I had made a really simple bow saw during my summer holidays. I was trying to see if I could make a project from start to finish using only hand tools.

I cut some poplar (Mostly guessing but the shape of the leaf makes me pretty sure.) and started shaping the log. I used a draw knife as a froe (for lack of better option). I then made a bench hook and though between the draw knife and a plane I could get the wood fairly flat.

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That is where I was mistaken. Using both of those tools on the wood created the same problem. Instead of slicing the wood it looked like it was tearing little strips instead. Those got caught on the blades of the respective tools.

So I had an exercise in futilely. With every push or pull I got fibres stuck on the blade. Those would prevent the blade from making another cut. So I would remove those and be able to maybe make one more cut.

I eventually gave up and just used my axe to finish. It was rougher but got the job done. I know that green wood will eventually "settle" once it dries but I wanted to try and see what I could do before hand.

The reason I even bothered, and leading to my question, was because Roy Underhill gave me the impression that working was easier. He did not suggest that all the work could be done while green but that initial shaping was easier. There was one specific video where a gentleman made a Winsdor chair and made the same comment when he was using his draw knife on some red oak. In the case with Roy he was making a grease pot out of some black walnut.

Was my green wood too green and I should have waited longer? Am I not interpreting the comments on the work-ability of green wood? Perhaps the wood species I was working on is not the green work-able kind?


2 Answers 2


Was my green wood too green and I should have waited longer?

In my experience, I don't think there's such a thing as "too green." Green wood is nice to work because its moisture content means it is still quite soft, even for so-called "hard" woods like oak and hickory. Working green oak is a dream compared to seasoned oak. However, as with all unseasoned wood, there is the unavoidable risk of it warping after drying.

Perhaps the wood species I was working on is not the green work-able kind?

I've worked poplar fresh off the tree with no issues, as well as other species. Hickory and oak work just fine freshly cut.

Your tree could be aspen based on similar leaf shape, but I have no reason to believe aspen is any less workable when green. This assumes that you're talking about true poplars, of which tulip poplar (technically a magnolia) is not. However, tulip poplar still works perfectly well when freshly cut.

Am I not interpreting the comments on the work-ability of green wood?

I suspect your issues with workability stem more from the sharpness of your tools or your methodology.

A properly sharpened drawknife, when drawn across a piece of green wood with a slicing cut and cutting with the grain, should glide almost effortlessly through the wood. Going against the grain, it should split off hunks with ease (assuming it's a splittable wood, so not so much with elm).

With every push or pull I got fibres stuck on the blade.

Getting little chunks of wood stuck in a drawknife is part of the process, though it seems like you're experiencing it more than is normal. My gut feeling is that this is due to sharpness of the blade. It could just be the piece of wood you're using, too. For example, if it has undulating grain, the rapid switching of the grain orientation means you keep switching from downhill to uphill cutting, or you're splitting off little chunks intermittently that get stuck on the blade. If I find that a piece of wood isn't working well, I just junk it and move on. Green woodworking is much easier (and more enjoyable) if you properly select the pieces to work.


Green wood IS easier to work with. dried oak or hickory is like carving into stone. The moisture softens the fibers making them easier to cut. (can really tell the difference when turning) So I'm going to guess like grfrazee that it is either your technique or your tools or both.

Not surprisingly a good sharp tool is almost always preferred when working with wood, and generally the sharper the better (I can't think of any off the top of my head that don't require sharp tools but I'm sure they exist!).

Now using a draw knife (I'm assuming that you are using something similar as below) The ones I'm familiar with have two sides. A flat side and a rounded side like the second photo. One common mistake is to put the flat side against the piece you are trying to shape. While there might be specific uses to do that, the other side (the 2nd picture) should (almost) always be against the piece you are shaping. This allows for more control. Using the flat side will tend to have the blade 'dig' into the piece causing some (many?) of your issues.


Last sometimes the orientation of the grain/wood can make a difference. If the grain is at an angle to the face you are shaping the grain can catch the bar and draw it deeper into the wood. When this is the case, usually you can flip the piece 180 degrees the long way can pull from the other end.

  • I always run my blade flat down. Ironically to avoid the issue that you described. Yeah, the blade could use some sharpening I guess. Seemed sharp... just not sharp enough.
    – Matt
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 23:55
  • @Matt That is funny, I haven't used one much in a while, but I could have sworn flat side up was one of the lessons I took away from it.
    – bowlturner
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 23:59
  • I honestly have no idea how to use it properly. Guessing and trying it out.
    – Matt
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 0:01
  • @Matt Well then I recommend you try flipping it over! :)
    – bowlturner
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 0:03

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