Greenwoodworking in White Oak


“One word, no spaces,” specified Jennie Alexander when she requested this sign.  Not only was I not going to argue with the one who coined the term, I was thrilled for the opportunity to make something so meaningful for someone so influential on my greenwoodworking journey.  Talking with Jennie and getting to know her better recently has been a joy.   An example of her kindness is  the gift of the Bengt Lidstrom bowl that I wrote about back in April.

In the top photo, the sign sits on a chair I made fifteen years ago after discovering Alexander’s book and video “Make a Chair from a Tree.” I still have the pages of notes I made as I prepared to dive in as well as the print-outs of Jennie’s encouraging email response to my questions.  Most importantly, I still have the creative excitement that I felt when riving and shaving those first greenwood rungs.  Jennie’s website tells a bit of her story and still has a lot of helpful information.

SAM_3951When I mentioned the sign project to Peter Follansbee, he said without hesitation “Well, it has to be carved in riven oak.”  The relationship and collaboration between Follansbee and Alexander goes back decades, beginning at Drew and Louise Langsner’s Country Workshops.  Fortunately, I had already riven a board for the sign from a white oak log back when snow was still on the ground.

After planing, I set the board aside and returned to it recently.  I planed a fresh surface and transferred the design I had worked out after making lots of thumbnail sketches and a full-scale drawing.

Rather than make the baseline for the lettering flat, I made it follow the subtle curve of the grain through the board.


To hold the board (29 1/2″ x 8″) for carving, I used holdfasts to cantilever it beyond the edge of the workbench, allowing me to work from either side of the board without repositioning it.


Different situations and different wood species call for different cutting techniques.  This white oak is too hard to just dive in with a knife, especially for letters this large.  I removed much of the wood with a v-tool, but no matter how carefully it is used, it does not leave the letters nearly as crisp and clean as they can be.


So gouges and chisels jump into action.



I did use some knives at times, and I’ve been experimenting with mill knives from Hyde Tools.


These mill knives are purchased with handles and blades as separate components.  The blades come with various grinds, but can be reground into whatever shape one wants.  The handles are a bit rough, but a little work with sandpaper and oil makes them more comfortable, like the bottom one (which is a smaller size as well) in the photo below.  The set screw allows for blade removal or for the present blade to be extended or withdrawn, even completely into the handle for travel.


I’ve found the steel to be good, taking and holding an edge well.


Below is a blank I reground to mimic my pen knife blade.  Some of the original factory grind is visible on the now rounded-over upper side.


Here are some more photos of the sign — finished, except for a coat of oil that it may get.


I planed the backside as well, but not so much as to remove all evidence of the riving.


The view from the end reveals the tapered shape from the riving as well.


Jennie’s enthusiasm, research and greenwoodworking continue to be a special influence for many people.  As she has often said, “Wood is wonderful!”


This entry was posted in books, green woodworking, layout, sketch, teaching, trees, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Greenwoodworking in White Oak

  1. Tone says:

    Excellent sign David 🙂 I wish I had designed and made it, I’d be so pleased 😀

    I am always torn between writing “greenwood working” and “green woodworking” or, perhaps, even “green wood working” – so I am delighted that it has been decided: “Greenwoodworking” – one word – of course – perfect. If its good enough Alexander, Follansbee and Fisher that’s good enough for me. Thanks for that 😉 I’ve added it to my browser’s dictionary 🙂

    I’m a little surprised at your choice of oak – although I happily use it myself and it should be strong and long lasting, esp. if used outside. I tend to think of oak as carve-able but a little coarse grain (compared to say lime/basswood/Linden or walnut), esp. for the fine level of finish that you always achieve. Kudos. I wonder if Beech would be any good (prone to rot in damp conditions I gather, so often, but not always, avoided by boat repairers/builder)?


  2. Scott Thomas says:

    Dave, the sign is beautiful (it’s good to know the correct word) and the chair, comfortable. Thank you for sharing and hospitality.


  3. Gosh there’s a lot going on in there! I love the combinations of letters; the G and R make a beautiful shape. The O and R are lovely.
    I could stare at this for a long time.
    Very crisp work in oak.


  4. Marie L Pelletier says:

    as always, a beauty–

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Scott Kinsey says:

    I agree with a Brother Thomas…. “The only true measurement of art is astonishment.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Peter Lamb says:

    My heart just skips a beat when I look at it all, Dave.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jed Dillard says:


    Liked by 1 person

  8. Andy Sistrand says:


    Liked by 1 person

  9. Carter choate says:

    Jennie Alexander is a great inspiration to all who want to learn.A kinder ,more warm gentle lady I have never met.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Nathaniel Krause says:

    The sign is beautiful! But, what your post does not tell is the wonderful dinner conversation that I have had with Jennie this last fall and winter about giving you the bowl and the sign coming in return. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. ikustwood says:

    Indeed… breathtaking of Plénitude. Pure craftsmanship!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Dave Fisher says:

    Yesterday, July 12, Jennie Alexander passed away. I would encourage the reading of Kara Uhl’s biographic article to learn more about Jennie’s fascinating and influential life.


  13. Glenn Mitchell says:

    Dave, your beautiful post and carving is so wondrously timed to honor Jennie and her great contribution to greenwoodworking. Thanks. Perhaps it now needs to be carved on a slab of slate.


  14. Eric Goodson says:

    Dave, I am sure this beautiful sign gave her great joy in her final days. It is beautiful.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      I had just finished it, Eric, so it is still here with me for now. I had sent some photos along with a note. I do hope she was able to see them, but there were many important things going on with her and her family I expect. I appreciate your thoughts.


      • Eric Goodson says:

        Hope she got to see photos. I am sure just the idea of it brought her great joy.
        A sad summer, with Wille and now Jennie’s passing. So much inspiration from those two. It is wondrous to see.
        After hearing the news, I went out and started riving red oak for tool handles. Seemed an appropriate tribute to Jennie and her work, working oak. Hope all is well with you and yours, and that summer is treating you well. The invitation to stay with us is always open, if you find yourself in the area. Best,E

        Liked by 1 person

    • Dave Fisher says:

      Thank you, Eric. I just heard today that Jennie did see the photos of the sign and was delighted, which is so good to know.


  15. Michael says:

    I read your post earlier, but now reading it again with the recent sad news together with the beauty of creativity is most poignant, it is the way of things. Many have been saddened by the passing of Wille and Jennie, but it is felt all the more by anyone that knew them, for sure. Many have gratefully learnt so much from them directly and indirectly, and will continue to do so. May they rest in peace.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tone says:

      Sad news. I had not heard of Wille Sunqvist’s passing. I reviewed his seminal book only yesterday (English version). For some reason I thought Jeanie Alexander had passed away a year or so ago, so surprised to read she had just passed on. They leave a fine legacy to help inspire and educate the generations that follow. Important lives in our chosen field.

      Liked by 1 person

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