View Full Version : Green Wood Working – A personal Journey – part 5.

paul standley
01-11-2012, 04:09 PM
Sheep hurdles used to be an iconic part of country life and have been around in a more or less similar form for hundreds of years and they had several uses but the main ones were the folding of sheep in the fields & hills and the folding of sheep at markets and they were made in their thousands even up to the 50’s but then lightweight metal fencing and mesh came along and the traditional wooden hurdles were phased out.

Every region had their particular style and size but essentially, they consisted of two main vertical ends and several (5 to 8) horizontal rails with some form of diagonal bracing and often, a central vertical brace as well. In the main, they were made from Ash or sweet Chestnut or occasionally Hazel, depending on regional availability of the wood. The main construction principle though was the same, Riven timber rails were tenoned and the riven ends were mortised.

Sheep hurdle making requires some degree of technical accuracy in the creation of the mortise and tenon joints if they are to be strong, hold there shape and not split and so Bob was on hand to run me through the main points I needed to know.

I decided to make my hurdle as a ‘scale version’ because I had to be able to fit it in the car to bring home and the shave horse was going to pretty much fill the car on it’s own so opted for a ‘test piece’ size of around 3ft wide x 2 ½ft high, ideal for use as a small ornamental garden gate. As it turned out, it resembled the Kentish style although I didn’t know that at the time J

“and then when you knock in the nails to tie it all together he said, make sure you blunt the ends first so that they shear the wood fibres and don’t separate the fibres as that splits the wood, then bend em over on the back into the grain of the wood”.

NAILS I exclaimed, I’m not using nails, I want to do it the traditional way with wooden pegs.Bob gave me short thrift along with a lesson on “real traditional” hurdle making.
It seems that wooden pegs were more of a romantic notion in hurdles and that the reality was that flat iron nails were used and their ends bent over because this produced a strong hurdle and wooden pegs got mushy and loose over time…!

Hurdles are hard work, first the logs (Ash in the case of my hurdle) have to be split (cleaved or riven) and then shaved to remove the bark and the long riven wedges of wood shaped with a draw knife to produce a uniform cross section.
Once that’s done, the rectangular mortise holes have to be produced and the ends of the rails have to have the tenons put on this is where the skill comes in as the two tenons on a rail have to align in the same plane and they must have parallel sides and tapered top/bottoms so that when the joints are assembled, the pressure on the tennon joint is longitudinal to the vertical end rail grain and not sideways, this ensures the mortise holes don’t split during assembly and use.

I settled down to the tasks in hand and again felt entirely at home and in control of the tools and in the fullness of time with every muscle in body hurting, I finished my hurdle at the end of the Thursday before the course finished on the Friday lunchtime.

Smug ?, I most certainly was, I looked at the finished article no really believing I’d made it. Now it was far from perfect but it was mine and I would know how to correct the issues for the next one so that was good enough for me.

Pictures of my shave horse (taken recently) and the sheep hurdle are below.

5752 5753 5754 5756

The attached thumbnail image at the end of the thread is one made by Bob Shaw some years before and still going strong.

Now I don’t want to sound posh or anything but we are a two shave horse family now because I’ve since made another one. My first one (as in the pictures) has developed a lovely silver grey patina and lives with me at home and has been tweaked a couple of times since it was made to increase it’s functionality but my other one, made more recently, lives elsewhere…we’ll come back to the other shave horse later.

The weather that Thursday night was horrible and was raining really heavily but it was quiz night at the tiny ‘local’ village pub up the valley from CAT and so after our evening meal (did I say that CAT only do veggie meals so I’d spent a whole week without meat…!) some of us got our wet weather gear on to trek the mile or so up the valley to the pub.

It was a great night, I hadn’t done a pub quiz in donkey’s years, which is probably was our little team got thrashed good and proper by the locals…! So armed with our hard won booby price, we trekked back down the valley back to CAT.
It was seriously dark on the small country lane, we were in the middle of nowhere and we couldn’t see the road under our feet for most of the way back and we only had one torch between us and we had sort of split into two groups as some of us couldn’t keep up with the others…!.
The other group in front of us had the torch and that was ok for most of the way but the gap between us got wider and wider until by the time we got to within 200 yds of the centre, they were already there.
As we turned the last bend to approach the driveway to the centre we were all chatting away happily when bosh… I suddenly dropped like a stone screaming in absolute agony…the pain was just unbearable and there I was rolling around on the edge of the lane.


01-11-2012, 05:25 PM
Errrm.. Dunno where to start..! Did you get gotted by a werewolf or sommit..?
Loving your writing Paul, and the work you have done looks spot on.
Is there any market at all these days for traditional hurdles..?
What tools did you use for the mortices..?

paul standley
01-11-2012, 05:35 PM
Errrm.. Dunno where to start..! Did you get gotted by a werewolf or sommit..?
Loving your writing Paul, and the work you have done looks spot on.
Is there any market at all these days for traditional hurdles..?
What tools did you use for the mortices..?

werewolf...good guess but it was pitch black and no moon that night.

The mortises were drilled out first with a brace and bit then I used a Twybill (for the first time) to break out the bridges and then then slice the long sides smooth. The Twybill is a tool designed to do just one specific job and do it superbly. Only problem is, they are dam expensive whether old or new so for me it will be a chisel for my next ones :-)


01-11-2012, 07:04 PM
I did wonder if you used a twybill for it.. The tool to use if you are going to be doing them all day long, but a big outlay just for occasional use. You can see why they cost so much being the shape they are..
ps.. Nice lookin shave horse btw

01-11-2012, 08:24 PM
shave horse looks great Paul,mate you are a tease! come on pour a strong one and let us have the full story! wonderfull reading. Paul