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Wassail Tree

Slightly off tangent but still about wood, (in the loosest sense possible) I thought I'd share something completely new to me, the West Country tradition of Wassailing. I regularly walk through the South Molton Community Woodland on the way to and from work, it's not a particularly old woodland but it's a nice resource and covers a significant area. I'd noticed some apple trees within the confines of the wood and thought no more about it, aside from seeing them develop and change as the year passes. I had no idea they'd require a Wassail! My son has been part of the South Molton Beavers for a while now and this year some members of the community came in to introduce them to Wassailing. It's centered around seeing off evil spirits and toasting the tree good health for the new year with the hope of a good crop of apples in the autumn. I will confess that I felt somewhat embarrassed that I knew nothing of this West Country tradition, being from a Devonian family, local to Devon for many hundreds of years. Evidence I suppose of how quickly our culture changes and how we soon loose touch with old traditions and customs. I do have some form when it comes to apples though, you can see me within the photo sequence of the film (dead center, large collar looking toward the fire) here.

Devon Sunset

The Wassailing event itself was not held on the twelfth night, but early in January which I actually found quite fitting. The idea of awakening is starting to become evident at that time of year, with the evenings just becoming ever so slightly shorter and the walk home less dark than the depths of late December. It was great to see Morris Dancing, and other customs still being practiced and praise must go to the people who put time aside to make these events happen and participate. I'd liked to of shared some photos but my phone is unable to capture good images in dark evening conditions however you should be able to notice the tree in the top photo sporting some decoration. If you see a Wassailing event local to you this year I'd recommend taking a look!

Frosty Morning South Molton

Cottage Window

This is a discussion, similar to my write up about "old wood". I want to talk about protecting wooden window frames, or any joinery for that matter, from the weather. Please be sure to treat these as my thoughts on the topic rather than a full technical guide. The reason I was prompted to write this was thanks to a recent window installation where old defective windows, beyond economic repair, were being replaced by some new windows that we had made. Firstly I was delighted to be commissioned to make some new windows, it's always a privilege that people ask us to make quality items that are sympathetic to their buildings. However I was saddened to see what was being thrown in our skip as the installation work progressed.

Rotten Window

The stark reality is that any material will fail over time, wood, metal, plastic, they all have a life cycle. However, these windows we were removing could of easily lasted many more years with just a few simple steps. The key is to start on a good foundation, you'll notice from the photo above that there is no paint on the bottom of the casement, nor the edges of the casements that you can see below. This fist fatal flaw is at the heart of the problem. What I would want to see here is a full coating system and no bare timber exposed to the elements. Dry timber suitable for use by joiners will soak water up readily without coatings applied, this excess of moisture will then fester behind the painted faces and becoming a catalyst for rot. If that one step had been taken here I'd speculate another five years could of been drawn out from these windows.

Window Rot

Once you've chosen to start with a proper coating system, covering all surfaces you'll need to maintain it. The phrase "a stitch in time saves nine" immediately comes to mind. With my wooden windows at home I work this into regular cleaning cycle, I tend to clean the windows twice a year and use this time to look for any issues. I make sure things open and close smoothly, wipe the weather seals and look for any defects in the paint and make anything good with some paint or stain as required I also lubricate hinges and hardware. These steps are a wise move on a window made from any material. You can also choose to have you windows made from a very durable species such as Accoya, selecting a highly durable timber means that should an area of coating break down and go unnoticed, or a maintenance task slip then there is that extra fail safe of rot resistance below the surface.

Rotten Timber Window

By regularly cleaning and maintaining you'll soon see how quickly the paint finish breaks down. I'm very skeptical of advice given by paint suppliers who can quote up to 10 year gaps between reapplication of finishes. Every situation is unique and dictated by factors such protective roof overhangs, orientation to the sun, local prevailing weather etc. As a very rough guide I would look to apply new paint coating at 5 years and stains at 3 years. If in doubt seek the advise of a professional. With these simple steps the life cycle of external joinery can be dramatically improved. We've offered a painting service for some time now and would strongly encourage clients to have their windows full coated before installation. The cost of applying coatings will need to be factored in at some point, so why not have that process completed in our workshops before we install? That way your windows can look like the photo at the top rather than prematurely find themselves in the skip!

Oak Door

Welcome to the world of wood coatings, Russian Roulette style! We are regularly asked by clients if it would be possible to have a "natural" finish that lets the wood "silver down". The answer is yes you can, but it's a huge gamble. All we can do is try and make people aware of the pitfalls, having said that it can work well but here are some things to think about, first off the good bits. Aged oak especially, can look brilliant when weathered and bleached by UV light and can create tactile surfaces that are impossible to replicate using other materials. So if it's all about look and the feel of the joinery, your'e sorted. Now let's consider some of the things that could effect your bank balance after you've purchased your joinery.

Silvered Oak Door

Without appropriately coating your joinery it is normal to find the item will swell, especially here in Devon where the climate is pretty damp to say the least. This will mean doors and casements will jam and be difficult to operate. This can be resolved by us making a vist and easing the joinery so it works again, however each return trip will cost you as there is no way we can know how much any given piece of timber will swell or how long it will take to settle. So perhaps budget 6 hours of extra tradesman's wages on top of your quoted cost.

With the door is eased, when summer comes along it's possible the door will shrink and not touch weather seals as intended, you'll have to choose to accept a bit of a draught in summer and have none in winter. So if you like the snug fit of weather seals and smooth operating hardware the natural look might not be for you. Of course, none of that might happen but with no coatings applied anything can happen.

Weathered Oak

Silvering does not happen overnight and you might never see the patina you're looking for, especially if the joinery is on a sheltered Northern elevation. The example in these photos is on a South elevation and is a success as far as weathering goes. I have, however, seen joinery looking patchy and stripy. Often the lower area near the threshold can go black, the middle area can begin to silver and the higher area stay a brighter colour where it remains protected by the reveal or by a roof overhang.

If you have double glazed units the standard 5 year warranty will be void. The movement that happens naturally is likely to compromise the seat around the double glazed unit and lead to premature failure. I will stress this might not happen but you should be aware of it and budget for a new unit every three to four years.

The wood itself will also react differently, some sections seem extra tough and resistant to the elements others less so. Large fissures and defects can appear and even joints might want to come apart....or they might not....

Silvered Oak Boards

My personal opinion is that allowing wood to weather is something that works best with large wooden structures such as green oak framing. With joinery it can work but I would limit it to a focal point, like the door shown in these photos. But do bear in mind you might have to part with a great deal of money after you have commissioned the piece to remedy any number of issues. Would I take this approach? When you consider the example in the photos that was a success then I would. The three centered arch feature on the door shown seems somehow more robust with the weathering and the scale of the item also reacts well to the silver surfaces. But I would do it in an informed way, knowing that there are pitfalls and it might be a costly process.

View From a Glazed Gable

When you are responsible for part of a project it's quite normal to focus on that one thing. Making sure the detail is right, workmanship good and mouldings clean. Sometimes however, what we make can be at best a compliment to the broader project, or even perhaps go unnoticed. You'll see from the stunning photo above this project is one such situation. With Devon's rural setting many of the unused barns have been converted and this trend continues. These barns have excellent potential to connect the outside world to the everyday goings on at home. Simple glazed gable frames work brilliantly to achieve this.

Gable Frame Details

On this particular project our joinery fits in between structural steels. I must admit, as much as I like to use wood extensively I do like when steel has been used to create the supporting structure. It gives us lots of good fixings and as you'll notice from the photo above the steel is easily concealed within some simple cover sections. One of the most difficult issues on this kind of work is the glazing. The glass often has to provide high levels of insulation while also providing protection from falling through it, this also influences the cost! The bigger the glazed area the more dramatic the view but sadly the cost becomes more dramatic too!

Glazed Gable Frame

We have moved to glazing our gable frames internally, that is to say the glazing beads are on the inside. Our motivation here was making the long term maintenance easier. Double glazing will not last forever, sometimes there can even be an issue where a double glazed unit can fail prematurely. Having the glass inserted from inside the building means the heavy lifting can often be done more easily from the internal floor level. I'm not totally wedded to this approach for all jobs but in this case it proved effective. Just seeing the amount of scaffolding required for building work means if that if it's future use can be reduced, so much the better.

Gable Frame Devon

The scaffolding was being dismantled as I was taking these photos, I hope to share some better photos once it's intrusive structure is gone so you can enjoy more of the stunning views of the Devon countryside!