We built the Writers Arbor following the storms of winter 2021/22 when oak trees where we live dropped large twisted branches from high up above, plonk on the ground, and prompted us to think ‘wow, what a resource, what can we do with that’. Our first thought was to make a compost toilet, as I want to make one for the Churches, to show them ‘how easy’ but as the shed grew it was quite wrong for that. It became a shed to contemplate woodland, a place to be quiet, to escape and in winter to be warm using minimal fuel. We began by asking the wood owner if we could collect the branches and were given permission. Oak is very heavy, we cut it and split where it had fallen, and carried it down the hill to the build site on the edge of wild ground at the back of my (Rebecca’s) house. Splitting the wood was new for us and it was marvellous how quickly and efficiently we did it, using a small axe, wood mallet and wedges. A few sharp knocks and the wood cracks along a line, you follow the line, hearing the cracking as pressure is released. Knots can be problematic, but with care the split continues on beyond the knot.
We built the shed 2.25m by 1.75m as those were the size of of the longest and straightest pieces we were able to carry, and the post height of 1.8m was the lowest we could get away with. The roof height was just what looked right. The rafters were not chosen to be wobbly, but that is how they come, we worked with what we had. This includes the bricks on the floor, they were bricks I (Rebecca) have collected over the years. The only things we bought were the window and door from a local reclamation yard, chestnut cladding from a mill close by in Newent (the only time we used a vehicle) new hinges, packet of nails and the wood stove. We had all the tools, the joinery chisels, cheap saws, auger, bits and home-made mallets. We used them all, all day. Building in wood is basically hitting wood, bang, bang, bang, that is what you do.
We could wish our braces were better and also some of our mortice and tenons, each one is a challenge and of itself, but nothing else to be different, the shed is as it is, it looks happy and cheerful, beautiful where it is and it is a lovely place to be. The woodland had a new framing, we saw it with new eyes through the window, it felt secure, like a home. The few visitors it has received so far visibly relax as they step into the space defined by wood and brick.
It was not easy to make the Writer's Arbor, every mortice, tenon, oak peg, brace (especially the braces) was difficult, but totally absorbing. We were working outside and were blessed with (on the whole) good weather. It was a privilege to have the experience of building this shed using medieval technology.