Get Started – Green Woodworking

Green woodworking is a method and philosophy of woodworking starting with green wood, and usually using only hand tools /edge tools. Historically, most woodworking was carried out this way until the advent of industrial capitalism. 

Many people start out green woodworking by learning to carve spoons and other treen – useful, small items made of wood. This way you can learn some widely applicable skills with simple and versatile hand tools. There is no limit to the number of useful projects you can pursue with only the tools in this article.

Keep reading to see my recommendations on what you might need, and where it’s available – with a preference for supporting Australian small businesses.

Two tools to get you carving

The minimal toolset for green wood spoon carving is a sloyd knife and a hook knife, and a strop to keep them sharp. You’ll also need a saw, but you probably have one lying around.

I recommend:

Straight knife / sloyd knife:

  • Mora 106 or 105 or 120 – the best value sloyd knives. There are specialised /premium options out there, but for value and versatility you can’t beat the mora 106.


Hook knife:

  • Wood-tools compound hook (RH or LH depending on your handedness) If you could only buy one hook knife for the rest of your carving journey, this would be the one. It’s excellent and versatile, and comes laser sharp out of the box.
  • Mora 164 hook knife – only if the wood-tools hook is unavailable or you’re on a strict budget. Make sure you get the new model – the old ones aren’t good. Don’t bother with the other models of Mora hook knives. Especially avoid double edged hook knives – they are bad.


You can carve small spoons from branches with no problem with these two tools, or you can carve my already axed-out blanks. This is a great way to get started with a low barrier-to-entry. Order green wood spoon blanks.

carving axe with hand carved handle, embedded in chopping stump
An old West German hatchet head that I re-hafted and re-ground for a customer.
AXE OUT YOUR OWN BLANKS:

Carving axes

There are lots of great options for carving axes out there in the boutique tools world. I won’t cover those here. Instead, let’s talk about what’s widely available here in Australia.

Budget:

  • I use the wood-tools carving axe in my workshops, and it’s an excellent option for beginners. It’s lightweight, has a good handle, and comes sharp out of the box. They also make a heavier version, which I would recommend for anyone who is confident they can swing it. In my experience, beginners are more comfortable with a lighter axe.
  • If you really want to save money, and still get an excellent axe, look around antiques and junk stores for old hatchets. Most old axes will need to be re-ground before they’ll be useful for carving. Additionally, if you don’t have the skill to make a new handle, you’ll need to find one that is solid already. If you find a nice hatchet head, but it needs some work, you can send it to me for a fresh edge and/or a new handle. Custom work will bring the price up equivalent to a new premium axe, but you’ll have a unique and personalised tool. Worth considering. If there’s no good flea markets in your area, try “The Tool Exchange”, an online store, often with nice old hatchets. Link below with the other retailers.


Premium:

  • Gränsfors Bruk Swedish forged axes are available from several retailers here in Australia. I use and recommend the Swedish Carving Axe. For a lighter axe, go with their hand hatchet. For a versatile all-purpose axe that can still carve spoons, go with the small forest axe, or wildlife hatchet. Gränsfors axes are available from the Lost Trades Store, The Spoonsmith, and various other specialty stores. Links below.

Peripheral Tools / Equipment

Saws:

Any saw will work, but for green woodworking I recommend an arborist style pruning saw. Get one with a straight (not curved) blade. Silky Saws are excellent, and available either from woodtamer or from the manufacturer/distributor.

I recommend:

  • The Silky Gomboy is the most versatile option.
  • The Pocket boy is great if you need your saw to be small and portable.

Axe stump/block:

If you want to axe your own blanks, you’ll need a chopping stump. Look out for a good size log, and attach three legs to it if you’re able, to make it sturdy. It should be at roughly the height of your knuckles, with your arm hanging down naturally. If you can’t find one, and you’re local to me (Melbourne’s inner north), I can help you out.

Splitting wedges / sledge hammer

If you find a large green log for carving, congratulations! You’ll need a way to split it open. Head to bunnings and get a large sledgehammer, and some steel wood splitting wedges.

Froe and Club

A more refined wood splitting tool is the froe – this isn’t necessary to get started, you can use your hatchet in a pinch. Make sure you never hit your froe or hatchet with a metal hammer. Use a wooden club instead. This is simply a thick branch with a handle carved into it. Make one, use it until it breaks, make another one, and so on.

Good froes are hard to find new. I recommend contacting John Steele, a Sydney based blacksmith. He can make you one. This is what I use personally.

Marking and Laying out

I use faber castell Albrecht Durer watercolour pencils, and have found them to be the best for marking clearly on green wood. I use a Swedish style / carpenter’s folding ruler for drawing straight lines, where needed.

Notes on this guide:

  1. This article is about accessible / easy to find options – I haven’t discussed boutique makers here, or anyone with a waiting list, or whose tools typically sell out straight away. Expect a separate article on that topic. I’ll link it here when it’s done.
  2. Sharpening will also be covered in a separate article, linked here when it’s ready.
  3. This is not sponsored – these are my genuine, personal opinions.
  4. This article only covers tools that I either own personally, or have tried. There are lots of other options that I have no experience with, and therefore won’t recommend.
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