Crate making

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Re: Crate making

Postby quickthorn » Wed Dec 22, 2010 3:00 pm

Toby Allen wrote:Brilliant.
I've heard how big the crate making industry used to be, but never seen one.

A friend did a college thing about coppice and was very surprised by the amount of coppice that used to go into packaging of different sorts.

Far more than hurdles, yet now they are the main hazel product. Is that because its the biggest mark up, the most known about product or the only thing people know how to make?


I think it's more that hurdles look good in a garden, even though they were originally a product for holding livestock. Adapting something for garden use opens up new and lucrative markets - I don't think anyone's thought of an alternative use for crates with a big enough market.

Also (if it hasn't already been said), crates died out very suddenly, as they were made obsolete by new packaging specs from export markets (notably the states); hurdles for their original use declined over a longer period of time.
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Re: Crate making

Postby monkeeboy » Thu Dec 30, 2010 5:00 pm

Toby Allen wrote:Is that because its the biggest mark up, the most known about product or the only thing people know how to make?


I met Andrew Watts at the Etruria Museum in Stoke before xmas.

He has seen records from the early days of crates, early 18thC, and it looks like they were considered highly valuable, probably costing the equivalent of about £100 each. They had a makers and owners mark on them, as shown in the previous pictures I posted. So they were quite valuable and therefore the person who paid for them wanted to keep them and re-use.

This may have changed by the later years, and they might have become cheaper and more mass-produced.
There are so few records and those that do exist are pretty vague.

I have some old notes that were written about 30 years ago by the curator of the Gladstone Museum when they had a reproduction crate made. They are pretty good instructions with some basic diagrams, I will get them scanned in and post it.

The crate that was made is still on display in the Gladstone Museum but it is in dire condition, and didn't even bother to measure it. It was made from Hazel rods and Oak poles for the heads.
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Re: Crate making

Postby quickthorn » Fri Dec 31, 2010 3:43 pm

monkeeboy wrote:I have some old notes that were written about 30 years ago by the curator of the Gladstone Museum when they had a reproduction crate made. They are pretty good instructions with some basic diagrams, I will get them scanned in and post it.



That'd be great, I look forward to seeing those :D
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Re: Crate making

Postby quickthorn » Sat Jan 08, 2011 6:34 pm

Well, I've had a first attempt at a smaller version, using what I had to hand. It's not very tidy, but it would probably do what it was supposed to do, for a while.

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It's not quite finished - just need to trim the ends of the rods and wedge them.

I found the twillying the hardest part. I've not had much experience of twisting hazel, and I'm finding it hard to learn; I've broken 3 or 4 times as many withies as there are in that crate. :x I'm sure the whole thing would look a lot better if that bit were neater. Perhaps next time, I'll use willow, until I get the hang of working hazel properly.

There is actually a method in one of Ray Tabor's books: Encyclopedia of Green Woodworking. I only found this out once I'd almost finished. His way of doing it would have been better than the way I did it.
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Re: Crate making

Postby monkeeboy » Sat Jan 08, 2011 7:25 pm

Excellent first attempt Quickthorn!

Sorry I haven't got round to posting the 30 year old instructions I have.
But one thing that is written in them regarding the twisted rods was this;

"The end of the hazel rod would be wedged through a metal ring attached to a solid object (e.g. a barrel). The hazel rods would then be twisted by the crate maker."

So the rods are twisted first and then woven into the frame.
It's supposed to be two rods paired together, but I can't work out how the weave is finished at the end that doesn't have a loop.

If you look closely at this picture http://www.thepotteries.org/photo_wk/090.htm
You can see that the rod he has in his hand has already been twisted.
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Re: Crate making

Postby quickthorn » Sun Jan 09, 2011 4:37 pm

monkeeboy wrote:Excellent first attempt Quickthorn!

Sorry I haven't got round to posting the 30 year old instructions I have.
But one thing that is written in them regarding the twisted rods was this;

"The end of the hazel rod would be wedged through a metal ring attached to a solid object (e.g. a barrel). The hazel rods would then be twisted by the crate maker."

So the rods are twisted first and then woven into the frame.
It's supposed to be two rods paired together, but I can't work out how the weave is finished at the end that doesn't have a loop.

If you look closely at this picture http://www.thepotteries.org/photo_wk/090.htm
You can see that the rod he has in his hand has already been twisted.


Thanks for the praise. :oops:

That's an interesting point about twisting the rods before using them, and makes perfect sense. It did occur to me today, as someone was showing me how to make bonds. In putting the weaves on that crate, I took the same approach as if i was binding the top of a hedge, and I'm sure it's not right. If the rods were twisted before, it would be like you were applying a rope - a lot easier, and probably neater. In fact, if you look at the bindings on the US crate that you posted, they show signs of being twisted all the way along - I'd assumed they'd split with age at first.

On finishing the end of the weave, I used the two rods tip to butt, rather than starting with two butts together. I left a foot or so of the tip at the start, with the idea of twisting and just poking the end into the weave, but it snapped off instead :roll:

I must admit, I haven't got a clear idea how you finish the weaves off, apart from tucking the end back into the weave or making a half hitch or something and hoping that it all locks together as the binders dry out.
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Re: Crate making

Postby jrccaim » Mon Jan 10, 2011 3:42 am

quote="quickthorn"]
I must admit, I haven't got a clear idea how you finish the weaves off, apart from tucking the end back into the weave or making a half hitch or something and hoping that it all locks together as the binders dry out.[/quote]

I see what you men by "finishing the weave." Same situation arises with baskets; a crate is sort of a big basket. From my very limited experience with baskets, you could (a) use longer weavers. By far the best solution. If you can't do that (b) Feather out -- taper -- the loose ends and splice on another weaver, with wire or cord. I use the ties that they use in supermarkets to hold lettuce together. Peel off the paper. If you do it while the wood is still green eventually you can unwire it and it will stay put. (c) You can overlap weavers. That is start weaver number two overlapping a couple of ribs with weaver number one. I have read a couple dozen basket sites and this is what they seem to do. Sometimes they do all three in one basket! Anyway that is a nice crate. Now you will have to learn pottery to have something to put in it! :)
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Re: Crate making

Postby monkeeboy » Sun Jan 16, 2011 1:58 pm

Here's those instructions made by Angela Lee of the Gladstone Pottery Museum some 30 years ago;

Image

Image

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Not quite sure why the sizes are different.
I hope they are displaying in full, if not I can email the full-sized versions to anyone who's interested if you PM me.
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Re: Crate making

Postby quickthorn » Sun Jan 16, 2011 6:36 pm

That's great, Monkeeboy, thanks a lot for posting these.

This is pretty much the procedure described in Ray Tabor's book, although more detailed, although Ray also describes a tool you can use to shape the hot rods as you put them in the heads.

According to these instructions, finishing off the weaving isn't that sophisticated..it seems that the rods are just twisted back on theirselves, and I suppose they "set" as they cool down and dry out .. :?:

Twisting those side rods before you try and weave them is important. I had a little go this afternoon, holding the end of a rod in a vice then twisting with mole grips, working on sections until almost the whole rod has been twisted. Once you've done that, you can get them in and out of the vertical hazel rods on the crate without them snapping. You can use bigger rods, about the same diameter as the verticals, so it looks better too.

I'm going to have another go at this when I've got more time.. :)
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Re: Crate making

Postby Brian Williamson » Sun Jan 16, 2011 8:32 pm

This thread gets inceasingly interesting! And it's great to see people having a go - we ought to have a 'Crate-makers Corner' at the AGM.

Here's a few thoughts:

It does look as though the rods were pre-twisted (which I wasn't anticipating). The photos on page two show the fibres separated in a way that I wouldn't have expected of a simple twill. Whether this would have been done in every case or just with bigger rods or in colder weather I don't know.

The 'verticals' in Quickthorns crate seem to be too far apart. Either that or the twilling rods should have been bigger. Or both. The twill is barely there and would have been tightened up by either of those changes. I'm well impressed, though. I haven't tried making a crate in the nearly thirty years since I made my first hurdle.

Pre-twisting the whole rod isn't a difficult procedure. If you're familiar with the 'woodmans knot' you'd know how to do it. It can be started just by holding the butt of the rod under the foot and then applying the 'starting-handle' technique. Something else to try at the AGM?

Quite where the barrel in Angela Lee's description comes from I don't know. How many people would have had an odd barrel lying about? And how big does the barrel have to be to be 'solid'? And a ring has a rather loose connotation to it. An eyebolt in a doorpost, perhaps. Maybe she just saw one individual using his own, idiosyncratic, method and wrote about it.

So keep on crating folks.

Brian.
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Re: Crate making

Postby quickthorn » Sat Jan 22, 2011 3:40 pm

Brian Williamson wrote:
The 'verticals' in Quickthorns crate seem to be too far apart. Either that or the twilling rods should have been bigger. Or both. The twill is barely there and would have been tightened up by either of those changes. I'm well impressed, though. I haven't tried making a crate in the nearly thirty years since I made my first hurdle.

Brian.


I agree, it doesn't look right. I got the dimensions from one of ray tabor's books, which puts the spacing between rods at 6". That might be too big for my crate, as mine is a sawn off version (it was the biggest I could make and still get out of the workshop!). The rods are about 1" diameter, and the weavers are half inch or less - that seemed to be the size I could weave "normally" without snapping them.

However, by twisting the rods as in Monkeeboy's post, bigger weavers can be used. I've had a go on one side. It looks a bit more in proportion.

crate_3.jpg
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crate_4.jpg
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It's hard work - I can imagine seasoned crate makers having forearms like Popeye's! I didn't heat the rods, so that might make it easier, but you have to keep twisting them as tight as you can as you put them in, or they open out a bit like a rope being twisted against the lay. Also, knots make things awkward, as ever, so I can see now why the very best quality hazel would be used.
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Re: Crate making

Postby Simon Hartley » Mon May 30, 2011 1:00 pm

quickthorn wrote: Adapting something for garden use opens up new and lucrative markets - I don't think anyone's thought of an alternative use for crates with a big enough market.


Perhaps, though storage crates are really trendy now. Wilkinson's is full of them. And woven garden panels, come to think. The question is, can the pottery-style crate be made suitably regular in appearance and free of rough edges for use in bedrooms? The weave would need to be closed up a bit, so things don't fall out of the sides, increasing the amount of labour. Hmm, seems that I may have answered my own question there, as few people will want to have their precious mohair cardigan falling out of its' storage basket, snagging on a bit of rough hazel on the way. Particularly after paying about four times more for the basket.
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Re: Crate making

Postby goldsmithexile » Mon May 30, 2011 7:20 pm

This is fascinating. The frame set up isnt a million miles away from that of a coracle or currach frame.
LOL I can just imagine the inventor of the hot air balloon thinking aha I'll get an old crockery crate to use as a basket.
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Re: Crate making

Postby RichardLaw » Tue May 31, 2011 8:39 am

SeanHellman wrote: What other market could there be for these? I see them being made smaller, but what for?


They'd make great hen runs - there seems to be a resurgence of hen keeping in gardens around here - mebbe Hugh Fearlessly Eatsitall's prodding?
I could also see a modified shape without a top and inverted holding tall herbaceous plants up (they'd grow through the holes and cover the structure).
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Re: Crate making

Postby monkeeboy » Mon Jun 06, 2011 11:27 am

So I've just got back from the annual Stoke Canals Festival at Etruria Industrial Museum in Stoke-on-Trent.
It was a pretty good show with plenty of folk around all weekend and some interesting canal-related crafts such as Fender making.

I was invited by Andrew Watts of the Etruria museum and I had a go at making my first Pottery crate to take with me for display.

This is it just finished in my yard;

Image

It's definitely not authentic, certainly not big enough for actual pottery use, it's only 3' x 2'.
And it doesn't have enough "withies" in it either, but I ran out of suitable rods.
I had to cut the rods fresh, which isn't ideal as the bark comes off too easily when they've been heated or withied, something which would not be accepted in a real crate.
The heads, backs and ends are winter-cut Ash, with the bark shaved off which is authentic as they didn't want to transport bark beetle around.

I don't have a "long chimney" or a steamer yet so I had to improvise when heating the rods with a small charcoal fire on top of a metal sheet;

Image

This worked well enough but I found it difficult to achieve a tight right-angle bend on the bows.
I used my knee to bend the bows but I should've had a "commander" or "wringer" to allow me to get a really nice tight bend without snapping the rods.

Image

The withie rods were green enough to wind without heating, I held one end tight in a vice and started at the thick end, winding towards the thin end. They were actually wound from thin end to thick, using the "hand crank" method but I was not confident enough to try that as I had limited rods available. I'm used to twisting hazel when making hurdles but winding a whole rod takes some effort and puts a lot of stain on the forearms.

Image

You can see above how the bark has come off a bit.

Crate makers traditionally used rods that were cut in the autumn, they also were happy to leave the rods to dry as each crate yard had large soaking ponds where they would store the hazel before use. I have seen old ordnance survey maps showing soaking ponds that are about 30' x 50' and probably up to 6' deep. They weighed the rods down with big logs or planks to keep them submerged and filled the ponds up with water diverted from a nearby beck or canal, so crate yards were usually situated near running water. Also, much of the material once came in on the canals.

The best thing about attending the Canals Festival was that my crate evoked a lot of memories from local people.
Usually men aged about 65-75 who remember watching the crate makers at work when they were boys during the 50's and 60's. Some remembered when they used to try and run over the tops of the rods that were in the soaking ponds without falling in. Another used to get sawdust from the crate maker who lived next door for his rabbits, and noted that the crate maker worked from his yard that was beside his house, which was quite large and detached. So he had obviously earned enough money to own land and a nice house in what was then a very crowded city. I also met the daughter of a crate maker who's father worked up until the 2nd world war, but as the work dried up he went to work in the potteries.

By far the most exciting person to meet was a man called Peter Bloor, born and bred in Stoke, he was 18 when studying at college to be a handicrafts teacher in the early 60's. For his college project he decided to study the craft of crate making. So he spent time with a Mr David Barker, one of only 22 remaining crate makers in 1961.
The best thing is that he wrote it all down; full crate making instructions in great detail including good photographs.
He has been interested in having this work publish for some time but hasn't had much luck.
He was kind enough to make a copy for myself and the museum, who are definitely interested in archiving the information, if not publishing it. The work is copyrighted and I promised I would not just hand it out to the public, so I will sadly not be posting it on this forum. But with luck the work will be made public at some point in the future, if anyone knows of a publisher who might be interested please let me know.

I wonder if the Heritage Crafts Association could help on the publishing front? (nudge nudge Robin)

There are a couple of museums around who have expressed an interest in having crate made for display and I have been pondering about the possible markets for crates in the modern world. It's unlikely that an industrial market could be found, but there may well be a domestic market (someone suggested a "cushion tidy"). If they are made neatly and kept clean then there's no reason why they could be used for general storage in homes or shops. One of the most common traditional sizes was 5' x 3', which is probably too big for most people, but a nice little 2' x 1.5' or similar might sell well.
If a market cannot be found then there won't be much point making them, which means the craft will die completely, it's pure luck that it is alive in any form today.

My next step is to sort out my rod-heating facilities before attempting to make a "proper" 5' x 3' crate.
This probably won't happen until winter as I want to use the best quality autumn-cut rods I can find.

In the mean-time if anyone has any suggestions or would like any questions answered regarding crate making then please do ask. But I will be keeping my promise to Mr Bloor not to give away his book until further notice. Sorry.

Mike
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