Peter Wood 14 February 2013

Unfortunately there are no photographs of this demo.

Peter Wood gave a very interesting and informative talk on pole lathe turning and the history of Bodging. During the evening he demonstrated his skill on the pole lathe and use of various bodger tools, completing a chair leg, chair spindle, baby’s rattle and a garden dibber.

Whilst setting up Peter explained how bodgers moved between areas of woodland, staying for several months at a time before moving on to a new area and fresh timber supply. With no power available they would travel with just a few tools and basic lathe requirements headstock/ tailstock poppits and build a temporary lathe at each location from local materials. Typically they would set up a lathe bed fixed between 2 trees with a treadle movement attached by cord to a suitable tree to provide pedal power.

Peter’s own travelling lathe used a bungee rope tied between 2 springy hazel uprights screwed to the lathe ends and with a cord linked from the bungee to his treadle.

Starting with a ½ log of about 9” diameter and 2 feet in length Peter demonstrated how he converted the timber into a useable size ready for turning and finally into a chair leg. He explained the ideal characteristics of the timber he used. In particular it needed to be straight, free of knots and quickly grown, creating wide growth rings. Typically he would use ash for chair legs. Resting the sharpened edge of a froe on the end of the length of timber and hitting it a couple of times with another lump of wood he was able to quickly split the log to produce a blank ready for refining before being mounted on the lathe for turning. Peter used a “Kent pattern” hand axe to straighten up the piece of wood. The cranked handle and flat cutting edge of the axe allowed him to cleave the wood along the grain almost to a cylinder shape. The billet was further refined, holding it in a shave horse and using a draw knife.

Turning tools were limited to just 4 chisels. These were, a wide roughing out gouge, a pattern maker’s flat chisel (about 2½ inches wide), a fingernail gouge and a skew chisel. Each was razor sharp and were ground to a much shallower angle (about 20-25degrees), than for power lathe tools. Peter maintained an extremely sharp edge honing with 2000 grade whetstones.

Having reached the stage of mounting the billet on his lathe Peter was quickly able to produce a beautifully finished chair leg with coves and beads with no sandpaper in sight. Normally the leg would have been air dried and kiln dried prior to cutting a fixing tenon but Peter demonstrated how he did this using a drill powered Veritas tenon cutter, which produced a 1” tenon within seconds.

Having completed the chair leg Peter gave us a little more history about bodging and other aspects of the chair industry at the time. According to theory the term bodging refers to an incomplete job and in this instance was applied to the people who made a living supplying chair legs, stretchers and spindles for the chair industry. This was based to a great extent around the High Wycombe area producing chairs in particular for the London market and export. The bodger relied on speed and economical use of his timber in what was a very competitively priced market.

Other component industries were bottomers and framers. Peter gave a short explanation of chair seat making “bottoming”. He demonstrated use of a small hand adze used to shape a seat blank. This was then refined using a small curved draw knife to a good finish and completed using a curved blade travisher which was effectively an open bladed spokeshave.

He explained how the framers would cleave longer lengths of straight grained timber along the grain to maintain their strength and then, using pipe steamers, bend them into the desired curve to produce the back frame. This would then be held in place until dried, ready for final finishing and drilling to accept the chair back spindles.

Peter demonstrated how the bodgers would make spindles. Using his froe again to produce the initial blank Peter used just his draw knife and shave horse to create the desired shape and finish. Working in this way, rather than turning on the lathe, the spindle makers were able to maintain strength in the piece down to smaller diameters by always working with the grain rather than cutting across it. Using the draw knife in a slicing action as he pulled it along the spindle he was able to achieve a fine finish. In very little time the finished spindle was completed and ready for drying in readiness for final assembly. Similarly he explained how chair legs were kiln dried and the chair seats only air dried to help tighten the joints after construction.

Whilst turning a baby’s rattle Peter gave us a summary of his background and his base in the national forest. He had been turning and making chairs for about 20 years. Initially touring country fairs, giving demos and making chairs to order he had since settled in the National Forest working and providing tuition.

He additionally used a pair of “ferret” hook tools to undercut and release the captive rings., burnishing these before and after release with a handful of shavings.

Finally Peter turned a garden dibber. Having quickly produced a blank at his shave horse this was finished to the same standard as the rest of his work in little more than 3 minutes.

This was a very interesting evening and thoroughly appreciated by all.

Steve Lilley

SWC Club Member