one turkey = one bench

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Yes, it was barter time when I was asked if I could repair an old garden bench.  It just happened that the person asking is also the person from whom we get our Christmas turkey, so it seemed a sensible way of doing business.

The bench, when I first saw a picture of it, looked like it had seen many better days and I thought that it was going to need a completely new set of seat timbers.

Oh dear, what a state!

Oh dear, what a state!

However when I got it back here and removed the broken lath, I realised that in fact the timber was in really good condition and just needed a lot of TLC (and quite a few sanding belts!).  Once I’d ground off the rusted up nuts and bolts, I set to with the sander and they all came up really clean, despite various coats of paint.  The only problem then was how to find a suitable replacement for the broken one.

The paintwork on the metal frame disappeared under the tender machinations of a flap wheel on the angle grinder and the first part of the job was over.

Bare metal

Bare metal

The frame was really well made, in two pieces at each end joined with rivets rather than welded.

Cold January is not the best time for painting, but a couple of almost mild days allowed a couple of coats of dark green Hammerite and all of a sudden we had real progress.

British Racing Green?

British Racing Green?

Whilst sanding the laths and grinding off the bolts I noticed that some of them were secured by countersunk screws, so a trawl on the ‘net turned up something similar and I was ready to put it all together, once I’d found a replacement for the broken one.

A trip to the timber merchants eventually came up with a piece of oak which wasn’t far off the colour, but then I found, lurking in my shed, a length of hardwood which I’d rescued after the electricity company had replaced a pole down by the river.  Sanded down it looked OK, but was a bit too big, so off to Ian the neighbour and a few passes through his planer-thicknesser and I was in business.  Quick run through with the router to radius the edge and, as they say, a blind man would be glad to see the difference!

No phone at the moment due to a BIG tree taking out the cable and BT not in a hurry to replace it, so an e-mail to Caroline and she was on her way to collect.



That’s not a turkey, that’s a really nice bench which hopefully will last a long time into the future.

Bridges over the Nant y Bedd

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This is a tale of Three Bridges.  Not the railway station near Gatwick, but the three bridges over our stream.

The first, in the main garden I made up out of two large tree trunks, that just happened to be lying about after we decided to do a bit of tidying up, and a ‘bridge kit’ superstructure.  It made it’s media debut when Carol Klein walked across it in the BBC2 Open Gardens programme.  It’s been in service now for probably more than ten years, and hopefully will last a lot more.

Bridge number 1 hidden in the foliage

Bridge number 1 hidden in the foliage

The second is the most famous.  The Indiana Jones style rope bridge that has featured most recently in Saga Magazine and in the NGS Book.  Built, to Sue’s design, by Daryl Rogers a local fencing contractor, it is the one which even gets passing traffic to stop and take photos.

Mind your step and don't look down!

Mind your step and don’t look down!

The latest, number 3, below the turbine house was completed this morning with the addition of some metal uprights and rope handrail, and also features a couple of long tree trunks as it’s base.  The decking is our own timber from the trees taken down to build the pond walls.  For the metal stakes, I twisted some loops on the forge for the rope handrail.  So this one is more mine that the others and it’s also the quirkiest in terms of it’s lack of level.  This one is probably the highest of the three above the stream.

Rustic is a good description!

Rustic is a good description!

Forging or Forgery?

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I suppose that it is one of those delightful quirks of the English language where two very diverse meanings accrue to one word.  ‘To Forge’:  1) to make new items by the heating and working of metal.  2) to make a fake items with the intention to confuse or defraud.

Well, the Nant y Bedd forge is now up and glowing and there’s nothing fake about what I hope will be coming out of it.  Sue (with a contribution from my Mother) bought me the forge for my recent 60th Birthday.   Here it is on the website of Greystone Forge, who hand-built it.  Anyone thinking of getting a forge could do a lot worse than to contact Mike Judd at Greystone for a chat and a quote.  He tells me he has relatives living near here, so one day he may pop in to see if I’m making a reasonable job of things! Scary!


For the uninitiated the bit at the back is the ‘bosh’ which is filled with water to cool down the sticky-out bit – the tue iron – which transfers the air from the blower underneath (no room here for a small boy pumping on a large bellows) into the fire.

But it’s not just the forge itself that is needed so E-Bay was raided for an anvil (cost supported by Natalie, Geraldine and Martin), a leg vice (that’s a vice with a supporting leg, not what you might otherwise be thinking!)and a quantity of forging tools.

The big decision was where to put it.  Initially I was thinking about wheeling it out into the open whenever I wanted to forge, but the spell of wet we’ve just had made me think again – I wouldn’t have been able to do anything with it for the first couple of months of this year – so a corner of one of the sheds has been pressed into action, seen here in it’s previous incarnation as part of the wood store.  Sue’s drying plants will have to go!


But, of course the floor wasn’t level, so the best part of a ton of rolling stone was firmly whacked into place.


Before the stone was laid, I made a stand for the leg-vice out of some old railway track I found round the back of the tractor shed.  Recycling part of the history of the valley – the railway line was laid to bring the materials up the valley to the reservoir dam site as it was being constructed, before the road was here.  Three pieces welded together and sunk 2’6″ into concrete, it should be solid!  It’s a lovely old vice and in great working order.



The anvil came from just outside Newport, so the old Land Rover was pressed into action for a longer than usual journey.  When I arrived to collect it, the kind owner had giving it a coat of light grey paint – not really what I wanted – and so I’ve covered that in black for the time being.  I might wire brush it all off one day.

E-Bay also supplied a wonderful load of hammers, chisels and tongs from a blacksmith was is retiring – thanks Geoffrey.  Having seen the price of new ‘weapons’  I think I got a bargain, there’s so many I can hardly lift them all once.







The final piece of the jigsaw was getting the same coke (there’s another word with somewhat diverse meanings) as I was using when I did my evening class at Hereford (Holme Lacy) College.  There’s only a few places selling Blacksmith Breeze, as it’s known, and one of them is just outside Leominster, so a quick trip to Bengry’s got me sufficient to get started.

I might experiment with local charcoal one day, after all the name of the area here is Fforest Coal Pit, forest coal being the old name for charcoal, and there are the remains of many of the original hearths in the valley, which supplied local ironworks in Glangrwyney and further afield before coal and coke become more readily available and easier to transport.  Shirley Rippin’s book  The Charcoal Industry of Fforest Coalpit & the Grwyne Fawr Valley  explains it in fascinating detail.

Eventually, Sue ran out of other jobs for me to do, so as April draws to a close I finally get to fire it up.


I need some side pieces for the benches that I’m repairing / recycling and, in the spirit of trying to recycle where possible, I found a couple of old gate latches which needed lengthening but were otherwise just right – they even had a handle for holding on to while forging.  However I get the feeling that they are made of tool steel or similar as it seems to be taking a long time to add the 3″ I need.  I’m restarting the Holme Lacy course again on Monday, so I’ll be after some expert opinion on that.


Note the Elf and Safety fire extinguisher!

Note the Elf and Safety fire extinguisher!


I mentioned the anvil earlier, so here it is in use.  It is marked as 1.5 cwt so is pretty difficult to move, but I think I maybe need to raise it an inch or two.


The quench bucket just behind me is another Pontrilas auction find, as are the extinguishers and I promise to get the wiring sorted out permanently as soon as possible! I also plan to get a small hood and flue which may make lighting the forge a bit easier and a lot less smoky.


MabFab manufacture and recycling

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Since attending welding and blacksmithing classes a couple of years ago, I’ve been making a few things under the (IMHO) catchy brand name of MabFab  – short for Mabberley Fabrications if you haven’t already guessed.

Starting with simple plant stakes

steel plant stakes

steel plant stakes and one of the obelisks

and progressing to more elaborate sweetpea / bean obelisks with globes on top.

Set of three obelisks

Set of three obelisks

Just recently I’ve re-made a couple of benches using new oak slats and old cast-iron ends.

single and three seater benches

single and three seater benches

single bench by the river

single bench by the river – don’t you just want to sit here and pass the time listening to the water?!

Along with some other already tried and tested items like the compost duvets and slate plant labels, my soon to arrive blacksmithing forge will allow me to have a selection of functional and tasteful items for sale when we open for the NGS in July.  Start saving your pennies!  Orders taken at any time!

Compost duvets

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We have recently borrowed a Thermal Imaging camera from The Green Valleys, ostensibly to check on the insulation properties of the house (and others in the valley), but it was interesting to turn the lens on one of the compost heaps.  (It’s also very useful for finding black cats on moonless nights!)

This heap is the one currently being filled and so is ‘working’.  As with all our heaps (7 in total) it is covered with black plastic, but also, underneath the black, is one of our compost bin lambs wool duvets.  Although its pretty cold outside the heap is still working, and is full of worms munching away.

The first picture shows the thermal image of the top of the heap with plastic and duvet in place and the second the top of the composting material itself, quite a bit of which has only recently been added, so not up to temperature yet.  The temperature at the centre of the photos is shown as a figure on the right hand side, the range of temperatures in the photo is on the scale on the right. 6C is approx 43F

Compost bin

Thermal image of the top of the heap

The difference is quite remarkable, being around 12C (21F) hotter (the yellow and red areas) under the duvet than on top. 18C is approx 64F

compost 2

Thermal image of the compost under the duvet

And here is what a (slightly mucky) compost duvet looks like in real life, with the top black plastic cover pulled to one side.  The filling is unwanted lambs wool shearings from a local farmer – very green!  If you live local to us, I can supply a limited number for a small fee. Use the reply/ comment form at the bottom of the page to get more details  The basic size is four foot square, although other smaller sizes are possible, as this is the bin size we find best suited to making good compost.

compost duvet

lambswool compost duvet

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