a challenge for Jennie Alexander re “green woodworking”

devon chest front view

devon chest w distorted stile

Devil’s Advocate time for me.

Jennie Alexander wrote today commenting about the recent post “what is green woodworking” – https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/what-is-green-woodworking-2/

Here is her comment:

“I am fascinated by the continuing dialogue about green woodworking crafts. They are crafts where wood of substantial moisture content is initially processed by riving, not sawing, in the direction of its long fibers. Glossary, Make a Chair from a Tree, Third Edition, Lost Art Press…..when it gets published. So there. Jennie”

JA – by your definition today, the chest above is not green woodworking. i.e. it’s sawn stock. Not riven.

just to keep things lively…on a cold winter day.

By the way, I can’t remember the last time I mentioned it, but if readers want to see lots of oak furniture of this period, do sign up for Marhamchurch Antiques emails. I always stop and look at what Paul Fitzsimmons has churned up over there. Great stuff. I swiped these photos from him. Thanks, Paul.




8 thoughts on “a challenge for Jennie Alexander re “green woodworking”

  1. I’m no expert on this whatsoever. But as a complete novice woodworker and someone that’s getting more and more drawn into green woodworking, the fundamental difference to me is philosophical: how can I work WITH green/wet/fresh wood? Where non green-woodworkers attempt to minimize movement through drying, green woodworker depend on it to make furniture that will last.

    I can imagine you can make furniture with dried and green wood (where moisture is transferred from one piece to another to make a joint tighter) or work with riven and sawn pieces, and we start getting into a gray area. But as someone on the outside, to me both examples are green woodworking because the maker is using a piece of wood with high moisture on purpose. Now if I use 99% dried wood and 1% green, is that green woodworking? I leave that to the academics.

    I’m probably completely wrong, but couldn’t resist joining the discussion, too much fun :)

  2. I like to think of “Green Woodworking” as what people did, or do, when presented with a need and the wood is in the natural state of being( a tree). The tools change over time, but the conditions are the same. Just as Jennie begins his video with a tree and a chainsaw, the earlier settlers approached the tree with an axe. The urgency of “the need” would determine the methods.

  3. Peter
    The chest you show appears at a distance to have been made from wood rived from a tree in the direction of its long fibers (rived stock). Upon closer inspection, the chest was made, in principal part, from wood sawn from a tree in the direction of its long fibers ( sawn stock). Simply put, it is the exception that proves the rule. You have examined countless pieces of 17th Century joinery. How many pieces have you seen ,or heard or read about, made from sawn stock? Could you hazard a percentage? Traditional riven wood crafts include oak baskets, post and rung chairs, Windsor chairs (except for the seat), wheels, hurdles, fish traps, barrels and so on and so on. The word “traditional” modifies all the examples. Buy a kitchen post and rung chair today, Katie bar the sawn stock. The subtitle to Make a Chair from a Tree is: “An Introduction to Working Green Wood.” I didn’t make up the phrase “green woodworking” it just fell from the book and the chair. I am sticking with it and hope to get back to working on the Third Edition of “Make a Chair from a Tree, An Introduction to Green Woodworking.”
    Wood is wonderful!

    • this chest is no exception, it is run-of-the-mill England. Sawn, yes, but still green wood used. you couldn’t get that much movement in that rear stile w/o moisture. there;s work in England from all manner of stock, good, bad, in-between. very little sawn hardwoods used in New England, lots in OE. So in your estimation/thought, is it the riving that makes green woodworking green? You cite cooperage, that’s a dry wood craft, although riven stock is often used. You could call it “riven woodworking” – and leave the moisture out of it altogether. Your chairs are assembled at what moisture content? Posts at 12% and rungs oven-dry? Is “green woodworking” green because the stock is formed from fresh wood? Then what about air-dried boards? They were sawn green? You see why I keep pushing…the longer I work wood, the more I see myself using stock of varying moisture contents, depending on the application. Which is my whole point.

  4. Forty five years ago when I started working on historic woodworking, there were guys who said that in colonial times people let their material dry for 15 years. Did they really imagine that woodworkers came to America, piled up timber to dry and sat on their hands for more than a decade? Now I have heard people who think that if a board gets too dry it must be discarded or soaked or something on order to work it. Do they really think that 17th century woodworkers bypassed good material because it had become dry? The truth is that they were able to work with dry and wet, sawed and riven.

    For the best surface from the plane the timber should be dry, at least on the outside. For the best surface from a pole lathe the material should be dry. The current idea that the pole lathe can only be used for green timbers is preposterous. In the 18th century guys were making flutes and spinning wheels, precision instruments, with pole lathes. I would imagine the same is true of the 16th century also.

  5. Not all English chests are made of sawn stock but a lot are. Further, they often used crummy wood, so wriggly or compression wood or wood near knots or crotches tends to go crazy once released. Further, I’ve noticed for some reason that the Devon chests have posts that are leaner front-to-back than the American ones made by immigrant Devon joiners. For some reason I find tangentially sawn panel stock to be far more offensive than inferior framing stock.

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