Woodturning Blog: Articles, Tips & Ideas

Free Wood and Turning Green

by Valerie and Paul Carter | November 19, 2014 | 0 Comments

Many turners have walked into their favorite woodworking store, checked the price tag on a beautiful bowl blank, and nearly fainted. Why is wood so expensive and how can you find, and turn, free wood?

For spindle work most turners look for seasoned wood. You can find inexpensive chunks of seasoned wood for your spindle work from several sources:
  • Narrow pieces of wood that wood dealers have a hard time selling.
  • Discarded wood from cabinet or furniture makers. Oftentimes called 'drop.'
  • Firewood
  • Skids and pallets are a great source of thick timber. Pallets coming from the orient are oftentimes made of beautiful exotic woods.
Faceplate work is generally quite pricey because thick seasoned wood for bowls and the like is considerably harder to dry. There are some places that you can look for great wood for faceplate work, however.
  • Road crews that cut down trees are often willing to give away wood.
  • Private tree trimming companies are also a great source for free or inexpensive wood.
Most wood you'll find from these sources, however, will not be seasoned. Rather, it will be green wood. A felled tree is about 60% water. As the tree dries water slowly drains from around the cells of the tree until, at last, the cells themselves begin losing water. As it loses water the wood will begin to shrink. This is when the green wood cracks.

Perhaps you're thinking, what's the point of finding free green wood if it will just crack? Thankfully, there are several ways you can avoid cracking.

First of all, the portion of the log that you cut your blank from is critical. It is necessary that, as Ernie Conover, a well-known turner states, "no chunk [of green wood] contains a complete annular growth ring." As shown in this image:



Once you've cut your green wood, it is important to keep the elastic limit in mind. The elastic limit is basically how much a piece of wood can bend before breaks or cracks. As you can imagine, a thinner piece of wood will be able to bend much further before it breaks. That is why large and thick green bowls are more likely to crack while they are shrinking and losing water. Ernie Conover talks about wall thickness, advising that, "a good rule of thumb for wall thickness is to make it no more than 10% of the largest diameter. For a 8" diameter bowl, make the wall 7/8" or less."

After you have roughed out your bowl, allow it to dry for at least 3 months before giving it it's final  shape. A good idea is to wrap your bowl in paper while it is drying. This will slow the loss of moisture and help prevent cracking.

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