If you live in the US, you might be familiar with the annual Christmas tree dumpster haul that happens in late December or early January. In years past, I’ve pruned my tree, usually a Douglas fir or Fraser fir, down to the trunk, and used a hatchet to cut it into logs for my fire pit. This year, though, I can’t bring myself to just burn what could be some decent carving material.
Looking at my tree, it’s really difficult not to daydream about being able to carve a walking stick out of it. There’s also this Instructable I found about turning your Christmas tree into a didgeridoo. Seriously cool.
So, if you’re thinking about picking up a new hobby, ‘tis the season. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, now is the perfect time to get your hands on some wood (ha). Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, a discarded tree should be relatively easy to find on the curb in your neighborhood.
My tree this year is a Fraser fir. There’s some stuff out there about carving Douglas fir, but opinions differ on whether young Douglas firs left over after Christmas are worth carving. Some old-timers suggest it should be used only for firewood, and others say it can be carved quite successfully after it’s been left to dry out, while still others say it’s best to carve while wet (meaning not left to dry). Some say it’s worthless, others say it can produce some interesting deep red and yellow grains when finished. So I’m not sure what to think there.
Try as I might, I can’t find much on Fraser firs, specifically. There’s this 500+ page handbook (seriously) from the US Department of Agriculture on wood used as engineering material that says it’s a lightweight softwood related to the balsam fir. That’s about it.
The Wikipedia page isn’t much of a help either, though it does say this:
In the past, [Fraser fir] was also sometimes known as ‘she-balsac’ because resin could be ‘milked’ from its bark blisters.
The biggest problem is, Christmas trees can be very sappy, which can make carving them a difficult (and some might argue impossible) job. Not only is it a messy undertaking, but the sap can gunk-up and damage power tools. This is actually the biggest hurdle with my particular tree. If left to dry out, not only will the sap make the wood even harder, but the wood itself is going to crack. I did find this article on carving green wood and how to prevent and manage cracks, but I don’t think it was written with high-sap woods in mind.
But, as they say, you don’t know until you try.
In the worst case scenario, I won’t get much usable wood to carve, and I can just use a circular saw to cut some salvageable rounds to make an ornament or two by wood burning and painting them.
I started on my tree by using some pruning shears and a folding saw to remove the branches. I left the tree in my tree stand while I cut, water and all, to prevent it from tipping while I pruned.
Notice the green rings where I removed the branches. The wood is still wet.
I nicked the trunk with my saw. Check out how much sap is right under the bark. Yikes.
Get a load of this nudist. Absolutely shameful.
So, there you have it. I’m left with a roughly seven-foot log. I’m trying to be realistic with my expectations here, but seeing the video of the dude I mentioned earlier playing his Christmas tree didgeridoo definitely gets me hyped at the possibilities.
Until then, I’ll just have to be patient and keep an eye on how it dries.