A craftsman turner, traditional maker of Windsor chairs
Picture, if you will, a woodland scene. A peaceful, green, sweet-smelling forest, filled with birdsong and darting shafts of sunlight. See the beech stands, carefully coppiced and cut. See the makeshift wooden shelter, a pile of poles stacked to the side. Hear the steady "whizzz-whizzzz" of wood turning on a pole lathe.
Walk further and raise your head to catch the air, redolent with sawdust, and follow your nose until you find the hut, the now-idle lathe stood before it. Bend down (the doorway may be low if it's a bender) and observe the bodger, just finished his work. He will raise his head and nod you toward a chair, an invitation to sit. He may even tell you his story, which might go something like...
"The art of chair-bodging is ages old, my ancestors have done this all over England. We were travelling people, moving around, itinerant you might say. I don't know when it began, but the traditional ways were handed down over generations.
"Beechwood is best, of course, but it has to be looked after proper, thinned out to give the trees room to grow, so you get the straight grain, see? We sometimes cut the logs ouserlves; Father used to use an axe to cut and a billhook to clean up - see over there, in the corner? That axe, hook, wedge, maul - them was his own tools.
"Course now, it's dying out - you hardly see a bodger except in rural museums or demonstrating the skills, but some of us carry on the real craft. Where do I start? Well, first you select your logs - straight and true, you don't want shakes or rough grain because it's harder to turn. Well, then you spilt the logs down and shape them roughly with an axe. Then I uses a drawknife to shave the billet to where it's rounder, then pop it on the lathe. I uses the traditional pole lathe, see - the great thing is, it don't use no power, except my legs, and it gives you better control - lets you see the piece grow under your eyes. Well, I turns the legs and the spindles for the back - all by hand, mind! Then I takes it all back to High Wycombe and then they make up the chairs. It's a dying craft, mind..."
The fictional bodger of the tale above is probably a very rare creature indeed, in these days of mass production. The traditional bodger can still be seen in Britain, but not in the woodland as was traditional. Most now work in rural workshops, using power lathes and bought-in timber, more turner than traditional crafters.
I think it a shame that the word "bodger" has become associated with people who botches jobs, patching things together in makeshift, Heath Robinson fashion. These, the real bodgers were, and are, craftsmen of the old school, and there are still those who haunt the forests of the South and West of England, so go carefully, mind you - look out and you may just be fortunate enough to find one.
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