Green Woodworking with Mike Abbott

The chair I ended up makingEver since I started my beginner’s cabinet making course I’ve been intrgiued by the differences between modern woodworking techniques and the the more traditional methods such as Green Woodworking (like chair bodging).

Why use green wood?

Well Mike Abbott who is, as you’ll read, the guy that ended up teaching me explains in his article of the Summer 2009 edition of Permaculture Magazine that:

Green wood is wood that has not dried or seasoned. Green woodworkers usually start with a fresh log rather than a dry plank for a host of very good reasons. They can be categorised as follows:

  • Enhanced strength and quality.
  • Better workability.
  • Simpler and faster seasoning.
  • Much lower cost.
  • Numerous advanteges to society.
  • Many environmental advantages.

When we were investigating the purchase of 20 acres of woodland near our current home outside Malvern (which fell through as we were hugely gazumped) and I found a local guy called Mike Abbott who was evidently well respected in Green Woodworking circles – for example his name is mentioned on numerous occasions in my Traditional Woodland Crafts book – offering courses on it I jumped at the chance. Amazingly Cathie agreed that me taking 9 days away from work and family was reasonable so I booked my self onto a combination 3 day introduction leading immediately into a 6 day chair making course.

The Course

Well that was a few months ago and I recently attended the course in Mike’s rented wood and I really enjoyed it and learned a lot about working with green wood.

bealers on his shavehorse using a drawknifeThe first three days I spent making a shaving horse, which is used to grip the wood as it’s being, erm, shaved. You can see me to the left using it with my drawknife.

I also learned how to use a pole lathe (want one!), started to crack the much more difficult than it looks art of cleaving wood with a froe and I was also shown how to use my axe to roughly shape the wood after cleaving and prior to shaving it down on the horse.

It was a pretty full-on three days but an excellent introduction. Of the two other guys doing it with me another also made a shave horse whilst the third guy made a stool and some smaller pieces on the lathe.

Chairmaking

With the intro out of the way I was lucky enough to be able to stay on for a further 6 days to make a ladder back armchair. This article succinctly gives some background to the sort of (locally) traditional chairs that we made:

When they [Mike and his wife Tamsin] moved to Herefordshire together, they delved into the work of a Victorian chairmaker called Phillip Clissett, who made frame chairs such as the spindle-back and ladder-back. They were impressed by his simple yet efficient approach to chairmaking. Like the bodgers of the Chilterns, Clissett also used the shaving-horse and the pole-lathe to produce his chair parts. Unlike the bodgers, he made the whole chair, from buying the logs to selling the finished chairs in the local market.

One of the key features of the chairs is their lack of glue usage. Using a pre-dried tenon jammed into a slightly undersized mortise (there are some subtleties to this) the joints are very solid. So much so that one is able to hook it onto a beam and hang from the peice putting all body weight onto the joint and it not come apart.

The most nerve racking bit was bending the legs which after spending the best part of a day to make I wasn’t particularly keen to snap. I’ve put a video of the process can be seen on youtube.

I really enjoyed the course and got a lot of practical, reusable, experience out of it and I’ve already made a workbench, lump hammer and a maul since getting home.

The course comes highly recommended. For more information see Mike’s green woodworking website, he also has a book Living Wood: From Buying a Woodland to Making a Chair which gives you all the information you need to have a go at home.

Here’s the finished chair:

 

  • I was watching masterclass last night on Yesterday with Monty Don,and having seen previouly similar working on the Victorian Farm series.
    Can you furnish me with or tell me wear I can obtain a diagram to construct a shaving horse please so as i can get best use of my recently purchased draw knife
    Thanks and regards
    David

  • bealers

    David,

    Mike’s older book ‘Living Wood’ definitely covers making a shave horse but checking the write-up in his newest work it looks like it covers it too. I’d start there: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Going-Grain-Making-Chairs-Century/dp/0954234553/qid=1344957978&sr=1-2

    Good luck

  • There is a huge amount of information about Philip Clissett, with many photographs of his chairs and details about how he made them, at http://www.philipclissett.co.uk