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What is Green Woodworking?

In our technological age, many of our guests love stepping back to a simpler time, free from modern worries. Green woodworking is the perfect chance to slow down, and experience the sense of achievement which comes from making something with your own two hands.

Although many of us spend our days looking at screens, master craftspeople in Ireland still work with ancient techniques, creating unique and timeless pieces, from sustainable materials.

We’re proud to partner with Tom Campbell, to offer our guests a range of courses on green woodworking. From beginner taster session, to in-depth guidance for experienced woodworkers, Tom has helped countless students gain an insight into his craft.

Here’s everything you need to know about green working.

What is Green Woodworking?

Green woodworking takes its name from the fact that it involves working with fresh, unseasoned timber, as opposed to the heavily dried and processed wood which is used in modern furniture making.

Undried wood is much softer, making it considerably easier to work with using hand tools, such as axes, blades and chisels. This means that every green woodworking piece is entirely unique, while also ensuring that the whole process is as environmentally friendly as possible.

Although green woodworking has been used around the world for thousands of years, it has boomed in popularity in recent years, as people seek out ways to reconnect with their roots, and move away from disposable, mass-produced possessions.

What is Involved in Green Woodworking?

Green woodworking is a broad term, and the techniques can be used to make a wider range of different items. No matter what your project is, the same ancient tools and techniques are used throughout.

Here are the four key steps to any green woodworking project.

Preparing the Wood

The first step of any green woodworking project is to prepare your timber for shaping. Since you’ll be working with recently felled wood, this means beginning with a log, and getting it ready for woodturning.

The logs are quartered, by splitting them in half, and then doing the same with each of these pieces, using a traditional hand axe.

As the raw wood is split along its own natural grain, this results in a much stronger piece of wood than the log in its natural form. This means that recently felled timber can be used for burden-carrying furniture, like chairs and tables, without the need for extensive treatments, or incurring the carbon footprint of importing foreign materials.

Green woodworking splitting wood with axe

Using a Shaping Horse

The next step is to transform the quartered logs into a round shape, ready to be worked on. Here, the wood is clamped into a traditional device, known as a shaping horse. The wood is held in place using pressure from the operator’s feet on the shaving horse’s pedals.

The rough edges are first removed from the quartered logs using a hand axe, before the bulk of the material is removed using a two-handed blade known as an ‘adze’, before fine adjustments are made with a spokeshave.

Throughout the shaping process, the wood is manually turned, by releasing pressure on the shaping horse, freeing the piece up to move around. Once the wood is sufficiently rounded off, it can be moved to the pole lathe.

Green woodworking shaping horse and adze

Using a Pole Lathe

A pole lathe is an essential tool in green woodworking. Unlike modern lathes, a pole lathe is unpowered, using pedals to turn the wood as it is worked upon. Simply operate the pedals, as you would on an old-fashioned sewing machine to turn the piece as you work.

This makes it much easier to control the speed of the lather, compared to modern, motor powered machines.

Here, you can begin to create the final shape of your green woodworking project. Simply hold a chisel against the wood as it turns, to begin creating different shapes and ornamentation.

The pole lathe itself is made from freshly cut timber, creating a springy and direct feel. This makes the machine much easier to control. The lack of the motor also makes the pole lathe one of the most environmentally friendly woodworking tools around.

Green woodworking pole lathe

Ancient Joinery Techniques

Over the centuries, green woodworking has been used to create tight and durable bonds between different pieces of wood, without the need for adhesives or other fasteners, like screws and nails.

For example, when making chairs and tables with green woodworking, the majority of joints are created using a round mortise and tenon. A round hole is cut into the base of the piece, and a corresponding shape at the top of each leg is inserted into this.

When working with kiln dried timber, this would typically need to be reinforced with wood glue.

Since green woodworking materials are largely undried, this is not necessary here. Instead, the insert piece is dried, either naturally or in a kiln. The dried tenon is then inserted into the mortise of the furniture base, which has not been dried.

As this wood dries naturally, the mortise dries around the tenon, creating a tight bond, without the need for adhesive.

This technique has been used for centuries, and is still adopted by Amish communities in the USA and Canada.

What Can You Make with Green Woodworking?

Green woodworking techniques can be used to make a wide variety of items. From simple bowls, spoons and ornaments, to larger pieces, like chairs, tables and pedestals. The only limits are your imagination, and the time you’d like to spend on your project.

You can even learn how to make your own woodworking tools, including shaping horses and pole lathes, using traditional hand tools and techniques. 

Whether you simply want to try your hand at using ancient woodworking techniques, or you have a specific project in mind, green woodworking is the perfect way to create unique, sustainable and durable furniture, ornaments and gifts.

Green woodworking projects on table.

Green Woodworking with Finn Valley Cottages

At Finn Valley Cottages, we’re proud to have partnered with Tom Campbell to offer green woodworking experiences to our guests. In fact, it’s one of the most popular things to do at Finn Valley Cottages.

No matter their background or experience with woodworking, our guests always come away with a new insight and sense of accomplishment.

As a master of his craft, Tom Campbell is able to tailor each session to the exact goals and experience of his students. Whether you’d like a simple taster, or you’d like to build your own tools and work on a larger project, Tom offers a range of different packages.

Even better, guests at Finn Valley Cottages can enjoy a 10% discount on green woodworking courses. Use your stay in our scenic landscape to reconnect with your roots and learn a new skill.

If you’d like to learn more about our green woodworking packages, contact Finn Valley Cottages today.

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