Processing Green Wood Logs

When you’re working with green wood logs, less is usually more!

Few timbers can remain in the whole log form for
very long without experiencing significant degrade

Every year I get lots of emails from woodturners that saw a tree coming down in their area and they grabbed every bit they could fit into their pickup truck, or trailer. Time goes by and their huge score starts checking and splitting because they could not process it fast enough. Sound familiar? What had been visions of lots of huge bowls and platters, now somehow morphs into turning squares, small boxes and maybe pen blanks.

Although it’s a hard habit to get into, it’s usually best to only take what you can easily process/roughout quickly, say in a month or less. If you’re a hobby woodturner, you may only turn on the weekends when you not doing the yard, completing honey-do’s, helping the kids/grandkids, or the thousand other things you have to do every day. Your pile of green wood logs is oblivious to your time challenges and if you let those bad boys sit around long enough, you will have a nice pile of checked, split and honeycomb fissured logs waiting for you on the floor.

I know, because it happened to me on more than a few occasions when I first opened my studio fifteen years ago. After losing too many whole green wood logs to checking in the early days, I started taking only what I knew I could process in one week (my personal self imposed deadline). I would cherry pick the best parts of the tree (high figured sections and crotches) and pass on everything else. Instead of taking everything I could load into my rental truck, I developed a timber triage of sorts, to save time in the field.

My field selection system is a brutally efficient, high figured triage that allows me to leave with the best of what the tree has to offer and only what I know I can rough out, or process in the next seven days. Whilst I originally thought I would be leaving a lot of good wood on the ground, I actually ended up with plenty of high figured timber and besides, there would always be another tree coming down next week anyway. I’m much happier now and I never have logs that sit around long enough to start checking. Try the less is more rule in your studio and banish the ever growing piles of checked and split logs forever!

Tip: Always coat your fresh cut log ends and high figured crotches (if you split them in the field like I do) with Anchorseal green wood wax emulsion sealer, or equivalent. Don’t make the mistake of carting your logs across town in the open air and coating them when you get back home! Do it in the field as soon as possible after cutting, to reduce the checking in the end grain and high figured areas. For more information on processing green wood logs and using wax emulsion sealers, check out this article.

Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to prevent accident or injury.

Steven D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines, which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world. Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms with unique visual and tactile treatments.

Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.

Steve is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's "Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in an upcoming issue.