Category Archives: crafts

barking possibilities

At this time of year, when everything warms up, new growth is springing up everywhere and the sap is in full flow it is easy to peel bark from many trees. Bark has been used for thousands of years as a useful source of shelter (bark sheets or shingles), containers or carriers (for water or food) or to make cordage to lash, join or stitch things. On a grand scale you could even make a canoe out of it.

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In this country several species of tree bark has been frequently used – birch, willow, cherry, linden (lime) are all on this list. Their bark can be thick and supple when green. It dries rock hard.

Today I popped out the back and wandered through the bluebell infused woods and happened across a recently fallen young willow tree. Fallen trees are good because stripping bark because it damages and can even kill the tree (ever heard of ‘ring barking’?). If you only require a small piece of bark you can take a vertical section from the trunk or use a good section of side branch. But remember this is damaging so please have a conscience.

Here is a quick step-by-step as I cut edges to the bark, loosened it (this can be done by gently tapping the bark with another piece of wood) and then getting a wedged piece of wood and/or your hands under the bark to ease it off. It should come away in one strip.

The last couple of pictures show that I have lashed it to something cylinderical (it could even be placed back on the trunk/limb you took it from. This helps the long edges from curling as it dries. Another good tip is to cut, trim, chamfer, punch holes or use it when green or semi-green as it is softer, more flexible and easier to work. Often taken the very outer layer of the bark off (by scraping) can help the hole piece be less brittle when it dries.

A word of caution too. Under the bark maybe very sharp little growths – as you will see from the pictures below – they can cut fingers if you go at it too quickly!

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Careful of those sharp bits under the bark! See below.

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ouch! sharp bits….

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If you are interested in some of the things you can make from bark then take a look at these posts:

Making a bark container

Bark cordage


making a bark container

 

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There are many ways to make bark containers. This is a cherry bark container and is fairly water-resistant due to the application of pitch-glue on the seams and a lid rimmed with a leather bung-strip.

Here is a step-by-step guide:

Cut your self a smooth, straight, unblemished bit of timber. If you can avoid knots and side shoots or branches then this would be preferred. Its circumference should be slightly larger than the container you plan to make – this is because the bark you take off will slightly overlap at the join so it loses a bit of its diameter.

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Slit the bark down its length. Cherry has a very thick inner bark and a thin outer bark.

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Strip the out bark off the inner bark. For this type of container this is cosmetically optional rather than, in woven containers, important because in that case it helps maintain a less brittle and more flexible bark for weaving.

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Sharpen and flatten into a chisel shape a small green stick to push under the bark to help remove it from the timber. This really helps get the bark off in one piece.

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Now the bark is now fully off the timber – and in one piece!

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Next take the timber and cut two ’rounds’ or slices. One is for the lid – which should be a little thicker than the one for the base. The reason for the lid being thicker is you carve a lip into it so its wedges into the top rim, whereas the base sits flush.

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Drill a hole in the lid with your knife from one side then the other.

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This can take a short thong of leather (tied in a knot at either end) as handle by passing it thourhg the hole you have made in the lid.

Now,  run your knife around the mid-point of rim of the lid and remove a layer of wood all the way round.

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Chamfer the edges. Leave to dry out. Leave the base to dry out aswell. Both will shrink a little.

Next, take the flat piece of removed bark and chamfer the edge which forms the main seam when you roll the bark back into its round shape. By skivving or chamfering the edge it helps it sit more flush as a seam and helps the base and the lid form a better seal.

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After this is done it is time to dry the bark. Choose a slightly smaller diameter branch  – possibly a section from the branch you have cut but further up where it is smaller –  and wrap the bark section around it. It should easily fit and slightly overlap.

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Because the bark will curl at its edges as it hardens and dries it is important to bind/lash the entire piece tight to the limb. You can do this by tightly wrapping some paracord or other string around the bark section multiple times before tying it off. Then leave for a few days in a dry place for it to season.

If you are stitching the piece together then making the holes in the overlapped piece of bark whilst green and soft is preferable. But in this case since I am using sap-pitch glue then there is no need.

Once dry, unbind the bark and it should naturally be rigid and overlap at the join.

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Then it is a simple case of making some pitch glue. For this one I use the resin from the cherry tree itself which was conveniently exuding from several places on the tree. Otherwise you could make some from pine resin. Instructions on how to do that are here.

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Its now a simple exercise to glue in the base and the main seam.

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After that you have a finished container!

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willow bark cordage

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Natural cordage comes in a number of guises – from plants (bark, stems, roots, leaves, and in some rare cases even the seed fluff from whorled milkweed and cottonwood) and from animals (guts, sinew, hide, and even hair). Bark cordage is very versatile mainly due to the continuous lengths you can create, reducing the need for labourious and weaker joining of strands.

Although many barks can be used and experimented with the most frequently cited come from young limbs (where the bark is smooth and thin) such as willow and the bark (often the trunk or a main limb) of the lime (linden) tree. Two different processes are involved in this process – the former is making thin strips from the bark to weave or twist together and the latter a process of harvesting sheets of bark and then wretting (rotting) the bark in water over a period of time to release the fibres from the bark – only then combining the fibres into cordage.

There are also certain times of year when harvesting bark is easier – usually in the spring and summer when the bark is looser due to the moisture and sap. In winter bark can be hard to separate from the the limb or trunk. If you have to source bark in the autumn and winter months then it can still be loosened by pounding the limbs in a gentle manner using another piece of wood. But be careful, you can weaken, split or damage the bark unless you tap/hammer the bark softly!

Here is a step-by-step guide to making willow cordage from a small diameter limb.

At the end is a video clip of how to make the cordage using two-ply pygmy roll.

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Small limb, slit lengthwise the bark, either tap softly to loosen the bark from the underlying wood and/or run your fingers under the bark to separate

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Remove the very outermost later of skin from the bark by scraping with a back of a knife. Removing this will lead to a more flexible and less brittle cordage than leaving it on when it dries.

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Stick your knife firmly into some wood and then draw the unfurled sheet of bark through the stuck knife thereby creating long strips

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The resultant long strips

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Boil the bark strips for several hours in a pan filled with water and a generous handful of campfire ash. This not only stains the bark but increases its flexibility and durability for when it dries. Then partly dry it.

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Video of how to twist fibres into string: the 2 ply pygmy roll method


chestnut spoon of truth

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This spoon was carved in ‘reverse’ – meaning that instead of using the outer edge as the natural curve of the outside of the spoon’s bowl it was done the other way round – this created a totally different ‘ringed’ or bullseye grain decoration which is little more difficult to achieve. This spoon was made with grooves down each side of the handle for grip and three notches front and back. The outer bowl of the spoon has a ‘knifed’ finish like a hammered metal. This spoon, made of sweet chestnut represents: Honesty & Truth.

Spoons are used to convey love or bounty – they are symbolic, decorative and practical. They also use many of the grips and cuts you could use on other carving or whittling projects and are therefore useful things to practice making.

Chestnut is of the same family as oak, and likewise its wood contains many tannins. It has therefore been used in the leather tanning industry. This tannin renders the wood very durable, especially in contact with the ground. It is commonly used as fencing posts as a result too. The texture and grain of Chestnut is very similar to Oak and it can be confused. The bark is pretty unmistakeable with its long sinewy, twisty fissures. It coppices well. Although it is strong and durable it is easily split and also looses quite a bit of its durability (unlike oak) when it is older than 50 years. It can be quite a ‘spitty’ wood on the campfire too.

The sweet chestnut was introduced into Europe from Sardis, in Asia Minor; the fruit was then called the ‘Sardian nut’. It has been a staple food in southern Europe for thousands of years and largely replacing grain where these would not grow well in mountainous Mediterranean areas. Evidence of its cultivation by man is found since around 2000 B.C. Until the introduction of the potato, whole forest-dwelling communities which had scarce access to wheat flour relied on chestnuts as their main source of carbohydrate.

As a carving wood it is ‘nicer’ to carve than oak with a slightly finer grain, less prominent xylem, and warmer colour. It is also food safe and non-toxic.

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whittling in the woods!

Whittling in the Woods

12-13 April

Dartmoor

By invitation only

48 hours in the springtime forest: just whittling

Rings, Spoons, Spatulas, Kuksa or Bowls

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Fancy whittling with Holly or Birch? Ash or Hazel? Oak or Larch? Chestnut or Cypress? Blackthorn or Hawthorn? Even blackcurrant wood, dogrose or spalted sycamore? The materials are all close by to harvest. Try your hand at making things from greenwood using an axe, knife, spoon-knife or adze.

Sit in the sunshine and whittle around the campfire. Cook over the open fire. Sleep on fragrant and soft fir boughs.

Kids welcome.

If you don’t fancy whittling then nature is everywhere for you to sit and observe or to follow!

Bring your own food to cook over the campfire. Please bring your own sleeping bags, mats and utensils. If you have your own carving knife and axe then please bring these along too!

 Instruction provided!

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birch dugout ‘canoe’ bowl

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With the weather being so torrential over Christmas and New Year a sensible diversion was to whittle something around the fire to take my mind off the howling winds and floods. This bowl is made from fresh, green, silver birch from a site overlooking the windswept expanse of Dartmoor.

The task was made quicker with the use of a new tool, a Hans Karlsson Adze, available from here for hollowing out the bowl. You can, of course use a spoon/hook knife for this but it is slower and harder work. Other tools used were a Roselli Axe, a Mora BK120 carving knife and a custom made hook/spoon knife. I would recommend getting your greenwood working tools from Matthew Robinson at Woodland Craft Supplies.

Here are some pictures of it. Down the bottom are the stages taken in making it.

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Here are the stages:

Splitting log with with either a froe, a wedge of a larger axe

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Rough out with an axe and hollow out with adze

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Using a carving knife shape the outside

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Using a spoon/crook knife shape the inside

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Start fine carving, decoration and refining handles and edges

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Finished, oiled bowl

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The woodland spot under grandmother larch I do most of my carving

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using antler as a knife handle

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Antler is an ideal natural material for using as a knife handle. It is sustainable since it is shed every year by the bucks or stags after the rut. If you keep your eyes peeled you will find them scattered on the forest floor. Antler is amazingly strong – I have punched holes in sheet steel using antler, more frequently you will find me knapping flint using the strength and toughness of antler to crack and flake stone. As a natural material it is warm, tactile and offers a good amount of grip even when wet.

Using the crown of the antler as a knife handle is VERY easy. You can either leave the section you want as a handle in water for a month to soften or boiling it for an hour (depending on size) will do the same job – although trading some toughness in the bone – for speed. Whichever method you use the pithy, porous core of the antler becomes soft and you can then, with care, push it onto the tang of your blade. In a few hours the antler will dry out, shrink and grip the tang, then harden. A bit like natures epoxy.

  • Cut a length of antler – preferably the crown end (base) or if there is a decent sized tine (tip) – doing it this way ensures that the end of the handle is solid bone rather than porous ‘pith’ – the end of the tines and especially the base (crown) are often very solid.

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  • Make sure that the length of your tang is shorter than the length of handle – also be aware that the porous core becomes much more dense towards the crown or ends of a tine meaning that you will have trouble pushing the tang into this if it is too long.
  • Tidy up the section of antler: carve, sand and remove any tines that will limit its used as a handle. Be careful not to remove too much of the outer bone – you may expose the more porous core.

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  • Soak or boil the section of antler – the one pictured in this post was a small one and was boiled for about 45 minute.

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  • Get some tongs and a thick glove if you have boiled it – it will be HOT when you are due to remove it!
  • Tape or protect the blade or protect you from the blade. Either secure the blade in a vice (protecting the blade with some leather or padding from the vice jaws, or drive the knife into some wood securely so the tang points upwards.

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  • Simply take the softened antler out of the water and ensuring that you don’t cut or squewer yourself (ensure that the blade is well covered and you are also wearing a thick glove) firmly push the antler onto the blade.
  • DO NOT wiggle the blade to get it in it will ruin the fit of the antler against the tang. Do not pull it out to reposition it. You get one go at this – do it well!

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  • And that’s it…..let it dry and shrink onto the tang. Overnight will do.

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  • Then finish the knife off with a simple sheath.

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crafts – a special selection

To celebrate over 300 pages of posts and 24,000 visits to Mark the Wilderness Guide I will be publishing a selection of postings on various subjects – all in one place – to browse. These postings and articles date back a couple of years. Every few days a new selection on a different subject will be posted. Today it is ‘crafts’.

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‘Crafts’ is a rather broad church that encompasses many of the skills and equipment to extract, process and use the raw resources around us (safely) in order to create useful or pleasing items. Being able to take un-usable raw materials and create something out of them not only helps to exist in the wilderness by helping us access and utilise our environment but it provides a creative interface with nature that is both aesthetically pleasing and spiritually rewarding. Importantly, it also provides a route to understanding the properties and nature of things and helps preserve and pass on the knowledge of for forefathers and foremothers to a new generation – to help them continue to connect with the land around them.

Click on the links below to view the postings.

  1. making pine pitch glue – nature’s superglue
  2. magical rowan – yes you can make jelly from it but also makes a great carving wood
  3. stone age arrow – a step-by-step guide to making an arrow
  4. homage to arne – a cult spoon
  5. field maple teaspoon – Stradivari was the first to choose the wood of this tree for his iconic (and very expensive) violins.
  6. making a leather knife sheath – every knife needs a good sheath
  7. making a leather belt – every knife sheath needs a sturdy belt
  8. forest oak gall ink – nature’s ink for scrolls or art! Also how to make a quill
  9. unicorn honey dipper charm – is it an ornament or a breakfast item?!
  10. spalted sycamore spoon – a bit about spalting
  11. celtic dragon cup – Cornwall’s own Kuksa
  12. trapper snow shoes – foraging and making some snow shoes for deepest winter
  13. survival (branch) snow-shoes – emergency snowshoes – made very quickly
  14. quick split root cordage – one of the quickest ways to get lengths of cordage
  15. kuksa – functional art – we love kuskas – it is a cup or is it art?
  16. winter solstice ring – a ring with soul
  17. sharps for christmas? – start thinking about those useful tools for the Christmas list
  18. wild cherry tea-spoon – cherry is a lovely carving wood
  19. carving a canoe paddle – is it just a massive spoon or spatula?!
  20. making a leather axe mask – every nice axe needs a decent mask to protect it and its owner!
  21. uk knife law – some useful tips before you take your tool into the town square
  22. the king of rings – oak, we love it.
  23. i may ring – the magical hawthorn ring
  24. wildcraft perspectives: ancestral craft
  25. noggin for new year – always need a toasting cup for the New Year
  26. one ring to bind them all
  27. how to carve a spoon
  28. these sticks are made for walking – walking sticks – things of beauty but also save your knees
  29. the elder penny whistle – a useful thing to alert people with
  30. briar rose ring – very runic wood
  31. primitive forging – bashing metal at the forge
  32. the humble spoon – it might be humble but diggers are important
  33. cherry bark container – thick bark, easily peeled makes for a durable container
  34. a laurel ring for emma – a mini ring for a mini person
  35. sakura ring – a memorial ring
  36. bodger’s shave-horse – old bits of wood given a new life
  37. knife making – sharps…lovely
  38. making rushlights – poor man’s candles – but easy to make and useful when nights draw in
  39. biface flint spearhead – the best and biggest biface I have ever made

making pine pitch glue

Strong, convenient, flexible and fast setting (faster than the fastest super glue it seems). Easy to make, easy to store and easy to transport once made. It also makes a good seam sealant for bark containers (or canoes) aswell as fixing things like arrow heads to shafts. It also can waterproof things such as sinew and be diluted (with a spirit) to create a type of varnish.

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harvest resin from an injured pine, spruce or fir tree

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the ‘dirty’ resin

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hardwood charcoal from a fire – added to the resin it helps temper the glue – for flexibility, strength and durability rather than brittleness and stickiness.

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rabbit (herbivore) droppings (scat) – added to the resin it helps temper the glue – for flexibility, strength and durability rather than brittleness and stickiness.

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rabbit droppings powdered to add to the resin – in combination with the charcoal use a total of between 10 and 25% ‘filler’

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charcoal powdered to add to the resin – in combination with the droppings use a total of between 10 and 25% ‘filler’

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heated resin, loosely sieved through woven sieve to remove most debris

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rabbit scat and and charcoal added (between 10% and 25%)

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take off heat and it starts to harden very quickly!

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as it cools add to a stick and roll on a flat stone to make a resin ‘lolly’ for storage and ease of future application (you need to heat this again over heat to soften it).

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Finished lolly of pine pitch glue. Make small lollies as reheating can make the glue more brittle and small lollies are more useable for fine work.

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heat the glue up to soften it and allow it to be daubed or dripped

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drip pitch glue into area requiring it and fix item in place quickly as it sets within seconds

Very effective. Although playing around with the temper (charcoal and dung or grass/fibres) can change its toughness, flexility or brittleness. Constant re-heating of the resin can make it brittle. Boiling the initial resin too hard can also make it more brittle too as it can burn of some of the turpens and oils.

 


magical rowan

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This time of year I really notice the Rowan or Mountain Ash. Probably because of its garishly bright red berries. I should pay more attention to it because it is one of those rare companions of the high moorland that I find myself passing, leaning against or camping under. It is our highest (altitude) growing deciduous tree. Finding the cold, windswept slopes a place few others dare to call home.

Rowan is a member of the Sorbus species, a sub-set of the Rosaceae (Rose) family and relation to the Malus (Apple). If you look closely you will see the fruits are like tiny apples in shape and form. Rowan’s closest relatives are the Whitebeams and the Service Trees. All three of these species have had their fruits used as foods. Rowan contains the alcohol sugar sorbitol.

In certain far flung places they will make or infuse wine with the berries. They can have quite an astringent quality about them. For this reason I tend to make a jelly with them to go with cold cuts of meat. The sweetness and the astringency acting a foil for game or goose or fatty pork.

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The berries over here on Dartmoor ripen end of September and early October. Having the first frost on them (if possible) helps moderate the bitterness of the berries. However you can freeze the berries (or freeze the subsequent juice) to the same effect, because sometimes waiting for the first frost will mean all the berries have been eaten by the birds! However many do not bother with freezing and just go ahead an appreciate the tartness of the final jelly.

The recipe is simple. Take your harvest, put in pan and put just enough water in to cover 3/4 of the berries. Chuck in a couple of diced apples or apple cores for added pectin. Cover and boil until soft and mushy. Remove and strain through muslin. Measure the juice and add around the same again in sugar so you have a 50:50 mix (the proportion of sugar will increase as you further reduce volume through boiling). Boil/simmer until it starts to get viscous then on a chilled plate (put a couple of plates in a cold place like the freezer or outdoors and rotate using them as testers) and then place a small dash of the liquid on the plate, leave it for a minute in a cool place (outside or the fridge) and push it with your finger to see if it wrinkles as it sets and forms a skin.) Continue using cold plates until it does. If it does this obviously then it is ready to ‘bottle’ into sterilised jars. Simple!jams-etc_20130912050311456

The leaves of the Rowan look a bit like Ash (hence the name Mountain Ash), and the wood is similarly tough and flexible. Here I am making a use of these qualities by making a quick wilderness bowsaw:

But it is its finer grain, its smoother, harder, denser and altogether more beautiful qualities that I like the most. It makes for a great carving wood, as you can see here with this ‘barley twist’ coffee spoon.

Of course you are not restricted to just carving spoons. Due to the trees ability to ward off spirits of evil intent it makes an excellent magical wand too!