are you a bodger?

discussion of the niceties of turning on a bow, bungee or pole lathe.

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are you a bodger?

Postby robin wood » Sun Apr 13, 2008 5:53 pm

Just interested to know who calls themselves a bodger and who does not and why.
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Postby paul atkin » Sun Apr 13, 2008 8:24 pm

Hi robin, i would class or name myself as a woodturner or green woodworker, the term bodger covered a specific job in the woodlands supplying factories with chair legs but i dont need to tell you that :wink: on a seperate note i would like to thank you for your efforts on this forum, it is a very good site for finding out things, we just need more people to post :roll: so come on you people out there post a few things, the more that post the more interesting it will get :D
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Who, me?

Postby Darrell » Sun Apr 13, 2008 8:58 pm

I'd never call myself a bodger. I simply don't do enough bodger-type stuff to deserve the moniker. Might be more appropriate to call myself a "dabbler" as I just seem to do a little bit of everything. Some greenwood work, some turning (power and pole lathes), some flat work, some chairs, some metal work, some tool making, &cetera. And then there's the just-plain-weird stuff that gets made in the shop, of which the most notable recent project was a low temperature differential Stirling engine. So No, definitely Not a bodger...

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Postby Robin Fawcett » Sun Apr 13, 2008 10:09 pm

I always tell folk about the history of the bodgers and about how the word has changed its meaning in the last 100 years from someone who was an expert rustic craftsman to someone who does a cockup or a lashup but I don't feel like one myself - don't make chair turnings often enough.

BUT I am a bit of a rebel - hence "Rebel Bodger"
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Postby Mark Allery » Sun Apr 13, 2008 10:20 pm

Hi Robin,

Starting to get a bit controversial this issue I think? I am aware that quite a few turners don't like to be identified as bodgers and it seems to me that this feeling is growing somewhat?

I generally demonstrate spindle-turning in one way or another and my demonstration setup tends to include a pile of chair-legs so the term 'bodger' and an explanation of the chair-bodgers is a part of my patter. Probably because High Wycombe is close enough to me for people to be aware of the term. I found the issue quite interesting and decided to look into it a little more.

I looked bodger up in the Dictionary and it said Itinerant, Vagrant.

Not a bad description of me on some days, so perhaps I should not complain too much :)

There appears to be no reference to it in the chair-making sense that we understand it. Although there is a reference to a poor, or botched job, as in the firm 'bodgit and scarper'.

The apocryphal story I have heard and use in my patter is that the modern usage of the term derives from the chair-bodgers because they used to part finish the job, stack the legs to dry and then finish the job later.

Since the original of the term bodger is unknown it seems as good an axplanation as any, but it really only applies to the itinerent turners who would move through the woods buying a cant standing and then fell the trees and turn the legs on site, deliver to the furniture factories and move on for the next season.

It also seems to me that the turners in the beech woods around High Wycombe were not typical of the trade in that they became highly specialised in order to compete despite increasing mechanisation around them - not really itinerent or vagrant themselves. It seems that many government orders for furniture went to the Wycombe firms (such as ERCOL) and specified cleft beechwood legs. Probably for this reason alone the bodgers survived for decades longer than they would otherwise have been able. I have been privileged to meet a lot of interesting people whilst demonstrating and one occasion I met a woodsman who had been at school with the children of one of the last 'bodgers' and he told me he remembered the buyers from the firms coming to the woods to place orders for chairlegs - in the 10,000's.

It seems to me that although the chair-bodgers were the last of a long line of pole-lathe spindle turners stretching back many centuries they were not representative of the way the trade was carried on around the country in centuries prior to the industrial revolution. Using the term 'bodging' to cover pole-lathe turners in general is likely to mislead and should be used with care? People can get the impression that pole-lathes were only used for making chair-legs and just around High Wycombe simply because (as usual) this Victorian period of recent history has been relatively well documented. Also the derogotary nature of the term can today seem to imply that pole lathe turners were somehow the poor relation of other woodland crafts or woodworkers which again seems contrary to the nature of the tradition across the rest of the country.

Don't get me wrong, I have no problems with the term - particularly in relation to myself (have you seen my plumbing?) but I can see that its a complex issue and the name 'bodger' needs to be used with care and an understanding of its background.

Apologies for being so long winded!

cheers

Mark ( a bit of a bodger)
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Postby Robin Fawcett » Mon Apr 14, 2008 4:17 am

Stuart King is a bit of an expert on the etymology of the word - see these articles on his website.

http://www.stuartking.co.uk/index.php/chair-bodgers-of-buckinghamshire/

http://www.stuartking.co.uk/index.php/samuel-rockall-last-of-the-chair-bodgers/
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Postby paul atkin » Mon Apr 14, 2008 8:11 am

great articles, thanks for pointing them out :D
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Postby robin wood » Mon Apr 14, 2008 8:16 am

Nice to see some interesting thoughts here, I thought it might provoke a little discussion.

I am not sure I would consider Stuart an expert on the etymology of the word and couldn't find anything on it in the articles though he has a great deal of knowledge of the last bodgers and he corrected my misuse at an early stage of the term itinerant. They were no more (in fact less) itinerant than say a dry stone waller who worked various farms. They did not live in the woods, the "camps" were only workshops, they went home each night.

The etymology of the word is very interesting, I wrote an article for the gazette on it about 5 years ago and got Stuart's input though for some reason I never sent it off, maybe I should.

I am as interested as anything in what people call themselves today and why, does it help your business? Do you meet many people that don't know the story? Is it a useful conversation starter because people come up and ask if you are what they call a bodger? Do you think people associate the term with quality craftsmanship?

I think the widespread adoption of the term bodger has a lot to do with Mike Abbott. He says that when he started demonstrating he found the term a help in getting press coverage and the story generated interest. He now no longer uses it and feels that now everyone knows the story its benefit is gone, we are just left with the associated negative connotations.
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Postby Robin Fawcett » Mon Apr 14, 2008 10:54 pm

Why don't you post that article you wrote up here Rob?
Are you suggesting we ditch the term altogether ? After all we are on the Bodgers website here on the Bodgers Ask & Answer. We subscribe to the Bodgers Gazette and attend the Bodgers Ball.

Also I remembered that my blog is called a Bodgers Blog!

It may take some doing to eradicate all that.

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am I a bodger?

Postby Steve Martin » Tue Apr 15, 2008 6:09 am

No,like other respondents, I don't turn enough chair legs to consider myself a bodger. Also, I have been demo'ing the pole lathe for about three years now and have not met but two or three people who were aware of the term "bodger", much less knew what it means. Those people were also pole lathe turners, or wanted to be. I get the impression from these demo discussions that Americans don't have the same appreciation for craftmanship that exists in Great Britain and Europe. I guess that reflects our development to some extent. I always try to stress the positive connotations of bodging and discuss the craftsmanship aspects of what they did. I'm proud to be a pole lathe turner and an aspiring bodger, although there is no market for chair legs, that I know of, unless I also make the chairs so I guess I'll always be just a PLT. :lol:
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Chairmaking

Postby Robin Fawcett » Thu Apr 17, 2008 12:12 pm

It struck me that with all this talk of Bodgers and what they are or do or were - there is no forum for Chairmaking.

Not that I am one although I've made a few but I'm sure plenty of you do make chairs and would like somewhere to post your ideas, questions etc.

Perhaps we could tempt some Chairmakers to join in - or would they be put off by the Bodging connotation ?
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Postby robin wood » Fri Apr 18, 2008 10:53 am

OK Robin I have routed out the old article, having reread it I was not sure about posting it. The suggestion about bodger being derived from the German for beech seems unlikely, more likely from Böttcher, the German word for cooper but it is not good to guess. When I wrote this like many folk I did not like to admit to not knowing and preferred to make guesses. I now think this is not a good idea. The facts are
1 The earliest recorded use of the word is early 20th century. People will complain that it was a dialect word that could have been around for centuries but people have been studdying the development of the English language and recording unusual dialect words for many years and the word does not turn up.
2 The word only ever applied to a few dozen turners around High Wycombe
3 Nobody knows why those few dozen folk around Wycombe came to call themselves bodgers and it simply confuses matters if people start making up bogus stories based on no evidence.
4 There were a great many turners around the country making chairs in the 17th.18th and 19th centuries the bodgers around Wycome are maybe 1 or 2 % of our pole lathe tradition yet they are the only story we tell.

So here are some challenges....

1 Can anyone find me a 19th century quote with the word bodger?
2 can anyone find me a use of the word recorded more than 30 miles from High Wycombe?

I think that it is a shame that the Bodger story dominates APT to such a degree, look through Bill Cottons English Regional Chair, what variety was made around the country. We all had local chairmaking traditions.

"Bodgers and botchers

What is a bodger? Many pole lathe turners call themselves Bodgers, the press and the public alike love the term, we have the bodgers gazette and the bodgers ball so many of us must like it too but do we know what it means and do we use the term appropriately?

I have never heard an adequate explanation of how the last chair leg turners around High Wycombe came to be known as Bodgers. One of the few I have heard was that they never made a finished chair only part finishing the job for this reason it is suggested that the name came to have its current derogatory usage. I donÂ’t buy this one and over the years have floated it out to several linguists none of whom thought it likely, most trades involve specialists doing individual parts of a job but we donÂ’t use the word tanner in a derogatory way because the man doesnÂ’t make the leather into saddles.

I recently talked with a linguist who went through all the old dictionaries and suggested a much more plausible explanation. First the word Bodger is a new word probably nineteenth century, I would be interested to hear from anyone who has any early records of the words use. The word botcher however is a much older word in fact it appears in Shakespeare with exactly its modern meeting (sorry I don’t know where) and this is the word which means to do a job badly or half heartedly. My suspicion is that when everyone knew what a bodger was the two words could be distinct but when bodgers became scarce people would use the two words indiscriminately as they do today. This is a little like the phrase “on tenter hooks”, few people today know what a tenter hook is so I often hear people substitute the words “tender hooks”.

So where does the bodger word come from and what exactly did it mean? My linguist sugested it may be connected with the German word for beech “Buche” Certainly the most common usage of the term is in reference to turners working in the Chiltern beech woods making legs and stretchers for the Wycombe chair factories. I would be interested to know if anyone can find contemporary references to bodgers working in other parts of the country or in other timbers. There were numerous other smaller chairmaking centres around the country mostly working in other timbers though I have not yet heard contemporary references to these people as bodgers, this seems to support the “beech” argument.

Today with the growth of the APT and the numerous press articles about bodgers I don’t think we will be able to re-educate the public as to how narrow a group of craftsmen the term originally referred to but I feel we should try to re-educate the public to use the term Botcher and not Bodger for one who botches a job, Bodgers were highly skilled craftsmen! One final thing I have twice heard the term “ bowl bodger” once used by an American and once on a Japanese website, this is an entirely new fabricated term, pole lathe bowlturners always referred to themselves simply as bowlturners and they have absolutely nothing to do with bodging."


Finally lets think about Robin's interesting questions "Are you suggesting we ditch the term altogether ? After all we are on the Bodgers website here on the Bodgers Ask & Answer. We subscribe to the Bodgers Gazette and attend the Bodgers Ball. "

Well yes and no. I find the bodger story very interesting and a very well recorded part of turning history, but it is only a very small part.
I have already suggested renaming the forum greenwoodworkers forum. I was involved when we added the subtitle Newsletter for pole lathe turners & greenwoodworkers to the gazzette. I would certainly be in favour of a rebrand on the website to greenwoodwork.org rather than bodgers for three reasons.
1 It gives a truer indication of the broad range of activities that members are involved in.
2 It would indicate to folk that we do have a broader remit and that say making 17th century oak frame chairs (which were often made from green wood see John Alexanders excellent site) or birch bark boxes was as equally part of our remit as windsor chairs.
3 I think it is a search term which people are more likely to use. If I wanted to get involved in some environmentally friendly woodwork and did a google search would I be more drawn to a site titled bodgers.org or greenwoodwork.org?
Bodgers Ball? well I don't mind a bit of bodger it is just that at the moment it is so out of proportion to the part they played in our crafts history.
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Postby Robin Fawcett » Fri Apr 18, 2008 11:46 am

The word botcher however is a much older word in fact it appears in Shakespeare with exactly its modern meeting (sorry I donÂ’t know where) and this is the word which means to do a job badly or half heartedly.


Very interesting Rob. In reading it I've remembered another possible explanation. I think this may have been one of Stuart's ?

The workers in the Wycombe furniture factories (framers, benchmen etc) used it in its actual Shakespearean and modern sense - slightly corrupted - to denigrate the blokes making the components in the beechwoods. They felt that they weren't proper crafstmen and were beneath them.
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Postby robin wood » Fri May 30, 2008 7:59 pm

robin wood wrote:So here are some challenges....

1 Can anyone find me a 19th century quote with the word bodger?
2 can anyone find me a use of the word recorded more than 30 miles from High Wycombe?


Any takers on my challenges yet? How about I offer a Mary Rose replica bowl for anyone who can come up with either of the above...a good authenticated reference.
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Postby Twalsh341 » Fri May 30, 2008 11:22 pm

Here in the US I've only heard the term in two locations one was on the tv show Junkyard Wars. The hayday was about 5 years ago. Several UK teams have been on the show, and some referred to the junkyard scrounging and creating as "bodging" and themselves "bodgers". From the usage and context I assume they see bodging as a craftsman who builds with locally found objects. My friends and I also used the term in a similar fashion in high school (we were on a F.I.R.S.T. robotics team). Thinking back we may have borrowed the term from Junkyard Wars, either way my friends and I have been using it unaware of its original meaning for quite some time.
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