Should I Carve Green Wood or Dry Wood?

Learning the ins and outs of perfecting wood carving can take years, but you can begin to learn tips and tricks along the way that will help you to get better at your craft. For example, while some woodcarvers prefer to carve with green wood, others prefer dry wood.

Carving with green wood and dry wood comes down to personal preference. While green wood is not dried out, it has more give and can be more easily carved with standard tools. It can require more diligent protection from the elements, or it will naturally dry out and potentially crack.

On the other hand, dry wood can be carved at any time, but it requires more sharp and precise tools since you will have to work through any of the knots and natural grain patterns of the wood that you use.

While there are many advantages to each opportunity, you might find that one meets your needs and carving desires a bit better than the other. So, the personal decision comes back to what you are attempting to make and the aesthetic you hope to grasp. Let’s take a closer look.

What are the Advantages of Carving with Green Wood?

Since choosing to carve with green wood or dry wood comes down to personal preference and which type of wood will best meet your needs, goals, and the desired product you hope to create, it is important to understand the unique advantages that each type of wood has to offer.

With that in mind, there are many advantages of carving with greenwood. Specifically, greenwood is softer due to moisture retention, so it is easier to carve. Plus, using the grain pattern can help to create more unique designs. Along with that, carving with green wood can allow for cleaner cuts to prevent the need for much sanding.

This, along with many other advantages, can help persuade you to choose to use green wood- wood that is more “alive” and natural, potentially coming from fresh out of the woods- compared to the dry wood alternative.

But, what do these advantages really look like when choosing to incorporate carving with green wood? Let’s dive in.

Green Wood is Softer Due to Moisture Retention and is Easier to Carve

When choosing to carve green wood or dry wood, knowing that green wood is softer will be one of the most critical elements in your decision. After all, this is the prime reason that many people have begun to carve greenwood solely in the first place.

Greenwood is about as natural as it gets considering the wood has not yet had the time, space, or exposure to the elements to dry out. It usually comes straight from being chopped down into the woodworker’s workshop. It is more close to “alive.”

Because the greenwood has more recently been chopped down, it has not had the chance to lose all of the water that trees naturally retain. Instead, it will be very moist- even to the touch- as the water and sap will remain.

This makes it incredibly easier to physically carve as your blades can move much more easily through the softwood than they can through dry, harder wood.

Think of it like scooping ice cream. About everybody loves ice cream, but nobody likes to wait for it. People come up with all kinds of tricks to cut through a firm, hardened ice cream, but it is much easier to scoop into perfectly round ice cream spheres when it has softened.

Going from soft to dried out and hardened, carving wood still applies the same principles in the opposite direction. It is much easier to pass a blade through soft, moist wood than to pass a blade through-hardened wood.

This is why you can more easily take a hand knife through green, softwood than you can through dry, hardened wood.

Using the Grain Pattern of Green Wood Helps to Create More Unique Designs

Everyone knows a well-worked piece of wood when they see one. It is not hard to see a creative design and think, “Wow, this is so unique. I have never seen a piece exactly like this.” That is the essence of hand-carved- something that nobody else will own anything exactly like.

When you carve with green wood, you are more easily able to “listen” or “go with the feel of” the natural grain pattern.

Since the wood is still soft, the knots, twists, and turns of the grain will more boldly jump out at you, as you will feel more resistance in your blade as you try to carve through them. This can prompt the woodworker to go with the grain instead of cutting right through it.

What this results in is truly stunning, unique pieces that come from the unique pieces of wood that the woodworker uses.

Since every piece of wood is truly different- having its own ridges, knots, and unique grain pattern- working with the natural uniqueness can help your designs be that much more aesthetically pleasing and desirable for you any consumer.

Carving with Green Wood Allows for Cleaner Cuts and Prevents Laborious Sanding Work

While some people just love a quality sanding job, most people do not enjoy the tedious, laborious work that sanding is. It is essential to have a smooth edge to your wood and thus have a desirable resulting craft.

When you carve with green wood, your blade will more easily and efficiently pass through (as has been mentioned). This means for the wood, though, because it will not be as jagged on the edges due to any vibration from the blade or natural effects of carving through-hardened wood.

Thus, the more naturally smooth edge that results from carving green wood can help to prevent you from having to pull out the orbital sander (or whatever other types of sanding devices you use) and only have to sand a little bit, if at all.

What are the Disadvantages of Carving with Green Wood?

While there are plenty of advantages of carving with green wood, there are certainly disadvantages, too. These can help you decide if you are not willing to work to prevent or dismantle these disadvantages.

Primarily, the disadvantages of carving with green wood are that it is difficult to maintain adequate moisture levels for prolonged periods, and the shape of your products can change as the wood dries out.

Since the wood will naturally dry out, you have to ensure that enough moisture is maintained in the greenwood as you are working on it- otherwise, you will find it drying out and being more difficult to work with than completely dry wood.

Some people even have to get creative about keeping it moist, including placing it in particular containers or elemental conditions.

Additionally, since the wood has not yet dried out, you do not know how your design’s shape will result.

Even if you have carved the wood perfectly, following the beautiful grain pattern of your wood, you cannot be certain that the cuts you make will hold well enough or that the item will not crack or warp- even if ever so slightly. This can be disappointing after spending hours of time and energy to find a misshaped result after all.

What are the Advantages of Carving with Dry Wood?

Since we have covered many of the advantages of carving with green wood, it is important to talk about what dry wood can bring to the table. After all, carpenters and woodworkers have been carving dry wood for centuries.

The advantages of carving dry wood include that you will not have to worry about additional cracks, you can use higher-impact tools, and the grain pattern is not as relevant to the shape you choose to carve into the wood. Additionally, dry wood needs to be prevented from elemental exposure but is much easier to care for as you work with it.

Truly, this comes down to a very personal decision based on what you prefer to work with.

Dry Wood is Not as Prone to Cracking

Dry wood is essentially the result of carving with greenwood. However, since you are beginning when the wood is already dry, you will know the pattern, shape, and overall dimensions that the wood naturally has.

While you might not be carving in the direct grain pattern, you can choose to fill in any cracks or work around them. However, you do not have to worry about many new cracks appearing as the wood will already have gone through the drying process.

You Can Use Higher-Impact Tools when Carving with Dry Wood

While you might prefer to use a hand blade when working with softer, greenwood, you will likely have better luck using higher-impact tools when working with dry wood.

Going back to the ice example from up above, you will have to use more sharp, precise instruments to cut through the firm product instead of what you would need to cut through the softer version.

When working with dry wood, you can move it through a planer, use various types of power saws, and continue to make the tools work for you as opposed to the other way around.

If you do not already own these tools, then you will obviously have to invest in them. While some look at this as a disadvantage, other woodworkers look at this as a new opportunity to invest in quality devices for their craft.

The Grain Pattern Will Not Determine the Cuts You Make with Dry Wood

In carving with green wood, you will be more actively making carving decisions based on the wood’s natural pattern. Contrarily, when carving with dry wood, you can sketch your design out and plan to make those exact cuts. This can be less of a “natural” look, but it can help you achieve the exact design you were originally going for.

Plus, since the dry wood is not as prone to changing shapes (like green wood), you can know that the design that you carve is there to stay. You will need to invest in higher-quality (or at least higher-impact) tools, as mentioned above.

What are the Disadvantages of Carving with Dry Wood?

While there are certainly advantages to carving with dry wood, there are naturally going to be a few disadvantages as well. Knowing these can help persuade you in one direction or the other as you choose what you value the most.

The main disadvantages of carving with dry wood are that you are more neglectful of the natural grain pattern in the wood, and carving with dry wood requires tools that you might not previously own.

Since you are designing your product and then carving it out on dry wood, you will not rely on the natural knots and ridges in the wood’s natural grain pattern. While this can help you make a more precise design, it also takes away from the natural beauty that some choose to embrace in carving with greenwood.

Additionally, investing in carving with dry wood can be a bit more expensive since carving with green wood can be done with a sharp kitchen knife.

Of course, you will want specialty carving tools either way, but the ones that you will need to carve dry wood with will likely come with a higher price tag. So, if you are not sure how long you will commit to carving, this is certainly something to think about.

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