When most people think of building something out of wood one of their first concerns is how dry it is. Ideally they want the moisture content to be less than 6%, definitely no wetter than 10%. It can be confusing to hear that a woodworker like myself (and yes there are quite a few) actually prefers and seeks out “wet” wood. So what do we see in green wood?
Advantages of using green wood.
- It’s usually cheaper than kiln dried. In fact if you’re in the right place at the right time it can often be had for free. For me the wood is easier to obtain than kiln dried since most of it is available right out my door, not a trip into town away.
- It’s easier to work with. Unseasoned wood is a joy to work with. If you’ve only ever turned dry wood you will find yourself giddy at the streams of ribbons you can produce when the wood still has a high moisture content. At this stage the wood is still soft which makes it much kinder on the body when shaping. It’s a much different story when the wood is dry and hard as a rock.
- The wood quality is better. As the wood is split out of the log I only select the best pieces to use. Sometimes it’s all great stuff, often there are pieces that won’t work. These become highly valued pieces of firewood. (There isn’t a lot of hardwood around here for burning!)
- It really is the more environmental way. A lot of the wood I use comes right off our property. That means it doesn’t have far to travel and because it doesn’t spend time in a kiln very little energy is spent producing the timber I need. Since I work by hand all the energy used on the piece comes from me. All the energy saved in the making almost excuses having to ship the pieces to their final homes.
- Checking isn’t an issue. The pieces split out of the log are small enough that they allow the wood to dry out evenly. This eliminates checking. It doesn’t eliminate shrinkage however. If I turn a piece round on the lathe and let it dry it will become oval in shape. Generally this isn’t a problem (in fact it’s a good way to spot a real antique). If I need the piece to be perfectly round I can always re-turn it after it has dried. This isn’t much fun to do though!
- To begin working with green wood doesn’t require a boatload of tools. You can certainly justify buying them (and the more you do the more you will acquire) but you don’t need them to get started. Lots can be created with just a simple knife. It doesn’t even need to be a fancy sloyd knife, just a plain old pocketknife.
The advantages are enormous and the work satisfying. The only time you’ll get into trouble using green wood is when you start asking it to do something it isn’t ready for (like a table top or solid wood door). Don’t ask a fish to climb a tree and that sort of thing.
Go green, you’ll thank me.