Traditional woodland craft - also known as woodmanship* - means working with trees and forests using techniques that our ancestors** would recognise. These wood-loving ancestors of ours may have been the first true conservationists, working their resources in a way that was renewable and sustainable and not only preserved trees, but enhanced the richness of the surrounding wildlife.
In the majority of trees native to this country, felled tree roots live, and shoots appear. These shoots grow at breakneck speed because all of the energy produced to give a mature tree life is poured into them. Our national treasures such as Oak, Ash, Hazel and Birch trees all ‘coppice’ or produce a crop of shoots from their cut stumps, which can be crafted into a variety of uses. How these wonderful roots and shoots are turned into furniture, tools and a hundred other uses, is what has become known as 'traditional woodland craft'.
Coppice harvest cycles can be anything from 7 to 20 years depending on regrowth.
Younger shoots can be harvested early if the need is for thin bendy poles, whilst ash or oak coppices may be left to grow into thicker, stronger poles. Unlike un-coppiced wood the shoots grow straighter, so harvesting the wood is more economical. Trees that have been coppiced live many times longer than those left alone, another benefit of coppicing.
Words of the Woodman: key terms
Here are some of the key terms associated with woodmanship. This at once gives an idea of what it is, and gives you a headstart in learning some of the terminology. You will have to get to grips with this when you start practicing this marvellous age-old art!
Coppice - growth of small trees coming from shoots or ‘suckers’
Coppicing - harvesting the coppice to produce the rods of wood
Riving wood / to ‘rive’ - splitting rods of wood by hand (starting at the small end). It’s quicker than sawing and essential to woodmanship.
Wattles - woven sheets of wood, usually used for fencing or gates
Besom - a type of broom, made from tying twigs to a pole (imagine a witch's broom)
‘Wood’ versus ‘timber’ - remember that coppicing produces 'wood', whereas ‘timber’ is much bigger and signifies a single trunk rather than the shoots harvested from coppices.
*We refer to ‘craftsman’ woodman’ and ‘woodmanship’. This is only and simply because, to our knowledge, there is no gender un-specific word to be used instead. Artisan or woodworker are good terms, but are too vague in this context of craft courses specifically for traditional woodland crafts. Future wood-woman should not be put off however! There are a number of talented women involved in Traditional Wood Crafts, and all of the tutors you will find on these pages welcome both male and female students.
**i.e. communities in BC4000, iron-age times, under the Romans and during the Saxon era used similar woodworking techniques!