Raw Material Foraging Practices

What are raw materials ?

Raw Material Foraging Practices is the topic today. So just what raw materials are we talking about ? Don’t we just go to the lumber yard to purchase our stock ? Why go through all the headache of foraging raw materials in the first place. What do foraged raw materials offer that other materials do not ? These are questions I asked when looking deeper into my own shops products lines. Let’s look deeper into this topic shall we.

Raw Material Foraging Practices

Raw Material Foraging Practices are simple and when done correctly the rewards are astounding.I won’t fail to mention that I only forage from downed trees,never good healthy trees. Any woodworker can purchase materials that have been milled,planed and dried. Personally, I enjoy the challenge of working with non symmetrical materials. Live edge slabs, tree limbs and branches all make great building materials. I’ve written another article where I forage for spalted materials, the same practices apply. I’ll discuss in greater detail the steps I take when I go out and gather materials.

Laws & Permissions

Forestry-RangerRaw Material Foraging Practices always start with knowing the laws or gaining permission. When foraging off property other than your own look into the who, what and where. Let’s start with where. Where is the property located? Who owns it ? What do we need to do to access it ? I’ve personally never had a problem when I ask landowners permission to forage downed materials. A little courtesy and respect goes a long way.

Gathering raw materials from State land requires more investigation on your part. Start by contacting your local Forestry Department or Conservation Officer and inquire there. Don’t overlook required  permits because fines will outweigh the permits in the first place. Laws may prohibit foraging all together so please inquire and gain permissions when needed.

Foraging Locations

Finding foraging locations starts with a simple walk in the woods or a drive in the car.I make use of a GPS to mark my locations and points of interest. Points of interest are downloaded to my home computer. I keep a catalog of waypoints so I have reference to go back to that location.  Material species will change by demographic location. Trees that grow in the swamps of Florida won’t be found on the redwoods forest of Northern California. Focus on what’s available to you and your location. I’ll discuss in more detail below some of the niche locations I utilize when foraging raw materials.

Hardwood Forest

hardwood forestOf all the places I forage for raw materials this is my favorite. Not knowing what’s over the next ridge or around the bend makes me want to explore that much more.I combine multiple practices besides foraging for materials. There are always great photography opportunities. During the correct time of the season the woods are plentiful with berries. I also forage wild edibles so I combine multiple interest together to make my trips that much more rewarding.

Stream & River Beds

streamWhy not combine work with play ? Get out of the shop for the day, grab the fly rod and search for material at the same time. After all, a bad day of fishing ……………well you know what I mean. In my neck of the woods the snowfall is heavy and spring run off heavier. I wait for rivers and streams to reside and then let the fun begin. Materials washed into bodies of water get tumbled and beaten. This gives cool effects and foraging is easy. Just pick up as you walk along, nothing to it. Again, make sure you have the necessary rights to take the material in the first place.

Beaver Bogs & Ponds

beaver-treeLet’s not forget that Raw Material Foraging Practices also include beaver bogs and ponds. I’m not suggesting rowing out in a boat and taking Mr. Beaver’s house apart. I search the waters edge to see what’s floated to shore. The beavers make short work of the bark so there’s one less step to take. Branches are chewed on and those marks are a great effect in the wood. I never stop looking for ways to create and this material is unique onto itself.

Prepping, labeling & Storage

After our day of foraging the raw product has to go through a few steps before usage.We’ll discuss in further detail the steps I take to prepare my materials. None of which are difficult but are necessary prior to putting these materials to use. Minimal tools are required for these steps.


The first steps taken in Raw Material Foraging Practices is the prep work. Do I leave the bark on or peel it clean ? I look to peel my logs to reveal many different effects. Holes, insect damage and spalting are just a few of these effects. This is done with a draw knife or fixed blade. The ends are sealed with Arborseal or a sanding sealer to prevent checking .


Stocks labeled and recorded in a ledger. The ends of logs are marked with a letter & number. When I get more then one leg or section from the same piece of material I’ll mark them 1, 2, 3 and so on. If I use up all the letters in the alphabet then I’ll use a double letter. Simple and easy, no rocket science. Labeled material is recorded in the ledger with date of harvest, species and condition.


When prepping and labeling are done, it’s time to put product into storage. Products stood upright in plastic garbage cans. I always put space between materials and the floor. My shops storage room has wood floors and moisture wicks through the floor and into the material. This does not help the drying process. Put dunnage under larger pieces to keep them off the floor.

What do I do with it all?

After all this, what do I do with it ? The leg material does double duty for me. Table legs, spindles for headboards and footboards. Cut them into 6-8 inch pieces and place a 1.5 inch hole in the top, add a votive candle. Crazy branching makes for an excellent walking stick. The base of a blow down that has a crazy structure makes a great clock. Hollow trunks cut into donuts make plant bases or a cribbage board. Point is, possibilities are endless.


Want a personal challenge ? Try working with this material and you’ll find out why. The challenges I’ve faced working with these materials is rewarding. Seeing your creation complete proves you can overcome any obstacle. Why not give this a try just once and see how you like working with foraged material from the wild.

Thank You for taking the time to read….

~An Engraver In The Woods




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