Green Wood vs Dry Wood — Essential Facts When Using a Wood Lathe

Green Wood vs Dry Wood- are the two main choices of wood to use when using a lathe. Freshly cut wood (green wood) and seasoned wood (dry wood) have advantages and disadvantages when turning wood. Green wood contains more moisture and therefore is softer and easier to use. Dry wood turns well in a wood lathe and results in better quality items that don’t split in time.

Turning green Wood vs Dry Wood

So, the big question is: which kind of wood should you use for your lathe project? Green wood or dry wood? This article answers these questions and more.

You will learn the pros and cons of green wood vs dry wood. In addition, you will find out how to prevent green wood from cracking if you decide to make bowls or other wooden items.

But first, we need the low-down on what exactly is dry wood or green wood.

What Do We Mean by Dry Wood?

Dry wood refers to timber left to dry to reduce its moisture content significantly. Also called wood seasoning, this type of wood is typically dried in a kiln to control the drying process. The wood drying process in a kiln is also faster than air drying wood.

What Is Green Wood?

Green wood is lumber that has recently been cut. The wood is described as green because it hasn’t been seasoned and still has a high internal moisture content. For this reason, it’s also called “wet” wood. It can take years for green wood to dry completely without kiln drying.

Green Wood vs Wet Wood

The terms wet wood and green wood refer to the same type of wood — unseasoned timber. It’s lumber with a high moisture content, usually greater than 20 percent. Therefore, wet wood is seasoned and treated the same as green wood before turning it on a lathe.

Remember that wet wood doesn’t refer to water on the surface of the material. Instead, it is the amount of moisture retained in the wood fiber.

Is It Better to Turn Green Wood vs Dry Wood?

Can wood be too dry for turning

So, the main question for woodworkers is: should I turn green wood or dry wood? The answer depends on a few factors. However, most professional wood-turners and beginners use dry wood on a lathe.

This is because it is less likely to crack, and it’s possible to create intricate shapes and detail when turning dry wood.

If you are a beginner, you probably want to start by using dry wood. Turning dry wood in a lathe is easier to work with and practice on. Also, you don’t need to use various turning processes to prevent green wood from cracking.

That being said, unseasoned wood is typically cheaper than buying dry blanks. Therefore, green wood may be the way to go if you want to practice turning wood on a budget without breaking the bank.

Is it better to turn green or dry wood? For most woodworkers — beginners and professionals — it’s best to use dry wood. You will produce crafted wood items — candlesticks, ornate bed posts, decorative balusters, and fancy chess pieces — much quicker without worrying about them spitting or reshaping.        

How Much Moisture Does Green Wood Have?

Green wood can contain between 40 and over 200 percent moisture. However, the moisture content of green wood depends on the species of tree and the type of wood — sapwood or heartwood. For example, studies show that two popular hardwoods for turning — maple and cherry — have around 60 percent moisture. However, walnut — another popular wood for turning — has a moisture content of 90 percent.

Here is a list of the approximate moisture content of green wood in other popular types of wood for turning in a lathe:

  • Birch: 75 percent
  • Hickory: 70 percent
  • Oak: 80 percent
  • Poplar: 80 percent
  • Beech: 55 percent

Compared to dry wood, green timber is considered to have a moisture content of 100 percent, regardless of the type of wood used.

How Dry Should Wood Be Before Turning?

Dry wood should have a moisture content between six and nine percent before turning. Air-drying timber will require a drying time of one year per inch of thickness before it’s ready for turning. However, it’s important to note that the relative humidity of the environment can affect the moisture content.

How Do You Know if Wood Is Dry Enough for Woodworking?

A pin-type moisture meter is best to tell if the work-piece is dry enough for turning. The meter has two pins that you push into the piece of wood. You can then read the moisture content of the wood at the point where the pin heads are located.

The pin-type moisture meter works by creating an electrical current between the two pinheads. Water is an excellent conductor and provides little resistance. Therefore, the more resistance, the lower the moisture content because dry wood doesn’t conduct electricity.

What Is the Fastest Way to Dry Wood for Woodworking?

Green Wood vs Dry Wood for wood turning

Drying in kilns is the fastest way to dry lumber for working on a lathe. For this to be effective, the kiln should have a high temperature and excellent airspeed. It will take about 28 days to dry wood to the required moisture level of eight percent.

For any wood drying method to be effective, the lumber should be stacked properly to allow air circulation.

But suppose you don’t have access to a kiln to dry lumber fast. In that case, you can use an oven to dry small wood pieces for turning. Here is what you should do:

  • Crank the oven to 225°F and turn on the fan if it has one.
  • When the oven is hot, put the pieces of lumber on the rack, so they do not touch.
  • Place a pan of water in the bottom to increase humidity and achieve the moisture content equilibrium.
  • Check the wood every ten minutes and check its moisture level.
  • If the moisture content is still above eight percent, return to the oven for another ten minutes.  
  • After the wood is cooled, recheck its moisture content and repeat the process if necessary.

Depending on the size of the lumber, you could dry it in as little as ten minutes in a regular oven.

How Long Does It Take for Green Wood to Dry for Woodworking?

It takes many months for green wood to dry naturally before you can use it on a lathe. The general rule is one year of drying for every 1 inch of thickness. However, the drying times depend on humidity, sunshine, temperature, and how the wood is stacked.

How Do You Keep Green Wood From Cracking?

If you plan on air drying green wood logs, you can apply sealant, linseed oil, or paint able wax to prevent cracking. These products help prevent UV rays, rain, and heat from coming into direct contact with the lumber. This is the best way to minimize shrinkage and avoid cracking.

You should apply a natural sealant like Anchor-seal evenly on all parts of the wood. Then you should set the lumber out to dry naturally. Alternatively, you can melt wax mixed with paint thinner to coat the ends of lumber. Or you can apply linseed oil instead of sealant on the ends of the lumber.

How Do You Seal Green Wood for Turning?

You apply a sealant to the ends of freshly cut wood to prevent cracking. This helps to slow down the drying process and avoid fiber wood shrinkage.

A cheap way to seal green wood for turning is to use regular school glue, sometimes called Elmer’s glue. Mix this wood glue with water, using two parts glue and one part water. Apply to the end grain to seal and allow it to dry.

How to Turn a Green Wood Bowl and Keep it From Cracking

Turn a Green Wood Bowl

The key to preventing green wood from cracking after turning is to turn it twice. This allows the green bowl or other lathed work-piece to dry out slightly. Then you can turn it again to remove any unwanted material. However, it’s vital to remember only to turn it the second time when the moisture content is correct.

It’s vital to remember that any type of green wood that has been turned will move, shift, distort, and reshape as it dries. This is a natural process. Here are a few more tips on turning green wood to avoid it cracking:

More Reading: 6 Best Lathe For Bowl Turning – Top Woodworking Lathes

  • Leave slightly more material on the work piece than the finished product will have.
  • If the work-piece is too thick, it will take longer to dry. However, if it’s too thin, you will not be able to shape it properly.
  • Always ensure the moisture content is between six and nine percent before turning it the second time.

Pros and Cons of Using Dry Wood

Knowing the pros and cons of using dry wood can help you decide whether it’s suitable for your woodworking project. Here are some things to consider when using dry wood on a lathe.

Using dry wood: Pros

  • It is faster to turn dry wood.
  • To finish a turned piece of dry wood only requires varnish and polish.
  • Dry wood doesn’t bend and warp; therefore suitable for beginners.
  • Turning dry wood retains the wood’s features.
  • There is no risk of the wood cracking or contracting

Using dry wood: Cons

  • Buying dry wood for turning in a lathe is more expensive.
  • Drying your own stock takes time, sometimes several years.
  • Turning dry wood creates a lot of dust.

Pros and Cons of Using Green Wood

Using green wood in a lathe has its benefits and drawbacks. For example, green wood isn’t a good choice for beginners. However, some “seasoned” woodworkers enjoy the challenges of turning green wood. Here are a few considerations when deciding whether to use green wood.

Green wood: Pros

  • Green wood is softer and easier to shape.
  • Turning green wood on a lather creates minimal mess and dust.
  • You can use green wood as soon as it’s cut from a tree.
  • Green wood has unique features you won’t find in dry wood.
  • Obtaining green wood is cheaper and sometimes free.

Green wood: Cons

  • Green wood items are more likely to crack.
  • Items turned from green wood lose their original shape as they dry.
  • The turned work-piece may end up smaller after several months due to contraction.
  • You need a good level of expertise to turn green wood.

FAQs — Turning Green Wood vs Dry Wood

Can you lathe fresh wood?

Yes. You can put freshly cut pieces of wood on a lathe to turn it. However, it’s good to note that green wood will crack, contract, or lose its shape as it dries. Therefore, you should use the double-turn method if you plan on using fresh wood in a lathe.

Is green wood easier to cut?

Due to its moisture content, green wood is easier to cut than dry wood. In addition, the moisture in fresh wood makes it softer and easier to turn. This means that turning green wood doesn’t blunt cutting and shaping tools like what happens with dry wood.

Can wood be too dry for turning?

Yes. Wood that has been dried too much becomes brittle and chips easily. In addition, overly dry timber is more challenging to assemble because it absorbs more glue, resulting in weakened joints. And finally, wood that is too dry will absorb more humidity and swell.

Is it OK to build with green wood?

It is possible to build with green lumber, but it’s not recommended. Wood that dries naturally is unstable because of shrinkage and cracking. This causes the wood structure to warp, rupture, and lose its structural strength.

However, suppose you decide to build with green wood. In that case, you should take precautions by sealing it properly and using it as soon as possible after cutting the tree down.

Should wood be dried before carving?

Can you lathe fresh wood

It’s best to dry wood before carving it. Carving with dry wood rather than green wood results in a better-finished product. In addition, you don’t have to worry about your craft work losing shape or cracking.

But suppose you choose to carve using green wood. In that case, you should pick a suitable wood that isn’t prone to mold, rot, or termite damage. You could also spray the wood with vinegar to eradicate any pests in it.

How long should I let wood dry before carving?

Wood takes a minimum of six weeks to dry before you should use it for carving. However, the final drying time depends on average temperatures and relative humidity.

To speed up the drying time, you should cut the timber to the approximate size you require. Then you can remove the bark and seal the end with a sealer. Lastly, stack the wood properly to allow air to circulate. If possible, try to dry wood for carving in the summer and keep it in a warm, dry place away from direct sunlight.

Conclusion — Green Wood vs Dry Wood

Most wood-turners choose to use dry wood when shaping wood in a lathe. Air-dried timber or kiln-dried timber is easy to work with and suitable for any type of woodworking project and skill level. In addition, dry wood doesn’t crack, split, or warp after you finish working with it.

In some cases, experienced woodworkers enjoy working with green wood in a lathe. Although it takes some expertise, you can achieve good results when turning green wood. Additionally, green wood is cheaper and more readily available than dry wood.