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Green Wood VS Dry Wood

If you ask most woodworkers whether they’d rather work green wood or dry wood, the majority of them will choose the latter. Dry wood comes with far fewer problems. While you can certainly achieve amazing results by working with green wood, the process can be one filled with anxiety as you nervously anticipate its eventual splinter or breaking.

Green Wood for carving
photo credit: *MarS via photopin cc

Why Green Wood is So Difficult

Taking dry wood as the constant, let’s compare green wood to it to better illustrate why it can be so difficult to work. All wood contains a certain amount of moisture, even dry wood. However, green wood has it in abundance as it was recently removed from a living tree.

Why is this moisture a problem? It isn’t, technically. To be exact, the problem is that the wood shrinks. This happens either as it dries naturally or if you submit it to artificial drying (e.g. via a kiln). As the wood dries, it shrinks. As it shrinks, the water it contains has less and less room until finally it breaks the wood around it.

This is not a unique phenomenon. Imagine if you were to fill a balloon with water. Then, after you tied off the end, you were slowly able to remove the balloon’s surface. The eventual result is predictable, correct?

Why Dry Wood Isn’t Necessarily the Answer

Given the above, many woodworkers automatically assume the solution is to only use dry wood. Naturally, this should solve the problem as the moisture content inside the wood is no longer an issue. Overtime, it has naturally evaporated and left its wood encasement unscathed (or it was forced out through arterial processes).
Unfortunately, dry wood can greatly limit what you can create. Your choices are to either work only small projects or to attempt to laminate smaller pieces of dry wood together. Plenty of woodworkers have been able to do this successfully, but not with a result that takes advantage of the wood’s grain.

Dry Wood Carves Niceley
photo credit: Vanderlin via photopin cc

How to Make Green Wood Work

As green wood become problematic due to its losing pressure, the solution can be deceptively simple. As you work green wood, be sure to apply moisture back into the wood during and after each session. You can do this with nothing more than a spray bottle and a plastic bag.

Periodically apply some of the water from your spray bottle to the wood as you carve. Then, when your day’s session is complete, dampen the entire piece and cover it in a plastic bag. If you aren’t going to be working on it daily, consider covering the wood in a light oil (mineral is fine).

When you finish with your piece, continue to cover it with your plastic bag throughout the day and night. Every twenty-four hours, turn the bag inside out and cover the piece again. For even better results, place the covered piece out in the sun where the temperature inside the bag will rise and evaporate the moisture more effectively.

Even with all this work, your green wood may still crack. Your best bet then is to cover the crack with a wet cloth. You can also try covering the crack with a bit of masking tape, to keep further moisture from escaping and causing more cracks.

In the end, it shouldn’t be whether you choose dry wood or green wood. If you love woodworking, learn to work with both. This way you’ll never be hard up for materials. While dry wood is certainly the easier of the two to carve, it won’t always be an option or it will severely limit your results. Follow the above advice and you should be able to manage green wood just as well as you do dry.


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