Friday 3 February 2012

Get woodworking week 5th - 11th Feb. How to start in Green Woodwork

All around the internet, there is a group of woodworkers writing and talking with the intention of getting people into woodworking. I came across this via Tom, and I thought it was a great idea. Sometimes it can be hard for people to get good simple info about starting work in wood. I hope that this blog is also one that will be shared with others who have not experienced the simple joys of working green wood.

So in keeping with green woodworking I will suggest a starter kit of tools to get you going. This set of tools will be for working with and converting the wood into all sorts of artefacts; from spoons to kuksas, coat pegs to gypsy flowers.
The very basic and essential tools are an axe and a knife. The axe should be small, as a lighter tool is best for longer periods of work. I find the GB wildlife hatchet perfect, or a 1.5 llb Kentish pattern axe. These are ideal to carve and shape wood, and are not to cut down trees! Surprisingly, however, you would be able to chop through a reasonable diameter of tree with a small axe.

Top a Whitehouse Kent pattern axe, below the Gransfors Bruks wildlife hatchet.

This link is to how to fettle a cheap often imported axe. It is not necessary to spend a lot of money on tools.

The knife I recommend is a Clipper Frosts knife and/or a Mora 106. The clipper type knife is more versatile, but the smaller 106 is best for just carving wood.

Top, a Clipper Mora knife, below that is the Mora 106 and bottom is the Mora Frosts 164 hook knife

Before going any further it is essential to able to sharpen these tools well. The first sharpening tool to acquire is the strop, to keep edges really sharp. A strop can be as simple as an off-cut of MDF with Autosol or some other polishing compound on it. You can stick a bit of leather to a flat and smooth piece of wood, to make a strop.
Strops are great. They will make a slightly dull blade as good as new again. In my opinion they are an essential bit of kit.

Next: a combination oil stone; as you can only strop a certain amount of times before you need to take off that now obtuse bevel you have created by frequent stropping. Sharpening and what system to use is a thorny subject, so if I had to put it down to what I would grab from the workshop quickly: it would be a combination oilstone. Not a £3 cheapey from a market stall but a £20 Norton. This will keep a blade going for years. I would also use a light oil on it such as WD40 or 3in1.

The fine side of this stone is not fine enough for a good durable sharp edge so a finishing stone is needed. If I could I would go for a fine, hard Arkansas stone. These can still be picked up second hand or if you want to spend more, new. Also, you do not have to invest a  lot at all, if you use Silicon Carbide paper, often known as wet and dry. Buy some 600, 800, 1000, 2000 grit paper and a sheet of glass. Use water or tape to hold a sheet or part of a sheet onto the glass and you will have some very fine polishing abrasives.

The next item  you would require is a hook knife. I now prefer my selection of home made hook knives, but you can buy a wide range by various knife makers which are on the whole very good value for money. The cheapest and best all round hook knife is the Mora 164. This is what I learnt with and still use. These new knives do come with a disadvantage: they are usually blunt and do need honing before use. I always hone mine up before selling them, as I have been told by various people of some nasty injuries inflicted by a blunt knife slipping in a new workers hand as it is being forced through wood.

When learning to use these tools we need a good grounding in how to hold and cut safely.
One bit of essential safety advice: always, before any pressure is put onto the knife and the cut made, ask yourself: what happens if the knife slips? If any flesh can be touched or stabbed then do not make the cut.

For the 164 to be used efficiently it must be very sharp. This is easy to do. Make up a few wet and dry sharpeners slips from wood.

So why take up green woodworking?
Well, it is cheap and easy to do almost anywhere. A lot of us carve in the living room - but try using your router in the house whilst you watch telly! With green woodworking, we can take a branch or log from a tree and start working it straight away. Being green, the wood is a lot softer and easier to work. Larger logs are split down their length and then worked with an axe into the shape of the object being carved. A knife is then used to finish the object. Very often, a tooled finish is left; and done properly, this finish is visually beautiful as well as very tactile.
Working green wood is relies on a few simple tools, often free wood, and techniques that go back to the Stone Age, and we can do it almost anywhere. There is also a lot of crossover with bushcraft skills, as an axe and knife are essential survival tools.

In my next blog post I will show you how to make flowers with just a knife and a small stick from the hedge.

This will be a video. You will not even need a special knife and anyone can do this, and maybe you will have a bunch of hand-crafted flowers to give your loved one for Valentines Day.

If you have any links to sites that may help people coming into woodwork and especially green woodwork, please post them in the comments section below. I will then post them up in my next blog.
The best place to go for more information on green woodwork is the Bodgers site and their forum which includes everyone from  beginners to full time professionals.


  1. I always recommend to people interested in green woodworking to find a copy of Sundqvist's book, I found a copy through my local library that I like to re-read from time to time. He goes into great length on all of the important things like knife selection, safe carving grips, and gives some simple projects to get started with. A little hard to track down sometimes, but I think worth it particularly for a beginner.

  2. Sean, thank you so much for this post. I love the wooden knife sheath/cover/box for your hook knife! Do you have any other details on how that was made and or pictures? I am particularly interested in the mechanism to secure the lid. I can't wait for the video on gypsy flowers, I was thinking of making some for my wife in the coming days.

  3. Simon, I still have not seen a copy of Sundqvists book. I would love to have a copy.
    Tom, Thanks, I will do a post on wooden blade holders/masks/etc sometime. It is held closed by 3mm diameter bungee. A knot at each end. I make various knives etc but take months to protect the edges which are so easily damaged.

  4. There's another green woodworking book about to hit the streets by the great Peter Folansbee: The Joint Stool. Check it out here:


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