A ‘quickish’ update!

Hello folks!

I am so sorry I have not been producing blogs for the past wee while, I have had so much to do which has near made me go round the bend! But as we say in Ireland, ‘sure, it will be grand’, which carries with it the connotation of a care free attitude. However I can assure one and all that around here we care greatly for this property and it shows through in the people I work with.

I must say I work with the most amazing bunch of people! Everyone loves their job despite the frustrations and problems which arise. The passion we all share for our jobs and the place we work can be so strong that I find personally I can’t switch off. My life is given over to this project and the delivery of it on time(ish)!

I am writing this over lunch time as things are quiet around here between 1:00 and 1:30pm!

So I nipped down earlier to take a few photos of a floor which is being lifted in the Drawing Room. This room was where various functions would have taken place among other rooms but this room was totally stunning with all its decorations etc. I have mentioned the room in previous blog posts and this time you will see the room with all the furniture and paintings removed and in storage, it feels like it’s having its heart ripped out.

So, just had to pop out there and sort out a delivery of timber! Why on earth does that happen?! Deliveries come either at 4:55pm or between 1-1:30pm, usually just as you’re about to sink your teeth into a sandwich!


The Drawing Room…

No wait!

Ladies and gentlemen, I am very proud to bring to you a special wee woman who was over with us for a week to gain some knowledge in heritage carpentry and joinery. I hereby present to you Miss Sarah Hudson.

Miss Sarah Hudson

Miss Sarah Hudson

Sarah took the decision she wanted to become a joiner and has proved herself very capable in the trade. She will do well as she proved to me that she has a very keen interest and wants to learn. I don’t want to uplift the trade to any height but anyone who wants to become a tradesman in any of the trades must go through 4 years of low pay and feel the weak link in any team, totally reliant on their work colleagues and needs support in most areas. There must be more inside the apprentice to really want to be a trades person to see past the early years.

Speaking of myself, I was 16 when I went out into the big bad world and had to get wise very quickly! The thing is, Sarah is mostly in a man’s world and yet she sticks at it and I must applaud her for her determination and drive to push boundaries.

Keep up the good work Sarah! The joinery team at Mount Stewart wish you well and hope in years to come to hear you having completed your apprenticeship.

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Right! The Drawing Room

In the following images one can see the floor mostly lifted with the joists being visible. See what I mean by having its heart ripped out?

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A few stories have emerged following the floor being lifted. I noticed at the commencement of the project when I lifted a few boards seeing glass scattered all over the place.

So why all the glass?

Back when I first noticed it, I picked a few pieces up and noticed it was from something that was curved. I figured that it was a broken glass table or something which had been swept into the floor void.

So when the floor was lifted I saw that the glass was all over the floor not just in one section. So the penny dropped (and in my head it has to drop a long way)! I am one of those people who wins an argument an hour after it has happened! One of the joiners said to me, ‘It’s almost like they cut all the glass for the windows in here’.


That’s it! It’s crown glass! My goodness! It’s all the remnants of the glass from the late 1840’s when the windows were being installed and the Drawing Room was used to glaze the sashes.

In the photo below you will see how glass came to site. Glass manufacturing of the day was by means of placing molten glass on a spinning table. The centrifugal force flatted out the glass into a disc.

If you’re ever around Mount Stewart look at the windows, those are the ones I have taken out. Look particularly close at the panes, they will be distorted but the key to spotting crown glass in particular is the circular rings which can be visible.

Why is this guy so excited about finding this?

Well crown glass is no longer made anywhere in the world, to find these bits of glass gives me a sense of just how big the discs where and I can also imagine all the sashes in the room and the glazers cutting and fitting the glass and glazing them. I am now going over their work approximately 144 years later! I find that amazing.

Yes yes, I need to get out more!

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Two more joiners

We have two more joiners started with us which brings the team up to 7 poor souls who have to work with me! I will post a few images and a bit of info about them in due course, I have run out of time for this session.

All the best and please keep on supporting the project here and the National Trust in general.

Bye for now. If I haven’t posted another blog post in a few weeks please come and find me, as I might have taken to the hills or rocking back and forth mumbling about sash windows and glass! I am so glad I have a beard these days it’s such a de-stressor, as I muse and think over what the dickens I have to do next!

As we have some readers who might appreciate the following:

Slán go foil! Or goodbye for now in English!



Fame at last!

Recently our apprentice joiner, Callum spoke to the Daily Mirror about his work at Mount Stewart.

Click the image below to read the larger version of the article.

blog callum complete

Carpet blocks

Hello again folks!

This time I thought I would show you what our youngest apprentice James has been getting up to. He has been progressing very well and has integrated into the team seamlessly.

He is just about a quarter of his way through his NVQ level 2 and is well on his way to completing it. At this stage I am trying to get him to master the use of hand tools and cement his ability to work off plans.

James, although only just 17 years old, has previous experience in the joinery field as his Father is a joiner and has always involved James in his work, helping out during holidays and instilling in him from a young age the desire to follow in his Fathers footsteps.

This task was to help James development in the use of portable power tools, in this case the jig saw.

What are these carpet blocks you might well ask? Well these little items fall into the package and protection side of things, not the restoration work that you have seen in previous blogs.

Mount Stewart has its fair share of carpets, all of which need to be stored at some stage during the restoration project. Some of these carpets are very much worn and fragile requiring much restoration by the conservation team. Some of the carpets are very precious having been brought back from family holidays many years ago.

We have been working closely with our conservator Fiona to establish what she required from us to properly move and store the carpets. The picture below shows how the carpet blocks are used and how the carpets are stored to preserve them while they are in waiting for conservation work to be carried out.

carpet blocks 001

The carpets are rolled with the pattern facing inwards to the pipe. The pipe which Fiona normally uses is 6” plastic drain pipe and is just brilliant for this job.

The pipe is cut 500mm longer than the carpet so that when the carpet is rolled the pipe sticks out 250mm past each end to allow the pipe to rest on the carpet blocks which are designed so they can be stacked on top of each other to minimise the amount of floor space used.

carpet blocks 002 carpet blocks 003

Now it was these handy wee things that James was tasked with. Trevor kindly showed him the ropes and left him to it. I have as usual included a few photos of James merrily working away. He did a good job and has proved he can work on his own with minimal supervision.

004 James cutting out the area for the end of the pipe to rest in. He is showing great attention to the line!

James cutting out the area for the end of the pipe to rest in. He is showing great attention to the line!

005 James has used the jig saw well and followed the line. Using a jig saw is not just as easy as you would think

James has used the jig saw well and followed the line. Using a jig saw is not just as easy as you would think.

006 Counter sinking the screw holes , very good James!

Counter sinking the screw holes , very good James!

007 With all the sections needed sitting in from of him James is starting to fix the posts to the sides. I do wish though he would have used a panasonic drill instead of that  makita!

With all the sections needed sitting in from of him James is starting to fix the posts to the sides. I do wish though he would have used a Panasonic drill instead of that Makita!

008 The holes have been drilled and ready for screws

The holes have been drilled and ready for screws.

009 James is now starting to assemble the various pieces and LOOK, a powerful and most wonderful Panasonic drill!

James is now starting to assemble the various pieces and LOOK, a powerful and most wonderful Panasonic drill!

010 Good action James, shame about the drill

Good action James, shame about the drill!

011 look at the concentration even with me pointing a camera at him! I would also just like to point out that it takes two Makita drills to try and beat a panasonic! OK OK its my drill!

Look at the concentration even with me pointing a camera at him! I would also just like to point out that it takes two Makita drills to try and beat a Panasonic! OK OK, it’s my drill!

012 Jenny our wonderful project admin pops in on her way home to keep us right!

Jenny our wonderful Project Administrator pops in on her way home to keep us right!

013 The finished article! well done young James!

The finished article! Well done young James!

014 They are stacked up here showing what they do

They are stacked up here showing what they do.

The Project Conservator has asked us to make some boxes to transport some metal ornaments over to specialist Conservators in England to have some restoration work carried out on them which I think would be another excellent job for James and of course I will keep you posted.

Bye for now!


A few updates and a whole lot of work!

Firstly can I apologise for the delay in the blogs as things have been so busy recently.

As you may or may not know the main contractor H&J Martin have been appointed and we the joinery team have been chasing our tails since they have arrived.

It’s a really exciting time for us and I personally can’t wait to get into work to tackle what the day will throw up. We have a new apprentice James Harper who came to us about 5 weeks ago and it is his first ever job! His father is also a joiner so joinery runs in his blood. He has been attached to Trevor and under Trevor he will learn a lot. This is a brilliant environment for a young lad to serve his time; some of the skills he will need and learn will stand him in good stead for the future.

Any how, this blog is about the removal of a top panel to a window, also the repair to drawer fronts which are in a unit placed at the bottom 1/3rd of the window opening.

By way of explanation so folks other than joiners can understand what we have been doing, a sash window has in most cases surrounding it, architrave, shutter doors and panelling. However there are always exceptions to the rule.

The picture below illustrates a window with the mentioned parts.

This is a representative window:


As I have already said we had to remove a top panel and fix drawer fronts. The reason we were asked to remove the top panel in the pantry was because it had dropped in the centre or bellied in the middle. The window is 3.240m/10’-6”wide and 3.540m/11’-6” high! So it is rather big.

As the top panel had dropped in the middle the shutter doors when they were being closed or opened began to scratch the panel at the top and over the years it had done some considerable damage.


Also to add concern the area of masonry above the window was showing signs of distress.


There were several reasons why the panel had dropped, and also explaining the cracks in the plaster. The following are the possible reasons:

  • Masonry had become lose putting pressure down onto the panel
  • The panel had bellied due to its own weight
  • Dry rot had caused the timber heads holding the masonry up to give way

It was a toss up which was worse, dry rot or masonry coming loose!

As the wall showed signs of distress and the top panel was bellied I landed on the side of the masonry being loose and putting weight on the panel.

Joe our wonderful Building surveyor (that’s him happy) thought as dry rot had been in the room beside the pantry that the heads holding up the masonry had been affected by the dry rot.

I should explain: Builders in the days before concrete heads used to hold up masonry or anything for that matter with timber. If you can imagine in your minds eye an arched bridge, it’s the arch that’s doing the holding. Or alternatively you could span from two fixed points timber beams and support the weight on the timber.   In a house of this age one could almost guarantee that timber heads have been used.

However after some discussions and going through all the possible scenarios, from the dooms day end of the world stuff to the not so bad we set about removing the panel and well ……..

On removing the architrave to get a look into the area between the top of the panel and the timber heads we discovered…….


We were both wrong!

So what was the cause?

Ok, I need you to close you eyes and imagine…..

A stone wall is in front of you, you need to plaster it. You can’t plaster straight to the wall so how do you plaster the wall as its stone?

What the joiners/ plasters of yesteryear did was, get the stone masons to build into the wall horizontal batons of wood. These batons were placed at different points from the bottom of the wall to the ceiling. The joiners then nailed vertical batons to the horizontal batons creating a fixing for the lathes.

The plasterers then had a base in which to plaster unto.

This was is a very tedious task, but it worked.


Below is the photo of the drawer fronts I mentioned at the start. As you ca see there has been some serious damage to them!


Well it was the family’s parrot! Yes you read right a parrot! Apparently it became bored or lonely and vented it frustration by pecking at anything that was wood!

To fix this we will have to take of the drawer front and machine a new front with reclaimed pine such as Oregon or yellow pine. I am not sure yet what wood until I get the drawer front off and inspect it.

It will be a really good opportunity for the apprentices Callum and James to see and learn how to cut dovetail joints.

I will do another blog soon, but for now I will say goodbye and you will just have to wait and see how we get on.


Next stop, Shanghai!

As the Apprentice Joiner for the Project here in Mount Stewart, I have been given a wonderful opportunity to learn the skills that are needed for conservation joinery. This has so far presented itself in many different ways including training courses in England and the opportunity to work with some very knowledgeable and highly regarded specialists, and now I am very excited to say I have been given the opportunity to travel to Shanghai for 2 weeks to take part in a heritage project.

A view of Tongli, China. Tongli is well known for its system of canals and because of this is known as the ‘Venice of the East’.

During the 2 weeks in Shanghai I will be involved in the renovation of a 100 year old clinic in a town called Tongli. This trip is being run by a charity called Ruan Yisan Heritage Foundation and there are 8 participants, including myself, travelling from the UK. I am very excited and extremely grateful to the Trust for this opportunity as it will be invaluable experience for me as a tradesman and as someone working in the conservation field.

Callum McCaffrey

Apprentice Project Joiner



15 November 2012 – See Callum’s update on his trip to Shanghai.