Green Woodworking

by Ted Rushworth ("the old bodger") - to get Kathy "bodging"!

Green woodworking involves the use of freshly felled timber and embraces a number of woodland crafts, including turning, carving, and various tasks making chairs, sticks, baskets, etc.. Green logs can easily be split along the grain and worked with an axe, then shaped with other simple tools. A manual pole-lathe is the classic centuries old method used to turn green (unseasoned) wood with little effort and without the noise, dust, or danger involved with modern mechanised turning.

At the beginning of the 1990's, in the early days of my retirement, I made my first pole-lathe from scrap timber for next to nothing, then I went on a three day course at Newcastle to make a more refined one. Here I am at home in the snow with my first lathe using an ash pole to effect a return spring, and then giving a demonstration in our village with my second one using an overhead bungee as the spring -

The real starting point though is to get a copy of Mike Abbott's book -

" Green Woodwork - Working with wood the natural way" by Mike Abbott , first published 1989 by the Guild of Master Craftsman Publications Ltd., 166 High Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1XU (reprinted several times since) ISBN 0 946819 18 1.

"The book that launched a thousand pole lathes"
A reader from London commented, "The last bodger turned his last chair leg somewhere in a Chilterns beechwood in the late 1950s and the golden chain of a craft that had lasted at least 400 years was broken. Mike Abbott almost singlehandedly revived the craft. This book gives detailed plans to build your own lathe and make your own chairs from unseasoned (green) wood. A classic. Buy it but do go on one of Mike's courses as well. "

I went on pole-lathe and woodland management courses run by the Scottish Conservation Projects Trust at Doune, near Stirling in Scotland, but there are numerous courses and sources of information around the country to be recommended. Contacts include -

  • Mike Abbott at Green Wood Cottage, Halmonds Frome, Bishops Frome, Worcester WR6 5AS (tel. 01531 640005) Mike Abbott's Website
  • The Green Wood Centre formerly the Greenwood Trust at Ironbridge.
  • Maurice Pyle's Woodsmiths Store.
  • Association of Polelathe Turners and Greenwood Workers.
    and several others.

    Here are some of the things that I have made -

    You can often scrounge suitable tools for green woodworking or make your own, but one of the best suppliers is Bristol Design (Tools) Ltd, 14 Perry Road, Bristol BS1 5BG (tel. 0117 929 1740). Then, of course there are places which green woodworkers simply must visit, such as the Green Wood Trust at Telford, the Wycombe Chair Museum at High Wycombe, and not forgetting the Crannog Centre on Loch Tay not far from our house. We helped a little (a very little) with the building of the Crannog by the remarkable Barrie Andrian and Nick Dixon who have shown us just how lake dwellings have been built over thousands of years using simple green woodworking crafts; it is well worth a visit.

    Finally , what are the rewards? Well, it's all extremely satisfying but I wouldn't like to spell it out in monetary terms, neither would I like to think of it in terms of trying to make a living. But let me show you a child's Windsor chair which had been thrown away and had been lying outdoors for years, and which a local forester was given for nothing. He brought it to me to try to repair and restore. I had to steam bend a new bow back in ash, make good various loose bits, and sympathetically semi-strip and restore the finish with the following result -

    I got little more than a "Thank You" for three days work or thereabouts, but it was one of the most satisfying things I have ever done. I knew it was worth at least 100 after I had done the job, but it later sold for 200. I would have loved to have kept it myself for it must have been well over a hundred years old and perhaps made by a simple old bodger like myself!

    Go to it Kathy - get bodging!


    My guru in bodging, Brian Haworth of Ebchester in County Durham, used to demontrate on a pole-lathe at the Beamish Museum and has written a couple of useful short articles about the subject as in the following linked pages:
    1. Woodturning with the Pole-lathe.
    2. A Short History of Woodturning with the Pole-lathe.
    3. Drawings for a Pole-lathe by Brian Howarth.
    Do also have a look at the website of the Association of Pole-Lathe Turners
    If anyone has anything to add or alter on this page please contact Edward (Ted) Rushworth by e-mail to:

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    Created 3 July 2000, updated March 2009.