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Crafty entrepreneur brings traditional skills out of the woods

It’s a thing of beauty, sustainable and brings Herefordshire’s forgotten traditional crafts back to the fore.

The Woodee has a handle and head made from seasoned Herefordshire oak, a soft leather strap cut from the hide of a Hereford bull and tanned by the only cow skin tanner in the country, who can claim that the whole process is 100 per cent British.

To top it all it comes with a hand-forged nail to hang it on made by students at Herefordshire’s National School of Blacksmithing, the oldest and biggest smithing school in the world.

The fireside tool has been designed by entrepreneurial mum-of-four Louise Wright, from Dorstone, Herefordshire and saves her burning her fingers when she opens the door of her wood burner.

She came up with the idea with her husband, Andrew, whose background in traditional and heritage roofing made wood a natural choice.

He made endless wooden prototypes before finally, aided by David Malone at his Traditional Joinery workshop in Hereford, they settled on a design which can be made with three different heads to fit the doors of most wood burners.

Through it Louise is hoping to champion Herefordshire’s craft heroes.

“I love traditional craft and that’s what I’d like to bring to people. Herefordshire has a lot of unsung traditional crafts and many are dying out,” said Louise.

The wood is seasoned oak from Will Bullough’s sawmill at Whitney-on-Wye, sourced from woodlands in Herefordshire.

The Woodee fits in with Will’s business ethos to sell local materials to local businesses and he says the object is a “splendid idea.”

“It’s all about local economy. Selling local wood means the woodlands get managed and if they get managed properly the timber sold out of them provides the owners with an income and there are environmental advantages too.

“We consider it very important that woodlands are not neglected and if they are to produce the goods there needs to be a market for products.

“There are only a minute number of local sawmills left in the country, so they are very important to the whole woodland world.

“We see ourselves as doing something useful and trying to keep rural employment.” Will has his own woodland too, behind the sawmill, where he is filling any gaps with hardwoods native to Herefordshire, which he hopes in another 80 years, when they are around 120 years old, will be used to make local products like Louise’s.

The seasoned oak is cut to shape by traditional joiner, David Malone, at his workshop in Rotherwas, Hereford.

The oak is a joy for David to work with and he can spend the best part of an hour making one Woodee, and that’s if he has a batch to produce.

That’s why, he says, traditional joinery is a dying craft. However there’s no substitute for a hand tooled piece and with a rub down with sandpaper to finish The Woodee off, David feels satisfied he’s produced an object of beauty that does the job too.

“Anything made of oak is good and Louise’s brand is good. It does the trick and is certainly easier than grabbing a glove,” he said.

To make sure it’s to hand. Louise has asked third year blacksmithing students at the National School of Blacksmithing at Herefordshire and Ludlow College’s Holme Lacy campus to produce hand forged hooks and nails to hang it on.

Because, it’s thanks to the school, founded in 1946, that blacksmithing, a 4,000-year-old craft, is once more an abundant skill.

Tutor, Steven Mitchell, said the art was dying in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but is now “thriving on all continents.”

He added: “There’s a blacksmithing industry in the UK now mainly because of the number of blacksmiths we have turned out.

“We are the oldest and biggest school in the world. We have 120 students at any one time, plus apprentices and run short courses and professional development courses.” Contemporary commissions like Louise’s are keeping the industry, and others, turning over. “I think she’s absolutely got it right. Her enthusiasm is infectious. She’s got a great little product there,” said Steven.

And to hang it on the nail, Louise didn’t miss the chance to bring in another county craft and material; leather.

It can take Hayley Hanson, of Hayley Hanson Hide, around six months to tan a bull skin. And it was, fittingly, the hide of a Hereford bull from a farm at Withington, Herefordshire, that the straps for the Woodee were cut from.

Hayley also tans hides from the family herd of British Blue and cross bred Hereford and Angus cows at Eardisland.

She seems to be the only tanner left in Britain to carry out the entire lengthy process herself.

So she has a lot of admiration for what Louise has done. “The story behind it is part of it and no one else seems to be doing anything like it,” said Hayley.

She added: “I think if traditional crafts were there they would be used much more, but production in the UK seems to be horrendously expensive and is shipped out of the country. “You don’t often see a product that’s properly hand-made like this. The hours that have gone into it are unbelievable just to get every last thing just so.” The Woodee logo is lasered on to the stitched strap and wooden head before Louise gives it a loving rub down with Danish oil.

And to launch such a precious new item Louise has been selected to take a stand at the Country Living Pop-Up Market on March 18 at the Business Design Centre in Islington. After entering the magazine’s Table Talent competition, Louise received a congratulatory email from deputy features editor, Anna Jury, who wrote: “Despite receiving a fantastic number of impressive entries, we felt that your business really stood out due to its professionalism, innovative idea and Country Living feel.” Louise was delighted. “I can see The Woodee in the home of every Country Living reader with a wood burner. They love style, bespoke pieces and good old fashioned quality. I can’t wait.”

Woodees start at £49. To order one or for more information visit www.thewoodee.com and www.countrylivingfair.com.