How to Work With Juniper Wood


Ornamenting the rolling hills of the high desert regions of the Pacific Northwest, juniper trees have unusual, twisting branches that lead to organic, free-flowing grain patterns. Juniper wood has little use in manufacturing milled materials for construction purposes. However, for carvers, the wild movements of the grain patterns inspire one-of-a-kind, artistic creations. Working with chunks of found juniper requires specific preparation and carving techniques.

Things You'll Need

  • Saw
  • Hammer
  • Wedge (optional)
  • Carving knife
  • Chisels
  • Gouge
  • Sandpaper
  • Place the juniper log in the sun or in a warm, dry location for several days, until the wood is no longer damp.

  • Cut a juniper log to the desired length for the project.

  • Peel the bark from the juniper log by hand. The more mature the tree was, the easier the bark will be to peel. If necessary, start the bark peeling by hammering a wedge between the bark and the wood. A carving knife can also be helpful in removing bark.

  • Get to know the log. Examine the grain patterns and twisting movements visually and through touch.

  • Begin removing small amounts of wood in the desired locations, using a chisel. Run the blade of the chisel at a sharp angle, following the shifting direction of the grain, to remove shallow shavings of wood at a time. Use a wider chisel for broad areas and a narrow chisel in nooks and crannies. Tap the handle of the chisel with a hammer to make deeper cuts.

  • Remove hunks of wood by cutting them away with the carving knife. Remove wood with a knife by holding the knife at a sharp angle against the surface and making a swooping undercut through the wood. Work parallel or at a slight angle (not perpendicular) to the wood grain.

  • Scoop holes or carve grooves with a gouge. A gouge has a U-shaped blade. Holding the gouge almost parallel with the wood surface, push the base of the U-shape into and under the surface of the wood. Continue pushing the gouge under the surface of the wood to create long, deep, narrow gashes.

  • Continue removing more and more wood, using the variety of tools, until the desired look of the piece is achieved.

  • Sand the piece to smooth the surface. Begin with coarse-grit sandpaper, then gradually work to medium-grit, then fine-grit sandpaper. Once the wood is smooth and the sanding dust is brushed away, the piece can be stained and sealed as desired.

Tips & Warnings

  • To expedite a carving process, use power grinders and sanders to remove more material faster.

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