Finding green wood

Green wood is everywhere. In fact, dry wood doesn’t usually exist in nature: trees are veritable pipes full of water and once they die the rotting process is fed by water. Yet finding green wood can be a daunting task for many modern woodworkers. Where to look?

Forest-Grown Oak

Forest-Grown Oak

What kind of wood do you need? Different project require different kinds of wood. Spoons, bowls, and other food related projects are best made from tight-grained species that won’t absorb much food. They can often be made from branches and other small piece of wood that would otherwise go to waste. Chairs and riven chests need species that are strong and rive predictably: ring-porous hardwoods like oak and ash. Because the parts need to be long and straight, the logs need to be big and of the highest quality.

Yard-Grown Oak

Yard-Grown Oak

Where did the tree grow? Light, or the lack of light, has a profound effect on how a tree grows. A tree growing in a forest needs to grow tall quickly to get enough light to survive. Forest trees tend to have fewer branches and taller trunks with more knot-free wood. Yard trees often have trunks full of knots, as well as nails and other foreign objects, but they can be a great source of limb wood for spoons.

Tree Services are more likely to have yard trees than other sources, though I have gotten high quality wood from them on occasion. They can be good sources of spoon and bowl wood. Most tree guys are more knowledgeable about the species of wood than it’s quality, so if you need nice clear wood you’ll need to know what you are looking for.

Craigslist can be a good way to find people who have trees they are giving away. It’s also a place people try to sell trash as treasure, so buyer beware. They often don’t know what they have (one fellow was giving away what he thought were poplar trees that were actually walnuts), so make sure they send photos. Often you will need to cut and load it yourself.

Loggers are a source of wood. They sometime know a lot about wood quality and sometimes they don’t. They are often cheaper than the following two sources, but they will only have what they are cutting that week, so they are a unpredictable source. You can just drive up to a logging job and ask if they will sell you a log – small logging companies may be willing to sell to you if you pay them more than the log yard would.

Log Yards are the most reliable source of high quality wood. Log yards are brokers between loggers and the sawmills or wood exporters. I get most of my wood from log yards: they have a large selection of logs, they are very knowledgeable about the species and quality of their logs and they can load the log for you. The best quality of hardwood logs are called “veneer grade” and that’s what I buy. Log yards are everywhere marketable wood grows. Your state forestry department can probably help you find your local yards; NC even has a list of NC timber buyers on it’s website. Or search the yellow pages under ‘forest products’, ‘log yard’, ‘sawmill’, etc. Some log yards only deal in truck loads, but others are remarkably friendly and happy to sell one log. Just remember that they are doing you a favor by dealing with you.

Sawmills sometimes also sell logs. Different mills specialize in different products, so you are less likely to find high quality logs at a pallet mill than a veneer mill. Sometimes you can find usable wood in the slab (scrap) pile, if they’ll let you go through their pile. You can find sawmills through your forestry department, yellow pages or local woodworking groups.

Orchards will sometimes have interesting fruit woods for spoons and such. 

Other Sources?  If you have ideas for other sources, you can post them on the new comments section on the website.  Enjoy!

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Posted in Chairmaking Tools and Supplies, How-To
5 comments on “Finding green wood
  1. Trevor says:

    Hello Elia,
    Thanks for the post, I was wondering if you knew of any west coast ideas for green wood to use for chairs. Or if someone on here is a west coast woodworker/chairmaker. We have some oak (garry oak) but it is very hard to get and there just never has been much of it her. I often wonder what would chairmakers have used if the colonists had landed on the west coast first? Any ideas?

    • Elia Bizzarri says:

      If the colonists had landed on the west coast they would have designed a chair that worked with the available woods or they would have imported chairs from elsewhere. I have taught in OR several times and it sounds like the native woods might work for a chair like Curtis’s Velda’s chair, but not a continuous arm (unless you managed to get your hands on nice garry oak). Beware: this is secondhand knowledge and worth what you paid for it.

  2. Herbert Forsberg says:

    Hi Elia,
    What kind of price would you expect to pay for white oak? How do they calculate price? I’ve seen something about the Doyle scale but don’t understand it. One guy I contacted referred to $2/board foot for a log! Also, how much of a log would I need for 4-loop back chairs? I’m thinking 2-5’x16″ logs would be more than enough but not excessive.

    • Elia Bizzarri says:

      Prices vary drastically by time of year, quality of log, size of log, the international market, etc. Whatever you pay, it’s cheap material for a chair – at $2/bd ft you’d still be at only ~ $30/chair for materials. $2/bd ft for beautiful wood will be cheaper and easier than $1/ft for messy stuff, but price and quality aren’t always linked. Some yards charge by weight, some by bd ft. The shortest log is 8′, up to 16′. You could get them to cut a 10′ log in half, but you can work around knots better the longer you leave the log before splitting it open. Plus the ends will check. One nice 6’x16″ section would yield enough for four loops, but two crumby sections wouldn’t yield one spindle, so it’s hard to say how much you’ll need till you split the log open.

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