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Polelathe, Traditional crafts, Greenwood craft ,at Amberley Museum, Arundel, West Sussex

  GOOGLE 'The Amberley Bodger'

You will find 'YouTube' items, videos also available from HERE

Also on Amazon is a booklet produced by the Bodger

(see below; click HERE for more details and to purchase).

In it he has a bit about himself plus some history on the Bodgers in High Wickham.

Also a pictorial tutorial on the use of polelathe and tools, with a plan for making your own polelathe

A PDF Brochure of our courses is available from HERE


Colin next to one of the lathes                                    Main workshop set up in winter mode                                 A few of the items Colin makes


Greenwood Working courses





at Amberley Museum


Courses in traditional woodland craft skills. Related to the use of the Pole lathe, Shave horse and Besom broom making. Courses can be tailored to suit the pupils’ needs, age and current skills, with all tools and wood supplied. Experienced tutor/s fully insured. The one day courses mainly conducted at Amberley museum nr Arundel West Sussex. Throughout the year, dates agreed in advance.

Colin is the principal tutor for polelathe Instruction with 20+ years experience

Heritage crafts are important and should be promoted.

People who wish to take a course, or tutors who want to become involved. Colleges, schools, home learning groups or academies, who would like to take tuition from Colin, seek advice or help in setting up their own legacy programme, please contact by email.

Colin can come to you, if local, to teach. He is also available for demonstrating at shows small fee may apply.




courses run throughout the year, mainly Wednesdays or Sundays

email Colin listing weekend or weekday dates you are free and request a booking form and more information

or purchase on line, more information lower down page,

All courses are run at Amberley (nr Arundel W. Sussex) unless otherwise stated

NOTE: Home Learning groups can apply for special arrangments.


email -  Contact - for more information

Daytime only  07710 166804



New, for you to buy now!
A small book about history of bodgers and some background information on the Amberley Bodger.

Also a plan to make your own Polelathe.
Click the Book Cover below to find out more.
My book is designed to help you understand the history of the polelathe


The Amberley Bodger







 A very popular course.


 Run mainly on Wednesdays and Sundays (pre-booked).



All year round.




# Tools and their safe use

# Preparing wood for the lathe by cleaving and use of the shave horse.

# Turning techniques using different types of chisel

# Practicing turning under supervision

# Producing a simple usable item by end of the session 

(Maybe;- garden dibber, spurtle, rolling pin or your choice time permitting!)

A full day from only £85.00 

(two booking together - save money and pay £145.00

Maximum of three people per instructor on any course

Normal start time from 1000

email - Contact - for more information or to purchase.





a good way to see what the polelathe is capable of

(4 hour session)


Another popular course.


Run mainly on Wednesdays and Sundays pre-booked.


All year round.


Due to popular demand Colin is running taster courses. This will cover the polelathe only. All wood will be prepared and ready for the lathe in advance, by Colin,  so you will be able to get straight on with learning to turn and produce an item by the end of a four hour session.


Course will start at 10am and finish approx 3pm (allowing for a break)

 Learn to use a polelathe, turning wood with a roughing out and smoothing chisel


For only £75.00 per head

email - Contact - for more information or to purchase.




Prepare legs on the shave horse, or it may be possible to use the polelathe the shave horse popular with persons with some mobility problems

(5 hour session)


All year round. Dates by arrangement and pre-booked

This course covers using the polelathe or shavehorse to make three legs. Then using a rustic seat construct a stool. Courses run on demand throughout the year.

One day course for £85.00 per person (maximum 2 students)

(Two booking together £145.00,  refund on diffrence given)

email - Contact - for more information or to purchase.




Adult size or Child size

A 5 hours (approx) session to make a shave horse. Useful for many crafts in whch you need to hold a peice of wood firmly whilst working on it. All material supplied, go home with a working shave horse at end of session

5hr (approx) session £70.00 per person.

email - Contact - for more information or to purchase.

Email for more information on Gift Tokens and online purchasing.




The item below sets out the role of the traditional woodsman


Traditional Woodland Skills


Hurdle making (© University of Reading Rural History Centre)

Historically, people relied on woodlands to provide many of the items that they used in their homes and at work, ranging from baskets, furniture and fencing to tools and fuel. Consequently, the management of semi-natural woodlands was economically viable and locally played a central role in the culture and life of the High Weald of Sussex where Wakehurst Place is located. Since the early years of this century, the market for native woodland products, such as charcoal, hazel hurdles, and hedging stakes, has decreased in favour of modern synthetic materials and cheap imports. As a result, many traditional skills have been lost and woodlands neglected. This, in turn, has led to a decline in many plant and animal species that rely upon the diverse habitats created during the woodland management cycle for their survival.

With today's concern for the long-term management of the earth’s finite resources, there has been a resurgence of interest in traditional management which could help make woodlands and associated crafts profitable once more. To maintain this revival, it is essential that the woodland resources are supported by a skilled labour force who can earn a living from the products they manufacture. Purchasing a product from sustainable managed British woodlands makes a personal contribution to the economic viability of traditional skills which will support the conservation of these habitats and their diverse wildlife.

At Wakehurst Place, we are managing our woodlands to maximise their economic value and to conserve their rich biological heritage. By staging events which focus on traditional skills, we aim to raise awareness of woodland management and the conservation of British wildlife. Our diverse educational programme endeavours to provide a practical link between the traditional skills and reasons for woodland management.

Traditional woodland management - coppicing

Skilled craftsmen made many objects from wood that had been coppiced. This ancient practice involves cutting trees and shrubs to ground level and regularly harvesting the shoots which regrow from dormant buds in the stumps and roots. Traditionally, coppice was cut on a regular cycle depending on the species and the product required. Hazel (Corylus avellana), for example, was typically coppiced every 7-10 years to produce pea-sticks, thatching spars, hurdles and fuel. Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) was usually cut at 15 years for fencing, whilst oak (Quercus robur) was left from 25-35 years for firewood and charcoal production. A limited number of trees, known as standards, were often retained for 80-100 years to produce larger timber. Among the most commonly coppiced of the British native broad-leaved trees and shrubs are alder (Alnus glutinosa), beech (Fagus sylvatica), willow (Salix spp.), wych elm (Ulmus glabra), lime (Tilia spp.) and ash (Fraxinus excelsior).

The life of a woodsman

Although the life of a woodsman is romanticised today, the reality was very different. In the winter months, skilled woodsmen worked tirelessly cutting the coppice to produce sufficient material to last the whole year. They often worked away from home for long periods, living in crudely constructed huts or 'hovels' near their workplace. Employed by large estates who managed their own woodlands, they began learning their trade at the early ages of nine or ten and served long apprenticeships. The more skilled craftsmen were self employed, selling their products through local markets or direct to the customer. They laboured long hours for little financial reward and, only occasionally working in teams, led a solitary existence.

Woodland tools

Local blacksmiths designed most tools specially to meet demand and the woodsman's specifications. This resulted in many regional variations which differed in size, weight and pattern. Many tools had a unique role, linked to specific skills - for example, the twybil, a mortising knife, used in the preparation of gate hurdles and the stock knife used to fashion tent pegs.

Most craftsmen, however, only owned a small collection of essential tools which included an axe, side axe, froe and beetle maul, billhook and draw-knife or draw-shave. These basic tools, used in conjunction with a number of devices constructed in the woodlands for gripping, supporting and levering wood, enabled the craftsman to carry out most tasks.


Craftsmen and their products

Before the introduction of fossil fuels, plastics and imported alternatives, the products made by skilled craftsmen from carefully managed woodlands played an essential role in the life of many communities.

Besom Brooms

Although besom brooms were made throughout the country, some of the best were produced by the broomsquires of the Sussex and Surrey heaths. Traditionally cut during the winter months, the heather or birch twigs forming the broomhead were bound together with clefts of ash, oak, hazel or bramble. The handle or ‘tail’, formed from an ash, lime or hazel pole smoothed with a curved draw-shave, was driven into the head and secured with a peg. Besom brooms are still produced commercially for garden and domestic use.


The original chair bodgers were highly skilled wood-turners, who produced chair legs and spindles on simple pole lathes for the chair-making industries of High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. They worked in crudely constructed brushwood huts within the Chiltern beech woods, but sadly, with the introduction of mechanisation, the traditional chair-making industry steadily declined until the 1950s when the last of the Chiltern bodgers retired. However, recently a new generation of bodgers has staged a revival, making complete chairs from a variety of woods.


Charcoal was traditionally produced during the summer months in coppiced woodlands. The method of charcoal burning, which involves heating wood without enough air for complete combustion, required careful attention from the woodsmen. So, during the summer burning season, they lived ‘on site’ in basic makeshift huts within the woodlands. Until recently, charcoal was produced in earth-covered mounds, but these have been replaced by portable metal kilns which are less labour-intensive.

Gate Hurdles

The gate hurdle, similar in appearance to a small field-gate, was a common form of portable fencing primarily used in sheep farming. Constructed in poles of cleft oak, ash, willow or chestnut, the crossbars were attached to the uprights using mortise joints cut using the hammer-shaped twybil. Although the same basic design was followed by all craftsmen, there were regional variations including the chestnut hurdles of Kent noted for their strength and durability.

Hazel Hurdles

The hazel hurdle-makers, who worked within the coppice woodlands, were arguably the most skilled of all craftsmen. In order to produce a strong and durable fencing panel from young hazel shoots, they mastered a number of skills including cutting, trimming, riving and weaving. The woven hurdles, designed to be both light and portable, were traditionally used for sheep-folding but more recently have become a popular form of garden screening. Dating back as far as the Neolithic period over 5,000 years ago, when woven hurdles and bundles of brushwood formed primitive trackways, hurdle-making is one of the oldest woodland crafts.

Hay Rakes

Hay rakes were produced by craftsmen throughout the country to meet the annual demand of the farmer. Most rakes were constructed from ash wood which is naturally strong, light and readily absorbs sudden strains and stresses. Traditional hand-made rakes are still widely used by many garden contractors, sports clubs and local authorities.

Sussex Trugs

Hurstmonceux in East Sussex was the birth-place of trug-making, which is now practiced throughout the country. The word trug may be derived from the Anglo-Saxon name for a boat (troog). The vessel-shaped trug, made with a steamed ash or chestnut frame and cleft willow, is strong and durable but light to carry and is commonly used in homes and gardens.

Tent Pegs

Many different craftsmen, including the Chiltern bodgers, made tent pegs. The pegs, cleft from ash or beech, were shaped with a draw knife or a device resembling a guillotine called a stock knife. A skilled peg-maker could fashion a peg with just eighteen cuts of the stock knife. During the last war, over fifty million tent pegs were produced to secure the tents that billeted the allied troops. Their strength and ability to grip the ground give them advantages over metal pegs that guarantees their place in the modern market.

Willow Baskets

There is a long tradition of basket-weaving in Britain, which has played an important role in the economic success of many communities. However, the craft of basketry was largely dependent on the willow-growing industries centered around the wetlands of the Somerset levels and the fertile soils of the Severn and Thames valleys. Although recently the craft has declined on a commercial basis, it is still practiced by many craftspeople who follow traditional patterns which have remained unchanged for centuries.

Additional sources of information

Edlin, H. L., 1949. Woodland Crafts in Britain. David and Charles
Tabor, R., 1994. Traditional Woodland Crafts. B.T. Batsford Ltd
Abbott, M., 1991. Green Woodwork. Guild of Master Craftsmen Publications Ltd

(Kew Gardens)





**Teaching (twin) lathe and the 'Amberley' style shave horses set up on location work





Colin Wells the tutor at Amberley museum  and heritage centre for pole lathe and shave horse use plus greenwood working skills polelathe and sahvehorse building courses

Colin Wells (Museum polelathe tutor) in the old lower workshop (circa 2006)


The Amberley Museum & Heritage Centre workshop and display area

is situated in the woodyard

Area contains lathes and  shave horses plus chopping blocks and turning wood. This area is available for demonstrating most of the year  (on public days), plus tuition and producing items for sale. A more traditional (static) area has been created off the 'Woodland Walk' close by. 

See details on this and how the 'Glade' bodgers camp was created



Enthusiastic new craftsmen under tuition

Ladies too but sorry no pictures



Lathe skills  Leo & Phil Colin in teach mode circa 2009
Philip with his Shave horse Time for more! tea
One lathe made

After one & half days three lathes and three shave horses   - well done!

Yours truly standing at the back !!    (sorry to spoil the picture lads)




Can you top this? send photos by email for inclusion (not rude ones!!)

Phil from Cumbria (making toys for Santa?) winter 2010/11



Bookings now being taken for  tuition...


EMAIL ME - Contact - for more information



The old lower workshop when in use

Pupil Mike chatting to visitors Turning away with an Amberley team member Wayne
Getting down to it The result and finely crafted 'Spurtle' his very first job, well done!

Lower workshop in late May

Peter learning the skills for using the Polelathe Peter making a Dibber and Spurtle from Ash
With certificate at end of a busy day

Wayne with onlookers explaining how to make 'Fire Sticks'

For details of Wayne's bush craft courses see www.forestknights.co.uk




The old lower workshop ........ 

.......and main tuition centre has now been superseded by the new green wood area in the woodyard. However it is currently being used by Harry W'  to make 'rough hewn' oak furniture. For more information contact the Colin or email your tel number for Harry to call you back


Workshop area Shave horse, lathes & general work area A busy workshop

Bookings now being taken for  tuition... email now Contact




Colin  has also run some modules for Brinsbury College.

Hovel up and ready for use View from hovel of 'green classroom'
Lathes in action More lathe work     (note companion lathe)
Fire lighting and knife skills Job well done -- shave horse made
A shave horse under construction After heavy rain on first day the ground became very muddy
Another shave horse, well done General view of site with all the first week students

The students had to produce at least three useful items over a four and half days in the 'green classroom' using the pole lathes, shave horses and using various types of knives and other green wood tools. These skills being taught by Colin and Wayne. Despite the short working days (January) they all did very well. They also leant some basic woodland survival techniques and made spoons, courtesy of Wayne (Forest Knights)

Lathe work A busy hovel workshop
Spoon carving Shave horse advice from Wayne
The two weeks despite, the very wet conditions, were very productive. The students gaining a lot of knowledge about using wood straight from the tree. The items produced had a good quality finish and showed attention to detail and to what they had been taught. Well done to them all.
Heads down and hard at work