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Swedish Culture

Mastering the Grain: What is Scandinavian Green and Dry Woodcarving?

Explore the rich heritage of Nordic woodcarving, tracing its evolution from traditional handmade items integral to everyday life to its modern resurgence.
April 23, 2024 By Lizzy Rode

Dive into the world of Nordic craftsmanship and discover the difference between green and dry woodcarving and how Scandinavian woodcarving has evolved over time. In the Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark, forests have long been an important resource.  

Handmade wooden items remained a pivotal part of these countries later than others that embraced other materials during the boom of industrialization. Picture the houses brimming with hand-carved wonders, from delicate cups and plates to whimsical toys passed down for generations of play—wood was integral to everyday life.

The most recognizable icon of Scandinavian woodcarving, the Dala Horse, became internationally famous at the 1939 World Exhibition. Its origins stem from the enduring practice of woodcarving and is a familiar sight in many Swedish homes today. 

In fact, ASI has a large collection of diverse handmade wooden objects, including many examples of items brought by immigrant families to the United States, from simple objects to exquisitely crafted versions that exemplify the skill and knowledge of the maker. Turned bowls and trenchers, spoons galore, and many, many Dala horses. But most notably, ASI has an exceptional collection of Swedish flat-plane figure carvings hand-crafted by some of the most notable names in this field, like Herman Rosell, Emil Janel, Oscar Sjogren, and even Axel “Döderhultarn” Petersson. 

Today, Sweden carries on the tradition of passing along the practice of wood carving to all children in slöjd (handcraft) classes. New generations are preserving traditional methods of crafting items while also innovating with accessible tools and materials. ASI’s Nordic Handcraft programs play a vital role in continuing this legacy. Through engaging hands-on classes, students are inspired to enhance their craft by crafting both beautiful and functional items.  

For decades, ASI has been a space for makers to gather and learn the art of woodcarving. From free maker meetups to figure carving sessions, there are opportunities available for woodcarvers of all skill levels. Just like in Sweden, ASI offers classes in the primary carving styles of green and dry.  

Green woodcarving  

When trees are cut down live, meaning green, the wood is more malleable and can be easier to carve. However, it tends to shrink and move, which takes a skilled craftsperson. Green woodcarving has made a comeback in recent years and is popular for crafting functional items, such as spoons, bowls, and furniture.  

Dry woodcarving  

Taking the time to dry the wood provides makers with a more stable form from start to finish. Dry wood is the craftsperson’s choice for figures and decorative carving, like the stunning woodwork found in the Turnblad Mansion. 

Carvers get to pick their own style, but no matter what, it takes time and patience to really master it. The tools and materials might seem basic, but getting the hang of working with organic materials and figuring out how to use the tools can be a whole journey in itself. At ASI, most classes use only hand tools such as slöjd or sloyd carving knives, axes, and gouges. Carving requires average hand strength and dexterity to safely use the tools. If you can open a new pickle jar from the grocery store, you can carve!   

Although many students are excited to start carving a whole dinner set, ASI recommends not skipping the fun in fundamentals and beginning with a quick and simple class to try out the process before committing to a longer course. 

“Students are sometimes surprised at what hard work carving can be!” says Erin Swenson-Klatt, ASI’s Food and Handcraft programs coordinator. “Luckily, there are lots of ways to approach carving and we offer a wide breadth of classes with many great instructors, so if you’re curious about which one might be a good fit for you, we’re happy to help you choose.”  

For aspiring woodcarvers, ASI suggests starting with the following classes, which are all offered on a quarterly basis: 

  • Intro to Green Woodcarvingan afternoon-long intro to a Scandinavian-style carving knife, fresh wood, and basic concepts (previously titled Green Woodcarving 101). 
  • Green Woodcarving FoundationsA one-and-a-half-day intro class that offers a chance to build a stronger foundation for further green woodcarving such as spoon and bowl carving. Can be taken after or instead of Intro to Green Woodcarving. (Previously titled Green Woodcarving 102) 
  • Half-day flat plane style classeslike Carve a Heart, Carve a Tomte, Carve a Veggie, and more. These classes work with dry wood and give foundational techniques in the popular Scandinavian Flat Plane Figure carving style. 

After trying out introductory level classes, students are encouraged to explore more specialized topics or progress to crafting more intricate curved objects, such as spoons and bowls. ASI provides a range of weekly and one-time skill-building courses tailored for intermediate and advanced carvers, available every quarter. 

Learn more about ASI’s regular instructors and see the classes they currently have on the schedule with Maeve Gathje, Paul Linden, Jess Hirsch, Liesl Chatman, Matt Bruch, Charles Banks, John Fleck, Jock Holmen, Jeanette Torkelson, and Andrew Austin-Petersen. New and visiting instructors join ASI often, so make sure to sign up for the monthly ASI Nordic Handcraft e-news to hear the latest updates!