My goodness! Too much work to report on, and no time in which to give it!

Well anyone who knows me will appreciate that I could relay a mountain of information very quickly as I possess the gift of the gab! As my typing skills cannot keep up with my mouth this will take a while longer!

So here goes:

We have been so busy of late with the commencement of phase three works. This means that all the contents of the rooms which fall into this phase need to be decanted. These rooms are mostly situated in the area of the house which is the oldest dating from 1804 and jam packed full of artefacts as those who come on tours will know.

Our role at this stage is packaging and protection, and boy Lauren, our new conservator has us on our toes! Just in case this sounds like a gripe, it’s not! Everyone knows Lauren is doing a tremendous job which I for one find amazing that she is able to organise so much stuff in such a short time in such a brilliant way.

Pitch pine stash!

I never was as glad to hear Joe Heaney our Senior Building Surveyor say that he had some timber at the Argory which had been there for some time and I should take a look at it to ascertain if it’s of any use. Well I did just that and when I clapped eyes on the timber a big smile came to my face when I seen this…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I know I know, I am a sad individual getting all excited over a pile of wood but normally costing £30-60 pounds per cubic ft and this lot being all free you would be excited too!

Pitch pine simply put is the most beautiful wood I know! Yes there are other species which are stunning but pitch pine has that extra dimension that other species just don’t have. The reasons following are why I love it.

  1. Colour
  2. Density
  3. Longevity
  4. Stability
  5. Sizes available
  6. Workability

It is generally accepted that Oak is one of the most durable timber species on earth. Well I once repaired sash windows in a house which was built in 1764 and had an Oak sill with Pitch pine styles. Now here’s the thing, both species had rotted at the same rate! Both species had the same environment and the same number of coats of paint and yet the pitch pine was lasting every bit as long as Oak.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A few photos of the joists being machined for the manufacture of a replacement window, I will keep a few photos of the window being assembled and when it’s being fitted.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Patrick has been working away repairing a rotten meeting rail belonging to a curved sash window. Being curved it makes things that bit more complicated as the original window was made by hand which results in the curves not all being the same and not regular.

The piece of Oak Patrick is working with displays some amazing characteristics called medullary rays. This type of grain is only seen when the timber is cut in a particular way namely quarter sawn.

Stair access needed!

To anyone who is going to be at Mount Stewart any time soon they will see a funny shaped structure attached to the house on the east side. This is a stair case built to provide access to and from the phase three rooms as the contractors access is at the other end of the house.

I should point out that these stairs were built by H&J Martin’s joiners and they did a cracking job.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One of the many tasks Lauren so graciously gives us!

The carpets which dwelt until recently in the phase three rooms have all been lifted and shifted!

As many of you know Carpets can be very heavy so we employed the use of a buggy fixed together.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Oh just one more!

The display cabinets in the central hall have some fine china on display.  Lauren asked us to build a few shelves in the cabinets so she could store more china. Lauren has the problem of loads of stuff to store and no where to store it! It’s hard to believe that this house being so big has no storage. It truly is amazing to watch her organise and fit things into seemingly impossible places!

All this praise is bound to warrant a big bag of Haribo Super Mix?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Window Repairs

The windows which we removed from Lady Londonderry’s sitting room have proved to be rather challenging in that they are curved and have some rather unusual sections of rot.

The area of a window which usually rots is along the bottom where it is in contact with the stone sill, but in this case it was along the inside and top of the bottom rail. This was due to the presence of sap wood which is not as durable as hard wood.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The repairs of the above mentioned windows can be very tedious as the rot needs to be completely removed. The timber used to repair the rotten sections needs to be carefully selected. Also an adequate size of timber needs to be removed as a small section of repair will move with the seasons and cause the paint to crack thus allowing water in to the joint.

This is a window repair in another property

This is a window repair in another property

A brief explanation about this repair

You will notice that the area which is to be repaired has been painted grey. This is aluminium wood primer and is the best paint to use to prime any timber which will be used externally.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The reason to paint the area rather than glue it is as follows:

  1. Glue won’t hold the timber securely as water from condensation can get between the glass and the timber on the inside.
  2. Painting the bare timber will ensure that if water does get behind or anywhere around the new section the timber can’t suck up the moisture.
  3. Having bedded the new timber section with linseed putty which acts as a gasket not a glue to prohibit water ingress, the paint stops the timber from sucking the linseed oil from the putty which in turn would dry it out.

You will also notice that I have used oak dowels to secure the new section in place. Why did I not use screws or nails?

Well, the reasons are:

  1. The timber is oak and full of tannic acid which destroys any steel fixings, brass is too soft to provide any pressure, and stainless steel nails and screws are very soft too. This means if the timber wanted to move the fixings could “let go” over the long term.
  2. A dowel such as I used is not going to react with itself. And the wedges used at the ends spread the dowels providing a mechanism in which to hold the section securely.
  3. The dowel joint such as I used is very strong and was the method the original builders of these windows used to secure mortise & tennon joints.

Also in the photos you will notice that I rebated or put a step in the area left. This was to provide a means to stop any chance of water penetrating under the new section and making its way around the back of it. It’s basically to cover all possibilities.

That it for now folks, I will try and get out more blog posts on a regular basis.



Callum’s trip to Shanghai

As you may remember from my last blog, during the month of August I had the fantastic opportunity to travel to China and take part in a charity conservation project. The project consisted of a British team of 8 people, and a Chinese team of 8 people, coming together to assist the conservation of a 100 year old Clinic in a small water town called Tongli. All of the participants were from a Conservation or Architectural background, ranging from student level through to a Project Manager. The result of such a diverse team of volunteers was an incredibly useful asset to the conservation project, and also made for a very beneficial and interesting two weeks for everyone involved, as they learned a lot from each other and their backgrounds.

I set out on the trip as the only member of the National Trust in the team and felt very privileged to be representing such a great organisation. The National Trust is not only important and influential to conservation in the UK, but it is well respected all over the world as I learnt on my trip. The Chinese team and media were very interested in the work I do for the Trust and the conservation methods and techniques that we have. Although the Chinese conservation methods varied greatly from our own, they continued to be very open minded and appreciated the knowledge and experience I was passing on.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The trip involved both the British and the Chinese teams staying in a hotel beside the building site in a small town called Tongli, this town is sometimes described as the Venice of the East and was a very beautiful place full of history. The town itself was a conservation area and while the implications of that varied from what we know as a conservation area, the local government still worked very hard to protect its heritage. One regulation I found very impressive was that no fuel powered vehicles were allowed in the town and battery powered vehicles were used as an alternative. As both the Chinese and British teams were staying in the same hotel we had plenty of time to interact and learn about the great and fascinating differences in our culture and even now a couple of months on from the trip I, and I’m sure most of the British team are still in touch with our friends in China.

My position with the National Trust in Mount Stewart allowed me to be involved in the very early stages of the project and this was invaluable not only in experience to develop my knowledge as a Joiner, but also to let me fully understand the project and the many issues it is facing. Now you can understand that for this reason and many more I was extremely pleased upon our arrival at Tongli to find out that the works side of the project had not been started and we were able to see the building in its derelict neglected state. The people of Tongli and the local government were extremely welcoming and the day we arrived comprised of an opening ceremony in the town square and then a tour of the project site. The next day saw the start of the works and you really got a feeling of excitement and anticipation from everyone involved.

Working on this project and listening to the various people involved, it became clear to me that the way the Chinese conservation organisations see a historic building varied to that of our conservation organisations here in the UK. When they spoke of the work that they wanted to carry out and the vision that they wanted to achieve, it painted a picture of renovation more than conservation. In the UK we like to embrace the age and character of a building and have a philosophy of retention of historic fabric where possible, this was something that I tried my best to put across while in China. At one stage we visited a similar project that had been finished in Tongli and were amazed to see that other than the style and structure, the building looked quite new. Although to us in the UK this method of conservation seems somewhat unthinkable, it is important to try and understand the reasons behind it. I tried my best while over there to figure it out and in the end an explanation that I and the rest of the team agreed with came from a member of the British team. The traditional buildings in China were all very similar in their construction, the general structure and style was one that had been developed over thousands of years and for this reason it worked and there was no need to change it. In the UK we have had many different Architectural periods with different structures, styles and different materials. This means that every historic building is different and with each comes different hurdles. As a result of the similar style and uniform structures in China the Chinese are able to replace material and even whole sections of building with the confidence that they will bring it back to what it was like when first built. This is why I think it could be described as renovation more than conservation.

All in all I had a great time in Tongli and learnt a huge amount not just from the project and the work, but from the people I worked with, people from all different backgrounds and from all over the world coming together to share skills and experience. I am very grateful that I was able to be a part of the world heritage scheme and once again thank the National Trust for the opportunities I continue to be provided with.


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.