Being an Apprentice with Ben Law

Will Hannam
Thursday, 20th April 2017

Coppicing, building and woodland crafts - stories from a Ben Law apprentice.

My apprenticeship with Ben Law came about in a whirlwind. It started with me booking onto one of his famous roundwood timber framing courses. I was on the website and saw the apprenticeship opportunity and thought “why not??”. At 34 it never crossed my mind that I was too old to start again and work as an apprentice. As a furniture maker my interest in sustainably managed and sourced UK timber had increased over the years and I was determined to learn about how we can improve and celebrate what we have in the UK.

The apprenticeship offers an opportunity to “access all areas” when it comes to Ben’s approach to woodland management. I could read all the books in the world (including Ben’s) but nothing prepares you for the learning curve of living in Prickly Nut Wood every day, working alongside one of the leading lights in Permaculture/Sustainable Woodland Management/Roundwood Timber Framing. Ben’s knowledge is his greatest tool and to have that available and on tap ensures that you are always thinking about what you are doing, why we are doing it, what are the repercussions and whats the bigger picture.

From getting my chainsaw tickets and surviving a whole felling season, to helping to teach on roundwood framing courses and building along side Ben for customers, the experience is as diverse as it is structured. I challenge anyone not to be inspired by the work itself. For me however, the most important part of the whole apprenticeship is the opportunity to live totally off grid within a beautiful woodland. My appreciation of flora, fauna, wildlife and the subtleties of the seasons will stay with me forever. Understanding the fragile symbiotic relationships of the woodlands gives you a respect and love for the environment that you only get from totally immersing yourself in its beauty.

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Ben Law's woodland house

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A tree house project

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Using coppiced sweet chestnut

The apprenticeship overall has changed my life totally. Ben’s teaching, the diversity of the work and the magnificent surroundings of Prickly Nut Wood are so unique. Don’t get me wrong, it is hard work! Very hard work! You have to have a strong work ethic to survive there. The winter felling season is tough (but great fun) and if you’re expecting to come and work just a few hours a day then it might not be for you. Living “off grid” means exactly that. The cabins are basic with a bed and a woodburner, the kitchen is outdoors, you rely on open fires for cooking and your water comes from a spring. This all sounds lovely, but when it’s the middle of winter, you’ve worked all day, it’s too damp to light the fire and the spring is frozen then it can really test you. The important thing to take onboard is that this is a live working woodland that needs constant attention so it’s all hands on deck. This is a lifestyle choice NOT a job and therefore you need to commit 24/7 for the whole time you are here otherwise you’ll never really GET it.

Useful links

For more on Ben Law visit his website: http://ben-law.co.uk/

Ben Law Books: http://www.green-shopping.co.uk/books/pp/ben-law.html

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