These are the processes I employ to work the wood 'green'
The tree, one of natures most amazing creations. They give us oxygen, lock in CO2, and has been a useful and more importantly, sustainable material, in human history for a very very long time. The norm today is to process the tree by sawing it into flat boards ready for stacking and drying (seasoning) by natural air flow or in a kiln and then working it when it has seasoned. I use the ancient technique of splitting and work the wood when it is 'green', when it is still fresh and wet, the wood is then carefully dried. The advantages of using green wood is that I can easily get it from very local sources, it is very easy to work and I am drying much smaller pieces of wood so the drying process is much quicker. As the pieces are all dried at room temperature it is also very energy efficient.
The traditional method of working most materials is to start with an idea or plan in mind and then to search for the material qualities that are suitable. Unfortunately if the material has an unseen flaw (especially in the case of wood) The material is often put aside and another piece sourced. With Was-A-Log I source the wood from a pool of local tree specialists and contractors. I split the still green (unseasoned) log with wooden wedges and when the internal structure is revealed I plan the most amount of objects I can make from it, paying consideration to the qualities of the material. If it has knots I can use them for features for the Lightscapes, good straight grain is used for the Tethers and rolling pins, smaller patches of good grain can be used for Memento, Home4 or hook collars. Other pieces are made into Treen, Birdy or Spills for fire lighting. The shavings are used for slowing down the drying process of the wooden objects or animal bedding. Almost nothing goes to waste.
The wood used for all the Was-A-Log products comes from Skilled local woodsmen, coppice workers and tree surgeons working on the Essex/Sufolk border. The wood comes from trees that have been removed for reasons of woodland maintenance, coppicing, site clearance or safety issues. See the note at the bottom of the page to find out why my wood isn't FSC certified.
The logs are split using wooden wedges called 'gluts'. These force the wood fibres apart and the log eventually splits along the grain. Keeping the fibres intact is what makes 'greenwood' so strong.
The split logs are further cleaved into billets using an ancient tool called a froe, it's edge is driven into the end grain with a blow from a mallet or maul and the split can be manipulated along the billet, When the split has travelled far enough the froe is twisted and the two halves are separated.
The logs can be broken down very quickly and efficiently with these simple tools. Handling the wood in this intimate way allows me to study and understand what is going on inside the log and I can plan what products can be made within the limits of the grain structure as it is revealed.
Axe work and roughing out
After the billet has been roughed out the piece can be further worked with a hand axe to cut away excess wood. The axes are razor sharp and leave a smooth cut surface.
The axe is one of those ancient tools that has evolved into many different types, each having a particular use.
The shaving horse and draw knife
The billet can be processed and shaped further instead of, or after the axe work. For this I use a draw knife, an extremely sharp two handled knife that is drawn towards the body. It looks a lot more dangerous that it is. The work is held in the shaving horse and clamped in the jaws by pushing forward on the clamping bar with the feet. The draw knife can remove large amounts of material very quickly, the shavings make a very good kindling material for a fire.
The pole lathe
The pole lathe has been used since at least the times of the ancient Egyptians. It is very simple in concept, a cord is wrapped around the work to be turned which is held between centres. The cord is attached to a treadle at one end and a sprung pole at the other. As the treadle is pushed the work rotates and is worked with very sharp gouges and chisels. at the end of the stroke the sprung pole turns the work back the other way until it is in it's starting position, this action is repeated and is known as a reciprocating lathe. The skill is in the tool sharpening (again razor sharp) and in the tool on/tool off action. I do also use an electric lathe but the pole lathe lends itself to a more intimate experience with the material.
As the wood is worked when the moisture content is high 'green' it has to be carefully dried to minimise distortion and cracking. I weigh the roughed out pieces once a week and record the weight, when there is no more weight lose it has reached EMC (Equilibrium Moisture Content) and is then worked further with the finishing cuts.
Why my wood isn't FSC
The FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) is a scheme for tracing where wood comes from and it helps to keep illegally logged timber out of the supply/manufacturing stream. However the scheme comes at a cost to the supplier and the producer and it works very well for what it is intended but I use wood that comes from a variety of small woodlands and individuals most of which would not have a FSC certificate because they are working multiple local woodlands or in the case of a tree surgeon they are often cutting single trees from multiple sites. Also as a maker I would not be able to mix this locally sourced wood with any that I use that might have FSC certification. The fact that I do not use FSC certified wood doesn't mean I am not in full support of their aims, I am, it's just that I am using local wood in a way that doesn't fit into their certification model. I strongly encourage anyone who is purchasing cabinet made work or furniture to only buy from people who do use FSC material. More about FSC can be found here.