The New Wood Renaissance

OR new greenwoodworking renaissance or the new green wood culture etc and so forth…

Some people will burden anything with a great weight of philosophy and/or religion…

And I have been thinking about this lately due to the shear number of people talking or writing about “it”.

As a greenwoodworker, and as a teacher, people I meet want to know where I stand and what my philosophy is. So I thought that it might behoove me to do some thinking and condense my ideas into something I can talk about without sounding like I have no idea.


About 25 years ago I took a chair making class (Make a Sack Back Chair with Mike Dunbar at the Windsor Institute). I already had these crazy notions that I wanted to make “real furniture” out of “real wood”. [did you know that furniture stores are legally required to call particleboard with a printed paper face “real wood” and “Solid Wood”?] What I really wanted was to make the sort of furniture that you might find in an antique shop. And Here “IT” was! A real chair, made the real way… the way the wood “wants” to be worked!

I think that one thought is what struck me and stuck with me through all of my years of fabricating with particle board, plywood and formica… that there was a way of working that used the wood to it’s best advantage instead of trying to force it into rectilinear mechanical perfection and precision. Roy Underhill talks about using wood’s weakness to reveal its strengths. And there is was, all in one chair

AND these methods of working are not constrained to only making chairs! You can make tables, chests, and indeed anything you want or need in your home with the methods and ideas contained in this thing we call “greenwoodworking”.

So for a first philosophical point I would declare:

  1. This is a more natural method of woodworking. The trees lend themselves to it more readily than most modern machine oriented woodworking.

Crosscutting with a saw and splitting with an axe or wedge is the primary method of taking wood from the log or branch and rendering it into useful pieces. Many Sp. of wood seem almost designed to be split. The oaks for example have these large medullary rays that radiate out from the pith. They make the wood extra strong in their direction of travel but extra weak parallel to them. If we place the wedges right on the rays the Oak splits nice and straight (as long as we split by halves) right along the rays. This sounds like weakness bound towards failure. But the piece you get this way, be it board or post stock, is far stronger in the way it will be used than sawn planks ever are. So our parts can be thinner and more flexible than sawn and kiln dried builders use.


People are creative creatures. We all want to be allowed to be makers. Most of our jobs/careers do not lend themselves to allowing any creativity. Yet making things is good for use. (See my post about Creativity vs Talent.)  A great amount of literature focuses on how creative efforts are good for your sense of wellbeing…

2. Expressing your Creativity is good for you!  Woodworking is an easy way to get to feel like you have accomplished something and express yourself.


Getting into woodworking with power tools is excessively expensive. Getting into woodworking with hand tools costs much less.  A good low end table saw will cost you either $500 or $2000.  A hand saw, drawknife, spokeshave, auger, hand plane, and more, can cost less than $200.

3.  This is a much less expensive way to get into woodworking.

Anyone can do some woodworking. Right now the popularity of spoon carving is skyrocketing… you need a small pruning saw, a hatchet, a straight carving knife and either a bent spoon knife or a gouge. Just 4 tools and a tree branch and you are good to go! And it doesn’t matter if your first ones are any good, most people need to practice for years before they get really good at it. But even your first attempt will give you that feeling of “This is something I did!” THAT is a feeling that you cannot buy in a store. It’s a feeling of self worth that is so elusive in most of our modern world.

4. And lastly, As a woodworker and as a woodworking teacher I don’t feel that it is my place to be teaching religion or philosophy.

I’m here to teach about wood, tools for working wood, and how to put them together safely. Oh I may veer off into discussions about the stewardship of the land and trees… it’s a subject that a lot of woodworkers feel very strongly about. But that isn’t spiritual or religious to me. It’s more like taking good care of yourself by eating right and exercising.

I love trees when they are alive!, there is something astounding about a tree. “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree” (Joyce Kilmer)… and when they need to come down I and people like me are there to take the bones and make beautiful things from them. The Variety of lines and colors of the are always fascinating.

so: go get a stick and a knife and make something. making things is good for you.

be well




What He Said…

there are at least 6 “right” ways of doing everything.

one of my formen once told me after I questioned the boss about his idea for how to make something.. “Kohl, dere is fife vays hoff doink someting (he was from Bavaria) the right way, the wrong way, your way, my way, and the boss’s way. as long as we do things the boss’s way we can’t get in trouble.” then he laughed 😉 (Nicholas Raith)

later he explained there never is just one “right way” there is always at least 6 ways.

Making a Brace


Since I am involved in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) and I teach woodworking classes there, I am constantly trying to make a more “medieval like” kit.

I do not think that there is anything “wrong” with using modern hand tools, the wood cuts and behaves the same as it always has, It’s just that I feel for the look of things the tools should look correct for the venue.

So I am finding many examples of braces from sunken ships and items that were thrown into wells… these places seem like you couldn’t possibly retrieve any artifacts so old, and yet… From the Vasa and From the Mary Rose and from Wells all over England and Germany we do get artifacts. Strangely in salt water the metal tends to be lost to corrosion and in fresh water the wood tends to be lost to rotting…

thus at Birka we get a lot of iron or steel tool edges without handles and from the Mary Rose we get hand planes and braces without blades or bits.

I have stated when discussing saw handles that handles are a matter of fashion while blades (blade geometry) is dictated by the wood and the metal available.

A spoon bit made in England will be almost the same as a spoon bit made in Scandinavia. But the T handles in England were one solid stick firmly attached to the auger and the ones in Scandinavia have a swivel arrangement so that you can lean against them and still turn them.

But I am talking about smaller braces just now. the kind where you hold one end still and crank with the other. like this one…

my spring pole lathe when it was brand new!

So after scanning through the internet looking for ideas I made the one in the Photo of my springpole lathe when it was new.

I was a bit intimidated at first about making holes in both ends that would line up, but it ended up being not that hard. You need to start with a piece of material that is big enough to saw it out from and is straight on one edge. That will be the edge you end up gauging off from to layout the holes. And it doesn’t need to be more than 7/8″ thick.

mark the center of your holes, if you will be using a “pad” (a separate piece that has an auger bit fastened permanently into it) draw out the square hole and drill as straight as you can a hole a little smaller than your finished square, that way if you drift you will be trimming it up with a chisel anyhow. drill the hole for that other end, from your first hole! viola! you knob wants to be loose so that hole can be a little oversized and slightly off. And your other end where the auger bit goes will be trimmed up/straightened by hand with a chisel or a reamer.

bob’s your uncle. or not 😉

be well



Dangerous Edges

twas a dark and stormy night…

Well, not really. But unprotected cutting edges in a tool box can be a bit of a scary story.

Way back when I was young and rocks were soft I signed up to take a chair making class at the Windsor Institute.

Among the many tools listed as being needed for chair making was an inshave. So I bought one, and it didn’t work right so I returned it…

I had a box full of damaged drawknives, handles missing, backs bent and mushroomed out from being pounded on with a hammer to split kindling wood (angry face for the bad words person who hits tools with hammers that are not supposed to be hit).

And I had a small farriers forge, a busted anvil, and some hammers…

so I lit a fire and “fixed” one of the wreaked drawknives by turning it into an Inshave! new handles. and it was a chrm to work with, I still use it!


BUT it sits in my tool box with a rag wrapped around it that doesn’t always stay where it belongs! So it’s like a shark waiting in the depths of my tool box, is it going to bite me today or is it satiated already?…

I got this great book by Peter Galbert, “Chairmaker’s Notebook”, last year, and in it (and on his blog) is a picture of this elegant little sheath or case that he keeps a drawknife in…

inspired by it I made a case for the inshave..


a thick block of wood @ 1/2″ thicker than the depth of the blade, this is slightly spalted soft maple. then I cut 1/4″ or more off the bottom, I drew an outline of the blade on the thick part, and bandsawed that to fit the blade into it. then I glued the bottom back on.

Then I layed out the dovetailed recess sawed down the sides (hand saw) and cleared it out with my hand router.

then I made a lid from White Oak, @ 3/8″ thick. to fit once I got it into place nicely (contact all along the edges) it was too far into the slot so I cut 2 strips of ebony (waste from another project long ago to “shim” it.

a nut insert and a brass thumb screw secure the lid. a bit of sanding and a coat of finish and it will be protecting my fingers for years to come.


be well



getting back to chairs…

selecting seat stock… If it doesn’t cleave flat it is leg stock 😉


this is Amur Cork Tree.. this specimen split out very flat…

designing an appropriate shape to suit the material


you can see the scrub plane I made back in @ 1986 in back . it took about half an hour to get this nice and flat on both sides. Now I need to decide to saddle it now or wait until it is dryer…

I have a choice of white ash or white oak for legs.

be well




Tools of the Trade 12: Chisels

Whenever discussion of what chisels to get “first” comes up, there seems to be a debate about getting individual chisels or sets of chisels..


If buy a set you will usually get a good price (much lower than the combined individual prices) but you might end up with chisels that you never use… If you buy them individually as you need/want them you have to wait for delivery after you decide you need one more…

set of rosewood handled RSORBY and odds and ends collected as needed

So the question is really one of what is needed. You need One chisel of moderate width for cleaning up joints, you need one that is fairly wide for all sorts of chopping splitting and cutting and beveling. And you need one for mortising if you are going to be making mortise and tenon joints.

One that is @ 1/2″ wide, One that is 1 1/2″ to 2″ wide, and a 5/16″ mortising chisel.

flat chisels come in several styles. Paring, Firmir, and Bevel edge, as well as But chisels…

A paring chisel is usually thin and is never driven with a mallet.

A Firmir is usually more robust and can take quite a bit of pounding.

a Bevel edge is nice to get into tight corners.

and a But Chisel is a short chisel.

A mortise chisel is usually thicker face to back than it is wide, to enable it to withstand extreme pounding with a heavy mallet.

crook neck paring gouges on the left, mortising chisels on the right

there are also many different types of specialty chisels.

you can see I have a set of 4 mortising chisels, I use the 5/16″ out of that set the most. and I use the 1/8″ on the right and the 5/8″ to the left of them… the other 3 are mostly never taken out of the drawer.

so I say start with a couple and add to the bunch as you go.

be well



Tools of the trade 11: the Lathe

Now we come to the first tool that you do not need at all. a lathe.

my spring pole lathe when it was brand new!

you might use a spring pole lathe or

My old Delta in my donjon

you might go with an electric powered one. but if you want turned spindles or bowls you are wanting a lathe… The best advice I can give you is that you get someone to show you how to use one…