Coppice Products, Wild Garlic and New Views

Ben Law
Thursday, 17th April 2014

Woodsman Ben Law explains the various products he makes from chestnut coppice, the end of the coppice season and foraging for wild garlic.

The season's cutting is over. I love the cyclical nature of my work and how the winters fly by whilst I am out cutting in the coppice. But now spring is here and it is time to start processing the coppiced timber we have cut.

We have cut nearly 5 acres of sweet chestnut coppice, 4 acres of which was derelict and an acre of short rotation coppice. A lot of the short rotation has already been sold on to customers as yurt poles, bean poles, hedging stakes, rustic furniture parts and some we have split out to make fencing. When I say 'we', I am referring to myself and my two apprentices, this year Paul and Millar. I have been taking on a couple of apprentices every year for the past 15 years and most are now out working in the woods. 

When we reach the end of coppicing, the final clear up and stacking of timber after a winter's cutting, is always a job where help is welcome and it is a time where we try and help each other out to finish the winters work. This involves visiting each other's woods and helping out for a day that is then reciprocated. The 'many hands makes light work' proverb is true in the woods as anywhere and the social side of catching up after what for many can be quite an isolated winter is a welcome change. Meals are shared and plans for the year ahead start to form. I hold a 'coppicer's dinner' which follows the pattern of the traditional 'harvest supper'. It is a time to feast and be merry and celebrate the continuation of this ancient woodland management system and acknowledge the end of the winter's cycle.

Looking back across this year's cut, we have opened up a wonderful view. One of the many wonders of coppicing is that every year a new view appears. I enjoy these, as I am aware of their passing, in three years time the view will be gone, perhaps for another 30 years until the next coppice worker cuts the chestnut again.

The larger chestnut and the short rotation have individual markets but can be combined. We recently created a woven fence in a garden using cleft (split) short rotation coppice and sawn chestnut for the frames. I milled up the chestnut on my Lumbermate mobile sawmill (more about mobile sawmills later in the year) and the combination created an attractive and durable fence.

The spring sun took me down to the river with the children for a picnic where the wild garlic was abundant - it brought our cheese sandwiches alive and I have taken bunches into the local pub to be added to stir fries and salads. 

We have also re-fenced the woodland orchard with a rustic woven fence and built a new chicken house, and every other spare moment I have been in the garden establishing more asparagus beds and feasting on the purple sprouting brocolli.

On May 1st I shall be speaking at the Royal Forestry Society’s ‘Building in Wood’ conference where I shall be looking at the links between sustainable forest management, architectural design and ecological building. If anyone is interested in the event, visit for more information.

Further resources

Ben Law's woodland world: January/February

Ben Law - Coppicing, Curved Stems and Squirrel Stew

The Woodland Way -  A Permaculture Approach to Sustainable Woodland Management

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