Green woodworking is a way of working with wood that eschews industrial processing of the material. It is a slow process that relies on splitting and shaving wet wood, rather than sawing, drying, and planing. It fosters a deep structural and aesthetic engagement with the fibers of the tree, integrating the cellular and biological characteristics of the tree into the structural logics of the built object. This creates an intimacy with raw material that parallels the relationship created between the human body and a chair. After many years of working with wood using more conventional techniques, this method of working has felt revelatory to me. The process of sourcing material, the longevity of the object as determined by its craftsmanship, and the way the chair supports the body, all lead me to contemplate sustainability and enliven my relationship to both material and ecosystem. I've sought the expertise of master green woodworkers throughout the process, and am deeply grateful for their sharing of knowledge.


Traditional greenwood chairmaking was a vernacular American and English craft practice, but it attracted a new audience starting in the 1960's due to the work of counter-cultural practitioners including Jennie Alexander, Drew Langsner, Peter Follansbee, and many others. My study of chairs and chairmaking has been deepened by a Maker-Creator Fellowship at the Winterthur Museum, where I examined and measured historic chairs, and explored the archived papers of Jennie Alexander. I've also been fortunate to take workshops with master chairmakers Chris Nassise, Eric Cannizzaro, Travis Curtis, and Aspen Golann. I'm inspired and influenced by Galen Cranz's analysis of the often dysfunctional relationship between the human body and the design of the chair in Western culture.

Oak slat-backed chair, 19th century, maker unknown

Reprinted from "American Country Furniture, 1780-1875," Ralph and Terry Kovel

My first completed chair, the iconic Jennie Alexander design, in process and visiting an eastern white pine cousin

The "April Chair," (2023) a design I've developed in relation to the traditional form of the greenwood ladderback chair. Made in white ash, from the tree pictured here, killed by the invasive emerald ash borer. The woven seat is made from cotton "Shaker Tape," a traditional material, which I dyed using a dye I made from the bark of the tree which the wood came from.
Paul Wetzel, MacLeish Field Station Manager and Ecologist, cutting a standing dead ash tree for the project, killed by the Emerald Ash Borer, Fall 2022
splitting the log sections with hand tools
a handful of friends came to help with the splitting
Another ash log, also killed by the emerald ash borer
this log has sections of darker coloration known as "olive ash," which is caused by bacteria that lives in the wood
Larval tunnels of the emerald ash borer. The adults lay eggs underneath the bark, and when the larvae hatch, they tunnel through the cambium of the tree, feeding on nutrients there, and making it impossible for the tree to move sap between the roots and branches, eventually killing it.
The split log, showing the coloration of the darker "olive ash" sections.
Split sections of two ash trees, piled on the shady side of the house to help avoid drying out.
A "riving brake" is essential for holding awkwardly shaped, large log sections during the splitting process. This piece will become back posts.
Tracking time through material.
I was surprised to encounter live ash borer larvae and immature insects in a piece I was working on, despite the fact that the tree had died a long time ago. I have been very careful to avoid transporting any of this material outside the region.
Woodworking in the multi-species commons.
Boiling the bark from the tree to make dye for use with seating material.
the dyed material, drying in the shade

experimenting with salvaged red oak from a nearby hiking trail in Greenfield.

A back post clamped to the bending form, after steaming. It needs to stay on a form for about a week.
Hand shaping a steam-bent back post.
Rungs, ready to go into the low-temperature kiln.

Green-wood chairmaker Chris Nassise, of Easton, MA, demonstrating wood splitting techniques. Green-wood construction works with wood in its raw state, and does not involve sawing or kiln-drying the lumber, completely bypassing any industrial processing of the material. Instead, craftspeople utilize simple hand tools to split the wood in its "green" (not dry) state along the grain, making use of the inherent strength and flexibility of the wood's fibrous cells.

In December of 2021, I was fortunate to participate in a Jennie Alexander Chair Building Workshop for women and LGBTQIA/BIPOC woodworkers, sponsored by the Chairmaker's Toolbox, an organization dedicated to diversification of the craft of chairmaking. The course was taught by Travis Curtis and Aspen Golann, and hosted at chairmaker Greg Pennington's shop outside Nashville TN.

hand shaping

smaller-scale splitting with a froe

most shaping is done with a drawknife

the process is a study in improvisational geometry, involving the shaping of predictable and measurable planar forms from a raw log, using hand tools

roughing out a back slat

gluing up a side frame for another Jennie Alexander-style chair

Chair assembly, from the Chairmaker's Toolbox workshop

Learning green woodworking pandemic-style, working remotely with Chris Nassise

a very good chair-tree happened to blow down right across a nearby hiking trail in Highland Park, Greenfield

it wasn't far from the road, so we were able to split it onsite and roll it out on a canoe dolly

My first completed chair, emblazoned with a mockingbird, state bird of Tennessee, where the chair was made

See Chair and Tree Studies for more greenwood objects