A book that I return to often is The Heart of Thoreau’s Journals edited by Odell Shepard. One interesting aspect is comparing Thoreau’s notes for a particular time of year to my own observances; his March to my March.
Thoreau writes often about birds and bird-song; geese, thrushes, tanagers, and nighthawks all within a few pages. In spite of our wintry March this year, the birds still sing the hope of spring. A couple weeks ago, I heard the message from a chorus of red-winged blackbirds that had returned to the tall grasses at the edge of a pond along my walk. Flocks of puffed-up robins and cedar waxwings were gulping down the remnants of berries on our backyard trees.
With snow covering our ground now, the peepers have remained quiet, but Thoreau wrote about hearing a tree frog on March 21, 1853:
“Ah! then, as I was rising this crowning road, just beyond the old lime-kiln, there leaked into my open ear the faint peep of a hyla from some far pool. One little hyla somewhere in the fens….If the hyla has revived again, may not I?”
A week later, on March 28, Thoreau makes a funny reference to his frog-listening:
“My Aunt Maria asked me to read the life of Dr. Chalmers, which however, I did not promise to do. Yesterday, Sunday, she was heard through the partition shouting to my Aunt Jane, who is deaf, “Think of it! He stood half an hour today to hear the frogs croak, and he wouldn’t read the life of Chalmers.”
Spring also means an end to easy wood storage for me, as winter’s gift of a free extra large freezer comes to an end. The question of how to keep greenwood green has many answers. Here are my thoughts.
The obvious solution is to just carve it rather than store it. Of course, that is easier said than done, but one strategy is to rough out several pieces rather than finishing one before moving on to the next. That allows you to move through the wood supply, while leaving the after-drying stages for later.
To store green wood it is simply a matter of retaining the moisture. The bark does a good job of this if it’s intact, and I paint the ends of the log with a couple coats of latex paint. Alternatively, and for pieces that are already split, I put them in a garbage bag and seal it tight.
For species that are light-colored and/or are not decay resistant, the moisture combined with warm temperatures can lead to staining and relatively rapid decay. So, if I need to store such wood longer term, I reduce the bulk as much as possible first. I split the rounds in half and have a good look. No need to store the rejected pieces, other than in the firewood stack. Then I reduce unnecessary bulk from the good pieces, bag them, and beg for some space in the freezer or fridge. This is much more realistic for spoon blanks than bowl blanks. Pull out pieces as needed to carve.
You can get more creative with underwater storage and that sort of thing. Whatever works for you.
These early spring snows set off the hemlock trees as well as my rejected cherry bowl that I converted into a duplex birdhouse. Still waiting for tenants; it was worth a shot!
A pile of spoons that didn’t work out will thaw out soon and be ready to fuel some marshmallow roasting.
And I finished a bowl today that I’ll post about soon…
It was a rare sighting today to see a large Pileated woodpecker on a tree in our yard having a snack. Not quite the sound of a keeper but pretty cool to see. I wonder what Thoreau would have said about it. You mentioned something I have wondered about…keeping blanks in water until needed. Probably a crazy question, but would this work if pieces have begun to get dry?
Glad the pileated visited your yard, Scott. I love seeing them in the woods and hearing them. It’s easy to understand what inspired Woody Woodpecker’s laugh. And what woodworkers! I took some photos a couple months ago of a tree undergoing extensive excavation by pileated woodpeckers. I’ll try to get them into a post sometime.
Good question about re-hydrating wood through water storage. I’ve never tried it, but it makes sense to a certain degree I think, if the wood isn’t too dry. I would think the cellular structure of the wood will not rebound completely once dried out too much. Of course, you can certainly work wood that is dry if it has not cracked and checked in a way to make the piece unusable.
A David Fisher handmade birdhouse, that’s one lucky bird!
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I’ll let you know when the first bird is impressed! There must be at least one or two on the lookout for an unusual home.
Lovely. I especially love the frog illustration.
They have it for sale here, Nancy. https://www.gettyimages.fr/license/587732383
always interesting Dave
and some feathered thing will be intrigued by the tree addition–
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I think the take away for me is that some piesces actually don’t work out for you…it makes the aspiring carver, striving for perfection, offer thyself a bit of sympathy rather than the usual skepticism. 83 and Sunny in TX today 😀
My firewood pile has received plenty of my bad ideas, mistakes, and oopses. I’ve screamed at myself like a blathering fool. Actually, not all of them end up on the firewood pile, things aren’t often as bad as they first seem. Regardless, each one of those experiences carries a lesson, and leads to improvement. And you’ve still got to try. Some of the things that worked out best are ones that I nearly talked myself out of.
I recently read Gary Rogowski’s book “Handmade: Creative Focus in the Age of Distraction.” http://www.woodworkerslibrary.com/woodworking-books/handmade-creative-focus-in-the-age-of-distraction/
In it he writes thoughtfully and at length about the feelings you’ve alluded to, Emil. Just one little excerpt from the book: “The most important thing I need is forgiveness. I have to be able to let myself make mistakes. I want to avoid mistakes, but when they occur, as they will, I have to take it easy on myself. Perfectionism kills and strangles me and prevents me from taking any chances, from being curious, from enjoying what accomplishments I have made at the bench.” And Gary shares plenty more wisdom in there as well.
Which reminds me of another book full of hard-won wisdom regarding woodworking and life, Nancy Hiller’s “Making Things Work” https://nrhillerdesign.com/making-things-work/
Nancy’s account of her journey in woodworking is not only full of hilarious moments, but also speaks to forgiveness and moving forward undaunted.
A timely post, Dave. We had a windstorm come through a couple of weeks ago and I found myself with quite a stack of new material. Knowing how slowly I move through projects, these helpful hints will keep this material fresh.
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Good luck with the windfall wood, Stoy.
Does the Wood dry in the freezer, or IT just wait there to be finished later?
Your page IS great source od inspiration for me. Thank you for that.
Hi Martin. No, the wood doesn’t dry — at least not much if it is kept in a bag. Just like with food, it is just sort of suspended in time while in the freezer.