Observations on Working Green Wood

So after riving my red oak log, finishing the preparation of the leg stock for my joint stool and preparing some of the stock for the upper and lower rails, I’ve made a few observations about working with this green stock compared to working with dry stock. I know Peter has already covered this stuff dozens of times on his blog and in his book, but I figured I’d share my thoughts from the point of view of someone who has not done a lot of this kind of work. So here are a few observations I’ve made during the last week and a half of working on this project.

Snap a Line
Snap a Line

Take a Tip from the Carpenters – I’ve found that having a reference line on one side of the leg riving has been helpful for me in getting the first face of the leg stock flat and straight. I think the logs we got were very good, especially compared to most of the green stock I’ve riven and worked with in the past. However, even being very good, the logs still had some minor wave and twist in them as they were split. You have to remember that riving will follow the weakest point, in this case, the medulary rays. So if the log isn’t absolutely 100% perfect, then it is very unlikely that the log will split perfectly straight and in a single plane. There’s going to be some uneven terrain on all four sides of the stock to deal with. A 1/4″ of twist or wave may not seem like much, but over the length of a piece, the impact can look deceiving. With practice I’m sure I would find the guide line an additional unnecessary step, but since I’ve done very little work of this sort, I’ve found that having a straight guide line to judge my planing against has been very helpful for getting the first and second faces straight without planing a lot of extra material off from the wrong spots. This line can be established with a straightedge and pencil (I used a soft black pencil for a very visible guide) or a chalk line.

Find the Truth
Find the Truth

Unwind – If you’ve used winding sticks before, you know how valuable they can be at helping to identify twist in a board. Well, this has been nothing like sawn boards. Most dry sawn boards that I’ve worked have been relatively free of twist, so anything identified by the winding sticks has been pretty minor and easily corrected. This wood was not like that at all. While the twist was easily removed, it required the use of the fore plane, not a finely set try plane. Again, we got some good logs, but they weren’t perfect. The twist was easily seen without the winding sticks, but with the winding sticks, well, let’s just say I don’t think you’d miss it. The neat thing was though that it was very easily remedied in this green stock. I checked at three positions: (1) sticks positioned at each end; (2) sticks positioned at far end and middle, (3) sticks positioned at near end and middle. Once all three of these positions checked out and the face was straight when checked with one of the sticks as a straightedge, the face was done. The second, adjacent face was done exactly the same way. First I snapped a guide line on the flattened face, then I squared that line across the end grain and connected the end grain lines along the opposite face to guide my planing flat, straight and square to the first face. I made sure to check that the second face was maintained square to the first through the fore and try planing. The pair of hand screws were very helpful in keeping the stock from rocking all over while the first two faces were planed.

Go with a Pin
Go with a Pin

Shelve the TiteMark – A lot of folks prefer wheel style cutting gauges or gauges whos pins have been filed to more of a knife shape. These styles of gauges work well in dry woods, leaving a nice thin, crisp line. They’re useless in this green wood though. I tried using one of my French style gauges with the pin filed more knife like. The knife shaped gauge simply divides the fibers of the wet wood, and then the wet wood just closes up behind the knife as the gauge passes, leaving no scribe line whatsoever. Gauges with very sharp knife shaped cutters proved completely useless in this stock. I needed to pull out my old conical pin marking gauge to get a good visible scribe line along the grain that I could plane the second face down to in order to establish the final width and thickness of the stock. The conical pin makes a nice, rough, fuzzy scribe line that can be seen from across the room. When you plane down to it, you’ll know it. I made several light scribes with the pin gauge until I had a nice deep scribe. This left a very visible fuzzy perimiter around the face when the plane hit the scribe line. It was very easy to know when to stop.

Bring Your Axe
Bring Your Axe

Hew Can Do It! – Having a nice hewing hatchet (single beveled & flat on the back side with a bit that is offset toward the stock) proved to be very valuable for preparing this stock. Can you do it without one? Sure. You can use a splitting hatchet (double, knife shaped bevel with a symetrical bit) to hew. You can also use a drawknife to remove excess material quickly, or simply use the fore plane. None of these, however, proved as fast and efficient as the hewing hatchet, and I tried them all, just to see for myself. The splitting hatchet worked ok, but it was just awkward to use for hewing due to the symmetrical bit and double bevel. I wasn’t fond of it. The drawknife worked OK, but when there was almost an inch to remove in some spots (do to a tapered riving) over a 2-1/2″ wide surface, it was still slower and more work than the hewing hatchet. As for the fore plane, well, even when set for a very rank cut (I was peeling between 1/32″ and 1/16″ thick shavings) it still was no match for the hewing hatchet. The hewing hatchet was capable of removing a good inch of extra thickness from the stock in no time flat. I was able to make a couple of hewing chops down the side of the leg stock, to within 1/4″ or less of the scribe line, and then it was very quick to clean up the hewn face down to the scribe line with the fore plane and try plane. I’m very glad I spent the $15 to get the hewing hatchet.

Overall, this has been an extremely satisfying project so far, and it’s really just getting started. I can’t stress enough how easy this green oak has been to work with. Of course we did get some very nice logs to work with that were very straight grained and split very well, but I’m simply amazed at how easy it is to plane this stock. I think I said it in my previous post that I equate it to planing dry eastern white pine or poplar. It’s nothing like working with kiln dried red oak. I’m really looking forward to turning this stuff.

If you’ve never tried working in this style before, I highly recommend you give it a try. Even if you don’t like the style of 17th century pieces, there’s still no reason these techniques couldn’t be used on more contemporary styled stuff. The tools are very inexpensive and not many of them are required, and the wood can be found for practically nothing more than a little leg work on your part. Call up a local tree service or your state’s forestry service and tell them what you’re looking for. I’m sure you can find something suitable with just a little leg work. Trust me, this stuff is fun!

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6 thoughts on “Observations on Working Green Wood

  1. Bob- Thanks for sharing your notes! Very informative and I will file this away as I hope to also give these techniques a try someday. Sadly my woodworking backlog is long and I don’t know when this will be. I appreciate your heads-up on the moisture’s effects on the irons as well as the superiority of wood-bodied planes for this type of work. I sensed immediately upon viewing it that this book was going to make a large splash, and it seems I may have been right. Do you have any recommendations on hewing hatchets? I looked around a bit and had a hard time sussing them out from descriptions: I was told the Gransfors “carpenter’s hatchet” was in fact bevelled on both faces but have not pursued it any farther. Thanks for sharing all you have learned with us.

    • I’m far from qualified to speak for Bob, but I did find this blog on hewing hatchets by Peter Follansbee.

      http://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/tag/hewing-hatchet/

      A little surfing came up with two other names for that type of Axe / Hatchet. Also called a Single-Bevel Edge (as Bob has already said), or a Chisel Grind. I can see that in use this would create a left or right handedness, unless you could reverse the handle somehow.

    • Rob,
      Do a search for broad axe or broad hatchet and you’ll find a bunch of new options. Highland Woodworking has a bunch if you search their site. Being the bottom feeding old tool junkie that I am, I got an old one from eBay and spent a little time cleaning, sharpening and rehandling it.

  2. American made broad hatchets with 28oz. heads can still be had from both Vaughan & Bushnell and Barco Industries.

    http://vaughanmfg.com/
    http://www.barcodirect.com/

    Vaughan is best known for hammers, but makes an extensive line constuction and outdoor hatchets as well as several axes. Barco has a slightly smaller line of hatchets and a larger line of axes. They bought the Kelly axe line from Ames True Temper in the 80’s.

    Plumb also sells a 34oz. broad hatchet imported from China with a narrow poll and without any lugs. It just doesn’t look right to my eyes.

  3. I got the vaughan broad hatchet a few months ago. It is made in america; it is fairly inexpensive ($32), and seems well built. I do not like the blue coating that they put on the head of the hatchet to keep it from rusting, but that is a minor issue. You will have to tune it before you use it. It comes with the blade ground straight across. You will have to put some curve in it like a fore plane iron.

    Duane

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