A ‘cardboard’ caravan in the depths of winter with no running water or electricity! Unlike most of us who’d run screaming for our creature comforts, Jack Fazey calls that an ‘incredible experience’. Tracie Beardsley reports in this month’s A Country Living
After four years of working in conservation in Mexico and Australia, Jack Fazey was struggling with living back in his home city of London.
When an apprenticeship came up with renowned woodsman, author and eco-builder, Ben Law, of Channel 4’s ‘Grand Designs’ fame, Jack applied and never looked back.
Living in an ancient woodland in Sussex in a leaky old caravan, he learnt from his wood
guru about traditional woodland management, coppicing and hedge-laying. As the ice thawed
on his blankets and spring appeared, Jack turned his hand to greenwood crafts, making use of materials gathered during winter. He went on working with Ben, building bespoke timber frame houses. Not bad for a lad with no formal carpentry qualifications.
Jack recalls: “The apprenticeship was a baptism of fire and a wonderful experience – a complete immersion in woodland living. I’ve always loved bush-craft and camping. Waking up on a frosty morning, building and lighting a fire before you can have a brew – you know you’re alive!”
A wood living
Now 35 years old and settled in Dorset with his wife Hayley and two young daughters, Jack lives in a timber-framed house he built with Hayley, and has launched his own business – Fazey Woodcraft – inspired by his love of all things to do with wood. Fazey Woodcraft combines all Jack’s talents, offering eco-builds, stunning wooden garden structures, plus bushcraft and green woodworking courses. His latest venture is a series of workshops in venues and woodland spaces across Dorset. People from 18 to 80 years old learn the arts of spoon-carving, green woodworking, basketry and ancient bark crafts, using wood from local tree surgery waste.
‘You can get addicted!
He explains: “Since lockdown, there’s been a surge of people wanting to work with their hands. My workshops attract all demographics – I’m amazed by the variety of folk I see in front of me, happily covered in wood-shavings. “Spoon carving is one of the most popular workshops. You can get quite addicted to it. Perhaps it’s the simplicity – all you need is a log, an axe and two knives.”
Bespoke workshops are proving a hit, even with hen and stag parties. “I’ve managed to silence very rowdy blokes as they sit absorbed in their carving. The rule is no beer until the tools are down!”
Wood and wellbeing
Jack is a firm believer in the emotional benefits of working with wood. Last year, Fazey Woodcraft
supported Mental Health Week, offering workshops for men at Okeford Fitzpaine’s Big Yellow Bus Garden Bus Project, which encourages people with mental health issues to get outdoors.
Just listening to feedback on Jack’s website videos shows people loving the opportunity to ‘switch off’.
“Anything that engages your hands allows the sub-conscious to do its own thing
while you’re completely absorbed in the process,” explains Jack.
“There’s infinite realms of possibility for expression. How much can I push this design idea before a spoon becomes sculpture? That’s what I love about working with wood and bark. I appreciate the artistry but also the use and purpose.
One of my favourite sayings: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
And when he’s not working with wood, you’ll find Jack wild- camping in the woods with
his wife, Hayley, five-year old daughter Lyla and toddler, aptly- named Hazel. Lyla’s first wild camping experience was at just three months.
“You can’t beat a night sleeping out, looking up at the stars through the trees.”
Quick-fire questions with Jack:
Favourite TV show?
Anything Sir David Attenborough does. I also like the Repair Shop.
Ideal dinner guests?
David Attenborough along with tribal elders. I’ve always been fascinated with the way indigenous people see the world. We need to listen and learn from them to save our planet.
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall-Kimmerer – an astonishing work of science and beauty. Everyone should read it.
Birch – it’s not only beautiful but has so many uses. Its bark is probably the oldest form of making containers. It resists fungal growth so it’s ideal for food storage. It’s a great firelighter in the dampest of conditions and in spring, you can drink its sap which is loaded with nutrients.
by Tracie Beardsley