This simple project uses splitting and steam bending processes based loosely on traditional green wood working techniques that have been used by bodgers and green wood workers for centuries. The outcome is a simple green ash whisk.
The Open-source movement has been able to exist and grow in huge part due to the information sharing possibilities enabled by the development of information and communication technologies over the last sixty years, in particular the internet. But since the 1950s, when the first computers were being developed, artists in the Pop Art movement began to lift imagery from popular culture in their work and there has been a general cultural move, from sample-based music, to wikipedia, to open-source hardware, towards an ideology where ideas, skills and creativity become collectively owned and free to be adopted, modified and developed by any indivdual.
As an experienced tree surgeon and a design student at Camberwell College, UAL, I'm interested in how traditional craft skills will come to fit in the new open-source paradigm. This project looks to engage makers in a light-hearted way in a discussion about our relationship to our natural environment, our knowledge sharing systems and each other. It is hoped makers will adapt and modify the design of this very basic object and share their iterations through further instructables.
This project begins with a stroll in the woods. Find a woodland with a good selection of young ash trees growing among their parents. Ash is a fast-growing deciduous hardwood native to Britain and found in abundance. This link will help you identify the right tree.
You are looking for a stem (or branch if you can't find any saplings) approximately 50 - 70mm in diameter with a straight section with no or few knots which is at least 400mm long. Ash grows very straight usually, making it ideal for this project
Cut down the sapling/ branch with a saw or billhook.
BE CAREFUL: A sapling with a stem that thick will be quite tall. Look out for people, buildings, power lines or anything else that could be a target in all directions!
Cut off the section you are going to use.
(Make sure you are allowed to remove timber from the woodland, or use stealth, and don't cut down more than you need.)
Take your freshly cut straight section of ash timber and split it lengthwise down the middle. To do this you can use a billhook or your big knife, although the billhook may be easier owing to the large flat blade.
Secure your piece of wood vertically and carefully line up your blade with the pith at the very centre of the annual rings. Using a mallet or another piece of wood, carefully tap the blade into the wood.
It will start splitting ahead of the cut. This is good. Ash cleaves easily and cleanly. Carefully work your blade through the length of your pole, steering it to avoid splitting away from the centre, until you have two long halves (you may need to loosen the piece once the split is established as it wont split cleanly under compression in a vice).
Here's a video of green wood worker Mike Abbot splitting ash on a much larger scale to provide some encouragement!
Using the same technique, further split one half of the timber to produce a long, thin slice.
Carefuilly split this slice into several long rods. These are going to become the 'whiskers'. A billhook may be difficult to control at this stage. Use the Big Knife.
Now begin to carefully work each rod down to a diameter of approxiamtely 4mm using the big knife (pushing it away from you, duh!)
Ultimately aim for an oval or rectangular cross-section of about 3 x 4 mm as even as you can along the length of the rod. Allow the rod to flex a little under the blade as you work. The blade will naturally try to move between the grain of the wood leaving continuous fibres along its length. This will help to allow the wood to bend smoothly and reduce splitting.
When you have at least 4 rods (consider a couple of spares as well, in case of casualties), use 280 grit sandpaper to remove any splits and splinters and round off any corners.
Take the other half of your split pole and cut a length of around 180mm. This will form the handle.
Using your big knife, remove the bark and reduce the half moon cross-section to a cylinder then round off each end.
We are using half of the pole in this way to avoid the pith at the centre. Leaving it in can make the wood more prone to splitting as it dries out.
On one end of the handle mark the points for drilling the eight holes required for inserting the whiskers.
Carefully drill the holes at a steep angle using a 3mm wood drill bit. Drill each hole to a depth of about 7 or 8 mm
Finish the handle with sandpaper for a splinter-free whisking experience.
Now it is time to steam-bend and heat temper!
Set up a conventional kitchen steamer and get it steaming.
(Unless you are feeling adventurous! Here's how to build your own steam box.)
Turn on your normal kitchen oven to about 200 C, gas mark whatever, loads of fahrenhiet.
Very carefully, evenly bend your 4 rods to fit inside your steamer. Place your handle in as well.
(In this picture my rods were short enough not to need bending)
Leave to steam for about 15 minutes (with the lid on)
Have your string ready.
One at a time, remove your rods from the steamer and wrap around the handle shaft. Try to work fast as the wood cools quickly, becoming less flexible.
It is all going to be hot, use gloves!
Try to get the bend central to the rod then tie down to hold in place, something like the picture, and place the whole lot in the hot oven for about 10 to 15 minutes. Keep an eye on them as they can start to go brown very suddenly. Don't let that happen.
This process will cause the rods to hold there new shape and become hardened.
Allow to cool a little then carefully remove the now permanently bent whiskers from the shaft of the handle.
The bend in the whiskers will need to be carefully opened up a little. Work with your hands close together on a small section at a time. Take your time as it is easy to snap them at this stage. They are much stiffer and stronger than before tempering but also a lot more brittle.
The whiskers' 'legs' will probably need shortening at this stage prior to inserting in the drilled holes. Each one will need to be a slightly different length to allow them to pass over and under each other where they cross and to allow for the staggered holes.
Carefully snap off the necessary amount from the legs and push each end into opposite holes on the handle, working with one whisker at a time to help with sizing.
If necessary, go back and use a small amount of wood glue on the ends of the rods to secure them in their holes.
That's it! What does yours look like?
Now here's a recipe for a fine chocolate mousse to try it out on....