10 Places Find FREE Wood for Bowl Turners

10 Free Wood Sources

Finding free wood is thrilling, especially when it is beautiful and saved from destruction. Turning free wood into beautiful bowls makes that wood even sweeter.

There are many sources for free wood all around; we simply need to tap into these wonderful resources. With a little investigation and communication, the following sources can be producing fabulous free wood for your next turned bowls.

1) Tree Services

You’ve seen them around town trimming and cutting. Tree service companies are working every day with the very material we need to turn.

Believe it or not, most tree services pay, yes pay, to have the trees they cut down burnt or disposed. They pay a certain price per load or cubic yard. If they can divert some of that timber your way, they actually save money.

Next time you see a crew in the neighborhood, strike up a conversation and make some new friends. Depending on the company and location, you may even be able to ask them to look out for certain tree species for you.

2) Municipalities

Similar to tree companies, municipalities have crews that work to trim and cut trees in the city. While these crews may not be as prolific as full-fledged tree services, they too need to remove and dispose of the material.

Talk with someone in your city management who might know about your town’s tree clean-up team. Do a little investigation and see who would be best to speak with. You never know what might happen.

3) Power Companies

Free Wood Municipal Work Crews Clean Up Hurricane

Power companies need to keep the power on. People seem to freak when the power goes out. So, to assure the delivery of that addictive juice, power companies frequently trim back trees from the power lines.

Keep an eye out for crews working on trees along power lines. Many times they will work a particular area for several days clearing lines in a typically problematic area.

The same issues are in play as the tree services and municipalities. They need to get rid of the waste timber one way or another. If you luck out and they are working your neighborhood, you might be able to talk them into dropping some logs in your yard.

4) Construction Sites

Unfortunately, sometimes new construction requires the removal of perfectly good trees. Unlike finding a tree crew chopping away in your neighborhood, construction sites usually have longer timelines.

If possible, find the project manager in charge and see what can be worked out in advance to the trees being cut down. It might be possible to select some choice logs before cutting begins.

5) Landfills

The city or county landfills typically separate tree and yard waste from the solid waste landfill. If you visit the landfill, there is usually an entirely different area designed for people to drop off wood, branches, and leaves.

If you’re really lucky your landfill might be taking in full trees from the top three providers, listed above. Our local landfill does not take full trees unfortunately.

Again, make some inquiries with the people at the landfill and see what they say about finding and collecting free wood suitable for bowl turning.

6) Storm Chasing

Depending on where you live, storms can be severe and cause tree damage. You might be surprised how even a simple micro-burst from a spring shower can down trees in an isolated area. Pay attention to the news. When storms occur, there can be an abundance of wood readily available for the taking.

In your immediate area, keep a mental record of where certain tree species are growing. If you know where tree species ideal for turning grow, start looking there.

After a recent hurricane, I discovered a local subdivision filled with red cedar trees. The selection of cedar logs was quite spectacular.

Of course, talk with property owners before collecting, cutting or removing fallen trees. Treat others the way you’d want to be treated.

I’ve been blessed by being able to harvest tons, literally, of free wood from the effects of Hurricane Matthew and Irma. There was so much; it took me a few days to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to collect all the wood I thought I could. There was simply too much free wood.

Ditch Free Wood After Hurricane

7) Craig’s List

People list free wood all the time on Craig’s list and other community message boards. Being in the southern part of the United States, we don’t have a huge demand to burn wood for home heating. So, homeowners struggle with ways to get rid of unwanted timber.

In colder climates, wood equals free firewood or free heat in the winter. The demand for posted free wood in cold climates might be more aggressive.

If there are many listings for free wood, don’t be afraid to get choosy. Don’t waste your time and energy collecting wood that doesn’t turn well or look that great. Be patient and wait for the better wood to come along.

Free Wood Sycamore Found Craigs List

8) Lumber Mills

Lumber mills have a product to make, and that product is usually boards, nice straight boards. Sometimes lumber mills avoid and can’t use tree crotches. As wood bowl turners, we love tree crotches! That is where so much wood grain magic occurs!

If there is a mill in your area, stop in and have a chat. Tell them you’re a woodturner that makes bowls and share your story.

You may become fortunate and have them start holding “scrap” tree crotches and other odds and ends for you. I can’t believe I just wrote scrap and tree crotches in the same sentence. That’s just wrong.

9) Cabinet Makers or Woodworkers

Professional woodworkers typically use very lovely woods while making their products. They too have scrap or waste ready to be reclaimed.

Typically these scraps will be much smaller. The size trade-off can be worth it if those small pieces are beautiful, relatively expensive hardwoods. These smaller pieces can be glued together for segmented bowls or used for finales, etc.

Stop in and talk with the shop owner. Another free wood source contact is never a bad thing.

10) Spread the Free Wood Word

You turn wood bowls. Once friends and family know you turn bowls, free wood will magically start to appear. It may not all be exactly the type of wood you’d like, but it will start to appear.

Be grateful and don’t be afraid to be specific. If a particular type of tree grows plentifully in your area and it is good to turn, ask for it. Let people know you’re looking specifically for that tree.

If you get a load of free, not-so-great-wood, use your digression. It might be wise to accept it if that person also has access to better timber selections. Rejecting it outright may result in discouraging that person from offering again in the future.

Free Wood Bowl Turning On Curb

Know Your Free Wood Limits

When talking with people about free wood, make it clear you’re not a tree service. And be sure not to bite off more than you can handle. Don’t underestimate the size, weight, and difficulty of any particular job. While it’s great getting cheap wood, being injured in the gathering process will remove some of that thrill very fast.

Have a friend or brother-in-law help when a particular selection of free wood is beyond your scope. An extra set of hands is never a bad idea. If you’re not comfortable with a chainsaw, for example, recruit someone who is chainsaw trained. See my Recommended Green Wood Equipment Guide for gear details.

Pay attention to your body as you work. Unless cutting and hauling wood or other physical activities is your daily routine, working a load of free wood can be taxing.

And bend with your knees. LOL, That’s a personal tip from the last load of free wood I collected. It took a while before my back felt normal again.

Of course, use all Recommended Safety Equipment while gathering your free wood. Protect your eyes, ears, hands, and mainly your whole body while cutting and moving timber.

If you aren’t comfortable cutting or hauling wood, perhaps you can make some arrangements with someone who might be able to help you out. Coordinating between a free wood source and someone to help with the haul will add an additional layer to the process, but it’s better that you know and stay within your physical limits.

Traveling With Free Wood Car Backseat

Safe Rather Than Sorry

Leaning limbs, property lines, roofs, electric lines, wire fences, embedded metal in trees are all hazards that need to be taken into account.

Safety goes without saying, but the allure of fabulous free wood might cloud our judgment. I can think of a few types of trees I would be willing to stretch my boundaries to acquire; walnut, camphor, spalted anything, burled anything, norfolk island pine, etc., etc.

That being said, safety needs to come first and foremost. If you’ve been given permission to collect a valuable tree but it’s beyond your capabilities, it might be worth hiring professional tree guys to take the tree down for you. This may not qualify as free wood, but depending on the species and condition, it may be very expensive wood for pennies on the dollar.

Free Wood Hazards Avoid

Be Prepared for Free Wood

Free Wood Trailer Ready To Go

Have your chainsaw battery charged (yes, I travel with an electric chainsaw and a gas model) and blade sharpened and ready because you never know when you’ll get a call.

Also, sharpen your chainsaw at the end of each use. This way it is ready as soon as you need it next time. Read this article all about sharpening your chainsaw.

If you own a truck and/or a trailer, then you’re set. If you don’t own these ideal free wood haulers, have something or someone in place ready to assist with your hauls.

Prepare an area or areas on your property where large logs can be dropped, and shorter cut logs stacked. Organizing and storing the gathered free wood will make the green wood bowl blank making process that much more comfortable.

Be A Giver Not Just A Taker

If you score a bit of free wood from someone and the affected area is still messy but manageable, help them clean up the debris. Keep in mind, as much as you want free wood sources, people usually just want their tree mess to disappear.

It’s a nice gesture to help someone with their issue. And it plants the seed for future calls and potentially more free timber down the road.

Depending on your generosity and the people involved, you might even consider giving a turned wood bowl in return as a gesture of your appreciation for the free wood.

Free Wood 10 Places Find Wood Turning Bowls

Free wood is everywhere. You simply need to put your feelers out and make some connections. The free wood will start flowing.

You know the old saying “be careful what you wish for?” Well, once the gates are open, free wood will most likely start coming in from every direction. If it becomes too much, consider giving your extra free wood to other woodturners.

Who knows, perhaps the art of finding and collecting free wood will be so exciting you turn it into a new business. After all, prepared woodturning bowl blanks have to come from somewhere, right?

I hope I have been able to spark an idea for you to locate free wood in your area. Let me know if I have. Also, leave me a comment below and let me know how you’ve found free wood for turning your bowls.

Once you’ve landed your Free Wood, learn how to process it next:

Happy Turning (and gathering),

18 Responses

  1. I live in a desert climate in the Southwest. I have access to fallen mesquite, olive, and cottonwood trees. I’m finding little information on how to dry wood in hot and dry climates. I’m told it’s not possible unless I can store it indoors in a climate controlled room. Any advise would be appreciated.

    1. Meg,
      You can make bowls and bowl blanks from wood in your climate. The key is speed. Because it is so dry, you need to cut each log down to size and turn it immediately and then wrap, seal, or store the pieces in a way that reduces the moisture loss from the wood. We go over all the aspects of processing green wood in my Tree To Bowl – Understanding green Wood Course http://www.TurnAWoodBowl.com/green.
      Happy Turning!

  2. Hello everybody I am getting back in to turning now that I am retired. I have’nt used a lathe since 9th grade. I find good wood on golf courses.

    1. All the best to you and Happy Turning! Enjoy the whole process!
      Happy Turning!

  3. Hi Kent, Totally agree with you about using fallen trees to procure free wood for turning. One question though, bearing in mind I am from South Africa: – Do you take any precautions against insects ços I have had a number of sections ending up with a million little holes. I will still try to use what I have but given the choice i would prefer nice pristine wood.
    Nearly finished your wood bowl turning course which has been better than great!

    1. Great question. Yes, pristine wood would be great but it’s not always the reality. If the wood is severely damaged get rid of it, but you might also try turning some to see what happens. You might be surprised by the beauty you find.

      All the best to you and Happy Turning!

  4. Dear Kent,
    I’ve been a lover of trees and wood for many years, long before I started woodworking and most recently wood turning. I also have a great concern for tree conservation. This is why I never live cut trees for my projects. I’ve noted that you seem also to be very conservation oriented in your wood sourcing. A couple years ago, I pursued an idea to combine woodworking and conservation through the founding and trademarking of “Fallen Tree.” All wood sourcing is from trees fallen from age, storm damage, disease, etc. 10 percent of all gross sales of anything I make goes to support the efforts of the Arbor Day Foundation. The long term vision of “Fallen Tree” is to to share the trademark with like minded, conservation oriented fellow wood workers interested in supporting tree conservation here in the US and worldwide. “Fallen Tree” artisans would follow the principle of using only fallen wood, preserving live trees, and planting new trees through active support of Arbor Day Foundation. The Fallen Tree trademark on any project would say to the buyer “Buying this piece is an environmentally responsible act.” I respect your opinion and would like to hear your feedback on these ideas. So far, “Fallen Tree TM” is just me, but I would love to see it grow into an association of wood artisans with shared values and commitments. Your thoughts?

    1. Barry,
      Thank you for writing and sharing! What a great idea and program.
      I think you are onto something there.
      How do you plan to implement this idea?
      How would a woodworker be able to participate?
      All the best to you and Happy Turning!

      1. First I need to contact the USTPO to make sure that I can enter into such an agreement with my trademark. Since the trademark covers the broad area of woodworking, not only turners, but any woodworker could participate. Then I need to draft a written participation agreement per USTPO requirements. This will need time and thought and would cover expectations of wood sourcing, marking projects and donation to Arbor Day as well as trying to answer anticipated questions. I also want to contact Arbor Day Foundation, run the idea by them, gauge their interest, and see if there is a way to track actual participation on the donation side. This will all take time, which falls on weekends when I’d rather be turning. But the germ of the idea is there and I just need to start writing things out. I will be sure to keep you up on any progress. Sadly, I know no wood turner in my close vicinity and the nearest club is too far away and my day job rules out joining. Thanks for letting me bounce this idea off on you.

        1. Barry,
          This sounds very cool.
          I wish you all the best in getting it going.
          I believe people need to be more aware of the natural resource around them.
          All the best to you and Happy Turning!

  5. Hi Kent
    Just a quick comment on lathe wood supply. I’ve been turning for about 6 months & have watched tons of videos. I noticed how many turners, even experts with decades of experience, have to scrounge for wood. Many give a shoutout to viewers who have donated pieces. Several years ago we retired to our vacation property near Parry Sound, Ontario which has an endless supply of wood, mostly hard maple with some paper birch, oak, ash & other species. When I got my lathe I thought getting turning stock was easy for everyone, but now realize how fortunate I am to have this resource . I cut a lot of firewood every year. Now when I drop a tree I can save the gnarly pieces for the lathe. They make cool lathe stock & are a pain to split anyway. A win-win. Actually I have a hard time turning any of my trees into firewood, I keep seeing a bowl in every piece.
    BTW, I laughed when I read how you’re addicted to turning bowls. I’m the same. I can’t get half way through making a bowl when I find myself thinking of the next one, totally different from any other woodworking project which, when finished, I’m glad I don’t have to repeat.

    1. Brian,

      Thank you for writing and sharing! Yes, cutting a tree for anything other than bowls seems wrong on many levels. I don’t use firewood, but my brother does and even though he finds and saves the best stuff for me, it’s hard to imagine all that wood just burning away.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one addicted to making and seeing bowls everywhere. Ha!

      Happy Turning!

  6. Have in my yard an old large pecan tree, maybe 80 yrs or more old. 5 logs, 4 on the way to sawyer, but top multicrotched piece is what is desirable for bowl turning. Not sure of moisture content, it has been on ground almost 5 yrs, but still alive leafing out with roots attached. Im in northern piedmont of NC. Email to discuss convenience, pics if serious. I so admire the skills of woodcrafters!

    1. Victoria,

      Thank you for the offer.

      Unfortunately, that’s a bit too far for me. Perhaps another reader might be closer.

      If anyone is interested, please leave a comment and I can pair you guys up via email.


  7. Great article! If you are able to score a fair amount of wood e.g. During a storm, how long can you store the logs if you aren’t able to immediately make bowl blanks? Can you Anchor Seal the end grain for weeks/months until you can process it? Thanks.

    1. Hello Larry,

      Thanks for writing and for asking a great question!

      However, it’s a loaded question. There are many variables at play. In particular, differences in tree species and climates.

      In general, keep more length on the logs the longer you plan to store them. That way cracks on the end grain can be cut away to expose clean wood inside.

      If you have long, yet manageable logs, don’t cut them until you’re ready to use them. But also keep in mind, they won’t last forever. Full logs will be prone to insect break down. And depending on the species, they too can crack and split all the way through.

      If you have shorter logs and/or split logs, seal them with Anchorseal on the end grain. No need to seal the whole log. Plan on turning them as soon as possible to prevent excessive cracking.

      The best scenario is to gather the wood and process as much as possible as soon as possible into rough bowl blanks and Anchorseal the end grain (both inside and out) to prevent the end grain from cracking. Here’s an article all about twice turning > https://turnawoodbowl.com/twice-turning-wood-bowls-how-to-step-by-step/

      Once the wood bowls are rough turned you can let them rest for some time, relatively safe from cracking and bug issues.

      Happy Turning,

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Kent Weakley-Turn A Wood Bowl-About
Hi, I’m Kent

Hi! I’m Kent, a husband, dad, papa, graphic designer, photographer, artist, traveler, birder, dark chocolate lover and I’m addicted to turning wood bowls! Learn more about me, see the online courses I made for you, and join our group on Facebook. Ready for your wood bowl adventure? Click here to Get Started

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