Crate making

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Crate making

Postby monkeeboy » Fri Aug 06, 2010 8:41 pm

Does anyone know of any person in the country still practising the craft of traditional crate making?
I'm referring to the ones often used for transporting pottery and made from green/coppiced wood.

Any pointers would be much appreciated.
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Re: Crate making

Postby Brian Williamson » Thu Aug 26, 2010 9:14 pm

Crate making - the apogee of the hazel coppice workers art. Or so I believe, since I've never got within a hundred miles of anyone who made them.

They were supposed to take the best of the crop, and you find quite a few copses or coups called 'cratemakers' or something similar.

Judging by the lack of response to this thread, I guess that no one knows of anyone who made crates. One for Robin Woods' Heritage Craft Assn.

If you do turn up any leads I'd be really interested to hear of them, so please keep us posted if anything turns up.

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Re: Crate making

Postby monkeeboy » Thu Aug 26, 2010 10:36 pm

Thanks for the bump Brian.

I've been thinking about crates quite a lot.
Rebecca Oaks once spoke to an old-time Coppice Worker in The Lakes who said a lot of the wood, especially Alder and Ash, from up there used to go down to Staffordshire for crates for the potteries.
And considering the fact that they were supposed to take the best of the crop, they must have been held in pretty high regard.

Tabor does have some information on them in his books, including mentioning that the largest ones could hold a tonne.
If some of them were pretty big, then does that suggest that they might have been using Hazel that came from coups that were under a longer rotation than would be normal for hurdles? Which then might mean that the 20-year cycle so sought after by Dormice enthusiasts might have been a reality at some point?

Surely someone knows something about them.
I wonder are there any surviving examples?

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Re: Crate making

Postby woodsman » Sun Sep 19, 2010 11:48 am

i have seen pictures of these crates made of hazel that you talk of. i know there was a detailed picture of one of them in a book at my college librbary, it was something like the aa guide to contrry crafts. i do know where one picture of one is though asd i shall try and upload it on here for you another time. it appears they were made out of coppcied hazel, like the stuff used for hurdles and woven into a large box! the picture will speak a thousand words though!
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Re: Crate making

Postby Brian Williamson » Sun Sep 19, 2010 1:42 pm

There is a bit in Edlin's 'Woodland Crafts in Britain' concerning crate making.

He talks of hazel being widely used 'even today' (the 40's) in the trade of crate making, mainly in Staffordshire.

Rods were graded by length and diameter, from seven to twelve feet long and from two inches down to half an inch diameter.

Chestnut, birch,whitebeam,rowan and oak were sometimes used, but not ash or elm because of ash bark beetle and elm disease (in the forties?).

He goes on to say that some crates are '...of simple, rectangular outline', whilst others are '.... ingeniously constructed by bending, twisting and interlacing heated hazel rods to form a boat-shaped structure that is very resistant to shocks'.

There is more in the way of general description but, alas, no pictures.

Perhaps we should do some research and re-create on of these fabled constructions?

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Re: Crate making

Postby monkeeboy » Sun Sep 19, 2010 7:37 pm

I would LOVE to recreate a crate - a recreate-ion.

Perhaps we should raise the subject informally at the Coppice Conference and see what happens?
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Re: Crate making

Postby arth » Mon Sep 20, 2010 12:00 pm

Ray Tabor mentions crates in his book encyclopedia of green woodworking, page 176.
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Re: Crate making

Postby monkeeboy » Tue Oct 19, 2010 5:29 pm

After receiving a very helpful email from the collections officer at The Potteries Museum, Stoke on Trent, I have come up with quite a few decent photos of crates;

First, http://www.thepotteries.org/photo_wk/090.htm, has an interesting and close-up view of a not-so-long-ago crate maker. Not much information though.

Then these from the Staffordshire Past Track website;

A Crate-makers yard;
Image

Image

Image

Making crates;
Image

Very interesting pics, it seems a lot of the material wasn't necessarily "the finest possible", as Tabor suggests.
They were obviously using loads of Hazel rods though, I wonder where they came from?
Is there perhaps a lot of derelict Hazel coppice around Staffordshire? Or was it all brought-in from afar?

I'm now waiting for a man in NEW YORK to send me some pics of his Traditional Pottery Crate that he has kept in a collection. Small World.
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Re: Crate making

Postby SeanHellman » Tue Oct 19, 2010 6:15 pm

What a great set of photos you have found.
I see that they use the same withy knot to bind the bolts of hazel together as they use with willow

Just the sort of thing we could keep small children and wandering animals in now a days :lol:
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Re: Crate making

Postby quickthorn » Fri Oct 22, 2010 11:02 am

I'm working a few hours a week for a potter at the moment, and I'm hoping to make a few crates for him at some time or another.

I'd be interested to know why crate makers took the best of the crop - did they need the best, or was it that crate making was a bit more lucrative than competing crafts, and therefore they could afford the best?

From the pictures, it looks like output is more focused on quantity and function rather than looks - they don't look particularly well finished, but then who would care if they did the job of protecting the crocks?
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Re: Crate making

Postby monkeeboy » Fri Oct 22, 2010 11:24 am

Judging by the pics, I'm not convinced that they took the "best" of the crop.
I think they were taking such a specific specification which in turn led people to think that they were after the "best".
When in actual fact they just needed the material to meet very specific requirements.
You can see that all the cleft pieces of the crates have been dressed out a fair bit, indicating that they were not perfect pieces in the first place.
If you look at all the Hazel bundles, the rods all seem to be exactly the same quite small size, which is not what you often get from a Hazel stool. So those rods must have come from Hazel that was under a pretty short rotation, perhaps also for spar gads?
Quantity was probably the most important thing, as long as each crate ended up having the same external/internal dimensions.

I think it's a real shame that this craft has completely died out.
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Re: Crate making

Postby quickthorn » Mon Oct 25, 2010 1:32 pm

From descriptions I've read, I'm guessing that the rods that are used for the ribs or bows are steamed or boiled and bent at 90 degrees to get that radius at the bottom side corners as sharp as they are. I can't imagine being able to form cold hazel like that. I wonder if they are steamed and formed then assembled into those 3 cleft runner at the bottom, or whether they are part assembled into the runners then steamed. If the former, then the holes in the runners they pass through must be quite generous on clearance, to get them round the bend.

I also wonder if the twilley rods are woven and knotted cold, or whether they need to be steamed/boiled. Most hazel I cut is a bit brittle, even at small diameters, but then we're not blessed with the best hazel here, in terms of quality or quantity. :cry:
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Re: Crate making

Postby monkeeboy » Mon Oct 25, 2010 6:02 pm

quickthorn wrote:we're not blessed with the best hazel here, in terms of quality or quantity. :cry:


That's not what I've heard...
The North Notts Wildlife Trust have some pretty good Hazel coppice, it's good enough to have local Coppice Workers paying to cut it. And knowing how tight Coppice Workers tend to be, it must be worth something!
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Re: Crate making

Postby quickthorn » Mon Oct 25, 2010 9:10 pm

monkeeboy wrote:
quickthorn wrote:we're not blessed with the best hazel here, in terms of quality or quantity. :cry:


That's not what I've heard...
The North Notts Wildlife Trust have some pretty good Hazel coppice, it's good enough to have local Coppice Workers paying to cut it. And knowing how tight Coppice Workers tend to be, it must be worth something!


We do pay for it, but I'm comparing it to stuff in the south east.

The NWT stuff is the best locally, and I'm happy to pay for what I'm offered, but there are only a few acres per year up for tender, which has to go round more people than there are acres available. Any other hazel I've seen in this area is not fit for much else but firewood.
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Re: Crate making

Postby SeanHellman » Mon Oct 25, 2010 10:52 pm

quickthorn wrote:From descriptions I've read, I'm guessing that the rods that are used for the ribs or bows are steamed or boiled and bent at 90 degrees to get that radius at the bottom side corners as sharp as they are. I can't imagine being able to form cold hazel like that.


Are you referring to the descriptions on this page or from other sources?

From what I see in these pictures then the hazel is doing nothing much more than with hazel hurdles. All the bends are made by twisting the the hazel rods to separate the fibres and then bending it around a rod 360 degrees or more. No steam is needed. The hazel is used after it has mellowed or dried out a little bit. Woods often work in different ways when fresh cut, mellowed, or seasoned. We all want the best materials to work with whatever we are making, and also best can be a very subjective term.
I would also say from looking at these photos that the diameter of the hazel is about the same used for hurdles.

It would be great to see people making these again. The thing is that there may not be a market for large crates these size for packing pottery. What other market could there be for these? I see them being made smaller, but what for?
Last edited by SeanHellman on Tue Oct 26, 2010 8:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
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