Coppicing with Hand Tools

In November Keith and Claire, along with some friends from The Leeds Coppice Workers went to Nottinghamshire for a short course on coppicing with hand tools with Simon Fowler from Peak Traditional Fencing. Simon as been cutting coppice in the traditional way with axes and bill hooks for about 20 years, not because he’s a Luddite or Romantic but because in his opinion working with hand tools is a more efficient method to cut, sort and extract the produce he wants compared to using chainsaws. He is almost entirely self taught as there was no continuous tradition in his area, or anyone to pass him the skills. He makes a lot of hazel hurdles and cuts hedge stakes and binders for his hedge laying work.

We spent three days camping in a beautiful hazel coppice that has been well managed for the last twenty years, which means there is an abundance of straight poles ideal for all kinds of traditional products.


What well managed, i.e. regularly cut hazel coppice ought to look like.

It was a joy to watch Simon work, his great skill, fluid movements and ergonomic attention to detail was very inspiring. The idea is to sever poles as quickly and cleanly as possible and to waste no movements. His entire work pattern is thought out to reduce the number of steps he has to take. His methodical approach means he’s never looking for the right tool, not carrying anything further than he has to and not wasting a single stick, all of which increases productivity.


A chainsaw is used to cut the hedge stakes to length and any short off cuts are collected for firewood.

He works long and hard to make a living, but is supporting his family and seems very happy to be his own boss and to be able to do the work he does. We had plenty of time to quiz him about other aspects of coppice business and he was very generous with his knowledge and a good teacher to boot.


Simon Fowler, coppice ninja.


We all came away eager to practice cutting poles with axes – it requires great accuracy and a certain amount of theoretical understanding as well as some strength to cleanly sever the stakes without  damaging the stools you want to regrow.


How it should look, notice our novice hatchet jobs in the background.

Claire and Keith have got a coppice in Todmorden to go at although it is not the nice clean hazel that we learned on, more like over stood birch and willow, but it will be useful practice ground all the same. We’ve also got some over stood hazel at Knott Wood to play with in the new year. One day there will be well managed, well stocked hazel coppice in the Calder valley and we hope to be working it with hand tools as efficiently and gracefully as Simon currently is.


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2 Responses to Coppicing with Hand Tools

  1. rclamp says:

    interesting stuff – one of the people who taught me (based in Shropshire) only used hand tools for coppicing as well. It was amazing to see the speed and efficiancy with which he cut and processed the hazel. I wonder if he has developed similiar techniques to Simon? Not that there is any hazel coppice near me to use hand tools on!

  2. blackbarkers says:

    Not yet Rupe, but one day!

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