Issue 15 T.O.C. – Michael Updegraff – “Few & Far Between: Making Gate Hurdles”

This post is part of a blog series revealing the table of contents of upcoming Issue Fifteen. As is our custom, we’ll be discussing one article per weekday in order to give you a taste of what is to come. 

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Michael Updegraff –  “Few & Far Between: Making Gate Hurdles”

“…Our remaining woodland craftsmen are few and far between. They linger on along the fringes of former vast forests… From Scotland and Wales nearly all have departed, the secrets of their crafts all but lost.” – Herbert L. Edlin, 1949.

World War II changed everything in England. The national single-minded focus on defense, production, and a rapid ramp-up of industry from that conflict permanently altered the nation’s economic prospects. Yet somehow, the knowledge of woodland handicraft lived on, held and guarded by those who saw these elements as vital to the nation’s heritage. Nearly a century later, many of these crafts are making a comeback.

In Issue Fifteen, author Michael Updegraff shares one of these age-old arts – making a gate hurdle. Hurdles were used to create openings in stone walls and hedges, as well as forming portable enclosures to direct sheep. Using small-diameter coppiced green wood, a hurdle maker could produce many of these in a day’s time. A unique tool, the twybill, was developed that allowed the efficient and fast chopping of the many mortises needed in each hurdle “head,” or upright post. 

As he describes the hurdle-making process, Updegraff explores some bigger questions about the way we retain knowledge – specifically, traditional craft knowledge. Rather than being stored away as a kind of dead commodity, this kind of embodied wisdom has always been handed down through an unbroken line of people passionate about handcraft vitality. This enduring thread is what keeps the flame alive. 


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