Barn Club A Tale of Forgotten Elm Trees, Traditional Craft and Community Spirit, reviewed

We look at this deep dive into (re)learning ancient wood craft techniques to create something beautiful, unique and long lasting in a community driven methodology. Se more about Barn Club, A Tale of Forgotten Elm Trees, Traditional Craft and Community Spirit here, published by Chelsea Green.

Barn Club A Tale of Forgotten Elm Trees, Traditional Craft and Community Spirit, reviewed

This book begins with a paean to the values of having some tech free time, and getting back to traditional methods and ways of working. At times the author finds himself admiring joints and worked pieces of wood made centuries ago that are still serving the purpose for which they were created. It is truly impressive the craftsmanship and skills that our ancestors did possess when working with wood. The author also recognises that some of these skills have been lost and, at times, it is not always clear how to achieve the techniques that used to be applied so readily.

The book itself is a journey, while also a celebration of the elm tree and its unique style of wood colouration and markings. As elm has been devastated over the last few years it was certainly information to learn more about this, as well as the techniques used to get long, large workable cuts of wood from trunks and branches of elm.

This may be a book to read at the weekends and on long autumnal and winter nights. However it is not a complete back to basics approach and the author does recognise the value of, at certain points, using modern tools for some parts of the process. This seems like a wholly sensible approach. The goal here is to work with wood, not to make the process long and unenjoyable.

A great book, and we enjoyed it, even if we don’t plan to make anything on the scale of what was created for Barn Club!

More about the book

Natural history meets traditional hand craft in this celebration of the elm tree and community spirit.

When renowned craftsman Robert Somerville moved to Hertfordshire in southern England, he discovered an unexpected landscape rich with wildlife and elm trees. Nestled within London’s commuter belt, this wooded farmland inspired Somerville, a lifelong woodworker, to revive the ancient tradition of hand-raising barns.

Barn Club follows the building of Carley Barn over the course of one year. Volunteers from all walks of life joined Barn Club, inspired to learn this ancient skill of building elm barns by hand, at its own quiet pace and in the company of others, while using timber from the local woods.

The tale of the elm tree in its landscape is central to Barn Club. Its natural history, historic importance, and remarkable survival make for a fascinating story.

This is a tale of forgotten trees, a local landscape, and an ancient craft.

This book includes sixteen pages of color photographs, and black and white line drawings of techniques and traditional timber frame barns feature throughout.

Perfect for fans of Norwegian Wood and The Hidden Life of Trees.

More about Robert Somerville

Robert Somerville grew up in rural Kent during the 1960s. A childhood spent in the woods and hills of the North Downs and the orchards and marshes of the Little Stour valley inspired his deep love for the natural world. After studying engineering and architecture at the University of Cambridge, Somerville went on to run a design and building business in Devon, utilizing local wood, stone and earth.

Upon moving to Hertfordshire with his wife, Lydia, Somerville began working with local woodland owners and foresters to source local elm timber and then build and raise timber frames by hand, with the help of volunteers known as the Barn Club – a group formed to teach, practice and celebrate skilled rural craftsmanship.

Somerville lives with Lydia and the youngest of his three children in their self-built eco-house in an idyllic smallholding.

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