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  • Roger Waterhouse

Bails!


It's all very well describing oneself as an artist in wood, but that's the small print.

The headline is 'Woodturner'.

And to most people, especially my neighbours, 'woodturner' means a craftsman who makes useful objects. Not just bowls. And even in this day and age people sometimes have need of a woodturner, and come to me.

The opening question is usually, 'Could you make...?', and since that questions my competence, I was always inclined to say 'Yes'. Even if I had not done it before.

I've learned better.

I do not do production turning - skittles are out.

I avoid furniture restoration, not always successfully. Replacing victorian finials so they match not just by wood and shape , but by colour, is a pain.

But there are one-offs I says yes to, usually because I feel I ought. But if the question starts, 'Could you make a handle...' I'm ready with the reply, 'i could but I won't'. Being able to do this enhances my happiness with life considerably.

If it's unusual, I tend to fall for it.

There were the ladies in the spinning group who wanted me to make traditional spindles and whorls. That was quite fun. I made some of the whorls out of ebony. It made a lovely contrast with the light wood of the spindle.

Then there was the man who flies hawks. He wanted a very specific shape of spool, which would unwind rapidly as his hawk took off. I made it two years ago, but he hasn't been back to collect it.

But the worst was the venerable neighbour who wanted me to make him a gavel. He had been chair of a voluntary group for many years and was retiring, and wanted to donate a gavel to his successor. But he was very specific. All the years he had been chair, he had no gavel, so he called the meeting to order by tapping on a tea cup with a spoon. He wanted the teaspoon inlaid into the gavel he would give his successor. I did it, with difficulty. He was well pleased (I never heard what his successor thought) but it was not one of the works of which I am most proud.

These thoughts were all sparked by a visit from a neighbour and past customer of mine who popped in a couple of weeks ago. There were two little jobs he needed doing. One was the finial on a mirror (which I agreed to do on the back of the other one). The other was a cricket bail. It transpired that his grandfather, with whom he had been very close, was an excellent cricketer and bequeathed to him a professional set of stumps and bails. And happily, my neighbour's grandson (we are talking 5 generations here) was turning out to be an excellent cricketer. So my neighbour, who is well beyond the first flush of youth, wanted to bequeath to his own grandson the stumps and bails he had himself inherited. The only trouble was, one of the bails was missing. Could I make a replacement?

How could I say no?

So that's how I spent half my afternoon today.

Now if this were something I did all the time, it really wouldn't have taken me long. But these had to be precisely right - wood, weight, dimensions. I bet you didn't know that a cricket bail has to be 4 inches long, with the spigot at the outside of one inch, but the inside spigot only half an inch, with the maximum diameter of the bulbous part one inch, with 3 3/8ths beads enclosing the two ogees. Neither did I. This is how it went.

Turning the bail

So I haven't matched the colour yet, but some more dousing in linseed oil will get it closer.

In the meantime, what should I charge for what would have taken your bail maker ten minutes max, but took me the best part of 2 hours? You see, craftsmen aren't what they used to be. Too many artistic pretentions!


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