Alternate material for besom brooms

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Alternate material for besom brooms

Postby robgorrell » Fri Nov 01, 2013 4:11 pm

I live in the US and do not have access to the birch that most articles on besoms seem to list as the traditional besom material. I would imagine that when folks found there way to the US they didn't say, "well, there's no birch around here so I can't make a besom".

I would like to make up a couple functional and traditional twig brooms in my shop with local materials. I have pleny of access to a variety of types of underbrush in fields and along the river. I can get willow, maple of different sorts, ash, sycamore, and a few very twiggy junk trees that I don't know the identity of that spring up in fields that are getting overgrown.

Any thoughts on which type I could use, or should avoid? Now that the weather is turning colder I am thinking of what materials I can get cut and drying after all the leaves are down.

Thanks.
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Re: Alternate material for besom brooms

Postby gavin » Sat Nov 02, 2013 8:28 am

You want twigs that are from fairly young trees so their shape is more random. You don't want your twigs to be all parallel. The more 'y' shapes you have the better will be your sweeping. This I have not from personal experience but from Maurice ( Clothier?) who just bought some pencil leads from me for twig pencils yesterday. I don't know if he reads this forum - but he sure makes besoms.
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Re: Alternate material for besom brooms

Postby Brian Williamson » Sat Nov 02, 2013 2:36 pm

gavin wrote:You don't want your twigs to be all parallel


Ah, diversity. It's a joy and a curse!

I would say that you want your twigs to be as parallel as possible. I certainly look out for birch that has grown that way and then I tie the twigs into tight(ish) bundles to encourage them to 'set' that way as they season. This will give brooms whose heads are long and, hopefully, fairly parallel.

Why you want your heads shaped this way maybe depends on how you want to use the broom. To my mind, the life of a broom goes through several stages.

Initially it is held low and swept almost parallel to the ground. This motion is ideal for laying dew or rain on fine grass. It is also the method you would use for sweeping the worm-casts off a lawn and works very well for a light covering of leaves. it is also good for sweeping small quantities of shavings off flat floors.

As wear and tear starts breaking the smaller sectioned twigs off, the broom becomes shorter and stiffer and the action would become a bit more upright. Good for heavy, damp coverings of leaves and thick debris on more uneven floors.

Finally, you end up with a short, rigid head, used almost upright and good for clearing out gutters and drains and between cobble stones.

And when it's sweeping use is over it has one more function - as an excellent firelighter.

It may be that Maurice Clothier doesn't have any uses for his brooms that require the long and fine stage, and that brushy suits him best. Each to his own. It does widen the range of material available to have two different styles.

As to what to use of what you have available, I guess that it'll come down to trial-and-error. Heather was supposedly used in some parts of this country: I imagine that it would give a fairly 'soft' broom head. I'm sure that I've heard of Leylandi Cypress being used! I've no idea how that would work. Holly might be interesting (with the leaves on).

Whatever you end up trying, I think that fineness of twig will be one of its most desirable qualities.

Good luck.

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Re: Alternate material for besom brooms

Postby anobium » Mon Nov 04, 2013 8:25 pm

How about Ruscus aculeatus, AKA butchers' broom though I don't know if it grows in the US? This is a spiny=leaved plant with stiff stems and was presumably once used by the aforesaid trade
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Re: Alternate material for besom brooms

Postby gavin » Tue Nov 05, 2013 8:34 am

Brian has FAR more knowledge than I have about brooms. I'd rely on his comments for sure as my knowledge was acquired in a 3 min phone conversation with Maurice.
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Re: Alternate material for besom brooms

Postby SeanHellman » Tue Nov 05, 2013 3:42 pm

Does heather grow in your part of the world, if so they make great brushes and brooms
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Re: Alternate material for besom brooms

Postby robgorrell » Thu Nov 07, 2013 5:04 pm

Thanks guys. The leaves are still coming down here. As soon as they are down and the temps drop I will gather some different types and see what happens. We have a bush here called Autumn Olive. I hear it was brought over as some of hedge or something like that and it is everywhere, kind of invasive. The branches look about right. I think I will try it also.
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Re: Alternate material for besom brooms

Postby Davie Crockett » Fri Nov 08, 2013 1:47 pm

I live in the US and do not have access to the birch that most articles on besoms seem to list as the traditional besom material. I would imagine that when folks found there way to the US they didn't say, "well, there's no birch around here so I can't make a besom".

I would like to make up a couple functional and traditional twig brooms in my shop with local materials. I have pleny of access to a variety of types of underbrush in fields and along the river. I can get willow, maple of different sorts, ash, sycamore, and a few very twiggy junk trees that I don't know the identity of that spring up in fields that are getting overgrown.


Have you thought about using Sorghum (Not a twig, but a natural fibre nonetheless). http://www.broomshop.com/history/ Plentiful in the US.
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Re: Alternate material for besom brooms

Postby ToneWood » Wed Feb 26, 2014 9:45 pm

Just noticed this thread. Coincidentally I made a besom a couple of weeks ago. I just used prunings cut from our garden by my wife during her winter clean-up. I used mainly raspberry canes, which I thought looked ideal: quite straight but had a few interesting kinks & some bushiness towards the ends. I added some stiffer straighter branches from a decorative tree that I'd trimmed for strength & one piece with rose hips (which I believe is the fruit of the hawthorn) used purely for decoration.
Image
I gather that I broke with tradition in several regards: I didn't shave the handle, it's hazel (rather than ash/hickory), the handle is green, I didn't point the handle (inside the broom) and I used wire rather than withies to bind it. I like it though & it work remarkably well.
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Re: Alternate material for besom brooms

Postby ToneWood » Wed Feb 26, 2014 10:57 pm

[Can't edit on the thread :(]. Correction: rose-hip is not the fruit of the hawthorn (somebody told me it was, should have known better), it is the fruit of the rose, in this case a Dog Rose.
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Re: Alternate material for besom brooms

Postby AlexanderTheLate » Thu Feb 27, 2014 2:21 am

To my understanding, birch was chosen originally because the twigs did not go brittle as they dried out.
I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.- Unknown.
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Re: Alternate material for besom brooms

Postby ToneWood » Wed Mar 19, 2014 2:08 pm

Yes, I do wonder about how long my raspberry twigs will last. They're holding up fine so far. But it really didn't take long at all to make my bessom &, as Brian usefully explained, a bessom can go through several stages before it finally ends up as kindling :). Even then, it might be possible to re-use the handle, lanyard &, perhaps, even the wire & nail/dowel. Great tool, they deserve to be more popular.

Alexander, re. your signature:
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This recent BBC article might interest you (or strike fear into your heart :D): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22002530
...the advance of technology has overtaken our capacity to control the possible consequences." - BBC News reporting on the work of Dr Nick Bostrom @ Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute.​
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