Monday, 7 December 2015

New Website

I've been working on putting together some kind of online shop for a while now, and I've found it really frustrating. Making things out of wood is much easier. I've had a few enquiries about sales over the last few weeks, so I thought I'd better just bite the bullet and go live with it. I'm sure this will just be the start of several versions, but with everything else I've learned as I've got, so why would this be any different?

Anyway, here's the link if you want to take a look: Holt & Heath Handmade

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Mike Abbott Shave Horse

I'm getting ready to begin my first journey into chair making, but first I needed to build a new shave horse. I made my first shave horse a while back out of a salvaged plank of wood and some branches from some nearby woods. Richard and I each made one together and I thought I'd done a post on it about four years ago, but obviously not. Anyway here's a picture of Richard on his.

It did the job, but has lived outside and been used more as a Star Wars speeder bike for my boys than as a shave horse. Consequently it now looks like this.

I would love to make one out of a split log of a species suitable to live outside, something like Sweet Chestnut, but unfortunately I don't have access to that kind of wood. In his book Going With the Grain, Mike Abbott gives instructions for building a shavehorse out of  2"x4" timbers that can be bought at a DIY store.  The instructions are really easy to follow and once you have all of the wood cut to size, it's just like building flat pack furniture.

So here is the finished article. I would put more pictures on and explain things in more detail, but I don't think it would be fair on Mike. Just buy his book. It's full of photos and is very easy to follow. I challenge you to read it and not want to build chairs.

The wonky seat is intentional and serves a purpose, I promise.

In hindsight there are a couple of things I would say by way of advice to anyone making one like this. Firstly, choose your wood carefully. Mine is slightly twisted and though I don't think it will have any effect in use, it bugs me. Secondly, When boring the holes in the platform, if possible do both sides together either with a long auger bit or before assembly with them clamped together. Finally, if at all possible use the turbo coach screws recommended by Mike with a hex driver in a drill, they're incredibly fast. I didn't have a suitable hex driver to begin with and so I did most of it by hand. It was much slower and caused blisters.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Basket Weaving

Basket by Rachel Evans
Things have gone pretty dark over here for a while, so our apologies for that. I'm going to make more of an effort now to keep things up and running. One of the first things I want to write about is the basketry course we did at the beginning of the summer with Rachel Evans. Six of us went along and we all had a great time. Rachel was very good at dealing with us, and she explained everything so clearly, including the information we would need to continue with the craft at home.

We all made a simple round basket and Ruth even managed to put a handle on hers. This is Rachel's beginners course, but she also does more advanced courses or will tailor the time to your needs. Laura organised the whole affair as a Christmas present for me, but basketry is something that she has been interested in ever since we met and long before I started making things myself. I really hope that we can get some materials and do it again ourselves at home as it would be nice for us to be involved in a craft that we can do together.

How it all starts

Richard wanted to make a tall basket, so he had to go outside to get his side stakes in.
The raw materials

Laura working at top speed
Eden got really upset when Rachel told him his bottom was too flat

The finished baskets
Another of Rachel's baskets
And another

Thursday, 9 July 2015


I've been wanting to have a go at turning some plates for ages, so when I recently got hold of a Birch log that was suitably big, I thought that it was about time to give it a try.

I'm really pleased with the result, but the process made me think that it's probably about time I got myself a chainsaw. I've been putting this off for some time as I find them to be noisy, smelly and quite frankly, scary, but it would save me a lot of time preparing the wood for mounting on the lathe and would also allow me to be more wood efficient, especially, I think, with preparing plates.

I've been using these plates for all of my meals now and I'm definitely converted. There's something special about eating off of wood and you don't get the clanking and scraping noises that you get with regular plates. This first batch are going to be keepers, but i hope to have some for sale soon.

You can buy wooden plates from Owen Thomas and Robin Wood if they have them in stock.

Carving Day

This  is a post I should have done a while ago. Richard and I don't often get the opportunity to get together to do some carving, but during each school holiday we always make an effort to meet up. Last half term we got together at Richard's and decided to do some spoon carving. We thought it would be good to both have a go at the same type of spoon and so we tried to copy one of Richards favourite users, which is actually a copy of one that I bought from a market in Turkey.

It was a nice sunny day; perfect for an afternoon carving. Unfortunately the piece of Maple that I was using was awful and very knotty. It probably should have been abandoned, but I persevered anyway. 

Richard spent some time trying out my Twca Cam and I had a go with his spoon board (I'll post more about them soon).

Unfortunately, during the day, Richard managed to sit on the spoon he was copying and broke it. His copy will have to be his new favourite.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Natural Sharpening Stones

I made a box for this little sharpening stone the other day as a gift for Richard. I often pick up nice natural sharpening stones from car boot sales and whenever I see a nice user made box, the chances are there'll be a nice stone inside. I thought it would be nice to make this for Richard as I have a similar sized stone that used to belong to one of my other brothers Adrian. Adrian died when I was only one year old, so as well as being a nice Belgian Blue natural stone, it has some sentimental value attached to it.

Adrian's stone
The box I made for Richard is made from Elm and I think the stone might be a Charnley Forest. I made sure it was a stone that he could use with water as the idea was that this would be a portable stone that he could carry around with him on little carving trips. In that case you don't want an oily stone messing everything up, but also you don't want to have to carry oil around with you (I keep a small supply of water with me at all times in my mouth).

I went to a boot sale on Monday and scored the biggest natural stone I've ever seen for the grand sum of £2.50. It's another Charnley Forest stone and will last several lifetimes.

This is the complete opposite of the small pocket stones and weighs like a brick.

Friday, 1 May 2015


I've been experimenting recently with making turned kuksas. A kuksa is a wooden cup made by the Sami people of Sweden and Finland. I think kuksa is the Finnish word for them and in Sweden they are known as kasa. I've also seen them referred to by different names. Traditionally they are carved, but I have seen them turned before so I thought I'd give it a go. To be honest it is more difficult than I thought it would be. You have to get the shape of the bottom half just right so that you're carving loads of the handle area away to get the right shape.

I've tried four now. One of them was a complete failure so I took it off of the lathe and started carving it instead. I didn't get very far and then I gave it to Richard to finish. He may post it on here later.

The first is the smallest one. It's ok, but it doesn't have the continuous curve from top to base that I am working towards. The second two are better, but I don't feel that I'm quite there yet as i had to do too much carving to get them right.

I've fitted two of them out with Sami style toggles so that they can be worn on your belt. Perfect for camping cups. I've had quite a bit of interest in these so I better get making.

Alexander Yerks in the US makes some lovely carved kuksas. Check out his website here.

Monday, 16 March 2015

OWC Spring Spoon Moot - UPDATE....

Just a quick one to confirm details for Saturday's little get together. So it's Saturday 21st March, starting from about 2 o'clock pm. It's going to be a fairly informal type of event - come along whenever is convenient, leave whenever you want. Bring some tools or don't; bring some wood or don't; bring some work to show or don't. Come if you are a seasoned carver; come if you're a beginner; come if you haven't actually started carving yet and just have a passing interest. Come along and chat, share tips, ask questions - give answers. Ju and I will be carving, join in or don't - does that sound casual enough?

We'll be at my house, in Leicester. It's number 21 - postcode LE2 9TP.

It would be great to meet you so pop along and join in the fun!

Friday, 6 March 2015

Naked Bowls

I guess it goes without saying that I love wood. I've always preferred it in it's natural state. When we started doing up our first house I couldn't bring myself to paint any of the wood work. My father in law (who did all of the building work) kept complaining that it looked half finished, but I just loved the look of the wood au natural. The idea of painting a wooden bowl would have made me spit. That was until I saw the bowls made by Jarrod Stonedahl and realised that painted bowls can look cool. Check out his latest bowls here. The problem is that I then got hooked on painting my bowls. I've had varying amounts of success with this. Some of them looked like they'd been hastily coloured in with a felt tip pen (Richard's words), but after a fair bit of experimentation, I feel pretty confident with my most recent ones.

I particularly like the way that painted bowls, once worn a bit, show up the tool marks in the wood. This is also really nice with carved bowls.

My latest bowls presented me with a bit of a dilemma. They're turned from Sycamore that was very green and the wood is pretty bland, so I was very tempted to paint them, but my wife has been telling me to leave some natural for a while now. Naturally my beloved (I have to call her that or she hits me) won the argument and so here they are in their birthday suits.

Monday, 2 March 2015

My first axe....

I can't give you the technical specifications of this axe - weight, size, etc - because I've sat down to write this post and realized I haven't got them - but I'm going to write the post anyway.

When I first became interested in bushcraft, adventuring and carving, I had something of an obsession with the mountain men and fur trappers of North America and Canada - voyageurs and coureur de bois.

I read a bunch of books about them, histories, fiction and non-fiction, watched some old films on the National Film Board of Canada site and even bought myself a Canadian canoe with fantasies of trapping, smoking cob-pipes, eating rubaboo from a dutch pot and portaging. So you can imagine hoe chuffed I was when, after doing a little job for an elderly neighbour, I was rewarded with a box of old tools, most of which were no good, but which contained this French pattern axe head, not unlike the trade axes that the voyageurs would have used, which I cleaned up and re-handled with shop-bought hickory handle.

It's a lovely axe - a real all-round camping and adventuring axe. I've used it for all kinds of jobs from felling dead standing trees and splitting faggots to carving and whittling. It's not the axe I would choose for carving, but it is easily up to the task and many of my earlier spoons were carved with this axe. It's a medium to light weight axe.

It is also one of the first leather working projects that I undertook and the first axe mask thatI made.

Originally there was a loop of leather through which the antler tine passed to secure it, but it broke and I replaced it with the ugly twist of wire. I'll put it right again one day.

If you are interested in finding out a little more about the voyageurs of old Canada, you might enjoy this rather quaint film:

On those rare occasions when I have a 'bed-day' I like to re-watch this film and imagine I'm there.

Monday, 23 February 2015

DIY detail carving knives....

I have done quite a bit of carving, kolrossing and chip-carving on spoons over the years, some that I have been quite proud of, others that have not been quite so successful. For each of these I have mostly used the tip of my Mora 106, held in a 'pen' grip and, on the whole, it's worked alright. It can be a bit tricky and it's easy to nick yourself when holding the blade of a sharp knife like this. I know there are specialist knives available for these different decorative techniques but being a paid-up skinflint have never got round to buying any.

For a while I have fancied having a go with one of the Del Stubbs kolrossing knives...

...but figured, before I buy I really ought to have a go at making one myself. So, I reground the edge of a small exacto-knife type blade, made a handle from a piece of sycamore, drilled and glued it, and gave it a go.

It's something of an 'organically' shaped handle - following the grain of the wood. Feels pretty good in the hand.

Flat exacto-knife type craft blade, reground with a better edge.

I tried it out quickly on this willow spoon that I had made the previous week. It worked well but gave quite a fine cut and, due to the flat blade, was quite hard to turn to carve curves.

Made from a crook from a willow tree that had blown down in the January storms.
I then looked again at the Del Stubbs knife and realised that his blade was made from a cylindrical piece of steel, not a flat blade, which I figured would give a wider cut as it is a wider blade (and therefore a more vivid colour to the line) and would be better for maneuvering in the wood. So, I had another go.
This time a used an old dremel tool bit for the blade (probably stainless steel so probably not great at holding its edge) and a yew handle.
Rounded instead of flat blade - makes all the difference.
Tried out the second of my detail knives on this sycamore spoon - more about the spoon in another post. The knife worked really well, handled and turned in the wood with no effort. I'm really pleased with it. Julian has given me some piano wire to make him and a couple more from - should be nice carbon steel, but needs annealing first.

I did actually put my hand in my pocket whilst on a trip to Axminster tools with Ju and Eden and bought a Two Cherries chip carving knife. It was cheap, so I couldn't complain too much, but I wasn't terribly impressed with the edge that it came with and spent a little time just tidying it up.

I tried it out on this little willow ladle - made from a little crook. It worked well - I haven't chip carved in a while so I was quite rusty. I love the little click you get when two of your cuts meet up and you know, when you add the third cut, the chip's going to come away clean.

Having said that, over the past years I've made do with a bunch of these DIY knives that I made from old butter knives - they work perfectly well and at about £1 for ten from a charity shop, a lot cheaper.

I cut a bunch of crooks from the willow tree that had come down - near Charnwood Waters in Loughborough, in case you know the area. They were not very big so I could only make these little salt spoon sized ladles. 

I really love those 'stripes' at the heel of the bowl - striations caused by stress in the grain at the bend of the branch.

They are quite fiddly, but I really enjoy carving these little spoons.