Hurdle Wind Break
Man has been dividing up land and creating barriers and pens for livestock for thousands of years. The types and styles of barriers used wide and varied, depending on the materials to hand at the time and the ingenuity in which they can be used.
In this blog we will be looking at one these form of barrier, namely the hurdle, but we will be utilising elements of hedge laying and hurdle making to suit our purpose. Hurdles were traditionally used for penning in sheep, but the demand for them fell as modern materials became more popular. However, hurdles have made a resurgence in recent years as people are using them in the garden as fencing, screening, and wind breaks, to which they are ideally suited as they only allow a small amount of wind through. Their popularity in the garden is helping to increase the demand in not only hurdle making but coppicing which had been in decline until recently. Not only are these crafts sustainable but they are also helping to create a diverse habitat for both flora and fauna.
The purpose of the hurdle we will be making in this instance is to offer some further protection from the elements in a woodland camp, as a wind breaker, increasing the comfort levels for the occupants on blustery days as well as providing shade on sunny days.
Although traditionally hazel is used in the making of hurdles other materials can also be used. We have a selection of renewable resources on site including; willow, ash as well as the traditional hazel and we will be using all of these in the construction of our hurdle.
Hurdles can either be produced in standalone panels or fixed and produced in situ in a similar way to hedge laying. We will be using the latter technique and combining some methods used in both for its construction to further enhance its strength and aesthetics.
The main construction of a traditional hurdle consists of nine evenly spaced vertical poles known as sails in something called a mould, which is simply a heavy piece of wood with the nine holes that take the sails, usually at eight inch intervals, but due to the gauge of the largest weavers we are using we have increased this to seventeen inches, which is closer to the span of the sails you would use in hedge laying, typically elbow to fist. The material that you use horizontally are known as weavers and weave between the sales, a bit like a collie on a Crufts agility course. (other breeds also suitable).
The majority of the labour expelled in the producing hurdles is in material collection and after quantifying materials required for the length and height required, this is where we first need to focus our efforts. For our hurdles, we sourced ash poles for our sails. We picked poles twice the size you would usually use in either hurdle making or hedge laying (up to two inches in diameter) to increase its longevity as we will be driving the stakes into the ground like we do in hedge laying rather than making panels in a mold.
Next, we concentrated on the material for the weavers. For these, we were using a combination of willow and the more traditional hazel. All the materials were collected and taken back to sight to be processed in preparation for use. For the ash sails, this involved removal of the outer limbs, cutting to the desired length, bevelling off the top – so when the stake into the ground it prevents the edges fraying out. The hazel and willow simply had their limbs removed in preparation to be used as weavers.
Next, we drove the first and last sail into the ground at either end of the shelter and with the aid of a line to guide us, we drove the remaining 17 sails into the ground at equal distances. Every other third sail was cut to equally taller lengths to allow for the addition of further removable hurdles to be added at a later date to allow for extra protection from the elements on more blustery days without having to sacrifice light of the beautiful view of the woodland on those nicer days.
Once the sails were in place it was time to get to work on the weaving. We start at the bottom with the hazel still in the round as this gives extra strength and helps to lock everything in place. We start at one end and alternate the side the weaver goes over the sails with each pass, a bit like a skier as they go down a slalom course. When we get to the end of the hurdle at about every four inches or so the weavers are twisted back on themselves and are weaved back into the hurdle as before. By twisting the hazel weavers as they bend around the end sail, the fibres are broken up within the rod allowing bend without breaking. On our hurdle, we continued to work in the round to almost half way, on traditional hurdles they usually do four passes and then added some split rods into the hurdle, before finishing with the last four in the round again to add strength. Splitting the hazel helps to maximise resources and reduce the weight of the hurdle. There are many ways to do this. In this instance, we used a hatchet to initiate the split and then a riving pole to continue the split along the whole length of the rod. This is a pole driven into the ground with a V-shaped wedge cut into the top through which the hazel is pushed to maintain the split centrally down the pith along its length. We introduced our own split weavers at the half way mark to act as border between the hazel rods we had already used, and the willow weavers which were to use in the upper part of the hurdle. As the willow was a lot thinner than the hazel we had used we could afford to double up the willow, using two willow weavers at a time, aligned with one thick end to a thin end. Despite the willow requiring more material to achieve the same height as the hazel we had used previously, we found it was actually quicker to produce the same height in willow than it was in hazel, partly because being a lot thinner it was easier to work.
The top of the hurdle was finished with two runs of hazel, mirroring what we had started with at the beginning. We capped this off with binders, similar to that used in some forms of hedge laying. The binders are weaved in between the sails as before, but literally with an added twist. A new binder is added at every sail, as they are weaved in between each sail they are twisted over and over each other to create the corkscrew effect you tee on the top. This gives a nice finish and is essential in hedge laying to keep it all together, but is really overkill for a hurdle.
This completes our wind break hurdle. As you can see you can make it very much your own by putting your on design into it.