Making a Hurdle

This is my first attempt at making a woven hurdle. None of the coppice growth on the Hazel was really very straight or easily cleavable so I decided to use what was available, to see how it went and to learn a bit more about technique.

With the right materials and a lot more practice I hope to get better and hopefully a lot faster.

For a 6′  hurdle you need 9 stakes spaced at 9″ intervals. I used the bottoms of Sweet Chestnut poles from 2 year old coppice growth. You’re meant to use a mould board to hold them upright, but as I was just experimenting I knocked the uprights [sails] directly into the ground. The ‘sage’ advice that I had read suggested that you place them in a slight curve. I think this is so that as the hurdle dries out it straightens out rather than warps. (who knows? I did this anyway with a 4″ offset).
After this I wove two rods, over and over each other for 2-3 rows to hold the bottom of the hurdle together. What I was using was the tops of the rods that I had used for the sails. I found it impossible to get them to go around the end sail without cracking (more on this later), so decided to use a row of brambles every 5″ to fulfill this function of holding the whole thing together. This worked pretty well as they are very flexible but they are VERY painful to work with.
After about ten rows I ran out of material for weaving and decided that I would try some of the huge amount of birch scrub that we have in the wood. This was a good idea as while harvesting Birch rods it gave some of the Hazel a bit more space to breathe.
The Birch poles were incredibly long, where they had been growing so densely: a ¾” diameter rod was at least 18′ – 20′ long. Also because they were seedlings they were all different colours from whites and creams to deep chocolate browns. So having collected 40 or so rods I went back to weaving. Now this was good as the Birch was far more flexible and this made the weaving a lot faster. But I still couldn’t get them to go around the end sails without cracking, no matter how much I twisted and wrung them before bending. The brambles were becoming a pain to work with… to much work to harvest and very awkward to use because of their spikiness.
Then one of those great revelations took place… I had some very thin Birch saplings, about 6′ long and ¼” in diameter. These went around the end sails perfectly. In fact you could go around a 1″ diameter post repeatedly without any cracking at all… Problem solved. Hooray.
After that it was plain sailing… Every 6″ or so I used a row or two of Birch and went twice around each end sail then continued with ordinary weaving. I finished off the top by doing a row where I went around each sail twice with the flexible Birch saplings. After tidying up the lose ends and snags it looked quite presentable for a first attempt.
I learned a huge amount, obviously not as much as I would being taught by an expert on a course, and I wouldn’t do it the same way the next time… but the journey is more than half the fun.
We took the hurdle back to our kitchen site and Fi decorated it with cones and wild flowers that we had been identifying. A good days work.
In Edlin’s Woodland Crafts in Britain he says that a good hurdle maker can make 10 in a day… this first attempt took two of us the best part of 4 Hours! I’ll get better (I hope)

See all of the pictures in the Gallery Section

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