Mountaineer Woodturners


How to process harvested wood.


Processing Wood


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Processing Harvested Wood


It is a daunting task, you worked up the courage to go out and harvest your own wood but your left with the unnerving question.  How do you process this harvested wood?  In this article we will follow Larry Weese Jr. as he processes a batch of wood for making bowls.  I will try my best to explain what he is doing or thinking in the various photos that will follow.  If you have any questions that I don't answe, please feel free to ask Larry.  I am very thankful for his help and demostrating this process.  Already processed wood can be extremly expensive and this will help those of us on a tight budget enjoy craft of woodturning.

by Jason Carnes

One of the first things you will want to do is trim off any cracks in the wood ends.  Here Larry is cutting back a few inches from the end.  He will repeat the process if required until he finds clean wood.

If the wood is cracked all the way through, then it is pretty much unusable for making bowls.

The wood he is processing here is a piece of walnut.  I had harvested it about 6 months ago. It is important to coat the ends to prevent cracking (which I did), but it is also important to keep it in an unventalated area (which I did not).  You also do not want wet wood to freeze either or it will crack.

A good product to coat the ends with is wood sealer.

The next step is to measure the usable wood you have left to determine what you might be able to do with it.  You might want to make a nature edge bowl or a normal bowl.  You might want to make a hollow form or maybe spindle stock.


Larry is showing here how you would draw what you might want to do with your log.  It is helpful to have a piece of chalk to outline your ideas at this stage to see if what you want to do is pratical and to give you an idea of how you would cut the log.

Notice with the natural edge bowl drawing (left), the bottom of the bowl will be the center pith of the log.

On the regular bowl (right), the pith will be waste wood as you hollow out the bowl.

The log has been loaded up on the cutting sawhorse and Larry marks each end of the log with a little notch so that he will cut a straight line through the log.

To the left is Larry demostrating proper technique for cutting through a log.  The image below shows the finished cut.

This is another piece of wood he has decided to process at this time.  It is often a good idea to plan to process a batch of lumber at once.  He measures to get an idea of what he can do with this piece and trims off the end.  Then he measures again!

He decides he wants to cut the wood in half based on what he envisions he is looking for in this piece.

The diameter of the wood and the nots do play a role in his decision making process.

He is trimming off the sides here.  It will help save time later on the lathe.  It will also save your tools in the long run too.

Moving into the shop now.  Larry has premade cardboard rounds made to various sizes.  He can place the round on the piece of stock to see what fits and doesn't as he selects his size.  He uses a wooden mallet and phillips to mark the center and keep the cardboard attached for the next step.

If you want to harvest and process your own wood you will need a bandsaw.  The bandsaw is used to cut off the excess square piece to get a round like shape to the blank.

He uses a drill with a stop attached to drill a hole to receive the wormscrew that is locked into his chuck.

To the left is the wormscrew and chuck I mentioned before.  The wormscrew should come with your chuck as an attachment piece.

Below Larry is using a bowl gouge for roughing out a basic shape.  He demostrated both a 1/2" and a 5/8" bowl gouge for this project.

The project can be completed with either size bowl gouge, what is important is that your tools are sharp!

Larry is demostrating proper standing and hand technique here.  Notice how the tool is locked into his hip.  His whole body moves in one fluid motion.  His hand has control of the tool, but he also knows how to let the tool do its job.  It is important not to force the tool but to become one with it.

Also important is the fact his hand is not blocking the shavings, they are flying off and not pilling up at his hand.  Be very mindful of where your wrist is at this time too.  If you get it too close to the wood and you make contact you very easily break your wrist.

During the shaping process, you must decide as an artist, where do you want the foot of the bowl to be? What kind of foot do you want?

You need to also make a tenon so you can reverse the bowl to hollow out the inside.

When you are cutting your tenon, be sure to make it just slightly larger then the smallest part of your jaws on your chuck.  You want the jaws to extend a little but not to much as you will lose gripping power.

If you make the tenon to small, even if it fits now, it might not fit after the bowl has gone through its drying process.

Larry suggest leaving just over a pencil width as shown on the right.

After you turn the bowl around you can start the hollowing out process.  Be sure to keep the walls uniform in thickness as you go.  Since this is wet wood, you want to leave the walls about an inch thick so the bowl doesn't crack as it loses moisture and stabilizes.

When removing waste wood in the center, you want to leave as much center mass as possible as you go, you might have seen this in other turners when they leave a pyramid shape in the middle of the bowl as they form out the rim.

You will continue to use your roughing bowl gouge for this phase.  It isn't until you reach the bottom of the bowl that you would use your bottom feeder bowl gouge.  If your not comfortable with using a bottom feeder bowl gouge, you can use a large 1" french scraper, although you might experience some tear out.

You do not need to make a finishing pass or attempt an ultra smooth surface at this phase of the process because after the bowl dries some it will warp just slightly and you will need to true it back up anyways.  You will also make your walls thinner in your next phase too (after the wood is dry).

These steps will get you started with a batch of bowls.  I plan to write another article for what you do next after the bowl is dry and ready for finishing.

Again, I would like to thank Larry for demostrating how to process harvested wood and the first phase of making a bowl.