Why Green Wood?

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It’s useful to define and understand some terms when working with green wood.


This is an excerpt from “Chairmaker’s Notebook” by Peter Galbert.

Using wood fresh from a log has a number of advantages for the chair and chairmaker. But that being said, lack of access or experience with green wood should not prevent you from exploring chairmaking. Once you understand the concepts behind the use of green wood and the advantages it imparts, you’ll see there are ways to use dried wood with the same or similar results. Ideas for starting with dry wood are included at the end of this chapter. The process may not be as easy using dried wood, but I recognize that for some woodworkers, the plunge into chairmaking and green woodworking might take place in stages. With a little success in chairmaking, I have no doubt that the excitement will nudge you ever closer to the log.

Why Split Wood?

While the softness and flexibility of the green wood is obvious, you might wonder what the advantage is of split wood. Working from split wood can be a tough concept to grasp, even for the experienced furniture maker.

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Splitting wood preserves its strength.

Trees don’t have any flat or square parts, and wood is not a homogenous material that’s indifferent to the way it is cut. Trees are a bundle of fibers, and once the tools and techniques to split and shave these fibers come into play, hand-tool jobs that would be difficult or tedious with sawn planks become simple and fast.

One way to compare sawn wood to split wood is that a saw blade ignores the fibers and cuts across them. Splits follow the fibers, which yields strong parts that display amazing flexibility without a loss of strength. But there is more to this story.

Whenever sawn wood is shaped, shaved or cut with hand tools, the direction of cut is of primary concern. A smooth surface can be created by cutting or shaving the fibers in the direction that they ascend from the sawn board. Cutting in the opposite direction, where the fibers descend into the board, will cause the cutter to grab the exposed end grain and lever out small chips. This “tear-out” leaves a rough, undesirable surface and takes more effort to cut.

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With sawn lumber, grain direction is paramount.

On sawn boards, the direction can change from one area to another, especially if the tree didn’t grow straight. The showy grain patterns so prized in cabinetwork are the result of milling across the fibers, whereas split and shaved pieces will have uniform – perhaps even boring – figure.

But showy grain can force you to constantly change your cutting direction to avoid tear-out, which slows the process. Plus, when shaving round parts from sawn wood, you will usually have to change direction as you shave around the surface. On the lathe, changing direction is impossible.

But when parts are split and shaved to follow the fibers, the direction of cut is simplified. You always head from the thick area to the thin. On round parts, this allows you to work around the entire piece without changing direction.

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Common challenges with sawn boards.

This enables you to rely on the shape of the piece to dictate the tool’s cutting direction instead of constantly interpreting the surface for clues.

Split wood can be worked in either direction when shaved parallel to the fibers. Once the fibers are carved across, the direction of cut is always toward the thinner area.

This simplifies and speeds the shaping process. Trying to shave a sawn spindle that has fibers that are not parallel to the axis of the spindle requires a constant changing of the cutting direction, which renders the process impractical.

— Meghan Bates

 

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5 Responses to Why Green Wood?

  1. Allen Bradley says:

    First, thanks for all you do and for providing the wood lovers community (and me in particular) with quality reading material from the good old days. I purchased 17 books and 2 posters from you and have a couple of comments.

    LIKES:

    I love the general (but not consistent) quality of the bindings. When I received my first book from you, “Woodworking in Estonia”, I remember thinking, that as a book binder myself, I would be proud to put my name on that. My favorite book I’ve purchased, by far, is “By Hand & Eye”. I also like “The Anarchist Toolchest”. The book I use most is the “Door & Windows”.

    DISLIKES:

    Some of your binding is sub-par, as you can see from the image below of the Studley book.
    [cid:image002.jpg@01D2F65E.C24339B0]

    Another binding problem was with the Charles Hayward series, which came with 2 covers curled like a 12” board from the Home Depot. Also, concerning that series, it could have easily been 2 volumes, who needs a dozen articles on sharpening (with the same illustrations)?

    My last dislike was with the Studley poster that only showed ½ of the cabinet. Taughten’s was bigger and cheaper and showed both sides.

    President of you fan club,
    Allen

  2. Joe Anderson says:

    Nice excerpt from Peter Galbert, a clear and very illustrative example and description of the nature of wood. Thanks for posting this

  3. kendewitt608 says:

    Thank you so much for this, this is the first time I understood the advantage of green wood.
    He makes it clear and easy to understand, or as we said in the 60’s, go with the flow !

  4. Henry Grant says:

    Bo

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