Rob Penn is back with a new book about all the things you can make with ash timber. You may remember Rob as the presenter of Tales from the Wild Wood which was on BBC4 in 2014. In a series of programmes Rob takes on the management of a neglected wood near his home in the Black Mountains. If you missed it there are still some clips on i-player, which is a rare opportunity to see woodland management issues being viewed on the TV, and his films are both informative and entertaining.
I went to hear Rob speak just before Christmas at the Tamar Valley AONB centre at Gunnislake where he was promoting his new book “The Man who made things out of Trees”. Rob has written about his search for a single ash tree which he finds in a woodland in Herefordshire. He is determined to demonstrate that the ash tree is worth more than just good firewood. The tree is felled and milled up, and he then takes the timber to a range of craftsmen and woodworkers who make things from ash. Each chapter in the book describes his visits to each craftsman, who demonstrate the unique properties of ash through their work. He takes his timber to a pole lathe turner to make bowls, to a wheelwright in Lancashire, to a workshop where they make ash tent pegs, a fletcher to make arrows and to a hurley stick maker in Ireland. Rob’s children were getting bored with his obsession with the timber, so Rob gets the hint and takes some wood to a small factory in Austria where they make him an ash toboggan. Finally he goes to over New England to see baseball bats being made from prime American Ash.
This last visit brings in the issue of the Emerald Ash Borer which is causing such problems in the states, and which may be on its way over here. This of course leads to a discussion on the impacts of Ash Dieback disease. In the context of this book he is able to demonstrate the devastating cultural and commercial impact which the disease may have, which many of us may not have fully considered.
Rob had brought some of these beautiful items with him which conveyed another dimension to his presentation. Tool handles, canoe paddles, catapults and bows, he even brought his old max-ply tennis racquet, but not the ash desk on which he wrote the book. I thought the steam bent toboggan was stunning.
An excellent read for all wood lovers, it is available from Rob’s web-site here.