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Eating a meal from a


Eating a meal from a

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									Kit & Courses

Nature’s Craftsman Course


Kit & Courses

Natures Craft
Searching for survival skills Rob Exton spends a weekend in the woods making treen and tools


ating a meal from a wooden bowl and spoon fashioned by your own hand is a special thrill and really connects you to the woods. If you are to make bowls and plates you will be working with logs of 6-10in diameter. This will need the felling of a small tree or the conversion of a fallen one into workablesized pieces for further carving. Andy Noble, who runs Natures Craft has a passion for the woods and experience beyond his years. Calm and clear, he instils confidence in his students and nurtures them to success at all times. On the first day of our three-day Nature’s Craftsman course in east Wiltshire we set up camp and begin with a little axe work. The Small Forest Axe (from Gransfor Brukes) has become the axe of choice for most woodsmen because it is portable, can be used to fell small trees but is still small enough to use chocked up (held close to the head) for delicate work. We are taught how to maintain and sharpen this useful tool all weekend. The next step is to move on from a folding hand/pruning saw to a more efficient and larger bow saw, or in its more natural form the buck saw which is capable of efficiently processing logs as thick as your thigh.

You learn a disparate range of skills on the Nature’s Craftsman course, and get to make containers from bark you’ve harvested yourself


Natures Craft is run by Andy Noble in Wiltshire’s Savernake Forest

Making a buck saw

We venture further into the woods to assess the availability of wood for later projects and to gather materials for the buck saw construction. On the trail we

check out a fallen birch and mark a couple of sycamore which are growing badly due to crowding. It is perfect for spoons later. We are in an old coppice so soon find neglected hazel in need of a prune and gather enough thumb-sized poles to make the buck saw. You can see from the picture that you need two uprights about 12in long, with notches just over half way up from the bottom. The crossbeam (approx 22in long) can be either a single bar or a forked branch which adds extra stability by triangulation. The ends are whittled to match the notches cut in the uprights. The tensioning bar is left plain and is approx 10in long. To complete the saw you need an appropriate blade and a few yards of cord (non-stretch). The 24in Bahco blade can be

found in B&Q or garden centres for less than £5. It is flexible enough to be wound up and stored in a billy can with the cord. You either cut or split slits in one end of the uprights to a depth of 1-2in (you can stop the split from running by tying cord around the upright), insert the blade and secure it with two whittled hardwood pegs in the holes in the blade. Assembling the saw is tricky, I seemed to need four hands, so getting a friend to help may make life easier. With the components lined up, it is a case of winding up the cord with the tensioning bar and jamming it against the crossbeam, when sufficient tension is achieved. The correct tension is a question of trial and error, with too little resulting in the collapse of the saw when cutting. Then we learnt how to fell a sycamore with the felling axe, de-limbing and clearing the brash, and bucked to length with the saw and split the wood with the axe and with wedges taken and shaped from the thicker branches of the same tree. The birch is dying but the
One of the first tasks is to make your own bucksaw, using a £5 blade and bits of wood!

Forestry meets bushcraft and woodwork. Andy Noble teaches people on the course how to make your own wedges to split logs that can then be use for making spoons, bowls and other treen or even tools

main limbs and trunk are still strong, wet with sap and suitable for our needs. We cut several lengths with our buck saws which easily manage the 6-10in diameter. We are fortunate that the birch has not fallen for long and are able to remove several sections of bark for use in container making (see box, right). You should never remove bark from a standing tree, or you’ll cause irreparable damage.

Knife and spoon

The spoon’s origin is lost in the mists of time, presumably replacing the cupped hand as an easier way of eating soup. Along with other domestic wooden utensils they were collectively known as treen. The trencher (plate) has been developing since medieval times, replacing the stale bread plate and predating pewter and china. As part of the course you are supplied with a Frosts carving knife and a hooked spoon knife

and taught the care and sharpening of these tools. Andy teaches us the most efficient grips and techniques to use so that you do not become tired or acquire too many blisters. After splitting and rough shaping with our axes we set about crafting many useful items: bowls, spoons, cups and small platters. I concentrate on an oval cereal bowl and spoon. The oval bowl is crafted from a half log of beech which was approx 6in in diameter and some 10in long and took some four hours or so to get to a usable state. The spoon is from the sycamore and took 2-3 hours to be useful. The small side plate or mini trencher was made from a simply cleaved slice of birch with a curved bottom to counteract the natural curl from drying and then spoon knife carved to create the bowl. The handled cup is made from a beech log and is based on the kupsa cup of the Sami

people of northern Scandinavia. This is an ambitious project in the time available, as it probably takes some 8-10 hours in itself. A fair amount of time is needed for carving but not in one session. Andy cleverly rings the changes every hour or so giving the hands a rest and introducing a new and refreshing topic. A series of these interludes included the collecting and preparation of nettles for cordage making, which was undertaken a few hours later when the fibres were dry, and then an expedition to look at animal tracks and trees of interest. At the end of the weekend we all have usable carved items which would benefit from some homework to refine, but with the principles firmly in place for future reference.


Camp fire discussions were wide ranging including th euse of leather pouches as containers and how to make sheaths for the

tools. Andy is an enthusiastic, proficient and knowledgeable young man. He has a calm and efficient manner in teaching the subjects covered on the course. He is continually improving his courses both with content and by inviting visiting instructors. The woods he uses are in a great location (Savernake Forest, Wilts), are unspoilt and managed in a way as to show minimal impact on the environment. This is about as green as it gets and very refreshing. You are working in and from an expedition-style camp with only basic facilities. This means that you should have some experience of camping and be ready boil a kettle over an open fire for washing etc... and be willing to use an open-plan (but discreet) compost loo. The heart of the course is the campfire and kitchen which all are encouraged to use for perpetual tea and coffee. A hearty vegetable soup and freshly baked bread is provided for lunch and a huge pan of potatoes is boiled up for the evening meal along with a fruit bannock. You cater for your own breakfast and your preferred evening meal components be it a griddled steak or a tin of chilli. At the end of three days we had all had a great holiday and took home not only greater knowledge but several useful items to be proud of. All agreed that they were much better equipped to make the most of the woods and become better Nature’s Craftsmen.

The woodland equivalent of Tupperware is the birch bark container which has anti-bacterial qualities helping to preserve food. It’s useful for gathering nuts, seeds or to protect tomatoes. British birch bark is thin at only 1mm on average, but doubled up is strong enough. We showed you how to make this in Living Woods Issue 2, or visit naturescrafts.co.uk A slightly simpler design of container is the woven basket which is made from 1in strips of bark woven in a four over four pattern for the base then scored/ folded up and continued up the sides with a return tuck at the top. Detailed instructions are not possible in this issue, but one clue is to have plenty of clothes pegs at hand if you want to have a go as you won’t have enough fingers.

Details The three-day Nature’s Craftsman course costs £225, and comprises tool selection, safety, care and maintenance. You may a bucksaw and bark containers, and learn carving techniques. In 2010 Natures Craft will be running a wider range of courses. To find out more visit naturescraft.co.uk or call 07919 351640.


September/October 2009

September/October 2009

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