Two-Way Learning

31 . 08 . 14

One of the nicest things about running our workshop experience weeks and sharing the joys of building wooden surfboards, is the people that we get to meet and spend a week with.  They are all, without fail, incredibly interesting and engaging individuals and it is a real pleasure for us to spend a week getting to know them whilst we work and to learn from them about the work that they do.  This past week we’ve been joined by Kelvin and Ben; Kelvin works for the BBC radio outside broadcasts (programmes from Glastonbury to  Any Questions), whilst Ben works for Stihl, the German chainsaw company.  It was Ben’s knowledge of forestry that answered the mystery of a strange “disappearing” knot that we found in a piece of poplar that James was machining for the nose and tail blocks in Ben’s surfboard.

When growing timber for commercial use, foresters try to minimise the number and size of knots in the wood (caused by branches growing out from the main trunk) because cleaner, straighter grained timber is more desirable (both structurally and aesthetically) to the construction industry.  They do this by pruning any small branches and frith (tiny sprouts) up to the first main limbs, producing a tree with a long, straight trunk and a crown of branches and leaves at the top.  Our mystery knot was like a tear-drop shaped ball, isolated in the timber and only visible once we cut through it – it was totally enclosed within the piece of wood.  It was most likely formed, we learnt, when a larger branch was pruned or (in the case of poplar) died and fell off of it’s own accord.  The tree then continued to grow around it, encasing it and leaving a knot ball with a slight “tail” leading back towards the centre of the trunk.  We were still able to use the piece of timber continaing the knot as it was on the inside of a nose block, so wouldn’t have any effect on the structure of the surfboard.

And that really is one of the nicest things about these weeks.  We learn a lot and so (hopefully) do our guests.  We now know an awful lot more about sustainable commercial forestry, how it takes a total of four weeks to wire up and take out all of the cabling required to broadcast Wimbledon for two weeks each year, and that competitors in timbersports (logging championships) wear chainmail socks.  And that’s just the half of it.  So, thank you to Kelvin and Ben for being such great company this week, and to all of our previous workshoppers for sharing their stories and knowledge with us.  We’ll make for a great pub-quiz team one day.

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