Updated: Mar 6, 2019
So you've bought your lathe and a set of tools... now what? It's time to get wood! You have a lot of options when it comes to sourcing wood for turning - you can buy it at a local wood supplier, buy it online, or you can do what I do and find it for free from any number of sources. Sure, if you're turning pens or bottle stoppers or other kit-based projects, in the beginning you will probably want to purchase blanks that are dry and ready to use. However, I'm mainly a bowl and sculptural turner, so purchasing "big wood" gets expensive very quickly and must be reflected in the price of the final piece. Also, turning dried wood can be more difficult and harder on your tools, whereas green (aka, wet) wood is typically easier to turn and, in my opinion, more fun.
Where do I find wood? Anywhere and everywhere that I can. Around where I live in central Kentucky, trees are being cut down year-round and I imagine it's the same where you live. Cut wood is often stacked by the side of the road and 9 out of 10 times it's because the homeowner wants someone to take it off their hands. Generally, within just a few days or even hours, any pile of wood will disappear - most likely taken by someone who is going to split it and burn it. So next time you're driving by, pull over real quick and toss a few logs in your trunk (you wouldn't believe how much wood I've hauled in my old Scion tC). My next bit of advice, when you hear that familiar buzz of a chainsaw in the distance, hop in the car and drive toward the sound. I always think it's especially neat to have wood from around my neighborhood, and I've scored some very large pieces of walnut and significant amounts of other woods from just driving a block or two from my house. Also, when you're out and about and you see a tree service cutting down a tree, just stop and ask if you can have some of the logs. Most of the time they will be glad to give you some and might even help you cut some big pieces into manageable chunks and load it into your vehicle. If they're helpful, then a tip might be in order. I won't hesitate to give someone $20 who has been helpful, because odds are that I just collected hundreds of dollars worth of turning blanks. Also, ask them where they dump the logs and if there's any way that you might be able to go to their facility or their log dump and pick through stuff. I got connected with a local tree service that has allowed me to go nuts with my chainsaw in one of their log dumps and that's just a woodturner's dream. Oak, cherry, walnut, pear, maple... it was all there for the taking.
Finally, after you've been turning a while and all your friends and family know you're now obsessed with finding wood, they will start calling and texting you the location of piles of wood or let you know when they're cutting a tree down in their own yard. (Trust me, this will eventually happen.) Anyone who is kind enough to go out of their way to give you free wood, should probably get a little something in return. Whenever someone gifts me wood, I always make them a bowl or something else from that wood as a token of my appreciation.
Wood is quite expensive, but for woodturners there are lots of easy options that require little to no money. I would estimate that 95% (or more) of the wood I have and the wood that I've turned has been obtained for free through the aforementioned methods. I literally have TONS of wood in my little suburban backyard and in my garage workshop - it accumulates faster than I can use it. As you collect more and more wood, you'll find that you start getting pickier about what you'll take and what you don't want. Regardless, if you're like me, at some point you'll wonder if you have a wood hoarding problem... and so will your family.
Let me know if there's something you'd like me to cover in a future blog. Thanks for reading!