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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Be Prepared for Free Wood
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 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.
Happy Turning (and gathering),