Alex Holden (alex_holden) wrote,
Alex Holden


The term 'bodge' these days tends to refer to a quick and dirty repair, usually of poor quality. An example would be patching up rusty car bodywork using chicken wire and filler instead of cutting out all the rot and welding new pieces in. Traditionally, however, bodging was a common occupation. Bodgers were craftsmen who worked in the woods, cutting branches and working them by hand to produce a variety of pole-shaped items (eg. legs for chairs and tables).

I've recently had cause to replace several rotten oak pegs (trenails) that should have been holding together the ancient oak frame in the back wall of wibble_puppy's house. The proper traditional way to make pegs is to use a drawknife to hand-carve a slightly tapered round peg out of a piece of seasoned, straight-grain, knot-free oak heartwood. The quick, cheating way to do it (a bodge in the modern sense) is to buy a length of oak dowel (wood that's been machined round, like a broom handle) that is slightly too big and use a belt sander to machine just enough off to make it fit. This would likely produce a slightly weaker result, as well as looking less authentic to the trained eye. Which method do you think we went for? :) An additional complication in this case was that the holes in the ancient oak had gone a bit oval and tapered, and the tenon holes were smaller than the outer mortice holes so they needed a lot of careful carving to make them fit well (as opposed to just plugging up the hole without adding any strength to the joint).

This was the most complicated one to make:

It was a very tight fit, and did actually do an excellent job of holding the joint tight.

One of the tools in the traditional bodger's arsenal was the shave horse, used to hold rough pieces of timber while shaping them with a drawknife. It's sort of a medieval Workmate, but much more specialised. I didn't have a shave horse so I had to make do with (surprise!) a Workmate:

It worked, but it was less than ideal - it didn't hold the wood very tightly, the working position wasn't very comfortable, and constantly tightening and loosening the jaw using the screw handle wasted a lot of time. It now seems like I might need to carve lots of pegs to hold together the frame of the new kitchen porch Wibble is having built, so I thought it worth investing the time up front to build myself a proper shavehorse.

The English style of shave horse is called a Bodger's Bench, as opposed to the continental style, called a schnitzelbank (dumbhead). The basic difference is that the English style has two pivoting verticals with a yoke between them, whereas the continental has a single vertical. I chose to make mine in the English style because it seems to me like it will do a better job of clamping the work. I understand the advantage of the continental style is that it's quicker and easier to slot a long branch in from the side rather than feeding it through the gap under the yoke. I loosely based my bench on this design, adapting it to suit what materials I had to hand, and also sacrificing the ability to dismantle it in order to save build-time. The main materials used were a couple of old wormy oak floorboards, some bits of pine from the old airing cupboard (now demolished because the hot water cylinder has moved and the bathroom is being rearranged), a couple of pieces of pine from the dummy window frames (no longer needed because the real windows have been installed), some bits of pine batten from the (demolished) plasterboard ceiling in the sitting room, and a small offcut of seasoned oak plank. The only materials I bought were a broom handle to make the footrests and a couple of long coach screws for the pivots.

Here is the completed bench, complete with the first test piece (a bit of square pine I carved roughly round in about thirty seconds), shavings, drawknife, cat, and Rayburn.

I'm very happy with the way it turned out. It actually works better than I expected, because it automatically clamps the work harder as you pull on it with the knife, meaning you don't have to apply much force at all to hold the work securely.
Tags: engineering, photos

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