In November, after three years of involvement with Furzedown Oak, I finally began physical work on some of the pieces of the tree. I have just built a model of an updated design of the sculpture for the garden of Oldfield House in West Drive, as shown above. The strong and beautiful lines of the oak are changing the design.
After consulting with residents it had become a composition of three elements, each combining the oak with stone. The first idea was for a fragment of a giant wheel, and this was joined by a bench and a bird table.
It got to the stage where I knew that I had to start opening up the wood in order to begin to answer my questions about how it was all going to work. For some time I had been planning to use the help of a chainsaw to cut the logs, but gradually I changed my mind, and decided to split them by hand into manageable sections. I wanted to create a free-standing jointed structure but didn't want to wait for years for the planks to season. By splitting the wood, the lines take the course they want and the stock is less liable to move during seasoning. That was the thinking; the feeling for the wood was as much a part of the decision.
Transition Town Tooting generously gave me outdoor space to work in the Community Garden on North Drive. I began by splitting a small log there, and then tackled the large log which has been sitting in the yard of E & A Wates (hospitable local furniture shop). Echoing steel on steel of the sledgehammer and wedges made a different sound from the steady growl of a chainsaw. The larger piece was difficult: the branches would stop the flow of the split, but with some hacking and sawing too, I managed it. I was very happy to see how fresh the wood was inside, as it looked weather beaten.
One of the reasons to take the plunge and split the oak was to able to move the piece from Wates’s to the Garden. It was last moved over two years ago using a lorry with a mechanised lifting arm. This time with the help of volunteers using ropes or a wheelbarrow, we moved all the smaller but still heavy pieces inside the Garden. It may sound strange but simply moving these pieces of wood is an operation in itself which needs planning and teamwork in order to shift the mass and not to cause any injuries on the way.
The new design was also influenced by experimenting with shaping the split sections using more hand tools; axes, an adze and a drawknife. These are traditional green-woodworking tools, which go back centuries. Once all the wood was in place in the Garden, a short distance away from its intended home at Oldfield House, I began the tests. I had looked it all up online and in books but wanted to see what it was like in practice. It's hard work, but I love it and I believe I can do it.
In the meantime I have been immersing myself in this project of learning about using traditional woodworking tools. I built a workbench to carry a vice, taking weeks to plane and square the rough sawn softwood by hand. It is now a tool that I use, a solid platform, and with the vice as an extra hand I used it to build the model.
There's plenty more to learn, but it's been a pleasure to get to grips with this part of the tree that I have been thinking about for so long. The work on searching for sponsorship continues, for the project as a whole.
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