It feels important to share this. There are no spoons here or wooden bowls, but please read on…

Two friends of mine have had a dream since they met to live on the road in a house on wheels and to create a travelling theatre bringing music and story and wondrous creativity and magic to the eyes, ears and hearts of audiences young and old. Artist/Maker of Things/Musician Rima Staines and Poet/Storyteller/Maker of Masks Tom Hirons have so far raised almost £25,000 towards making this dream a reality and now have just one week left to raise a little more…

In brief they intend to turn a 1960’s Bedford RL lorry in to a travelling off grid theatre and home.  Read more about the magic behind this project in their own words and donate to support the project here

I took part in a short film to kick start the crowd funding stage which was a lot of fun; see if you can spot me playing the fiddle in my sepia hat.

I believe that they have already raised the money they need to get the project off the ground but please go to their crowd funding site and throw some pennies in their hat as they are now raising further funds for community story and arts projects which will run from Hedgespoken.

Having lived in a converted vehicle myself for some years in the past i know that they are not making life easy for themselves by choosing this way to live. But they have so much to offer and so much support around the world by people who, like me, believe in them and the gifts their talents bring to others. It would be all kinds of wrong if they did not embark upon this journey!

I’ll leave you with a beautiful film about life in the slow lane which Rima shared recently on her Facebook page. And a request that you share news of Hedgespoken with a few other people and help to spread the Good News.


A few from days gone by…

A few from days gone by…

This year has been busy with so many things. The community here at steward Wood has just submitted a third planning application to Dartmoor National Park; the result of many months of hard work.  I won’t go in to all the gory details here, but if you are interested you can find out more about the history of Steward community woodland and planning permission over the last 14 years on the Steward Community Woodland website.

Fern and I have taken on a small flock of Hebridean sheep which are kept a couple of miles away on a friends farm. So we have become joint caretakers of these primitive, horned, wooly beasties. So far we’ve learned to ear tag sheep, treat fly strike, hand shear them, move them from field to field, (pure comedy), protect apple trees from being nibbled, check their feet, how to wrestle them upside down to be health checked or treated for ailments and many more things besides. Never a dull moment.


We’ve had visits from the forestry commission for suspected Phytopthora Ramorum, a fungal disease affecting Japanese Larch, and it looked like we would be served a notice to fell all the larch on our 32 acres, (a lot of larch) with a tight deadline, meaning work around the clock for two or three months. But lady luck was smiling on us because it turned out to be a false alarm, for now at least. We’ve also been visited by The Wildlife Trust who were very complimentary about all the great work the community has done over the years to encourage natural regeneration and to increase the biodiversity of the flora and fauna of the woodland.

On top of such things and many more excitements, I have had the busiest year of courses so far, with multiple visits each month for either spoon carving, pole lathe bowl turning or hook tool forging courses. I have not been documenting most of these courses in the way I once did for fear of boring blog readers to death with yet more happy faces with spoons and bowls, but there are a few old pictures which I’ve been meaning to add here for far to long, so here they are with a brief explanation of why I have included them.



The spoons above (and the middle one shown from the other side, below), were not carved here on one of my courses but left for me as gifts by two people who attended my bowl turning/hook tool forging courses. Both are very highly skilled spoon carvers. The eating spoon on the left is carved by Simon Hill from apple wood and has very tidy carved engraving patterns on the handle. This spoon is one of my favourite eating spoons, the flat edge of the spoon bowl works very well indeed. The larger, un-oiled serving spoon and the smaller teaspoon were carved by another spoon carving great; Nigel Leach. The server was carved from hazel which Nigel harvested from the woodland here, and the teaspoon he carved from cherry. They too are exquisite examples of masterful technique and design and both are in daily use here at home. wooden_spoon_2014_Nigel

Nigel Leach, below turning the back of one of three bowls he turned during his time here, has a Facebook page for his beautiful work which you can see here. He works carefully and picks things up quickly and I have heard from various other recent visitors that he is already turning out some very tidy bowls from his own lathe. It’s no surprise really as his first efforts were very good indeed. Nigel_bowl_turning_lathe_1




Not long after Nigel, I was visited by Cherie from Bristol who was interested to learn to carve spoons from the point of view of a therapist studying how people learn new skills. I won’t go in to all the details here suffice to say it was as educational and interesting for me as she said it was for her and I wish her all the very best with her work as a therapist in the future. Here she is towards the end of the day happily refining the edge profile of her spoon.Sharee_wooden_spoonLike Nigel, Simon Hill was not new to carving with axes and knives when he came here on a bowl turning course. His spoons continue to sell well both here and overseas via his blog/website here. Check it out and prepare to drool. Roughing out the blanks was just a matter of course with Simon’s axe working away methodically. The turning tools were a new challenge however, but by the end of the day with three bowls turned Simon was starting to look like he’d been at the game much longer than just a few hours. He left with three nice bowls and lots of enthusiasm to build a lathe and get turning at home.  He had an accident at work which left his leg in plaster just a few days after being here so there would have been a delay in his plans but as far as I’m aware he has healed up nicely now and I hope he has found time to continue with bowl turning.  I wish him all the very best with it.
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It’s not always people who have previous experience of green wood working who come to visit me here. I often run courses for people who have never used an axe or carving knife before. This was the case for Kay and Rino who came from London for two days. On day one they carved their first ever spoons which they really enjoyed and did very well. Then they both turned a bowl on day two, with a little help from me when fatigue kicked in towards the afternoon. It’s good for me to know what people want from the day.  In the case of Rino and Kay it was more about having a new experience and taking away a bowl and spoon each which they had made.  The objects have a use and will always be connected to the memory of a shared experience together, doing something completely new, learning a traditional way of working with wood. They may never make a spoon or bowl again. Then again, maybe they will. But it’s less certain than say Nigel or Simon going on to turn bowls in the future. They enjoyed the experience very much and I hope they get many years of pleasure from their wooden bowls and spoons.wooden_bowls_and_soons_ 22

I thought i’d include just one more person because I’m sure that anybody who is involved with the ever growing green wood working world will soon get to hear of this guy, if they haven’t already.  Yoav came to the UK for the annual spoon carving festival Spoonfest this summer from Israel.  While he was here he stopped by and forged a tool and turned a bowl and in return he helped us with some of our firewood processing by splitting a huge pile of wood.  Yoav has only recently started carving spoons but is already creating some really lovely work. He is planning to come back for some time this winter so hopefully we’ll have a chance to hang out and do some more carving and turning together. Here he is on a very hot day in august, turning a bowl while melting like a candle.  Happy days indeed!

Wooden Beer Tap

Variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes. So it was a nice to be asked to turn something non-bowl shaped recently. A friend of mine had come in to possession of an old beer barrel with a wooden tap. A dog with an obvious liking for something malty had enjoyed chewing on the tap, so the tap came home with me and sat on a shelf until I had a chance to see if I could duplicate it, more or less.

I haven’t done any spindle turning as such since getting into pole lathe turning. In fact the only time i have used standard turning chisels has been when turning the mandrels (drive shafts) for bowl turning.  So I explained that I wouldn’t be able to produce an exact copy but would try to get somewhere close to the original.

I split a billet of seasoned ash and used a shave horse and draw knife to get it ready for the lathe. I then made a few adjustments to my bowl lathe tool rest, getting the rest closer to the metal centers and higher than I have for turning bowls. And off I went with gouge, chisels and skew chisel and my trusty left leg doing it’s rhythm thing.


Above you can see the original chewed tap and below it, still mounted on the lathe, my attempt at a copy…and my first ever attempt at this type of spindle turning. It was interesting to learn how the skew chisel works and I really enjoyed the challenge. The agreement was to get the blank turned and then give the piece back to my friend who would finish it off by drilling a hole along the inside length of the previously chewed section, and another hole in the side to accommodate the wooden tap. You can see below that the tap is turned from a different type of wood, much harder, (box?). I noticed that the hole in the side of the ash piece is actually a square shape which had a piece of cork fitted to ensure a tight seal with the tap.


I would be very interested to hear from anyone who knows anything else about this type of wooden tap. It’s a lovely old piece of functional turning and I would love to know more, specifically about the cork seal.


Nests of Bowls

Nests of Bowls

I have been intrigued for some time now about nests of bowls. Turning a nest is regarded as the ultimate pole lathe bowl turning achievement. Less wasteful of time and wood, nesting is the ability to get multiple bowls from a single bowl blank. The result is an attractive set of bowls which fit one within the other, with identical grain patterns running through each bowl. The challenge is being able to cut a narrow channel between each bowl, all the way to the core without jamming the tool or ruining the surface, without the benefit of being able to see what you are doing for much of the time.


These are a pair of nests I turned from beech, the one on the right still quite heavy with moisture having been turned yesterday. The one on the left has been off the lathe about a week. When they are both completely dry they will be finished with walnut oil. Each nest is one half of the same log. I have access to plenty more of this beautiful wood. It’s from a huge beech tree which came down in a storm three years ago. The largest bowl on each set is just under eleven inches diameter at the rim. I look forward to making some larger sets, the wood turns very nicely.


The way I see it, turning nests is a natural progression for anyone who has been turning bowls for a while, but only because some very clever people in the past worked out how it could be done, paving the way for those to follow. It humbles me to imagine the first person who had the idea and the journey of discovery which followed, the joy at making it work. What I’d give to have a pint with that person. In Robin Wood’s book ‘The Wooden Bowl’, it is suggested that not until the late 18th or early 19th century did bowl turners begin turning nests of bowls, so a fairly recent innovation in the history of turning, Here’s a close-up of one of my nests showing how the grain runs throughout each bowl.

turned bowl detail

About a year ago I started to leave larger cores while turning bowls, more to save time than to learn nesting. To begin with the cores were not big enough to get a second bowl from, but with time I realised that I was beginning to make subtle changes to my technique which meant that I needed less space to work in and the cores became big enough to make a second bowl from. This was while using standard straight bowl hooks, and the channel between bowl and core was quite large.

turning a nest

After turning sets of two for a while, I realised that I would be able to turn a set of three but first I was going to have to forge some curved tools. So I set up my lathe next to my forge and got to work forging and turning and experimenting, cutting narrower channels between the bowls. The photo above shows me undercutting the core on a nest of two sycamore bowls. Below you can see a nest of three being started with a curved tool cutting towards the core.

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After some time, working by feel and sound and relying to some extent on intuition, the  core is snapped away. This is where experience comes in to play, knowing how to get a good, tidy surface cut without being able to see the tool work. Below you can see the stub left in the bottom of the large outer bowl at the place where the core snapped off. The core is now remounted, a ready made second bowl blank.

nest of bowls

So the process is repeated, cutting another channel to separate bowl number two.

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Until there are now two bowls and a third core which can be remounted on the lathe.

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Finally the last bowl is turned using a standard hook tool.

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But it did take me two failed attempts…and a fair few broken hook tools to learn how to get three bowls from one blank. Below is a photo of one of these failures. I cut through the outer bowl to get an insight in to what was happening as I knew it was going wrong. You can see that I left the walls too thick initially to make allowances for having a curve on the tool that might not be quite right…but the sweep was not tight enough on the second tool and the wall was getting too thin near the base of the bowl.

broken bowl 2

Another more dramatic disaster can be seen in the next photo. On this occasion the tool went right through the wall of the bowl much earlier on.


I also broke a few tools along the way by getting the fine hook tips jammed in the channel. But the journey was worth it. I now have a decent set of tools for turning nests and the satisfaction of having riddled out the technique for myself. As far as I am aware there are six people alive today who know how to turn nests on the pole lathe. No doubt in time that number will increase. I know that time spent turning countless numbers of bowls combined with time spent at the forge are the keys which unlock the learning of this technique and anyone determined who puts in the time will get there.  It’s fun.nest_of_bowls_Sharif_Adams

Bowl Turning in the Woods

Last weekend was a busy one with Adrian Lloyd visiting me here at Steward Wood. Ade has been turning bowls on the pole lathe for a little while and wanted to get some different perspectives on the process. He also wanted to turn a couple of porringers and a plate. He had a very nice axe, hand forged by a Swedish smith who’s name I have forgotten. Here he is roughing out the first blank for a standard bowl. We took it in turns to turn the bowl so that I could see how he approaches the different areas and suggest ways which I find work well for me.



A nice pile of shavings later and it was time to snap the core from the base of the bowl.


Then it was on to the porringers and again we turned one together to go over the different angles to shape the handles and cut the rim. Ade did a grand job having only attempted one porringer previously. The next day he set about turning one by himself. Here he is shaping the back.


Then the blank was turned around and the top of the handles were formed and the rim was turned. This is tricky at first and there were a couple of tense moments when the tool dug in and took chunks out of the rim. But it’s all good practice and valuable to learn how to correct it when it all goes wrong. Ade persevered with determination and a Zen-like calm and a good helping of light-hearted humour.


The smile when it was time to snap the core said it all.


Ade had brought with him a bag full of bowl turning hook tools forged by various people including Ben Orford, Dave Budd and Nick Westerman. They were all very different and I was keen to try them out. I noticed that compared to the tools I make myself, few of them had much of a swan neck or crank behind the hook. I find the addition of a crank makes it much easier to cut the rim and hollow the inside of the bowl without such a risk of snagging the tool and ruining the rim. Here is one of Nick Westerman’s tools, beautifully made as always. You can see Ade’s bag in the background full of more hooks.



We sat in the sun after lunch and carved the handles of the porringers. Being a keen spoon carver Ade had no trouble…unlike me who somehow managed to stick my carving knife in to my thumb! Being a gentleman, Ade was polite enough to suppress his laughter.


A nice trio of turned wooden bowls.



Before he set off back to Hertfordshire, Ade and I turned a little plate. The only large diameter timber I had was some very green ash. We tried it but the blank warped and split just as we had started to turn it so we used some more sycamore instead.


It was a great weekend which ended all too soon. Ade is a top bloke who is really passionate about traditional crafts and I look forward to meeting up with him at the bodger’s ball in May.  Cheers Ade.


Growing Interest in Bowls

Growing Interest in Bowls

It’s been as busy as ever in the woods this winter.  Plenty of trees down as a result of the fierce winds so we’ve been clearing paths and processing firewood as well as holding weekly meetings to discuss our options regarding our planning application which needs to be completed by June this year.  More of that another time… The last few weeks I’ve been running various workshops and courses.  Spoon carving of course, but increasingly there has been interest in bowl turning and hook tool forging.  Most recently I had a visit from a few talented spoon carvers. Jane Mickleborough and her husband Peter came from Brittany and Nigel Leach of Niggleberry Treen travelled from Bristol. They all forged hook tools for bowl turning on Saturday and Peter turned his first ever bowl on the pole lathe on Sunday while Jane and Nigel did some more forging and then some spoon carving.

Here’s Jane happily getting started on her first tool…

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..and Peter…

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..and Nigel… pole_lathe_bowl_turning_&_hook tool_forging_weekend_course (11)

Jane continued forging while Peter and Nigel started grinding bevels on their tools.

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Then they all took it in turns to hammer the tip of their tools in to a hook shape. Jane went first…

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After all that work it’s easy to overheat the fine tip so once it’s been curled, any further heating and shaping needs to be done carefully.  Tip down in to the forge reduces the risk of burning it…

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First the tip is tapped down over the edge of the anvil.

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Then it’s turned around and hammered lightly towards yourself to curl it round.

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Then it’s back in the heat until it glows cherry red before quenching.  Later the tools are tempered.

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Nigel then Peter finished shaping their tools.

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The next day Peter turned his first bowl.  He had never used a pole lathe before and really enjoyed the process.  He knew about roughing out bowl blanks as he does this for his wife Jane who turns bowls.  I was interested in his process for making blanks which is more precise and mathematical than my approach.  He measures out with square and pencil and uses a saw to remove the corners.  I showed him how I do it by eye with just an axe and he had a go, but I suspect he will stick with his way which works nicely for him.  Here he is having nearly turned the back of the bowl.

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And hollowing inside.

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Peter made a good deep bowl with a nice lip just below the rim.

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The end of a good day with a nice first bowl.

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Shortly after Jane, Peter and Nigel had visited I concluded a very nice project with a lovely couple who live on a smallholding.  Jan had contacted me and asked if I could help her and her husband Dave learn to turn bowls on a pole lathe.  They wanted to make their own lathe and forge their own tools too.  So i went to meet them and see what they had in the way of timber on their land for the lathe.  A large alder had blown down next to a stream and it looked just the right size for a bowl lathe.  The only trouble was getting it from where it had fallen to their house.  Dave had a plan to cut it to length and float it down the stream, then winch it out with his land rover.  Amazingly it worked and the next time I visited we got to work converting the log in to a bowl making machine.  Dave used a chainsaw mill to cut a plank for the bed of the lathe and then cut a channel for the head stock and tail stock to move in.

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 Angled holes were drilled for the legs and the end of the log was cut in half for the stocks, then shaped to fit the channel.

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Wedges were shaped to hold the stocks in place and legs were cut to length and carved to slot in to the bed.

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Here’s a photo of Jan and Dave taking photos of their work at the end of a long day.

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The next day was spent forging tools and getting the metal centres ready for the lathe.  We used the same 16mm round bar for the centres and the tools. Here are the centres; the top one is ready for the lathe.  The ends are tapered and hammered in to square section to stop them moving when they are in the lathe. The ends were ground to 60 degree cones.  The bowl blank and mandrel rotate on these so the smoother and more polished the finish on them the better.


Dave forging his first hook tool.


Jan making it look easy.


Then on my last visit it all came together. They had the tools and lathe ready and we roughed out a blank and between them they turned a lovely first bowl.

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Dave got the hang of the technique really fast and quickly turned the back of the bowl.

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Jan took over to turn a nice concave curve in the base of the bowl.  Dave found this more challenging so perhaps they will make the perfect bowl turning team between them!

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Undercutting the core…

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‘Isn’t it my go now?’

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Then the the mandrel and blank come off the lathe.

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A firm grip and the moment of truth…

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…snap…a bowl is born.

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Jan and Dave were right to look so proud of this bowl.  They had started with a fallen tree and a few bits of steel and now have the lathe, tools and skill to make many more bowls.  This really is a very nice first bowl. I will miss going to their place and look forward to seeing them both again at the Bodger’s Ball in May.

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Earlier last month I had a call from David Kuegler. He had turned a bowl with Robin Wood and been bitten by the bug but had hit a wall with certain aspects of the process and wanted some advice.  Unsure at first what I could offer him i asked for a list of things he was struggling with and we worked through each point together.  When I demonstrated ‘pulsing’ the tool through a series of arcs to do the roughing cuts on the back of the bowl, David had a go and said that this alone made all the difference.  I use my body and arm to nudge the tool forward in rhythm with the treadle in a controlled and steady way with a slicing cut. My physical position in relation to the bowl changes constantly as the tool moves around the curve from the base to the rim to maintain the correct angle where the cutting edge meets the wood.  This technique results in a nice smooth finish without the deep gouges and uneven surface associated with random lunges with the tool. This ‘pulsing’ is used in various ways around the bowl, both inside and outside and a variation is used while undercutting the core. It’s one of those things that get’s easier with practice.

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While David used a curved knife to tidy up inside his bowl we discussed tools and forging and he has arranged to visit again to make a set of his own tools, tailored to his own requirements.  I enjoyed his company and his dog enjoyed playing with my new lurcher pup so his next visit is something I’m looking forward to.

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I have several commissions now which need some attention; bowls, plates and spoons and also a few hook tools which is a first for me, sales-wise.  The birds are nesting and the snowdrops and daffodils are up.  Elder coming in to leaf and baby rabbits munching the new herbage in the fields above the woods.  I hope you all enjoy the spring and thanks for hanging in there through these long-winded posts.

Forging hook tools

The thing about pole lathe bowl turning that really interested me when I got started was that the bowl turner must first make their own machine and tools before making a bowl.  Before making my lathe I forged some tools, reasoning that having the tools would be the incentive to hurry up and build a lathe.

I had done some forge-work many moons ago while studying violin making, so much of the process was familiar.  Drawing out a length of steel is fairly simple.  The only aspects which need a little thought are the stages of hardening and tempering.  This isn’t rocket science either, just a case of bringing the steel to certain temperatures and quenching it to fix it a various states of hardness.  When steel is very hard it is brittle and can snap easily, when too soft a cutting edge won’t stay sharp for long.  The idea is to reach a happy balance between these too extremes.

My approach has always been to use what I have to hand.  My set-up for my first few batches of tools was very basic but worked really well. I have recently started using a gas forge which is quick and easy to move/set up, but I made dozens of tools with bricks and charcoal. Here I am a couple of years ago in a garden using a mix of charcoal and coke with a simple arrangements of bricks on the ground.  For my first tools I used old coil springs but found that it was a pain to unwind them, so started buying nice straight bars of 01 tools steel from a supplier in Sheffield.  Works out about £5 per tool.



The hoover was the bellows; it had a leaf blowing function which was very useful.  I rigged it up to some copper pipe which went under the soil and curved up in a corner of the brick arrangement. I’ve also used hairdryers and they work fine too. I started the fire with charcoal and later added coke, (sunbright singles) to keep it burning for longer.  Charcoal alone is ok but doesn’t last long.  Copper pipe is fine as it’s below the fierce heat and is easily replaced eventually.



It always amazes me how fast 16mm 01 tool steel heats up to a nice workable orange glow. It’s not worth hitting metal that hasn’t reached this colour.


 I must confess to having always had a fascination with fire…there’s something about forging metal too…if I’m not careful to remember that I’m doing this so that I can make wooden bowls I may well get distracted and end up abandoning green wood altogether…. become a blacksmith….especially tempting as winter approaches.  I like the way all the elements are brought together…fire, water, air, earth, to create things which allow us to create other things.  Something magical about that, even though it is a very down to earth, practical type of magic.

Below are some tools that have been drawn out, had bevels ground on with angle grinders or belt sanders, then had the tips hammered over and been hardened.  The second picture shows two tools fresh from the grinder, ready to be re-heated and curled.



Below are some of my finished hooks, hardened and tempered and with handles.  As my skill level on the lathe has increased I’ve been able to use much finer hooks without such a risk of breakage from dig-ins.  These are useful for turning smaller items like quaichs.


I started making shorter handles too which suit me better than long handles.


I was asked to run a one day hook tool forging workshop for the Chiltern Association of Pole Lathe Turners.  The day went really well and everyone made some nice tools.  We had two at a time using the forge, taking it in turns to use the anvil.  Below Morris and Jamie are watching their steel heat up in the gas forge.



Jamie drawing out the round bar in to a nice rectangular shape, ready to hammer bevels on before taking it to the grinder.



Steve and Larry grinding bevels on with angle grinders and below then Roger doing the same.



  Once the tips have been curled over, the hooks are polished up with wet and dry paper so that the tempering colours can be seen moving along the steel.

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Here Jamie is curling the tip of a tool.  This can be done with needle-nose pliers or by curling it around a large nail but I prefer to use a hammer.


The last stage before fitting handles; tempering…


There are various ways to do this.  Traditionally smiths would quench quickly then take the still hot steel out of the quench and watch the colours run, then quench again.  I find this a bit hit and miss.  It’s possible to temper in an oven, but I always use a gas hob and watch the colours run towards the cutting edge.  When the blade is a light bronze/straw colour I quench.


The finished tools.


A lovely group of people at the end of a productive day.  But why am I the only one wearing an apron?

Thanks to Richard Charles for hosting the event and for such a great lunch.


I am now running workshops on forging hook tools and bowl turning from Steward Wood in Devon, either as individual days or together.  A typical two day course would include forging tools on day one then turning a bowl on the pole lathe on day two.  This is a great way to equip yourself with the tools and basic techniques to get you started.  With the gas forge I can also offer to run these workshops at other locations.   For more info or to book a course get in touch via my website.