Houghall College, just outside the Catherdral and University City of Durham, is the main college for the teaching of land based subjects in the region.

Late in April I was asked to instruct 16 arboriculture and countryside management students in the art of charcoal making and working safely with carving axes and knives to make simple wooden items such as butter knives and spoons.

The rather special venue for the event was High Houghall Farm, a disused steading that was used as the northern operations HQ for Cromwell's army. Perfectly sited on high ground, it wasn't difficult to visualise field upon field of army tents surrounding the farm buildings accomodating hundreds of soldiers anxiously awaiting intructions.

To teach the process of charcoal making in a ring kiln we used one of our Mini KIlns which allowed us to show the processes of siting, filling, managing and shutting down within the space of a student day.  As future arborists, woodland managers and countryside wardens they could see the value of a small kiln like this to produce charcoal for personal use or for demonstrations.

Over two days, two burns were completed, producing about 24 kgs in total, which is less than the 15 - 20kgs you can expect from a single Mini Kiln, however it was a brand new site and they had to be shut down slightly before the process was fully complete.

Before letting any student loose with edge tools, I always give an understanding of what makes a good tool and how to work safely with them.  As a result time was not on our side to produce complete butter knives and spoons but as always the final product is less important than the teaching of hand skills and inspiring to do more.


A stunning location surrounded by well managed fields, hedgerows and woodlands. The jewel on the landscape was a magnificent 400 year old sycamore, one of Co Durhams finest ancient trees.