Posted on 1 Comment

Traditional Crafts and Greenwood Woodworking


Woodworking is an age-old craft practised for centuries, offering a fulfilling and rewarding way to create beautiful and functional items that can be used and cherished for years to come. There has recently been a renewed interest in traditional crafts, such as greenwood woodworking. Greenwood woodworking involves working with green (recently felled) wood and embracing traditional techniques, providing unique and attractive creations. In this article, we’ll explore eight tips for greenwood woodworking.

Tip 1: Select Freshly Cut Greenwood: Hardwood vs Softwood

The first step in greenwood woodworking is choosing freshly cut greenwood from a recently felled tree. Greenwood is easier to work with than seasoned wood, as it is softer and more pliable, allowing for easier carving and shaping. When selecting greenwood, it is essential to consider the species, as some are more suitable for greenwood woodworking than others. Hardwoods, such as ash, oak, and cherry, are preferred for greenwood projects due to their durability and workability. Softwoods like pine can be too resinous to work with, which may cause difficulties in carving and turning. Therefore, it is crucial to choose the right type of wood, keeping in mind the specific requirements of your greenwood project.

Tip 2: Traditional Crafts and Hand Tools

In the world of greenwood woodworking, traditional crafts are highly valued. By using hand tools instead of power tools, you can form a more personal connection with the wood, allowing you to feel the grain and texture, leading to a deeper appreciation for the material. Hand tools are also quieter, require less energy (but more elbow grease), and produce less dust and waste. Use tools like drawknives, spokeshaves, sloyd spoon carving knives & axes, and froes to shape and work the greenwood. Specialist tools, like the spoon carving knife and carving axe, are not normally made by large manufacturers. However, there is a thriving tool-making community. For example, Robin Wood makes good tools ideal for beginners and improvers.

Tip 3: Embrace Natural Variations

Greenwood woodworking encourages embracing the natural variations and imperfections in the wood rather than trying to hide them. By incorporating these unique features into your work, you can create unique items with character and personality. This approach also helps reduce waste, allowing you to use pieces of wood that may have otherwise been discarded.

Tip 4: Master Traditional Joinery Techniques

Mastering traditional joinery techniques is an essential aspect of greenwood woodworking. These techniques create strong and durable joints without nails, screws, or adhesives. Some popular joinery techniques in greenwood woodworking include mortise and tenon joints. You can create beautiful, functional items built to last by mastering these methods.

Tip 5: Use Natural Finishes or Drying Oils

Natural finishes are essential for the greenwood woodworking process for woodturners, bowl turners, and pole-lathe bowl turners. Traditional crafts often emphasize environmentally friendly methods, and in the case of wood finishes, this means using natural, eco-friendly alternatives to stains, paints, or sealants. Instead, you can preserve the wood and showcase its inherent beauty by opting for natural oils, waxes, or plant-based dyes.

Milk Paint

An ancient finishing technique dating back to early examples in Egypt, milk paint has seen a resurgence in popularity among interior decorators and craftspeople. The paint’s aesthetic appeal and non-toxic nature make it an attractive choice for finishing greenwood woodworking projects.

Food-Safe Drying Oils

A food-safe drying or polymerizing oil such as walnut, tung, or linseed oil is recommended for wooden bowls. These oils soak into the wood, accentuating the grain and providing protection. In addition, if the wood begins to appear dull, a fresh layer of oil can enhance the appearance of your bowl.

To apply the oil, use a lint-free cloth and rub it into the wood. Allow the bowl to dry for a week before using it. It is essential to avoid using non-drying oils like olive oil, which can become rancid and produce an unpleasant odour.

Wooden Bowl Care Tips

When caring for your wooden bowls, follow these guidelines to prevent damage:

  • Keep bowls away from heat sources and direct sunlight to avoid warping or cracking.
  • Use small pieces of felt or cork between stacked bowls to prevent scratching.
  • Do not let your bowls soak in water for an extended period, as the wood can absorb moisture, leading to cracking.

By choosing natural finishes for your greenwood woodworking projects, you can preserve the wood’s natural beauty while adhering to environmentally friendly practices. Options like milk paint and food-safe drying oils such as walnut, tung, or linseed oil are perfect for showcasing the unique qualities of greenwood while protecting it for years to come. Embracing natural finishes is an essential aspect of traditional crafts and a way to ensure the longevity of your handcrafted items.

Tip 6: Craft Items Designed for Functionality

Greenwood woodworking focuses on creating items that are not only beautiful but also functional. When designing your projects, consider how the item will be used and how it can be crafted to meet its intended purpose. This approach helps ensure that your creations are visually appealing but also practical and useful.

Traditional Bowl-Turning

Greenwood bowl-turning is a rewarding craft that combines the natural beauty of wood with the skilful art of woodturning using traditional tools, including the ancient pole-lathe. Greenwood, perfect for carving, turning, and shaping by hand, is softer and easier to work with than seasoned timber. My greenwood courses offer a hands-on experience for beginners and experienced woodworkers alike, aiming to deepen their knowledge and appreciation for this ancient craft.

Traditional Craft of Greenwood Bowl Turning
Jon Baily on a Traditional Pole-lathe

One of the most appealing aspects of working with greenwood is its tendency to warp as it dries. This characteristic ensures that each bowl takes on a distinct and unique shape, adding to the allure and charm of every creation. The organic, uneven contours produced by the drying process highlight the wood’s inherent beauty and texture, making each bowl a unique work of art. By embracing greenwood’s characteristics, woodturners can skilfully craft individual and treasured pieces.

My bowl-turning courses, such as the Bowl-Turning Taster Sessions and the 1-Day Introduction to Pole-lathe Turning, and 2 Day Bowl-Turning Courses, offer a fun, friendly environment for learning the art of bowl-turning using traditional tools. With the guidance of an experienced instructor, participants will have the opportunity to create a unique wooden bowl using greenwood on a traditional pole-lathe. These courses are perfect for those new to bowl-turning or looking to hone their skills whilst connecting with the past and engaging in hands-on crafts.

Join us on this journey of discovery and learn the art of bowl-turning to create your own beautiful and functional bowl that you can use and cherish for years to come.

Spoon Carving

One of the most popular and accessible greenwood carving projects is spoon carving. This traditional craft allows beginners and experienced woodworkers to create functional, beautiful, and unique pieces from freshly cut wood. Spoon carving requires minimal tools, such as a carving knife, a hook knife, and a straight knife. You can create spoons with intricate designs and personal touches by learning various carving techniques and understanding the wood’s natural grain. Greenwood spoon carving not only offers a satisfying and meditative experience but also allows you to connect with the material and appreciate the natural beauty of the wood.

Top Tip: The go to book on spoon carving is Swedish Carving Techniques by Wille Sundquist

Greenwood Chair Making

In a world where mass-produced, generic furniture has become the norm, greenwood furniture is incredibly refreshing and soulful. Rooted in the age-old traditions of artistry, greenwood furniture is handcrafted from freshly cut, unseasoned wood, offering both beauty and durability.

These timeless designs not only showcase the intricate skills of chairmakers but also pay homage to the rich history of traditional crafts.

Ladder-backed Chairs: A Symbol of Time-honoured Craftsmanship

The ladder-backed chair, known for its horizontal slats or “rungs” resembling a ladder, is a classic example of greenwood furniture. Often constructed from hardwoods such as ash, oak, or hickory, ladder-backed chairs are both functional and attractive. The use of greenwood in these chairs provides strength and flexibility, allowing the artisan to shape the wood with ease. As the wood dries, it tightens and locks the joints, creating a sturdy, long-lasting piece of furniture. The ladder-backed chair is a testament to the beauty of simplicity and the value of traditional craftsmanship in creating heirloom-worthy pieces.

Top Tip: An excellent book to get (if you can) is Going with the Grain by Mike Abbot. Alternatively, you may find it easier to get another of Mike’s books, Green Woodwork: Working with Wood the Natural Way.

Welsh Stick Chairs: Rustic Elegance Meets Practicality

The Welsh stick chair, a unique rustic design hailing from the rural regions of Wales, is another excellent example of greenwood furniture. Characterized by its sturdy construction and distinctively curved armrests, the Welsh stick chair showcases the artisan’s ability to combine form and function skilfully. Utilizing greenwood’s inherent properties, the chair’s spindles, legs, and backrest are shaped and fitted together, creating a comfortable and durable seat. In addition, the Welsh stick chair’s unpretentious elegance and practicality make it a cherished piece of furniture in traditional homes and modern interiors.

Windsor Chairs: A Timeless Classic with a Greenwood Twist

The Windsor chair is a classic design that has graced homes and public spaces for centuries. Known for its distinctive features, such as a solid, contoured seat and an array of spindles supporting the curved backrest, the Windsor chair is a testament to the art of greenwood furniture making. By employing traditional joinery techniques and using the natural properties of greenwood, chairmakers can create strong, lightweight, and elegant chairs that last for generations. From its humble origins in English country homes to its enduring popularity today, the Windsor chair is a timeless symbol of craftsmanship and style.

Tip 7: Allow the Wood to Dry Slowly

After shaping and crafting your greenwood project, allowing the wood to dry slowly and naturally is essential. This helps prevent warping, cracking, and other issues that can arise as the wood dries. To ease this slow drying process, keep the finished project in a cool, well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight or heat sources.

Drying Tips for Bowl-Turners and Spoon Carvers:

  • Save some shavings to put into your newly turned bowl.

Adding shavings slows down the drying time. This can be useful if you are demonstrating traditional bowl-turning and can’t immediately put your bowl somewhere suitable for drying. You can also surround a new spoon with shavings to achieve the same result.

  • Put your bowl into a paper bag.

This is another way to slow the drying process. Put your bowl into a brown paper bag. You will need to turn the bag inside out every few days to release any moisture that builds up.

  • Take your time.

You must not rush the drying process. Otherwise, you run the risk of your item cracking.

Walnut Bowl made using traditional craft skills
Walnut Bowl turned on a Pole-lathe

Tip 8: Collaborate and Learn from Others

Greenwood woodworking is a craft that has been passed down through generations. To continue honing your skills and learning new techniques, consider collaborating and learning from others in the greenwood woodworking community. Attend workshops, join local clubs or online forums, and engage with experienced woodworkers who can share their knowledge and expertise. By interacting with others who share your passion for greenwood woodworking, you can expand your skills. You will also discover new techniques, and contribute to this traditional craft’s ongoing growth and preservation.

Specifically, the Association of Greenwood Woodworkers and Pole-Lathe Turners offers members access to a national network of amateur and professional craftspeople. They can support those wanting to learn or improve their greenwood skills. I am a member of a local group based at Burwash Manor, the Burwash Bodgers.

Bodgers Ball


Greenwood woodworking is a captivating and rewarding craft that embraces traditional techniques while working with freshly cut wood. By selecting the right greenwood, using hand tools, embracing natural variations, mastering traditional joinery techniques, using natural finishes, crafting functional items, allowing the wood to dry slowly, and collaborating with fellow woodworkers, you can create unique and attractive items that celebrate the beauty of greenwood. As interest in traditional crafts grows, greenwood woodworking offers a fulfilling and engaging way to connect with the natural world and create beautiful, functional items to be cherished for years.

1 thought on “Traditional Crafts and Greenwood Woodworking

  1. Traditional woodworking, also known as traditional woodcraft, refers to the practice of working with wood using hand tools and traditional techniques rather than modern power tools. It is a skill that has been passed down through generations and is valued for its craftsmanship and attention to detail. Here are some key aspects of traditional

Leave a Reply