Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Problem with Green Wood

Every now and then I completely ignore some of the extensive and painful lessons my journey in wood carving has taught me. Make sure the angle grinder is turned off before you plug it in, secure the piece properly in the vice 'cause if it comes out it gonna hurt an awful lot, and never....and I mean never get tempted by green wood. Turners swear by this stuff. They're able to turn it easy and quickly and get it into a controlled environment. This fact gives them a success rate worth the effort. I however carve the bowls so the process is much slower. I don't get the rough hughed bowl into a controlled environment quickly enough and so carving starts to fail before I even get it off the bench.

Above and on your right you see the results of one of these misadventures in green wood. I got bored one day and decided it was time for something a little different. At the back of our house an old cottonwood had been cut down by the city to protect power lines. This wood had been sitting outside for over a year so I decided to have at it. The log was light and felt like it was pretty stable. I decided if I was going to deviate from my normal wood source I was also going to abandon my traditional style in favor of something radical. Once opened the wood had a beautiful spalted pattern that added great detail to the golden base color of the wood. Excited, I carved with abandon, ignoring the little voice in my head saying that this was all a great waste of my shop time.

My plan was to rough carve the piece, place it in a paper bag with some wood shavings (what turners do) and leave it for a few months to further stabilize. The correct course of action is to weigh the bowl before placing it in  the bag, and weigh it periodically until the weight stops dropping. This means that the water content of the wood has reached equilibrium with the environment in which it's stored. At this point I was going to finish the bowl and gaze upon it's glory until it sold. Unfortunately the reality of green wood encroached upon my fantasy world with remarkable speed and ruthlessness. The bowl showed cracks and fissures before I even got it off the bench. Alas it just wasn't to be folks. But at least I got a blog post out of this and someone out there may learn the lesson I repeatedly chose to ignore. Now for some of the recent success stories.

This cute little thing is a piece of cherry about 10 inches long. Should be up on Etsy soon.
I'm getting near the end of my sassafras, this will be one of the last.


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  2. Thanks for this post. A great reminder to trust your gut but also that some of our best lessons come from failure.

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  4. As a fellow bowl carver, that uses adzes and green wood, my advice for green wood is to place your finished bowl into a plastic bag and every day or so take the bowl out of the bag, turn the bag inside out, and place bowl back into the bag, repeat until the bowl is dry.

  5. These looks pretty nice! I am really amazed by such talent God gave to people. I am really fun with figures made from woods and I already had some collections on kitchen tools figures like wood cups for early morning tea! :)

  6. Great site! "Wood" you consider a link swap? My site is, it is parked on, but it has not taken hold yet. Please let me know if you wish to swap links!