Sunday, April 12, 2009

Greenwood Carving or One Man's Trash . . .

Started snowing this morning about 7 AM (April 12!). I took this photo about 10 AM. No outside work today!

This is important because on my way home from work Friday (sunny and 65 deg) I saw one of my neighbors had been cutting down some young aspens and had put them out on the street. Never having met the people I was a bit apprehensive as I walked over to ask them if I could have some of the wood. I'm really starting to look like an old biker dude (I'm a big guy), and I didn't want to scare them. So I took off my cap and sunglasses, put a big smile on my face and rang the doorbell. The man couldn't have been nicer and said, "Sure, take as much as you want. Please!" So I grabbed a couple of 10-foot long sections that tapered from a little over 3" in diameter down to about 1-1/2" and had a couple of branch takeoffs that will make decent ladles and dragged them about 3 blocks back to my house.
Now keep in mind that this is my first foray into carving green wood. I forgot to start taking pictures (still kinda new at this blogging-with-photos thing) until I had both pieces of wood already cut into 12", 10", 8" and 6" lengths and had already started debarking and splitting. True to my philosophy I did everything with hand tools. Cutting green wood with a hand saw just isn't that big a deal. I do get odd looks from the neighbors, though. My neighbor across the street was doing some home improvement work with a circular saw. He asked if I wanted to borrow it for a while. Nice guy, but just not clear on the concept of doing hand work. Besides which, I hate the noise power tools make!

Moving right along, the next photo shows my bench with the tools I was using and the first couple of blanks. That's Baby over on the far left. I prefer using her to a hatchet or hand axe for work like this because I feel I have more control with her. Baby handles the debarking, splitting and blank chopping. The next photo is Baby at work on a 3" diameter branch.

So from dragging the wood into my yard to the point you see here was about 2-1/2 hours. You can see in the background the wood I still have to debark and split. On the footrest of the bench you can see the pieces still to be made into blanks, and the blanks I've "finished" on the top. Next to Baby you can see "mi palo", the baton I use with Baby to split wood.
It was at this point that Baby told me it was time to stop for the day. Believe me, NOBODY, especially me, disrepects Baby! So I packed up and threw all the blanks and debarked wood into a bucket of water hoping to continue on Saturday. Saturday it was cloudy and rainy. Today it is snowing, and the snow will be gone by tomorrow afternoon.

Anyway, it gave me an opportunity to try my hand at my first greenwood utility spoon. I picked a blank out of the bucket of water, dried it off and went to work. Green wood is so much easier to carve than dry, seasoned wood. Forgive me if I'm the only one to whom that is a revelation. However, there are other things with which to contend, such as it's tendency to split while drying. On the advice of some much more experienced spoon carvers than I, once primary carving was done, I wrapped it in a paper towel and put it in the microwave for 30 seconds. That was about 10 seconds too long, apparently. When I took it out (it was hot and the paper towel was wet) there was a split in the bowl which I immediately carved out to keep it from spreading.

My working habits made the bowl the best place for a split to occur allowing me to still save the spoon. I learned early on doing lovespoons that I should never establish the finished height of the rim of the bowl until I have carved out the inside. Inevitably I will nick the bowl rim, so I always leave way more rim than I will eventually need. After carving out the split, I microwaved the spoon as before but for only 20 seconds, then put it in the freezer for 5 minutes. I repeated this 8 times. Putting the spoon in the microwave essentially boils out the moisture, and putting it in the freezer until the entire spoon is fully cool ensures that moisture on the spoon's surface won't be reabsorbed. When the spoon was as dry as I wanted it, I corrected the damage to the bowl and treated it with food-safe mineral oil. The result is below. Click on the photo to see it full-size.

Overall, this spoon took me about four hours from the time I took the blank out of the water to the time I dunked it in the mineral oil. Yes, Sean, I know. I'll go to the poorhouse and my family will starve. :) But it was an enormous amount of fun. From now on, I'll be on the lookout for downed limbs and cut trees. My wife will be thrilled.

Until next time, let the chips fly!


  1. Great spoon, I too have just got some aspen, its a good easy wood to work. Just one thing, since when has a microwave been a hand tool?
    Do not worry about splitting, I have never had problems. I do usually use less than a quarter of the log to make a spoon from, it is a very long time since I have made a spoon from a half log. If you want to keep your half finished spoon damp, either back in the bucket or a plastic bag. The plastic bag works for a few days, if any longer stick it in the freezer or it will go mouldy. Can not wait to see some more.
    Over here in Devon, blue skies with white fluffy clouds, makes a change from grey wet damp weather

  2. A microwave is not a tool, Sean! ;) It is a convenience for impatient people.

  3. THanks for the detailed account. Need to think about the freezer trick though. Well its late and my solo brain cell is tired.

  4. I suppose I do basically the the same thing to acquire the green wood. But I have added a middle man so to speak. I eat breakfast when several tree trimmers. They already know that I want all basswood. They deliver to my drive way. Maybe I'll expand my order beyond basswood. Thanks for the blog entry. I enjoyed reading it.

  5. I laughed out loud about your neighbor offering to lend you his circular saw. That's a cool trick with the microwave/freezer. I just read in Wille Sundquist's book that he learned to dry a green spoon by rubbing it thoroughly with a boiled potato and then resting it overnight on a radiator. Not sure how that can be done w/o a radiator, but there might be a way. Kari/Village Carpenter

  6. Tom, friends are better than gold. Especially when they deliver free wood to your driveway!

    Kari, the Swedes are like the Irish. Give them a potato and they can do anything! You have Willie Sundquist's book?? Who'd you have to kill? Instead of a radiator you could use any source of low temperature heat. Put it in the oven at 190 deg, for instance.

  7. Great Idea about the microwave. I used to carve "green wood" about three years ago. I'll have to post some of the carvings to show off the horrible checks that happened when they dried! I was greener than the wood at the time and had no idea hot to stop the cracks. It didn't matter later on because I could never sell the things and still have most of them. I'm not sure if a microwave would have helped in my situation, but at least I could have tried it.

  8. Bob, how long do you think I'd need to cook it in the oven at 190º?

  9. Kari, leave it in for 20-30 minutes, then pop it in the freezer until it is completely cool. If you think it's still too wet, then just repeat.

  10. I wonder how a food dehydrater would do, mine only gets up to maybe 125-140.

  11. Tim, a food dehydrator should be fine. Might need to leave it a little longer depending on the thickness of the wood, maybe an hour.

  12. I prefer to do the opposite, dry slow as possible! Place newly carved spoons in a paper bag with the shavings. And keep them in a low temp place before you bring them in to the house. Working on a Kuksa and this method didn't work but I never had a spoon split/cracked.

    best regards,