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harvesting wood

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  • harvesting wood

    I live on property that has an abundance of wooded acreage. It seems silly to me to buy wood when I could just harvest my own. There are some logistical problems though. One,I don't want to cut down an entire tree to make a spoon. Two, I don't own a chainsaw anyway nor can I afford one. I'm sure the way go about this is obvious to most people but how do I harvest the wood? And how long should it dry? We have a lot of sycamore here so I've been eyeballing that. Currently I have several branches of walnut elevated on fence posts that fell down about a year ago during a storm. These are fine but I learned rather quickly how hard walnut is and think I'll save it for when I know what I'm doing. I did go scavenging through the woods one day looking for fallen branches but everything I found was very wet and rotted. Thanks!


  • #2
    For hand carving with gouges, chisels, or knives, stick with basswood if you can. It is an easy wood to learn on. You could also use aspen. Once you have gotten down the techniques and the cuts with hand tools, then you can explore using the harder woods like oak, maple, sycamore, walnut, etc.

    If you want to power carve, well then it doesn't really matter what kind of wood you carve as long as you use safety protection, i.e. leather glove(s), eye protection, respiratory protection, etc.

    Self harvesting can be relatively easy. Stick with using found wood. If there is a stick on the ground that is relatively straight, you can carve various motifs in and make your self a walking stick. A fork in a branch can be carved with using the horizontal leg as the nose, and the vertical leg as the face.

    As far as the actual cutting, if you able, you can start out using a simple old handsaw that has been sharpened. I rarely use a power tool. I like being able to do it the old fashioned way by hand.

    Since you do have an abundance of wood at you disposal, I suggest you get a guide to trees--even the library has one. Or just take pics of a unfamiliar tree, and go back to the computer and use one of the many sites that can help you identify trees. You might just find you have an American Linden or any member of the linden tree family. Then you'll realize the gold mine you're sitting on.

    Bob L


    • #3
      You just absolutely made my day! You can't even imagine what a face-palm moment I just had. I am so glad I posted that question.

      So for awhile now we've been haphazardly identifying the trees closest to the house. There is this one that has eluded us. It's the tallest one. I actually gathered some small branches that fell from it recently and wondered why they were so light. We didn't really try to identify it until the winter months when it didn't have leaves. I always thought it was some type of maple even though I never looked at the leaves. You see where this is going? So as soon as I read your reply I googled American Linden, realized what you were talking about and proceeded to walk around the property for a bit. Of course I eventually came upon the tree in question and as I stared at the heart shape leaves with fissure type bark thought, "No way!" So yeah grabbed a leaf, ran back inside, got my kids IPad and used the Leafsnap app to take a pic of it. Sure enough that's what it is. You rock Bob!!!



      • #4
        Here are a couple of web sites that may help you:

        This one describes trees: Dendrology at Virginia Tech

        This one talks about the woods: The Wood Database | The Wood Database

        As to how long wood should dry... The general rule of thumb is that it takes about one year per inch of thickness for the wood to dry to ambient levels. Stack it outside, out of the sun, with small sticks between layers so the air can circulate. In case you can't wait that long, many of us buy our basswood from Heinecke Wood Products Heinecke has primo quality wood!!

        Limbs can be difficult. The top of the limb has "stretched" cells, the bottom has "compressed" cells, and the wood will tend to warp significantly. Brian (Robson Valley) can offer you great advice about this.

        Last edited by Claude; 05-13-2018, 09:31 PM.
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        • #5
          Good, you have American Linden = Basswood = Tilia americana. Most everybody calls it "basswood."

          Let's suppose that you are intent on carving with your own wood. There's some prep work to get usable pieces.
          Mainstem wood that was standing vertically will be the most uniform, bark to bark.
          Since it seems a shame to log the tree for a spoon, might as well work with thick branches.

          What will you carve? How big is that?
          I have a big flower pot on my kitchen counter, holds a bunch of spoons and spatulas.
          Wood, metal, plastic, silicone. They are all in the 12" - 14" range.

          I'd pick a fat branch, say 6" diameter with very few side branches, mark the topside with a stripe of crayon and carefully drop that.
          There is no guarantee that the ends won't crack. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. So, I'd buck up the branch into 18" - 20" lengths.

          I buy western red cedar blocks, fresh they weigh 40 pounds and are always 24" long. I expect to lose 4" at each end with cracking.
          I can buy 5" x 5" x 64" posts from the same mill for the same price as the blocks. Everything is $5.00 each. 20 minutes from my house.

          Next, split the branch right through the middle, side to side, so you have a top half and a bottom half.
          The wood anatomy will be different and the carving effort will change, too.
          Strip the bark and label T (top) and B (bottom). Paint the cut ends. Any old paint, old carpenter's glue, etc.
          The point is to try to slow down the water loss from the ends when compared with water loss from the sides.

          OK. drying time, as Claude points out, is about 1" of thickness per year.
          Example: drying from both sides, a 4" thick slab ought to settle down to the Equilibrium Moisture Content of 12% - 14% in 2-3 years.
          Done now, you ought to be good to go in 2020. Bummer, huh?

          In the meantime, the top quality basswood of just about any size, is marketed by Heineke.
          Northern wood is better than southern wood. Longer fiber.
          I don't carve basswood. BUT, I have yet to hear a negative comment about Heineke, wood, sales or services.
          Learn 'carving sharp.' Learn the wood, they are all different.
          Brian T


          • #6
            Cool!! Like I said learn, learn learn!

            Bob L


            • #7
              ok RV, glad you mentioned again drying time per inch. which in turn reminded me of a guy in the mid 80's telling me he was about to dry some carving blocks in his microwave. at the time i didnt quite understand what he was about, and now i am wondering again, I dont see it mentioned hardy ever for some reason or other.
              can it be done or work satisfactory? what routine to use??

              photos at........


              • #8
                Microwave Oven. Poor man's drying kiln. I think they hope that the heat will speed up the drying process.
                Maybe it does. I have no idea what it's like to carve boiled wood. Kiln-dried spruce & pine is just as poppy
                and splintery as western red cedar after a couple of years outside here.

                For construction, I recall that the EMC for our kiln-dried woods like spruce/pine/fir is 24%.
                That's positively wet. The idea is that you do stick framing with a nail gun and the rest of the drying happens in service.

                I don't ever have small pieces that fit in my microwave. I have no bass wood.
                If you had fresh cut wood, a few experiments might reveal some answers.
                Brian T


                • #9
                  Originally posted by drhandrich View Post
                  ok RV, glad you mentioned again drying time per inch. which in turn reminded me of a guy in the mid 80's telling me he was about to dry some carving blocks in his microwave. at the time i didnt quite understand what he was about, and now i am wondering again, I dont see it mentioned hardy ever for some reason or other.
                  can it be done or work satisfactory? what routine to use??
                  I dried wood in a microwave a few times. It worked well. I zapped it 30 to 60 seconds at a time cooling down a bit in between the zaps. Dried out really well.
                  I'm sure there are YouTube videos...wood turners do it.


                  • #10
                    GG: what would the risks have been if you had carved the wood fresh/wet then let it air-dry? How big were the pieces?
                    Would the hot wood steam blow the pieces open like pop corn?

                    I'm trying to imagine stuffing my microwave with a 40-pound block of Western Red Cedar.
                    Actually, it air dries faster than I expected and doesn't crack as much as the old blocks did.

                    Friend of mine, a true culinary genius, decided to microwave-cook a smallish pumpkin.
                    He didn't poke any steam holes in the pumpkin. Tore the door off his microwave.
                    Baked potatoes with no steam holes won't even blow the oven door open.

                    I can't see anything beyond that.

                    In Angie's situation, time to cut, process and lay in a stock of wood to air dry. Look for and use other wood in the meantime.
                    Year after year after year. Then, you get to barter and sell wood for other folks who just can't wait.

                    I have 8 different stacks of wood. I can't remember how old much of it is. I used up all the 30yr old WRC.
                    5 stacks are indoors, 3 are outdoors and several WRC fenceposts might be on the floor under my bench.
                    There's spider web on a lot of it. Just happened that way.

                    I have an 8" x 24" piece of willow that I have dried for 5+ years and not a single crack in it. No mold. Snow white.
                    I don't ever see anything in it so there it sits.

                    The rustic furniture shop down my street will be harvesting as soon as the bark starts slipping.
                    They bring in 4-5 cords ( 4' x 4" x 8') of diamond willow. The 4" and bigger goes into a horse-stall bin for 2024.
                    They got this old horse barn on the property and it's full of wood. Except for one stall/bin and it is packed solid
                    with antlers for carving.
                    Brian T


                    • #11
                      [QUOTE=Robson Valley;n1133770]GG: what would the risks have been if you had carved the wood fresh/wet then let it air-dry? How big were the pieces?
                      Would the hot wood steam blow the pieces open like pop corn?

                      First time: I had concerns of spending hours carving on the green wet wood then having it crack or split in half.... Plus I wanted to see if I could do it.
                      The size was maybe 6 inch by 6 inch and 1 inch thick. ( carved a butterfly for my mother.) It was Dogwood.
                      I was surprised it did not crack at all drying it.

                      another time I cut a long branch around a 1/8th to 1/4 inch diameter and wrapped it around a dowel, tapped it to stay in place, then zapped it. It snapped crackled and popped a little on the ends but dried in a nice tight curly cue.

                      I rough carved a ladle out of oak while it was green then zapped it and it dried fine.
                      Dried a few other small pieces with little cracking on ends.

                      I'm sure with the right piece of wood and the speed (how hot you get it) you release the water you can blow the door off or start a roaring throwing a wet log on a campfire and say "Watch it fizz"


                      • #12



                        • #13
                          This was a piece of cypress that I cut off an 8 x 8 inch beam. It had been around a while; as you can see in the photo, moisture is bubbling out of the wood, except on the outer edges. This piece was about 4 inches thick, 8 inches wide and 10 inches long. I put it in the microwave for 2 minutes, then let it cool for 3-4, then repeated about 10 times. I weighed the wood each time, but can't find the weights I wrote down. I think it was on the order of 35% or so weight loss when I finally decided it was dry enough.

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                          • #14
                            Lot's of good info in this post. Claude, those links will help out a lot! The VTech site has a nice key.

                            Thank you RV for that breakdown! It helped put things into perspective even though you burst my bubble a little bit with the realities of drying my own wood . I'm patient though and really like the idea of 1. saving money down the road and 2. selling to folks that aren't as patient as I am.

                            The microwave idea is interesting. Although mine only fits a cup of coffee and that's about it. I'm also fairly certain I'll be the one that blows the door off or catches it on fire.



                            • #15
                              Drying wood is a beast all to its own. Get it right and you can be the go-to supplier.
                              Sorry I stepped on your toes. Better to find out now.

                              I didn't, in the beginning. Got 20 x 6" x 24" logs of fresh alder, the kind that turns orange when exposed to air.
                              Not a branch knot to be seen. The A-1 wood for carving masks. What did I know?
                              Two dishes exploded with cracks. The rest cracked so badly that I use it for smoking fish.

                              The rustic furniture shop down the street has been at it for 15+ years so they have what looks to be an astounding wood loft
                              but most of it just isn't ready. Horse barn stalls, packed solid. This year's bed posts were cut in 2012.

                              u can't go wrong with basswood from Heineke. Learn the wood.
                              Brian T