Green woodworker Chris Allen

Hi, can you tell me who you are and what you do?

My name’s Chris and I live in the south of England in a beautiful chalk landscape steeped in modern and ancient history. I used to be an IT manager and ride a desk, but it ended up riding me. So now I bother logs, making and selling at markets and shows as well as teaching pole lathe and spoon carving courses.

So, what makes woodworking green woodworking?

Unseasoned timber and hand tools. For me, I’m comfortable with a fairly narrow definition so as not to dilute a fragile niche and that’s the essence of my personal view point. I understand the pull of power to increase profits or for ease of working, and there are lots of amazing craftspeople using all sorts of techniques to make beautiful things. I draw the line where I do. And yes, there are derogations on my process such as cordless drills and a chainsaw. But, the essence of what I do is about doing it simply, well and with minimal impact of my production process on the environment.

Why did you get into green woodworking?

Initially green woodworking filled an outdoor/creative/constructive activity role which was missing in my life. I knew I liked being outdoors, I’d been a boy scout and knew one end of a sharp tool from the other. So, discovering the simplicity of working with hand tools, a cheap buy-in to get set up and easily available materials – all of which I could do sat next to a campfire in the woods with a brew – it was the perfect hobby. Then, latterly it was something of a no-brainer to turn the hobby into a lifestyle business.

Within the craft, have you got any specific interests that you can tell me about?

Chris Allen turning on a pole lathePole lathe turning is a particular skill set I enjoy. The rasp of the tool, the feedback of the shaving, being tuned in to the rhythm of the work and the marvel of turning a log into different objects – I’ll qualify that as spindle turning, since bowl turning and the same level of pleasure are not bedfellows for me yet. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed learning and in particular being reset to skill level zero, but I’ve yet to nail down all of the variables with bowls! I like to turn the odd goblet with the spindle lathe too, and I’ve been known to carve one or two spoons.

What makes you like your favourite tools?

Emotional attachment, namely comfort and familiarity. Realistically – in theory – I could replace all my tools. And, after a short period of bedding in, carry on outputting work. Will I be selling them or not worrying that they’re safe and secure? No, they’re mine! I’m an emotional chap who’s attached to the comfort they afford. And, I know them inside out. But in the cold light of day and hassle factor aside it’s more about how I view a tool rather than any intrinsic characteristics of the tools themselves.

What are your favourite woods to work with? Why?

For carving, fresh apple. I love the colours of the timber and the crispness of the edge the wood takes. It’s fairly rare that I get usable apple though, so a close second would be hawthorn for similar reasons. For turning, ash and cherry rate highly. From a production point of view, line up the straightest birch, ash, cherry and beech logs all day long please!

If I were a complete novice, is there one thing you could tell me to help me get started?

The standard beginners advice from me is practice, sharp tools, enjoyment. I want to reel off lessons I’ve learned and the pitfalls I see people falling into, but IMHO, beginners are largely best served learning from their mistakes and being spurred on to discover and analyse their own journey.

Have you got anything you’d like to say to green woodworkers?

Keep up the good work. The more I learn, the more I realise crafters are a fairly special breed. Society at large doesn’t necessarily get why we bash logs, but there is intangible value in terms of personal and public goods to what you do. Be proud of it, keep doing it.
Chris Allen offering you a thumb up with a pocket full of spoons

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