for the first cutter and £10 an hour for each additional cutter in the same party. All the willow you cut is yours to take away at no additional cost.

Fresh willow is available January to March by appointment. Ring Mark on 07834 324080 for more details.


Making a Rustic Oak Bed

Making a rustic oak bed – May ‘14

Pictures, measurements and sketches of a rustic bed
Tentative plans for a rustic bed

It started, as is so often the case, with a picture clipped from some designer home magazine or other. Accompanied with, of course, the inevitable ponderous question: “Couldn’t you make one of those?”
This time it was a bed, with big slabs of sawn log for the headboard, and small sections of trunk set vertical for the legs. To be fair we were in the market for a new bed to go in a Showman’s Caravan restoration we were just starting, and something like the one in the clipping would be quite a striking piece if we could pull it off. Space was going to be a restricting factor, so we couldn’t really get away with full sections of trunk for legs, but something “in the spirit of” would still be quite acceptable.

Using an Alaskan chain-saw mill to cut oak planks
Planking a section of trunk

In a piece of real serendipity, the storms that had swept across the area the previous month had brought down a massive sessile Oak on a friend’s driveway. For a half-share in the timber, he was very keen to have someone help him cut it down to usable lumber. In my mind’s eye I was going to get enough wood for the bed, along with all the timber I would need to re-frame the caravan. It didn’t come anywhere close!

Over the course of three or four hard days, we wrestled the tree into submission and cut various sized planks and spars with a chain-saw mill. I’d gone with a vague “shopping list” of the pieces I would need for the bed, and these cuts were prioritised from my bits of wood. The rest was cut up into sizes likely to be of use down the line. I rooted through the pile of branches pruned from the trunk when it first came down and found some pieces that might do for legs.
Green oak is soft and easy to work, but as it dries it gets harder and harder. As such, the slabs and slices were cut into square edged planks on a table saw as soon as possible. The wood was then stacked, with small spacers between layers, in a wood-store to season, and the bark was cut from the “legs” to help them dry out.

Debarked braches were selected to make the bed legs.
Oak branches for the bed legs

Making a rustic oak bed – May ’15

With the timber about a year old, it was time to set about preparing it for its final role. The tree that the timber came from was a gnarly weather beaten specimen, and “straight grain” was not a feature so the first task was to weed out the planks that had warped beyond reasonable use. Others had short sections of straight-ish timber that could be of use, and thankfully there were enough long flat bits to make the bed sides.

I have to confess to still having not mastered cutting a straight edge on  a table saw, but we tidied up and squared off the planks as best we could. Chainsaw milling leaves a rough surface, so each plank also needed sanding down to a reasonable finish.

sanded and square-ish, a finished plank
The simple pleasure of a home crafted oak plank

The first heart-in-mouth moment arrived when it was time to cut the planks to final length; there really wasn’t enough spare straight timber to afford any kind of mistake but thankfully all went to plan.

The finished components are gathered together
Rustic bed components are cut to size

The box that formed the main part of the frame was the easy part, and was wrestled into shape relatively easily. I’d originally planned (and cut) oak slats to go across the frame, but these seemed to be better used as caravan floor-boards. Fortunately we had taken down a large Ash tree over the winter and I had some rather nice waney-edged planks that were perfect for the job.

The bed components are fitted together.
The main bed frame components are assembled….and seem to fit!

With everything seeming to fit together into a reasonably square frame, the components were numbered and the whole thing pulled apart again for finishing. We decided the slats were too thick, so these were halved on the table saw, and we also added a central spar to support them in the middle.

Making a rustic oak bed – Aug ’15

With the “easy” bit of the frame complete, it was time to consider the more complex issues of the legs and headboard. A particular challenge was finding a reference ‘face’ on an irregular, broadly circular trunk of wood. In my mind at least, having a defined “face” would be central to getting the correct headboard look and ensuring that the cut-outs on which the frame rested were at right-angles to the headboard.

I pondered long and hard about this issue, and although a little simple and inelegant, the solution seemed to work. Starting with the headboard, I laid the uprights on the ground in the correct orientation to each other, and when happy with the arrangement I screwed a square section of plank to the foot of each. This meant that the posts could be easily and accurately rotated through 90 degrees. The posts were then placed in a box frame just slightly bigger than the post. By laying planks over the top of a box, a flat surface was provided to run saws up and down to cut out the slot for the headboard. A similar approach (with a 90 degree rotation thrown in for good measure) enabled the ledge  for the frame to be cut.

The headboard components are pulled together to try them for size.
A test assembly of the headboard

A test assembly of the headboard seemed to give the right look, and, after some minor trims and adjustments, it was disassembled for a final sanding and finishing with Danish oil.

A similar approach to cutting the headboard slots was taken for the two remaining legs, and suddenly the end seemed to be in sight. Alas, the sense of near completion was to prove a little premature as I realised I had no real plan for how to attach the mattress box to the headboard and legs. More head-scratching was to follow, and without an obvious answer coming to light we went back to basics and looked how our existing beds were held together. The secret, it seems, are cot-bolts; those long bolts that slot into a pre-drilled hole on the opposing piece of timber and make contact with a circular nut that sits in a hole at right angles to the bolt hole. All well and good with flat planks pre-drilled on a jig in the factory. Not quite so tidy with circular tree-trunks drilled by hand on a garden path, but we got there in the end.

the final test assembly of the Rustic Bed
Almost there; the final test assembly of the Rustic Bed

Now all that remains is the small job of installing it into the Showman’s Wagon……..just have to finish rebuilding the bedroom first.



Brown Jute String

Just arrived and unpacked this afternoon… 500g bundles of four ply natural jute twine. Ideal for crafts and around the house and garden, these big brown balls of string have been much requested but we have struggled to find a quality we are happy with. Worth the wait we hope!

Natural brown jute twine
Natural brown jute twine

We will get them loaded onto the shopping cart ASAP so keep an eye on http://wreathsupplies.co.uk/string_raffia.html 


It’s Rustic Santa Time

Our Rustic Santas are once again being packed ready for the Christmas markets.

Making rustic log Santa’s from Silver Birch branches

Every Santa is made from our own home grown timber (mainly Silver Birch) which has been fully seasoned so they will not leave a mark on the table cloth. Each one is individually made so no two Santa’s are the same.

Log santas ready for Christmas
Rustic Log Santas ready for packing

Due to popular demand we have made a few Everton Santa’s but they do look lonely!

Boxing up log santas
Boxing up our log Santas for the Christmas markets

It might sound daft, but it is disconcerting closing the lid and sealing the box with all those eyes watching.

These are an easy project for all ages and we do sell the unpainted blanks for you to decorate if you don’t want the kids using a 3 phase bandsaw!

With enough notice, we can also supply large log Santa’s for Christmas shop window dressing or displays.



Ever changing seasons

Well that’s the pumpkins done for another year.

It is always a bit sad removing all the unsold pumpkins but it needs to be done and it is nice to get the space back in the yard. Unlike the pumpkins, the unsold winter squashes will ‘keep’ and provide us with some welcome vegetables throughout the coming winter months and provide the seeds for next year’s crop of the heritage varieties.

Tipping unsold pumpkins
Tipping unsold pumpkins

Just like the pumpkin patch fields, I will also need to tidy up the Big Pumpkins website and prepare it for the next season. At least you don’t get wet and cold doing the website.

The orders for wreath making supplies and freshly made Christmas wreaths are ramping up fast now and will peak during November. No rest for the wicked!


Carving a wooden pumpkin

I have seen quite a few impressive wooden pumpkins on the internet and decided to have a go. Luckily I had recently rescued a large union of freshly felled Sycamore that the wood fairies had left behind as it was too big and nasty to split for firewood.

The original ‘big lump’ of wood was first sawn into three pieces to make it more manageable and placed on a cherry log podium work bench.

Lump of recently felled Sycamore
Lump of recently felled Sycamore

The log was then trimmed with a chainsaw until a rough pumpkin shaped had been achieved.

Roughing out the rough shape with a chainsaw
Roughing out the rough shape of a pumpkin with a chainsaw

The wooden pumpkin was then planed to shape and a first pass of 60 grit sand paper applied. A hole was popped into the top and a nice curved piece of Hazel found to make a pumpkin ‘stem’.

The roughed out Sycamore pumpkin together with a hazel stalk
The roughed out Sycamore pumpkin together with a naturally curved hazel stalk

As the wood is unseasoned and still very wet there is no way of sanding a proper finish so it will be stored and finished next year when it has fully seasoned.  This will give me a year to make a decision; varnish, wax or paint. I suspect the pattern of the grain around the union will mean it is left as a wood finish but I am so tempted to try a coat of chalk paint to see how that looks.


Getting to grips with a DSLR

Still trying top get to grips with my new camera. Yes, I have read the instructions but after so long with a ‘point and press’ the complexity of a DSLR seems insurmountable. Trying to remember the little bit learnt a week ago is a big enough challenge at the moment.

I didn’t want to let the season  pass without having a go at capturing some nice pumpkin photos for use on our www.BigPumpkins.co.uk website. Most shots were either out of focus or were too bright but these few were ok. Back to the instruction manual!

Little pumpkin on window ledge
Pumpkin on stone
Pumpkins on a bench outside the Summer House
Pumpkins on bench
A selection of pumpkins outside our wood shed
Pumpkins on wood shed step