01 March 2018
Author: Ben Law
Publisher: GMC Publications
ISBN number: 978-1861089366
Working with wood is one of the oldest outdoor skills, and it is a pastime that, even if not practised by all lovers of the outdoors, is almost universally appreciated. Just like walking, it is also a hobby that has seen a recent and welcome resurgence in interest and participation, as people living increasingly urbanised, technologically-driven lives seek different ways to get ‘back to nature’.
This comprehensive, practical and readable guide from woodsman Ben Law is therefore a timely publication that manages to convey the author’s considerable passion and expertise in many areas of woodcraft, without veering into dry, overly technical description. Though its subject is serious, this is a beautiful and thoughtful book; a tome that celebrates one man’s love of the handmade wooden object. Law’s passion for wood in all its myriad forms shines through, as does his respect and admiration for his fellow craftsmen and their skills, who contine to pursue their livelihoods throughout Britain – a nation that is thankfully now beginning to re-engage with its extraordinarily rich heritage of woodworking and artisan crafts. Law also stresses that the fundamental basis for woodcraft is the responsible and sustainable sourcing of wood, which sums up his overall ethos and approach to the topic.
As such, the book is a useful source of information on different trees and their respective properties, not just in relation to their utility for woodcraft, but also in terms of species identification, ecological value and coppicing notes, which will be of benefit to anyone responsible for managing areas of woodland, or even just walkers who enjoy exploring woodland but who would like to know more about the trees around them.
Similarly, for homeowners with wood-burning stoves or open fires, it includes a shorter chapter on processing wood for fuel, providing an overview of the principles of felling, seasoning, stacking and splitting logs. Law gives a useful table on drying times for different woods, and reproduces the well-known rhyme, Logs to Burn. He also includes two methods for making charcoal.
The book’s 'heartwood', however, is a series of chapters describing a wide range of projects, combining explanatory diagrams and illustrations with colour photographs to provide a useful step-by-step approach for constructing wooden tools, objects and structures of all scales – from simple spoons, trugs and troughs to fencing and construction projects. This includes a full-scale yurt and even a timber-framed caravan. As such there is something for every craftsperson, from those starting out as spoon-carvers or basket-weavers to gardeners and smallholders seeking more ambitious projects.
Of course, it is a book that will be of most practical use to those with sufficient time, space and land to practice the craft skills and techniques of woodland management that Law advocates. For the rest of us, leafing through the pages of Woodland Craft is more of an aspirational or even vicarious experience. But the book is an immersive, refreshing read that is at once traditional and forward-looking. Ben Law is one of the shining examples of a progressive breed of craftspeople who, far from shrouding their art in secrecy, are embracing the future by inspiring more people to become interested in traditional heritage skills. Matthew Jones