I was working on a project to present something I made to my very awesome laurel for my anniversary event Champions of Lough Devnaree (an excellent event, as always, ably run by Lord Jasper Rose and his staff with a truly magnificent lunch and feast cooked by Mistress Caitriona of the Ravens and her excellent kitchen crew).
Given my research of late and the fortunate discovery of a very nice piece of oak I thought I might do the very medieval trick of making one thing seem like another and make a small turned acorn box. The plan is actually to make three, one for oak galls, one for ferrous sulphate and one for gum arabic and a box to put them all in, but given the way time has gone recently I had to start small. This actually works, I suppose, since I’ve also recently decided that small, regular updates here are better than once a year larger pieces, even if maybe I aspire to better, more complete research.
Once again I used the very modern lathe. The trick with boxes is that all of it comes from the same piece of timber, your lid and the barrel, so you can get the required fit. I’ve made a couple of needle cases, (more about this below) but this one had unusual proportions in order to get the right sort of acorn shape. It’s been a while, so I got to rediscover how jarring the intial “take the edges off the rectangular block of wood to make the cyclinder” bit is and to start the hollowing process that bit too gingerly all over again. But I also rediscovered how fun it is to watch the curls of timber stream off as I work.
I started with the bottom part of the box, the acorn proper, with what would become the cup. So that I didn’t accidentally put chisel out through the side by not gauging depth correctly I put just a mimimal shaping on the outside to take a measure from and then started the hollowing.
At this point I became so absorbed I kind of forgot to take any more photos. The cap (made after separating the cup off) is made from the block pictured to the left. It’s surprisingly easy, once you have your barrel/acorn piece to make the cap piece fit. A bit of shaping and it too could be separated off. Once I had the basic shape then it was a matter of making the cap look more acorny – I started by adding simple lines diagonally scored over the surface and then, to make the timber properly distinctive in texture and colour, I bashed it all over, roughly sanded it, scorched it and bashed it some more. The poor thing.
Ta da! One finished acorn box, made of oak.
I had also, some time previously, made a needlecase for the very wonderful Honorable Lady Christine Bess Duvant and had absolutely intended posting it to her, but … anyway. In this case I made it with mahogany, of which my dad has still a stock dating back many, many, many years. Mahogany only started appearing in Europe in late period, brought back to Spain and used, for example, for the interior joinery of the Escorial Palace in the 1580s by Phillip II.
It may become sort of obvious but I actually have a thing about acorns and oak trees. When I moved to the country aged 11 from a city housing estate one of the happiest, most awesome things was the old, very climbable oak in the boundary fence of our new home. Not that I did a lot of climbing, I have no head for heights, but I did like sitting in the first landing stage with my back to the trunk reading. To me having our own oak tree was a proper sign we lived in the country.
Mahogany has a lovely rich colour, and a nice grain – it smooths beautifully and I wanted a very smooth, pleasant tactile experience for a needle case that would be comfortable in the hand. I also thought this shape would feel good in the hand and help with grip for taking the -necessarily – quite tight lid off.
One cool thing I’ve heard that I need to research about medieval abrasives – medieval woodturners used bulrushes to smooth wood surfaces. I’ve also heard the rough skin of a dog fish, but that’s harder for me to source and.. no, maybe not. Fine sand was used in period, so I didn’t feel completely guilty using the cheat sandpaper.
I did the wire scorching trick with the lines to hide the lid opening and provide simple ornamentation. The acorn was turned separately and added after.
Both gifts were handed over at CoLD and I received instruction from Mistress Melisende to enter them in the A&S competition. Very kind people voted for them and I find myself surprised but very happy to be A&S Champion of Lough Devnaree.