If you don’t get the right result, is it still a success?

image I am currently working on my latest book which is going to be on the subject of food smokers, how to build them, closely followed by what you can make in one.

Now over the years I have built several different types of smoker, but like everyone else I have a few firm favourite recipes which I keep coming back too. The obvious smoked salmon, smoked cheese, smoked butter for when your being adventurous, and the family favourite Hot Smoked Turkey for Christmas. I did suggest one year cooking the turkey another way, which was met with a stunned silence followed by an explosion. Apparently this is a Family  Christmas Tradition that cannot be broken

I digress. Last summer I made a combined Smoker / Dehydrator, which as the name suggests dehydrates something whilst at the same time imparting a Smokey flavour. The first thing I tried was smoking tomatoes, and that was a revelation as we ended up with smoked tomato powder. You wouldn’t want to eat a spoonful but sprinkle over pasta and its a delight. Most recently I tried a combination of tomato, onion, and mushroom, all smoked and dehydrated, then powdered, and the result was vegan Gravy Powder, someone suggested add beetroot to extend the depth of flavour – now there’s an idea.

All of which bring me to today. Now it so happens I have been booked to appear at the Forty Hall Food festival in August, and I have been thinking about what to demonstrate. Hopefully the new book will be ready, so its an ideal opportunity to feature something about smoking, but you only get a maximum of an hour, and ideally at the end you have something people can try. After several sleepless nights I ended up with the idea to make Smokey Bacon Crisps. They have potatoes and a fryer, I just need to provide the Smokey Bacon Flavour.

So several days ago I started out by curing a piece of pork to make bacon, which was then smoked overnight. Several slices then had to undergo a rigorous quality control procedure at lunch time, and a few more were sacrificed in order to get a second opinion, but as both opinions came from the same person I am not sure that counts. Having been deemed suitable I then trimmed the fat off a few slices and into the dehydrator they went along with tomatoes, which didn’t have anything to do with the experiment, just using the space and brie cheese although that only stayed for the smoking portion of the procedure, and very nice it was too.

Eighteen hours later, we ended up with smoked dehydrated bacon which was then transformed into powder and the result is shown below. Its too fibrous to be used as a powder for sprinkling over potato crisps, so from that point of view as an experiment its a failure. However it does taste very good, with a strong bacon flavour, sprinkled over anything it would be good, and I reckon over hot chips would be magnificent. One way to find out. Its a tough job but I am prepared to sacrifice my waist line so others don’t have too .

This still leaves me with a problem what do I do as an demo at the food fair? Are the good folk of North London ready for hot Smokey Bacon Chips?



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I need a Sombrero!


imageEvery now and again I give up knocking seven bells out of bits of wood and return to my roots, back to the world of theatrical lighting, a world that paid my bills for over 3 decades, and so today I have been working on a proposal for an Art Installation on the theme of light.

As with all of my projects I have had something in the back of my mind churning over for years. Most of these ideas will never make it beyond middle of the night musings, but occasionally they make it too fruition and when they do, even better when they works, you get that frisson of excitement, as suddenly a whole new world of possibilities opens up, further things to try. What I now need to do is talk it through, have a period of experimentation, and refine this to become the finished project, when hopefully you can all come and have a go.

For this years proposal I have been working on the theme of silhouettes and shadows. I wanted to create for the want of a better term a Silhouette Booth, a set up where friends and families could come and create their own instant interactive art, have fun, create memories and take photos. I just needed to prove the system. So this morning I made a frame with a screen, and sat in front of a domestic light. So simple and so much fun. It worked and think how much better it will be with a proper light source.

Now if my dearly beloved and I had fun trying on hats, turning sideways, swapping who sat behind the screen, taking pictures, and we have seen it all before, so think how much fun a family, who have never had a chance to play before could have. I think we might have something here. I’m just off to buy a sombrero

Follow the blog to find out how we get on.

best wishes


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Craftsmen today are not what they were!


One of my current projects started out as “just replace the spoke” on a wheel dating from about 1880. Now as a rule I don’t rush to attract repair work, there are always issues, but like everyone else I have bills to pay, so if I get offered a repair job I look carefully but this one is proving to be the daddy of them all.

By the looks of it no one has touched this wheel since the day it was built. By that point in history, carriages were made in factories, maybe not quite as we think of them today but products were made in batches, and the workers in the largest establishments would perform a single task such as cutting felloes all day. In the smaller factories they would have someone who just made wheels. A carriage builder would have a series of standard size wheels they would use for their carriages, and depending upon the size of the operation these would be either brought in from a wheelwright or produced in their own shop. Whilst each manufacturer would have a standard range of sizes there wasn’t any standardisation across the industry. Therefore every set of wheels I get to work on is different.

By this point in time there was a degree of mechanisation, The First Band saw recorded is 1808 so by the late 1800s it wouldn’t have been unusual in a wheelwrights shop particularly  for sawing the sections of the rim called the felloes. The conventional method for doing these is first make a pattern from a piece of thin scrap, scribing the inner and outer arc with a pair of compasses. This is then transferred onto your piece of wood, which is then cut out on the band saw. That way you get a uniformity to the felloes, the spokes are cut to the same size, and when assembled everything runs true. I like to work to an accuracy of about 1mm, but then I use some modern machinery. For old wheels a difference of 3-4mm isn’t unusual but this set take it to extremes.

In taking this wheel apart, I discover the wood is very brittle and two of the felloe sections broke. So being clever I then used one held against a piece of ply to create a pattern and two new sections  are cut on the band saw and shaped with a spoke shave. When I tried to reassemble it all and experienced some difficulties, I stopped and went back and checked my measurements with a micrometre.  What I discovered was that each of the seven felloes sections is a different size, in length by up to 50mm, and in width by a margin of 8mm, from one end of the section to the other, and no two sections match. Therefore each spoke and each felloe is completely different, which means the centre of the wheel is off by about 15mm. Undoubtedly a boisterous ride. To compound the issue most of the wood is now completely dried out and breaks as soon as you touch it.

There are two solutions, if this was a museum piece, a carriage that never goes anywhere, then I would have to refit each piece individually, slowly and painfully working my way round. Or in this case as its a working governess cart replace all the felloes and spokes in one go, retaining the hub now in the centre, which should greatly improve the ride quality.

What this goes to show is, we look back at the Old Time Craftsmen and think they were experts, masters of their craft, but when you look closely you discover they had as many bodgers then as we have now, and this set is one of those.


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Ten Pin Bowling


This weekend we installed a pair of outdoor 10 pin Bowling lanes at Canary Wharf in London. These form part of the estates free summer entertainment, an opportunity for office workers to come outside and have fun.

The specification from the client was for a fun activity for outdoor use that didn’t require electricity to operate. We gave them several options and the 10 pin Bowling lanes were the favoured option, complete with a gravity ball return on the side.

Today I went back to see them in action, and was delighted to see a queue of eager  participants.  There is already talk of inter office leagues.

This is a project we saw through from initial idea, created the design, manufactured, and now installed. We knew it was going to be popular, ask every delivery driver who dropped into the workshop when we test assembled them, it proved impossible to deliver a package without bowling a ball first. Now we are in discussion with a pub co for several sets for Pub Gardens, Beer and Skittles – A classic combination.

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Smokin Gravy Powder

Smoking Gravy Powder, sounds like something a college student would attempt after a heavy night out.  I remember when I was at college my friend George tried drying Banana skins under the grill in an effort to create a legal high, setting fire to the cooker , and resulting with a very difficult conversation with a Fireman and the Provost at 3 am who had come in answer to the smoke alarm, but even he, trendsetter that he was didn’t go as far as smoking  Gravy Powder. here I suspect I am treading a new path.

Let me start again and you can see where I am going with this. Several members of my family have food allergies, which means there are very few off the shelf products we can buy. When this first raised its head 20 years ago, a number of things disappeared from my plate, but the one I missed the most was gravy. Due to the additives in commercial gravy powder we cant have it, and so that set me off on that great food journey to where we are today. Over the years I have developed various sauces and ingredients which I can make to replace the commercial products denied me. Several of these are so good you feel disappointed when I do get to have the commercial version again. Bread is a classic example. We make it fresh every day. However sometimes when I am working away I try a supermarket sandwich, and it doesn’t come close.

Anyway we digress. after a few years we did manage to find a commercial gravy liquid we could have, but now the manufacturers have changed the recipe, which now includes ingredients we cant have. So the hunt is now on for a Tom Green Substitute.

Luckily last summer I developed my combined smoker / Dehydrator

From which then came the surprise of the summer Smoked Tomato powder which we  now couldn’t live without, it finds it way into all manner of meals. Since then I have tried smoking and dehydrating several vegetables. Smoked Pepper powder was a critical success, Home grown and smoked paprika whilst great it turned out too hot for my palette, as it turned out I grew what for me would be a very hot pepper ( 5000+ scoville), so this year I am growing a milder paprika pepper. However we haven’t tried a smoked vegetable mix.

So today we have dried tomato, mushroom, and red onion, smoked with maple wood, and then powdered. The resultant powder is then mixed with some corn flour act as a thickener, and hey presto you have additive free, allergy friendly , meat free, salt free gravy powder with extra flavour.

As always this is just one more step along the way, we can improve on this first attempt. Its pretty good, but as all my old school reports frequently  said – he can do better he just needs to try. I am back on stage at the Forty Hall food festival this summer so I might just have found what I am doing.



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What do I do Now?


For 35 years I have had the same job, running an Entertainment Technology Company in London. I started the company in 1983 with a shoe string budget, working from my parents garage, and gradually over the years we grew, gained some colleagues, more equipment, proper premises, and diversified into new markets.

At its height we employed 12 people, at which point as the boss you then spend your whole time worrying about cash flow as every month that’s one hell of a wage bill to pay. So I wasn’t sad to shrink back as the next recession came, – I went through a few. Most of my competitors from the old days have long gone, but then we diversified.

Finally yesterday it all came to an end when someone wrote a cheque, and today for as long as I can remember I had nothing that needed to be done. That feels really strange but very nice.

So what now. All the projects I have been working on part time for years, can now be full time projects. There are lots of plans for new books, new workshops, new videos. I have a backlog of projects, and finally I can open my wheelwrights shop in Norfolk.

I want a wooden bath, more hot tubs, the Horse Powered Ice Cream Machine needs to get finished, and I have slowly been acquiring the bits to cast metal. I am booked to appear at a Food Fair in August so I need a new food project by then. I have been invited to submit designs for a lighting sculpture to be used at a festival in January.

Wish me luck  as they say the best is yet to come.


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Which shape skittles?

Most of my work is one off pieces, working for clients who have an idea but not a set of plans so part of my job is the design, and drawings necessary to complete the finish project.

Next weeks project is the construction of a pair of outdoor Ten Pin Bowling Alleys which are to be installed in a Central London Office Development . Street games for office workers. I have an idea for the lanes, and the ever so important ball return, what I am stuck on is the Pins or skittles.

I owe it to my customer to be efficient with my time, after all they are paying for it so I went online to see if it was cheaper to buy skittles ready made rather than make them. I had sold them the concept on the basis of themed skittles shaped like a well known building, however having commissioned the work they then asked for Traditional skittles. That’s when the problem started. It would appear there as many shapes of traditional skittles as there are types of tea.

Which shape to I make? do you prefer 1, 2, or 3.  Let me know and remember to press subscribe to find out how I got on


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