Felling a large tree

We have moved up in size with todays task.
Armed with ten volunteers and four flint axes we headed back to the woods to fell a thirty metre high pine tree.Today the volunteers chose the axe that they preferred rather than us insisting on them using a variety, as we felt it would be more productive for them to be comfortable with a particular tool. We felt that it was going to take a while and yesterday we had all estimated how long it would take to fell the tree and we had a range from thirty minutes to three hours.

The tree to be felled

The tree to be felled

It didn’t take long for the chips to start flying as we took turns chopping for two minutes each and by lunch time we had cut a large wedge out of the tree. We continued into the afternoon focusing now on the back cut to ensure that the tree fell where we wanted it, not where it wanted!
The first cut

The first cut

Starting the back cut

Starting the back cut

Ready to fall

Ready to fall

At 2.30pm, after a valiant effort by all involved, the tree started to creak and a few more blows later it fell. Cheers echoed round the wood, we had done it all with flint tools!

11,000 blows later

11,000 blows later

The successful team

The successful team

The total amount of blows struck was 11,477! We counted every one!
We have now reached the end of the harvesting phase and now all the materials will be delivered to Old Sarum for the construction phase to start at the beginning of March.
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Return to the woods

After a week away we returned to the woods with flint axes in hand.
Many of the axes had been repaired or re hafted and their edges honed in preparation for the task ahead.

The mission today was to cut down twenty larch trees. These trees were far more substantial than the hazel coppice, being about twelve years old but, because they are a softwood, we wondered if they would be any easier.

Trees to be cut

Trees to be cut

The first signs were promising as the sound of flint axes striking trees echoed through the woods and large chippings littered the floor. It wasn’t long before the first tree crashed to the ground and from then on trees were harvested at a steady rate.

The first one down

The first one down

Larch poles ready to go

Larch poles ready to go

Tomorrow we move on to something larger!

 

End of the first week

Its the end of the first week of the project and we are amazed at how much has been achieved. We are on track with our harvesting schedule and are confident that we will have all of the hazel that we need coppiced by the end of this phase of the project.
For the final day of this week we moved to another coup in the woods, unfortunately farther away from the car park. This did mean though that there was a longer, but very pleasant walk in. The hazel in this coup has been left for longer and therefore the rods that we were coppicing today were larger than we had all week. The straightest ones that we cut will probably be used as either wall stakes or rafters in the buildings.
An excellent week and everyone seems to have enjoyed their time in the woods.

An area of the woods after coppicing

An area of the woods after coppicing

Using flint tools in the mud

The coup has become incredibly muddy after so much prolonged rain and it is hard to believe how you would have coped with these muddy conditions in the Stone Age. No grippy, steel toe capped boots in Neolithic times!
The focus of today was to continue with our use of flint tools to coppice the hazel in our coup. It was interesting to see how much time Neolithic people would have had to spend removing the enough material to make their houses. Our flint tools have been made by one of our volunteers James Dilley, who trades under the name Ancient Craft.
Some of the flint axes before they were hafted.

Some of the flint axes before they were hafted. Photo by James Dilley

Flint axes and sickles, now hafted with handles

Flint axes and sickles, now hafted with handles. Photo by James Dilley

A fully hafted and bound flint axe, ready for use

A fully hafted and bound flint axe, ready for use. Photo by James Dilley

We have had some breakages of our flint axes and it is now a question of whether our technique is lacking or whether our Neolithic ancestors had the same problems, and, if they did, were they all capable of repairing these axes when they were damaged.
One of the flint axes in use. Photo by Keith Murray

One of the flint axes in use. Photo by Keith Murray

Day 2 in the woods

Our volunteers wondered if they'd actually gone back in time

Our volunteers wondered if they’d actually gone back in time. Photo by Briony Clifton

It was a close call with the weather this morning as the forecast was for heavy rain but, except for a shower at lunchtime, the rain held off all day.
With a second day of coppicing ahead it was some sore and aching bodies that arrived in the woods this morning. It is quite a physical job cutting and moving hazel and it was showing today, however a more efficient system of coppicing evolved as the volunteers found their feet.
A well-earned break!

A well-earned break! Photo by Briony Clifton

As part of the project several flint axes have been made to give an idea of how the Neolithic people who constructed the houses at Durrington Walls would have harvested their materials. We unleashed the volunteers into the coup with various designs of axe and allowed them to get some experience of how different these tools are to use. For many this was the first time that they had used flint tools and it became apparent that they require a different technique to modern tools. Our aim is to gather a proportion of the materials used in this project using authentic tools, and this was just the start.

Harvesting phase begins

The project begins for real!

After a long time in planning we are finally in the woods with enthusiastic volunteers. With the weather forecast predicting rain by lunchtime fifteen volunteers arrived at a muddy Garston Woods near Sixpenny Handley, Dorset. The wood is managed by the RSPB and has been regularly coppiced for around 400 years!
Our enthusiastic volunteers!

Our enthusiastic volunteers!

Over a hot cup of tea the project outline was discussed, tool safety talks given and then work could begin. With each volunteer being assigned a pair of loppers and a bow saw, they were quickly off harvesting hazel rods from the stools (the base of a coppiced) in our coup (the area of wood that is being felled). The cut rods were then divided into large and small diameters, tied into bundles and then stacked, ready for transporting to Old Sarum.
By lunchtime drops of rain were beginning to fall but undeterred we carried on cutting and dragging until the end of the afternoon, when the rain properly arrived. After an rewarding day we are on track to have the harvesting phase finished in a couple of weeks.
Volunteers coppicing in the woods

Volunteers coppicing in the woods