Wood works

by Tom Massey

Our first visit outside of Greater London was to Balcombe Estate Sawmill where we met Will Wallace, a woodsman and timber enthusiast. The sawmill is surrounded by woodland and the timber is sourced from the private estate. It is either milled and sold locally for timber frames and their repair or used around the estate. They predominantly process English oak. Timber unsuitable for beams and joinery is used for firewood or is processed in to wood chip for bio mass, making use of any waste.

Balcombe estate_wood samplesIt’s was fascinating to see the working sawmill and their range of indigenous woods and more unusual varieties. As a carpenter I always find it inspiring to see how others work with wood, from each person I believe you learn something new. Will educated us on historic timber extraction, sawmills and the use of hand forestry tools. After a warm pasta lunch kindly served by Will and his wife Gem we had a demonstration of the mobile woodmizer saw mill.

Balcombe estate

We also paid a visit to Croxley Great Barn in Rickmansworth, the site of SPAB’s 2014 Working Party. The Working Party is a unique week-long training course in the repair and care of old buildings run by professionals. The Scholars and Fellows are invited to take part in the repair specifications, alongside Richard Oxley of Oxley Conservation. We first walked around the site examining and discussing repair options and then were allocated different areas of the barn to focus on. Elgan and I were given the job of specifying the repair of the Victorian threshing floor. In the afternoon we put our ideas forward in a group discussion, headed by Jonny Garlick (SPAB technical officer) and overseen by the local conservation officer. We are currently looking forward to feedback on our specification and we can’t wait to getting started on the barn this summer.


Timber – from sawmill to sash window

by Ross Perkin

This week the Scholars got to grips with timber. At Whitney Sawmill Will Bullough explained the process of managing a diverse woodland. The sawmill specialises in home-grown timber of all varieties of soft and hard wood. Will put the Scholars to the test on identifying timber species before explaining the variety of uses that are suited to each. This was followed by a step by step explanation of the cutting and drying process.


imageThis visit was complemented by time spent at Treasure and Sons building contractors in Ludlow. Steven Treasure has headed up the family-run business for many years and has overseen work on conservation projects for both private clients and English Heritage in and around Shropshire. Treasure and Sons have a large joinery workshop that specialises in traditional hand-crafted work.

Steven and Mike explained each step in the process of creating their precision crafted carpentry. Our session ended with a detailed workshop on the function and repair of vertical sash windows

Tuck pointing with Anthony Goode

The Scholars journeyed to Slawston near Leicester to meet up with Anthony and Jean Goode. Anthony is a member of the SPAB Technical Panel and has worked as a building contractor on conservation projects in the Midlands for many years. Anthony was excited to show the Scholars a draft of the upcoming SPAB technical pamphlet on gypsum floors. Gypsum flooring is often incorrectly referred to as lime-ash floors and was extensively laid throughout the Midlands until the mid-19th century.

Tuck-pointing was on the agenda for the latter part of the week. This technique was used extensively in the 19th century to imitate gauged brickwork. Rough brickwork is flush pointed with mortar that matches the brick colour. A v-shape groove is then cut into the coloured mortar and a white stripe of lime mortar is ‘tucked’ in to create the impression of very fine mortar joints.

tuck pointing

image3Although the Scholars did not altogether master the tuck pointing (left) they did leave with a solid appreciation of the craftsmanship involved in the technique.