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



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