I kicked off my autumn with a rather enjoyable weekend of wooden stool-making in rural Cornwall with Turning Hare Woodcraft. It was two days of using hand tools and being mostly off-grid and focusing on pieces of wood and how to shape them into something useful and lovely. I was incredibly lucky to win my place in a competition so didn’t feel at all guilty about abandoning normal family life for a weekend and heading south to have creative fun.
As someone who mostly spends their time on a laptop and online it was very satisfying to be using my dormant craft skills to make something very tangible. There were no written instructions, just gentle expert guidance from Bob and Steve, taking us through the processes verbally and with hands-on demonstration.
Saturday started with an intro from Bob & Steve on what we were going to attempt, and then it was all hands on deck splitting an ash log to make enough long sections that were to become the legs of our stool. We all went for three legged – me because I reasoned a three legged stool would be easier to make level – sat on a saw horse each and got cracking with the draw knives; big sharp blades that you pull towards you to shave off strips of the wood. It’s incredibly satisfying once you get into the rhythm of it, and I was amazed that I spent two days working with my indoor-hands but had no resulting blisters.
We learnt how to use axes, froes, draw knives, spoke shaves, planes and cabinet scrapers. The only non-hand tool we used was a battery powered drill because that was the only way to make holes in the slab of oak for the stool seat – the brace and bit just could not do it. Working with different types of wood makes you realise why some timber was used to build ships and big houses, and some was used to make furniture and small kitchen implements.
After two days of creating piles of woodshavings I am now the proud owner of a stool with ash legs and a flat oak seat that can double as a side table; it fits a laptop or a cup of coffee or my feet or my backside. My stool looks like the hick country cousin of an Ercol table my mum had but I am proud of all its wonkiness and imperfections as I made it pretty much on my own – with small moments of hands-on help from the lovely Bob & Steve when I couldn’t get started with a tool properly.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much I recommend a weekend of woodshaving and how it slows down thoughts as you focus on just what is in front of you; working in fresh air under cover from Cornish drizzle and being fed delicious lunches with proper cake. If you need a break from working indoors or want to learn or rediscover crafting skills then check out Turning Hare’s courses for next year. It’s in a lovely setting with views over farmland and moor, there’s a shepherd’s hut if you want somewhere to sleep onsite, and a handy bijou compost toilet (which didn’t smell at all!).
It was also great to meet like-minded people who enjoy spending a weekend discovering old ways of making furniture without nails or screws and learning about the history of bodgers and chairmakers in England. I am not sure I have the time to create my own set of dining furniture but there was some talk about a garden bench course next year…