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Birch Besoms




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   Making a Birch Besom  



After Mr. Sims had demonstrated the making of a Heather Broom he then began to make a birch besom. He said that birch must be cut before the leaves sprout, it can be used immediately or at a later date as long as it is kept dry. He began by making the bond which can be a piece of birch or willow. He chose a six feet length of birch and with a knife removed all the knots, he then twisted the twig beginning at the top and working to the bottom of the stem, removing the soft bark as he worked. The twisting makes the bond stronger and removing the knots prevents the craftsman cutting his hands while working with the bond.

From a bundle of birch Mr. Sims picked the twigs for the head, keeping the bottoms of the twigs left at his left side. The birch head is made in one piece and as he picked the twigs he worked them round in his lap until he had the correct sized head. He sharpened the bottom of the bond and threaded it  into the head-butt as for the heather besom, only towards him and not away from himself. As he wound it round the butt he twisted it continually. It was pulled tight by standing on the broom head and pulling the loose end of the bond with pliers. The completed head was then put to one side ready for the handles to be fitted.  

The handles were made from birch approximately 1 in diameter and 40 long. Mr. Sims cut two lengths, trimmed on end of each to a point, neatened the top ends and removed the knots with a chopper. When he laid the two handles side by side the lengths were exactly the same although he had done no measuring. The bundles of completed besoms were examined and were all of identical lengths. This showed the mark of an experienced craftsman.

The handles then had to be peeled and I discovered that the bench seat had a dual purpose. It Has a "horse" and held the handles in a secure position for peeling. Mr Sims sat astride the horse, threaded the handle through a wooden support and rested it on a wooden block covered with leather attached to the top of the horse.  

Across the bass of the wooden support was a pole, against which he pushed with both feet, so clamping the handle in a firm position. Then the handle was then secured and ready to be peeled and could be revolved as he stripped the bark towards him. The "peeler" or "shave hook" is an old reap hook especially bent by a blacksmith to fit round the handles. The point was bound with leather, as was the handle end, the handle having been removed.  

The besom heads were then taken outside and the butt ends soaked in boiling water in an old iron boiler supported by bricks with a fire underneath.  

The first bond was then tightened and a second bond made approximately 3 from the butt end and pulled tight. The wire bond was bent over and cut, the birch bond was threaded through and the end threaded down into the twigs of the head. The head was trimmed again at both ends and the point of the handle hammered into the centre of the butt end with a wooden mallet. As the butt dries it tightens round the handle.  

The final stage was inserting the peg, and as in days gone by he hammered a wooden peg in to the drilled hole in the birch broom handle as this besom was to be mine. These besoms were so well made that I am quite sure that the handles will never work loose.

Copyright P Reeks.     


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