Poet-in-Residence left a short comment about coppicing on this blog today. I started to frame a reply and soon realised my comment was turning into a post in its own right - and one which quickly turned from metaphorical to literal coppicing.
Some years ago I tried coppicing -or something very like it- for a living. My great plan was to find bits of old woodland people wanted cleared and offer to do it in exchange for the wood I cut out. This I'd make into charcoal and other green (as opposed to seasoned) wood products. The charcoal (which I made in oil drums - at least I hadn't invested in an expensive kiln) was a flop, along with the besoms, but scout patrol poles, tree stakes and clothes props sold like hot cakes. Well, almost. Pickup-loads of logs were reasonable money makers too, but exhausting to do with a chainsaw and an axe. The most interesting part of it all was building a traditional shaving horse and learning to make traditional wooden tent pegs with a draw-knife. Had I been doing this during the First World War, when many thousands of them were needed, I would have been onto a good thing. The demand, though, is not quite the same these days.
It might not have been a great success as a business but it was great fun. There's something about working with iron tools and fire that makes you feel like a minor operative in Mordor. Climbing trees to lop off their branches was like being paid to play. But not enough. In the end, I was making 80p an hour, so I sold my chainsaw. This was a bit of a wrench, as I had worked hard to get a certificate (and I can recommend the course to anyone looking for a holiday with a difference). I bought a cello with the proceeds. I never looked back.
All that remains is the pleasure of walking round woods when you can recognise the old ways people used to use them. For example, you can often find the remains of hazel coppices with oak trees (known as "standards") left to grow in the open spaces left by the lower-growing hazel. The theory was that with space to grow, the branches could curve outwards in the shape necessary for the prows of ships.
4 years ago