Skip to content

We are proud to present a new wood that we’ve started using for our harps: local ash.

The story of these harps starts back in late 2020 when some ash trees were felled by Superior English Timber, just outside Tewkesbury. They were added to a huge pile of logs, ready for processing, until one day Matt and I paid them a visit to choose to timber.

(Actually, prior to this, Matt and I had concocted a plan to fell and process trees ourselves. We bought a chainsaw with a massive blade and a “chainsaw sawmill”, which is a metal frame that you bolt onto the chainsaw so you can cut planks with it. We did one, with the help of my tree surgeon brother-in-law Martin, and then decided it was a better idea to leave that part to someone with better machinery. But I digress…..)

We chose 6 trunks that looked the best, and they used their impressive machinery to chop it into planks that were the right thickness.

It was very impressive to see the ease with which their sawmill cut the planks into just the right thickness.

We loaded up the trailer we had borrowed from Lloyd, which was hooked up to the pick-up we had borrowed from Andy. We tied the wood down with ratchet straps, and then took it to John and Di’s house to be stored.

Matt had constructed a wood shed there, so we carefully piled it up, with “stickers” (sticks really, not sure why they call them this in the lumber trade!) in between each layer to allow for airflow. Around 50% of a tree’s weight is water, and most of that water has to be allowed to escape before you start making things out of it, otherwise it’ll escape after you’ve made things out of it, which will change the shape of whatever you’ve made, and possibly cause it to split. Wood is hygroscopic, which means it will either absorb or emit water into or from the air around it, depending on the moisture content of the wood and the relative humidity of the air. In a UK climate, wood that has been dried to around 10% moisture content will be in equilibrium with conditions in the average household. The quickest way to do this is is a kiln, and some wood yards put green timber straight into a kiln, but this also uses the most energy.

The lowest energy method to do at least some of this drying is with air and time. Traditionally I would have inherited a wood pile from my father, and would be creating a new wood pile for my children. Luckily we don’t have to wait quite this long any more; we also have to dry the wood slightly more now that everyone had central heating.

Air drying over 18-24 months does most of the work, and brings the moisture content down to around 15-18%. During this time we continued making harps from sycamore from a timber yard.

After a couple of years of letting the wood air dry, we brought a third of the stack of wood into the workshop for processing. We studied the individual planks to find the shapes we needed-the strength of a finished item depends a lot on the direction and density of the grain, and imperfections like knots can cause weak points, so we use a template to find each neck and pillar in the plank.

Once we’ve marked out where we’ll cut the pieces from, we can cut the planks small enough to fit into our wood kiln. The kiln is an insulated wooden box with a dehumidifier and a fan in it. If it’s well enough insulated, the dehumidifier is a sufficient source of heat. It also needs a thermostat and a pipe for the water to exit through. As with many things, we learned some lessons along the way. One lesson was that we had to seal the box properly. Our initial attempt was leaky, and sent warm, moist air out into the workshop, which caused mould spots. So I spent an afternoon crawling around inside the box with bin bags and sealant tape to stop this from happening.

Eventually, after about a month in the kiln, the moisture content of the wood is low enough, and it is ready to be made into harps. Again, this process can be sped up by drying the wood at a higher temperature, but we like to take things slow, so we set the temperature a moderate 35-38 degrees. This takes longer but uses much less energy.

After that, the process is the same as it would be with sycamore harps: the planks are cut into blanks, then cut and drilled on a CNC router before being glued and sanded by hand. We apply a danish oil finish, which really brings out the grain.

The finished harps are much more individual in ash; the wood has bold patterns in it, and each one is thoroughly unique.

If you’re reading this in December 2023, or possibly early 2024, then some of these harps may still be available; get in touch if you’d like to find out which ones. We’ve also started work on out next batch, which will be ready in Spring.

Massive thanks first and foremost go to Matt. Whenever I’ve used the word “we” in this, I’m being quite generous to myself. Matt’s done almost all of the work involved in creating these beautiful harps.

I’d also like to say thank you to John, Di, Andy, Lloyd and Martin for your help, as described above. We’re a tiny business, so it means a lot that we have a large network of people around us who help.

Please note that as I write this, we haven’t yet updated the website to sell the ash harps as it needs a tweak to the infrastructure. But we made our first batch of 12, 6 of which are sold so far, just from customers visiting and falling in love with them. If you’re interested then please give me a call on 07871 384257 or an email on morwenna@handsonharps.com

Back To Top