Heritage Crafts

Sieve and riddle making

The making of traditional sieves and riddles using bentwood hoops and a selection of handwoven and pre woven meshes.
Craft category
Wood, Other
Historic area of significance
Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire
Area practiced currently
Taunton, Somerset; Swansea
Origin in the UK
Not known, but could be Roman
Current No. of professionals (Main income)
Current No. of professionals (Side income)
Current No. of trainees
Current total No. of serious amateur makers
Current No. of leisure makers


When Hill & Sons was founded in 1946, they were one of hundreds of firms producing beechwood and wire mesh sieves and riddles for mines, agriculture, fishing and even on the railways, where they sifted ballast between the tracks.

Sieves and riddles range from six to 24 inches in diameter, with meshes from a few microns to a full inch.


Strips of fresh-cut wood are cut to the desired width using a circular saw. The ends are chamfered, and the strips then steamed for three hours in a steaming chest. Once softened, the strips are rolled round cylinders, and once bent, dry out over two or three days.

Oak, elm and beech are traditional timbers used. One Victorian book also refers to the use of Cedar. Steve Overthrow now uses ash, which is in plentiful supply.

Sourcing pre woven mesh in galvanized is now the issue as weavers are reluctant to break down their machines from the more lucrative stainless.

The chamfered ends of the rim are tacked together and holes drilled for the mesh. Wires of galvanised steel are stretched and woven inside the rim to form the mesh.



Issues affecting the viability

  • It is often difficult to source the straight-grained beech required because there is not a great demand for it outside of the craft. The scale of the craft does not incentivise sawyers and timber merchants to go out of their way to stock such material. Steve has remedied this issue by using ash as a readily available alternative.

Craftspeople currently known

  • Steve Overthrow – began making sieves and riddles as a result of discovering sieves and riddles were listed as extinct in the first publication of the Red List in 2017. Steve has consulted with Mike Turnock on the development of his products.
  • Colin Davies – a cockle fisherman who has recently started making sieves and riddles commercially, after watching an episode of BBC Countryfile featuring the Red List report on sieve and riddle making.

Mike Turnock, trading as Hill and Sons (NW) Ltd, was previously the last sieve and riddle maker in the UK, steam bending wooden rims and weaving wire mesh riddles and sieves for gardeners, shellfish fishermen, cooks and potters. Mike retired in 2010 rendering the craft extinct until 2018.


National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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