Adam King besom maker

This is my mate Adam King, he has been into traditional crafts all his life having grown up doing craft events with his dad Stuart King. Stuart and I visited Romania together researching traditional craftspeople in 1998. Adam is one of the last besom broom makers, he cuts young birch branches in the winter and dries them thoroughly, bundles them and wraps them really tightly with wire bindings.

Then the top of the broom is trimmed with a huge and very sharp axe.

Adam may look young but he has long experience and knows how to look after his body. He was telling me that this is the bit of the process that takes the biggest toll on you physically as the shock of the blows travels back up your arm. Note how just at the point of impact he has actually relaxed his grip totally to avoid that shock.

Next he cuts an ash handle and points the end

and trims the bark and rough knots away.

He positions the handle in exactly the right place in the head

then whacks it hard on a stump to drive it into place

Before it goes too far a quick spin checks the balance is right, it makes no difference to folks buying them to pretend they are Harry Potter or to give the mother in law as a joke but for folk that want to sweep leaves up the balance is important.

Then he drives in a wooden peg so the head can never come loose.

When demonstrating at these shows we all get used to the constant click and whir of cameras.

So quite a bit of work for a £12 broom, hard work but rewarding and keeping a skill alive that goes back centuries and is still useful today.

A nice article by Jon Henley in the Guardian here and Adam’s website here

4 Responses to Adam King besom maker

  1. Woodland Antics July 8, 2009 at 9:55 pm #

    Hi Robin,I am really pleased to see these articles on individual crafts, great writeups and good photos – thank you for posting them. One of the most difficult things in making good besoms these days is access to good birch, the young trees are so poorly regarded that they are often weedwiped or cut mechanically rather than being harvested as a crop. Added to which there is also a drive to graze conservation areas which affects the birch making it stunted and bent rather than the straight spray shown in your photos. If you can find it then storing it can also be hard, empty barns being hard to come by as well. I make besoms from birch that I harvest and live in a parish which used to boast more than 30 broom makers at one time. Rumour has it that our pub was built on the profits of the brooms. A locally well known besom maker, Anthony Cooper from Plaistow, recently inspected my brooms at the Weald & Downland museum and told me he would have used a thicker tail(handle) which pleased me as I took it to be a compliment. Mark

  2. Handyann November 22, 2009 at 5:42 pm #

    Hi Robin,My mother's family were all besom makers back in the 18th century, in Landford Wiltshire. They ended up as a huge community with the same surname, all working together and living on the same long road in the village. They eventually owned a large tract of woodland and used it for their raw materials. I was so pleased to read this article and to see that the traditions are ongoing, even if only rarely.Many thanks,Ann

  3. Sarah August 26, 2016 at 5:14 pm #

    I’ve cut some birch twigs from my garden this morning (end of August) and was planning to construct a broom with them. However I read that the twigs need to dry out. How do I go about doing this, do I just keep them out of the rain and air dry them and for how long. Will they not go very brittle ? I would be very grateful for your advice on this.
    Thanks, Sarah

    • Robin Wood September 4, 2016 at 9:57 am #

      I’m not a besom maker sorry.