There are two different types of hammer in this shot - the pneumatic air-hammer is to the right, plugged into a massive compressor next door. This little, Italian tool is wonderful for taking away large amounts of stone very quickly, but the drawbacks are that it is bloody noisy (no listening to the radio with this thing going) and prolonged use destroys the nerve-endings in your fingers. 35 years of intermittent use of this tool means that my fingers go white in slightly chilly conditions and this condition is irreversible, but I just cannot afford not to use it. They are extremely simple in design, but brilliantly engineered - they cost about £400 each, but well maintained, they will last a lifetime. Like many expensive masonry tools, they usually pay for themselves in one job, then carry on working for the rest of the owner's life, with the help of a couple of drops of oil.
The traditional, fruit wood mallet on the left I had made for me, also about 35 years ago. It is made from a piece of apple tree, cut on the end grain. You will recognise it immediately for what it is, because the design has remained unchanged for about 6000 years or more. Some of the chisels I use with it are 250 years old, and still work just as well. The secret to keeping a chisel in use for this amount of time is in the sharpening - no grind-stones, they take away too much metal.
Now time for a bit of name-dropping. Before I moved into the country, my workshop was in town, and one day Barbara Streisand took a fancy to a French stone fire-surround in the yard, but it was the wrong dimensions for the compact but adorable city apartment that she had just bought here. It was also the wrong style and period, but we were not going to point that out. It had a really ugly, lion's head motif on the front of it, and this bit of plaster cast is an impression of a half of it, so when she asked me to make it to her size, I would have something to refer to with regards to the style. Thankfully, she did not go ahead with it, which is just as well - Bath City Council would never have allowed it to be installed in any case.
One saturday, Ms Streisand was just leaving the office of the reclamation yard who were my landlords, and as she walked out of the door another customer was coming in. She said to the guy in the office, "Bye James. See you next saturday." James replied, "Bye Barbara."
The customer looked wide-eyed at James and asked, "Was that Barbara Streisand?!"
James said, "Yes. She works here every saturday morning to supplement her income." The customer actually believed him.
In one corner - in the little window - of the smaller part of my workshop, there lives a super-spider.
It looks like any other medium-sized spider, but it isn't. I first noticed it a couple of years ago, leaping out of it's funnel and latching on to some flying creature which it dispatched within seconds, then threw down in disdain - it doesn't seem at all interested in eating anything it kills.
Then one day, I heard the heavy buzz of a bee coming from near it's lair, and went over to witness an epic battle between super-spider and an enormous bumble bee. S.S. would lunge forward and bite the bee about three times in quick succession, then retreat away from the bee's sting before striking again like a swordsman. This grisly but fascinating spectacle lasted for about ten minutes, and then the bee became paralysed by all the bites and fell into a torpor. S.S. picked it up and threw it away from the web, then retreated back into it's hole.
Sadly, I wasn't around when it fought - and won - with this gigantic hornet, which still swings from a ragged web at the window. It is a bad photo, taken on a flash-less phone, but if I tell you that the hornet is about an inch and a half long, and if a human gets stung about three times by a hornet he is in serious trouble, you will understand just how super this spider really is.