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Playground musical instruments

Musical Instruments for a Playground

St Werburghs Community Centre in Bristol have been redeveloping a car park as a play area and asked if I could make some ‘sensory structures’ for the area – which gave the chance to make musical instruments!

playground musical instruments

Researching how to make and tune them was a fascinating process. It was made a little trickier as I wanted to use reclaimed timbers to make some of the wooden parts. The larger companies around my workshop sometimes get deliveries of timber on bearers made from offcuts of sapele wood – a tree that grows in tropical Africa. Although many are reused by those companies when stacking timber for storage, it seemed a real shame to waste any of the used bearers by burning or throwing them away, especially as sapele is a great timber to use for xylophone bars. I’m very glad to have found a better use for the wood.

Playground xylophone made from reclaimed timbers

The beautiful locally-grown larch posts holding up the instruments were provided by Tom and the team at Roundwood Design.

The four instruments are:

A set of four tuned metallophone bars, made from discarded ends of scaffold pole. The limited space between the existing planters meant that the instruments could only be  a certain width. I also made the beaters to play the bars, using golf balls on aluminium rods.

met allophone made from reclaimed scaffold pole for playgrounds

A tuned xylophone was probably the most difficult thing to get right; especially as there is a certain amount of wastage when using reclaimed materials due to imperfections and damage in the wood. I’m very happy with how it turned out and would like to explore the idea further, perhaps by carving the bars into interesting shapes.

Xylophone for playground

The next instrument was made using stainless steel threaded bars and washers. The washers slide down the bars, making a sound a bit like a rain stick. It’s strangely fascinating to watch them as they move downwards, glittering in the sun.

Playground instruments play area

The final instrument is something I call ‘rattle poles’. These were turned from the sapele bearers, with a stick to play them that was also turned using reclaimed timber from a bearer.

wooden play instrument

Woodturning to make instruments

The two vertical sticks were the largest turned wooden items that I’ve produced so far. It gave me a chance to get my vintage Myford ML8 lathe fired up, which was great fun.

Woodturning on a Myford ML8 lathe

I think that the finished turned sticks look beautiful, especially against the rustic larch poles.

wooden sticks to play

It’s a lovely thought that these musical instruments will provide fun for children and their parents for many years to come. What do they sound like, you may be asking? There’s a Youtube video which will show you.

wooden rabbit carving

Sign for Rock Meadows Housing Development

This cedar log was carved as a sign for Rock Meadow, a housing development of affordable housing in the Forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire. It shows animals and plants found in the local area, including orchids, wild daffodils, a shrew, rabbits and dormice.

 

Rock Meadow housing sign

 

There are also carved rocks on it, reflecting the name of the development. The bottom of the log, below the band of carved ‘rocks’, was uncarved except for slots as it was to be sunk into a concrete base when fitted on site. Cedar is a durable timber, so the sign will hopefully last for a while outdoors.

 

carved cedar log

 

How many animals and plants can you spot in the photos?

 

carved cedar sign for housing development

 

 

‘Woodlands for all’ project 2008

This project (with limited time and budget to complete it) was carved during May 2008 for the ‘Forest of Avon Trust‘, an organisation in Bristol that seek to promote the use of local woodlands in environmentally sustainable ways.

Four posts were sited at Jubilee Stone Wood near Backwell, on the edge of the Mendip Hills. Four others were fixed in at West Tanpit Wood, near Lower Failand and across the Avon gorge from Bristol. All eight posts were shallow-relief carved using long-lasting sweet chestnut logs, with designs chosen by young people and people with special needs from the area.

West Tanpit Wood

These posts stand a bit over 5 feet (1.5m) tall and mark a short circular route through the woods. If walking in early summer, the woods suddenly turn from being carpeted with the white flowers of wild garlic to the deep blue of native British bluebells – very beautiful indeed.

 

West Tanpit woods

 

A bird called a Dipper (which can sometimes be seen running about in the stream next to this post)

carved wooden dipper bird

 

Bluebells and Bumble bee

bluebells and bumble bee

 

Fern by a stream (before leaving the workshop)

wooden carved fern leaf

 

Oak leaves, acorns and a logpile, symbolising the two halves of the wood- native deciduous trees and commercial softwood plantation.

 

carved marker post

 

Jubilee Stone Wood

 

Jubilee Stone wood

 

Early Purple Orchid with Silver Washed Fritillary butterfly

carved orchid and butterfly

 

Robin singing on Ivy (before leaving the workshop)

carved robin and ivy

 

Sunset over Nailsea- the view next to this post

jubilee stone wood post

carved wooden owl face

The Owl and the Woodpecker

This sculpture was carved for the former Lord Mayor of Bristol, Geoff Gollop, and his family in 2009.

 

owl and woodpecker

 

A much loved Robinia tree had to be cut down in their garden and they wanted to turn the remaining stump into a sculpture so that they could continue enjoying it. Making this culture involved using a range of tools, from chainsaws to traditional carving gouges and chisels.

 

carving an owl in wood

 

After discussing a few ideas with them, they decided that they would like the two life-size birds, with a pattern going up the trunk. To make the woodpecker’s legs stronger, I carved them from two wooden pegs that were firmly fixed in. This meant that the grain direction made them less likely to snap.

 

carved wooden woodpecker

 

carved wooden owl

 

I like the idea of the slightly indignant owl being woken up by the busy woodpecker and I think that the owl’s face captures that.

 

totem pole

Totem pole 2012

This totem pole shows things that are important to the person who received it – a collection of personal totems including an owl, a horse and a trout.

 

totem pole larch

 

The piece was carved for a commission in 2012 and is now installed in the New Forest, Hampshire. It was a lot of fun to carve but also quite a challenge, as it includes a portrait of the person that it was a present for. This was the first portrait that I had been commissioned to carve.

The pole is carved from durable European Larch, grown in the local area to my workshop. It is 14 feet (4 m 20 cm) tall in total, with 4 feet (1m 20cm) going underground when installed.

 

carving a totem pole

 

I couldn’t meet him in person to take measurements and so the portrait had to be done solely from photos, which were all taken at different times in his life. I never got to meet either the person who commissioned it or the subject of the portrait carving, so have no idea how close the likeness is!

 

totem pole

 

Apparently he likes the carving though, which is what everyone wanted.

Bench on the Clifton Downs 2015

This bench is the largest single project that I have taken on to date, being 2.5 metres (8 feet) long and weighing well over half a ton. It was commissioned by the Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society in Bristol and was installed in June 2015. The wood is oak that originally grew on a farm outside the village of Backwell, about seven miles from where the playground where the bench has been situated.

The bench is quite unusual, as the site that it has been placed on is part of Clifton Down in Bristol. The Downs Committee, who oversee the running of the area, hardly ever give permission for permanent works of art to be installed there and I feel very privileged to have been given this opportunity.

 

downs bench

 

The bench was almost two years in the making and shows notable people, creatures and structures to do with the area. Researching it myself was fascinating. One carving is a portrait of renowned poet and botanist Libby Houston, who visited my studio a couple of times. Showing her the portrait for the first time was a little nervewracking! Fortunately, she liked it.

 

Libby Houston

 

Amongst many other subjects, the bench also shows Thecodontosaurus, the ‘Bristol Dinosaur’, which was discovered not far from the playground.

 

thecodontosaurus carving

 

The bench rests on three large oak carvings showing creatures that lived in the seas that covered the area millions of years ago; a crinoid, a coral colony and a brachiopod (a shellfish a bit like a modern clam).

 

carvings of fossils

 

There is also a ‘treasure trail’ of ten spider carvings hidden all over the bench for visitors to try and find if they can!

 

spider carving

 

Leigh Woods Centenary bench 2009

This bench was installed on Stokeleigh Camp Iron Age hill fort, at Leigh Woods near Bristol. It was commissioned by the National Trust to commemorate the centenary of the land being given to the Trust by the Wills family.

 

leigh woods inscription

 

The oak used came from trees felled in the same woods and the timber was milled, carved and the bench constructed on site during the summer of 2009.

 

two man chainsaw mill

 

The bench is 2.75 metres (9 feet) long. As the site is heavily protected, the design had to be sturdy enough not to require fixing to the ground and it could not be raised up on slabs or similar.

 

carving leigh woods bench

 

The carvings show aspects of the natural history and ancient history of the area. Researching them was really enjoyable – including holding locally-found artefacts such as a Celtic bronze torc, which was around two thousand years old, at Bristol Museum.

 

celtic wood carving

 

Here are some examples of the carvings on the bench. This dormouse is hibernating with its tail wrapped around it. Dormice live in the surrounding woods and are quite rare.

 

dormouse on leigh woods bench

 

This beautiful triskele design came from the end of a Celtic torc that was discovered in the River Avon at nearby Clevedon. The original is gold and can now be seen in the British Museum.

 

celtic torc design