Archives for posts with tag: sawmill

In the orchard here at Swan Barn Farm the fruit is ripening nicely. We are having a really good apple year and the colours on the trees look stunning.


The sight of hundreds of apples ripening in the sun has to shed a small ray of light in even the heaviest heart.


Coming up on the 28th September from 10-4 we have our annual Community Apple Pressing Day. Its usually great fun, if you are not too far away and can make it over you will be very welcome. If you bring your own apples you can take home a fair share of juice, this can be drunk fresh or if you want we will even teach you how to turn it into cider.

Our expert countryside team will be on hand to answer any of your apple, orchard, pruning or fruit tree related questions. If you havent any apples you can still come down to take a turn on our fascinating historic pressing machinery and have a taste of the finest, freshest apple juice that will ever have passed your lips… not to be missed!


Our collegues over at Slindon have had green eyes for our press for a few years now. They have managed to scrounge an old press screw and asked me to help them restore it and make a new press for it to drive.

The screw was rusted solid and was missing several key parts. The first of these was the piece that connected the screw to the plate of the press (the square bit at the bottom below). Fortunately a friend of the property who is an expert metal worker was happy to step in and help us make a new one, he even managed to make a new threaded hole to bolt it onto the bottom of the screw. It was a really tricky job doing this in old cast iron and I am so impressed with what he achieved. Thanks John!


With a restored screw the next job was for me to get busy on the sawmill and make all the parts for the press. The screw is massive, much bigger than ours and so the wooden beams have to be bigger too.


We are making it out of Swan Barn Farm Oak… nothing but the finest!


A good bit of head scratching went in to the design, I think from looking at the size of the screw that it may well have been mounted in the tie beam of a barn in the past, so making a stand alone press is going to be quite a challenge. I do like a challenge though.


Below is the all new flat pack press, with beam sizes of up to 11 by 9 inches I dont reckon there are many places you can get one of those off the shelf!


All we need to do now is put the thing together… its going to be tricky, but, fingers crossed it will work out well. If it does I think it is going to be quite something. Look out for it in use at a Community Apple Pressing Day at Slindon soon.

Preparations have had to be made to our new straw bale walls for the lime render which will be applied to them. The openings around the doors and windows have had to be finished and we had to think ahead and make decisions about things like curtains, shelves and hanging points. It’s important to get fixings in position for this before the lime goes on so that they are solidly anchored into the bales.

Another little touch we have decided to put into the wall is a truth window.

I’ve seen them in a few straw bale buildings, and although you could argue its a bit twee, I quite like the idea. It sits somewhere unobtrusive in the wall surounded by render, but with the glass enabling visitors to see through the render to the straw, thereby telling some of the story of its construction. I made it from some offcuts of our floorboards and a piece of glass I had knocking about in the back of my shed at home.

The kitchen is going to require some strong fixing points so that we can mount cuboards onto the walls. To make sure they stay solid we have mounted bolts that go right back through the bales and tie into the wooden studwork on the outside of the wall.

After the walls have been plastered the kitchen cuboards will be mounted onto the bolts.

We also wanted to put some pegs in the walls so that we had fixing and hanging points in place. The pegs were cut out of some of the douglas fir we had left over from the joists. First of all we cut out some lengths on the mill.

Then we cut foot long blanks out of these lengths.

They were then ripped in half diagonally to make the basic peg.

Points were then cut on the pegs before they were hammered into the straw bales at the appropriate points. As well as going in for hanging points they are also being put in everywhere we will have power sockets and light switches. The back of the switching boxes will then be screwed onto the pegs when the second fix electical work is being done.

I realised as we were making them that the waste wood from pointing the pegs would make the perfect size of fuel for our kelly kettle.

We use it when we are out working in the woods in the winter. The top half of the kettle is a water jacket, it forms a cylinder which acts as a chimney for the fire which you light in the bottom section. In the picture above you can see the hole which the fire draws air through. The flames are drawn up inside the cylinder to boil the water. Its a great thing on a cold winters day in the woods and boils surprisingly quickly, especially if you have some nice small dry offcuts of timber to fuel it with.

The sweet chestnut frame of our building is being held together using oak pegs and wedges. The oak for them came from the coppicing work we do at Swan Barn Farm, if you get chance over the next couple of weeks I would really recomend taking a walk through the woods on the farm, the bluebells are at their peak, and if you get chance to visit early in the early morning the dawn chorus is an an avian assault on the ears. The coppicng creates ideal conditions for wildlife, and at this time of year you can realy see the response.

Wooden pegs are the traditional method of holding timber joints together, but a roundwood frame requires a slightly different technique to traditional draw pegs. The oak for the pegs was sawn on our mill back in february on a very rainy day.

It seems a long time ago now all that mud has turned to dust. We used a tree that had been felled two years previously and have been seasoning them further for the past few months. The idea being that the green wood of the frame will shrink onto the seasoned pegs over time and lock them in tight.

The pegs are cut to length and then the corners of the square blank are shaved off with a drawknife. After this a rounding plane is used to create the peg. Its a sort of giant pencil sharpener, you wind it around by hand and it shaves off the excess working its way down the wood to create the peg.

There is something quite satisfying about making something round out of something that was square. The frame requires quite a lot of pegs, another job for our hard working groups of volunteers.

The wedges are being made out of a couple of planks that have been seasoning nicely in our woodshed for the past couple of years. I spent an hour or so in the workshop making them the other day. It was done using our small circular saw.

I cut a small rectangle out of the plank and then set the saw at a slight angle. Flipping the rectangle over each time a cut was done made lots of small wedges all of (roughly!) the same angle.

After the joints have been cut in the two pieces of timber they are held together using ratchet straps. A hole is then drilled through the two timbers.

The peg is then knocked through the hole and a small saw cut is put in either end of it into which the wedge can be driven.

The wedge expands the end of the peg and holds it firmly in place. The wedge is left slightly proud in case it needs to be knocked in a little further as everything seasons and dries out.

The second frame is on the framing bed and is just about finished, we will be moving it onto its padstones tomorrow. Everything should be ready for next thursdays frame raising on time (touch wood!). I am really looking forward to seeing the first phase of everyones hard work coming together, hopefully it will be a proud day.

Ben Law’s team have now arrived on site in order to start on the main phase of construction of our new building. One of the first jobs that needs to be done is to build a framing bed.

Rudy, Adam and Nick have been building it today in what is ordinarily the back garden of the basecamp. The framing bed is where the timbers that will make up the main A frames of the structure are fitted together and assembled prior to the frame being raised. The timbers it’s made of provide fixed points that can be measured from to ensure that when the frame is eventually raised all of the timbers will align correctly.

The uprights are made out of offcuts of sweet chestnut from the coppice, and the cross members are made out of the douglas fir we felled earlier in the year. When the bed is dismantled the douglas fir will be reused as roof rafters.

We have been busy milling as many rafters as possible, both for the framing bed and to start to build up a stock of them for the roof. In the picture above you can see how we have milled a square out of the middle of a log, 14 x 2 inch boards are being cut off this, which will then be cut in half to make 7 x 2 inch rafters. Its quite exciting to think ahead to the time when they will be going on to the roof.

Matt and I have made a start on our underfloor beams today, its a bit of a challenge and quite a tricky job. The timber came from the nearby Devils Punch Bowl, it was felled in the appropriately named Sawpit Field as part of a project aimed at creating a habitat link for butterflies and other heathland wildlife between the Punchbowl and Highcombe Edge.

This is the timber being loaded for the journey back to Swan Barn farm. As you can see they are not exactly small logs. At over seven metres they are at the limit of what our timber trailer can cope with.

In fact they are too heavy for the crane to lift in one go and had to be lifted off end over end. We brought four of these back to the farm, they are to provide four beams which will support the floor of the Speckled Wood building. They are also over a metre to long to fit on our sawmill (we new that before we bought it, a longer mill was prohibitively expensive and all the other sawn timbers in the build are much smaller) meaning a little bit of inginuity was required to saw the beams.

The plan was to cut the beam out of one end of the log, then move it down the mill and saw out the remainder of the beam. If that sounds simple I can assure you it wasn’t!

After the log was positioned on the mill we made measurements and cut up the length of the mill to the right point.

We then had to knock in wedges to release the trapped blade so it could be backed out of the cut.

Once the sawmill blade was backed out of the cut we had to use a chainsaw to remove the piece of timber we were milling away from the beam.

Once this had been done all around the beam we ended up with the worlds biggest lolipop.

This lollipop was slid back along the mill on rollers so the saw could be brought back in to finish off the far end.

It was a bit nervy milling off the end bits, hoping that all the cuts were going to line up properly and we weren’t going to end up with a wonky beam. But things seemed to be coming together well.

You can see above the point where we just had one final cut to make, by now sighs of relief were starting to be drawn, I definitely fealt like this was quite a big challenge, and was chuffed to bits when the last cut went through and the finished beam came off the bed of the mill.

We have three more of these to make this week, along with the challenge of getting all of the long timbers back to the build site. All in all quite a tricky week. Wish us luck!

Despite the best efforts of the wind rain and mud (and it is very muddy here at the moment) nothing could dampen our enthusiasm today as our new sawmill has arrived.

There was something about this moment that suddenly made everything seem very real, we have known for a while that we will be starting the build in March, but with the mill arriving and starting to convert the timber it is all coming into focus.

Allthough much of the frame will be made of roundwood there is also a lot of sawn timber in the building as well. This is the machine we will be using to process all of our locally grown sustainably produced timber to turn it into the planks, joists, rafters, studwork and floorboards that will go into the new building.

In the past we have always hired in sawmills, but the scale of this project has made buying this one economically viable, after we have finished the building I hope it will become a resource the trust will be able to use more widely in this area, so that we can get even better at making sure as much as possible of the wood we used comes from well managed sustainable woodlands (which hopefully are packed full of wildlife too).

Its quite a clever mill this one, I suspect getting used to the computer on it will take a while! We need to get some practice before we try anything too tricky with it, but I can see already how useful it is going to be.

We thought we would start with something nice and simple, so we put on one of the smaller pieces of Douglas Fir we collected last week and made some 1 inch square sticks.

These sticks are used as spacers in between the planks which we will be cutting later, they are used while the boards are drying to allow the air to circulate well around each individual plank,  it is important to make sure they are equal sizes so that the wood doesn’t warp too much as it is drying.

I am really looking forward to starting the next stage in the process, we have extracted some of the wood we have been cutting and now we are going to start turning it into the materials the building will be made of. Might wait till some of that mud has dried out a little bit first though!

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