Archives for the month of: January, 2011

Well, there was definitely some for a while at least. We’ve been making the most of a spell of slightly drier weather here over the past week or so, lots more shingles have been made, and we extracted the first of the oak from Witley Copse.

Matt drove this load down to a well known local woodyard yesterday, later in the year it will return to us in the form of our interior floorboards. All the rest of the timber for the building will be sawn and processed on site using our own sawmill, but the interior floorboards need a spell in a drying kiln as well which is why the wood is going on a brief holiday to Petworth. The oak came from the standard trees in the coppice which were felled as part of our regular cycle of mangement of the woods.

We’ve been back up in Ridden Corner Copse as well cutting the sweet chestnut for the roundwood frame of the building.

Just across from where these poles are being worked is a block of chestnut we coppiced 4 years ago to produce fencing materials for a heathland restoration project at the top of the slope in the picture. Whilst we were there I took the chance to have a look and see how well the regrowth was doing.

As you can see the cut stumps are sending up a mass of healthy regrowth, the cycle of growth is working its way round again.

If you live locally I hope you can make it to our event at the Haslemere Hall this friday evening (see my post on this below). Its at 7.30 and Ben Law will be there to talk about his buildings and the processes that go in to their construction.

Well, the way we are doing it anyway, there are lots of different ways of doing this, the following is the method we are using…

Shingles are a sort of wooden roof tile, we need quite a few for our building, around about 15000, luckily we have lots of help from our volunteers, otherwise this would be an almost impossible task.

Ours are made by cleaving locally produced coppiced sweet chestnut, the trees are grown and harvested within a couple of miles of the project site.

First of all suitable material is selected out of the lengths of coppiced timber.

This is then cut into foot long blanks.

These blanks are squared up by splitting off the outer sapwood using a froe and a hide hammer, the same tools are then used to split the individual shingles off the prepared block.

The shingles then go over to the shave horses where the first job is to square up the sides using a side axe.

Next the face of the shingle is worked with the drawknife whilst it is held in the shave horse, this ensures the shingles will sit together snugly on the roof. We try not to work the side which is exposed to the weather so as to keep the grain of the wood intact, this should mean the roof will have a longer lifespan.

The leading edge of the shingle then has a bevel put on it, this helps it shed water.

When you have done ten they are tied up with baler twine and the bundle goes on the stack.

Wood which doesn’t make it into a finished shingle is bagged up as kindling to be used for firelighting.

I find it quite a theraputic task, its nice to get chance to be out in the wood’s listening to the world go by and utilising wood which came from the coppice stools that are regrowing all around you.

If you are looking for an opportunity to join in and help with the project here at Swan Barn Farm the National Trust 2011-12 working holidays brochure has just been published. Places are available on a number of week long holidays staying in Hunter Basecamp and working on the Speckled Wood project. The basecamp is the building on the right above and the Speckled Wood building will replace the shed on the left.

Volunteers will be getting involved with all sorts of different jobs on the build as we go through the various stages of the project, along with helping us make the shingles for the roof. You can book your place via the working holidays website here.

This morning we have been over to Partridge Green to meet Ben Law at the site of one of his current projects. There were a few particular details we needed to look at that were relevant to the building we are working with him on, but also the build there is at an interesting stage and it was a chance to see some of what we are letting ourselves in for.

This building has a roof made of sawn cedar shingles, which lends a different feel from the split chestnut we will be using, I suspect our roof will have a much more rustic look. Ben and his team are currently working on the interior of this building, constructing the straw bale walls.

They are great insulation, and give a really nice feel to the finished walls when plastered over, one of the details I particularly like in these buildings are the big window seat alcoves which fit into the straw bale walls.

The dimensions of the walls and the openings in them are all based around the dimensions of bales of straw, meaning that the bales should slot nice and easily into place. The bales are held together with sweet chestnut spikes as well as being firmly held in place between the main frame and the exterior studwork.

Here you can see where the bales have almost reached the roof, at this point sheepswool takes over as the insulation, filling the spaces between the rafters.

It was really interesting to see another of Ben’s buildings taking shape, it also make me think about the timber we have been working with and where it will be going in our building.

On the way back the skies started to clear on what has been an otherwise pretty grey day and I couldn’t resist stopping off at one of our coppice Woodlands at Roundhurst Common on the edge of Black Down. Towards the north of the woods there are the remains of a tiny old cottage, and spreading out from what may well once have been part of its garden is one of the prettiest patches of snowdrops I know of in the area. Just as I suspected the first few flowers had started to open.

In a couple of weeks time there will be the most fantastic carpet of snowdrops in this corner of the wood.

Just round the corner at Roundhurst Farm a community vegetable garden has been established by a group from Transition Town Haslemere. Its a beautiful place to go and spend a bit of time and the project is looking for more people to get involved,  if you live locally and would like to have a go at growing your own veg you can find out more at :

We have been back working hard in Witley Copse at Swan Barn Farm again this week, and have managed to finish the felling work for this section of the project.

We still have to do the extraction, but we are hoping to get a better weather window soon to do this in so that we don’t make to much mess, its pretty wet here at the moment.

We will be winching out the timber using the tractor you can see above and then moving it to the site of the building using our timber crane. The oak tree we have been working on in these photo’s is destined for interior floorboards for the building, it will be sawn into planks and then air dryed for a number of months before a final short spell of kiln drying, this will get the wood to a moisture level that will make a nice and stable floor, hopefully that way we should avoid gaps apearing between the floorboards as the wood drys and shrinks!

Its been really wet here this week, the sort of weather when you need a nice fire to help you dry yourself out and keep warm at lunchtime. It always seems to create a sense of place when you light a fire, this one is multi purpose, it heats the kettle for our tea, dries out soggy wardens and helps us to make sure we don’t have too many piles of brash getting in the way.

As I sit here writing this the sun has well and truly set and its starting to rain again, I would never wish the winter to pass too fast (we have far to much work to fit into it to start with), but some days you just can’t help thinking ahead to the spring. It made me think of this photo I took of a patch of celendines in Witley Copse a few years ago.

They are one of our more common wildflowers, and often don’t rate a mention, especialy when there are bluebells and anemonie’s around, but they are one of my absolute favourites, when the sun reflects off their shiny petals they look so bright its as if they light up the whole wood.

If you are local to Haslemere you might like to know about an event our Local Supporters group ( are kindly hosting for the project at the Haslemere Hall in Bridge Street (

Its on friday 28th January at 7.30pm and admission will be free, allthough there will be opportunities for people to make a donation to the project if they feel able. I think there may even be a glass of wine for people afterwards as well. The idea is to present the project to local people and to try and explain a little about what we are trying to achieve. I hope it will also be an opportunity to introduce Swan Barn Farm to some people who may not know much about the place or the easy access there is to it from the High Street.

Ben Law will be there to speak about his buildings and his designs for the project at Swan Barn Farm. I will be there to explain a little of the background to the project as well as how it links some of the beautiful countryside surrounding the town. There will be an opportunity for people to ask questions afterwards.

We have been lucky to have lots of local support especially with the planning application, I hope some of you who got involved can make it along to find out a bit more about what we are up too.

Have been away for a while over christmas and so have been a little quiet.  It was nice to get chance to have a bit of a break, especially with all that snow and ice around, but its also been good to get back into the woods this week. The last few days though have been spent back in the woods at Swan Barn Farm coppicing hazel and ash as well as thinning the oak standards that will be needed for the building. Working in the woods is always so much more interesting when you can start to visualise where the wood is actually going to be used.

Thought you might like to see this picture of the Black Down team I took yesterday at lunchtime. Pictured next to the fire clock wise from back right are me (Dave), Justin, Catherine, Spike, Dennis and Matt.

Its going well in this coppice at the moment, with real progress having been made this week, we are not far off finishing the cutting, still lots of work though in terms of extracting the wood and building the fence that will protect the coppice regrowth from the attentions of the browsing deer, but we are getting there.

It will be really nice to see the coupe develop when it gets to springtime, its always a pleasure to see the stumps sending up new shoots and the wildflowers blooming.

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