What is green woodwork?

To understand green woodwork one has to appreciate how wood is produced. Solar energy is harnessed cleanly, quietly and beautifully by the leaves of a tree. This energy is used to combine simple chemicals found in air and water to produce the bundles of fibres and tubes that we call wood.

This material has evolved to withstand the enormous stresses placed upon a tree as it is buffeted by strong winds. Its strength comes not by being stiff but by having the ability to flex. The green woodworker aims to harness this supple strength of wood to make products that share the resilience and the character of the living tree.

a section of an ash log being cleft

The single most important process used in green woodwork is an operation known as cleaving. To cleave a log is to prise apart its fibres while the wood is still fresh. Cleft wood follows the flow of the fibres. Cleft wood compared to planked wood is like spring-steel compared to cast iron.

After cleaving, the wood can then be shaped further. This is carried out using sharp hand tools together with age-old devices called shaving-horses and pole-lathes. Some items such as rolling pins, baby-rattles or spoons will be completely finished after these processes. Other products, such as hay rakes or chairs, are made of several shaped components. Being much smaller than a log or a plank, these components can now be dried in a matter of days. Any shrinking and warping can take place before the finished product is assembled.

Mike on the pole-lathe
Shaving the parts for chairs









Working with hand tools in this way is inevitably more labour intensive than using machinery. However it gives a far greater sensitivity to the material and ensures that the green woodworker uses only the right wood for the job. Where a machine could force its way through a large knot, the green woodworker would throw such defects onto the firewood pile. “Going with the grain” in this way not only makes the work more satisfying but also results in a stronger and more attractive end-product.

These simple insights enable the green woodworker to dispense with the noise, the dust and the cost of “modern” forestry and woodworking machinery. The green woodworker treats the material as a partner to be worked with and not a substance to be battered into shape.