Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | January 3, 2016

Carving a Living Tree

The first of last month, a cousin of mine living in Utah sent me an article featuring a fellow that carves “tree spirits” and the like in living trees in a community located near my cousin. At first, I admit that I was attracted to the idea… partially because of a photo that was in included in the article and then “Googling” “carvings in live trees.” My imagination went off like a sky rocket and I pictured a cool wizard character similar to Gandalf with the bark of the tree growing back and framing the face.

Then, I came to my senses and reality set in. I seriously thought through carving a living tree. It took only a matter of seconds to consider that this would be similar to carving a wizard on ones forearm. It would seriously hurt and while it may heal, the arm would never be the same and would for sure be impaired for life. Another comparison might be made to carving a face on the back of your dog. Not at all cool.

A tree is a living thing. It is bad enough to kill one needlessly but I can think of no excuse to mutilate one. We can only imagine what feelings a tree may have but it has been proven scientifically that all plants have feelings and react to even the thought of being harmed.

I suppose that there may be an argument for carving on a previously damaged area but even then I am not so sure. But introducing a wound to a healthy tree will surely introduce pathogens or insects. Please do not suggest that all would be rectified by applying a wood preservative. Would you paint that on an open wound on your body… I think not.

The fellow featured in the article stated that he “never lost a tree.” Well one may not die from carving up his or her arm but s/he may well wish for death due to the pain. So far in my life, I have not met a talking live tree but I am certain that they would scream at the thought of being carved up.

I know of no way to stop rot in a living tree. According to an arborist friend, a damaged area of a tree will never heal. The tree will attempt to save itself by isolating the damaged area and putting its life force into the areas surrounding the wound but the wound will remain and will likely rot… and rot spreads. It may or may not kill the tree depending upon the health of the tree, its age, the species of the tree, and its location but it will impair the tree forever.

Imagine, if you will, an 8 inch diameter tree and a carving is made in it roughly one half its circumference and 1-2 inches deep. The tree will attempt to segregate the wound leaving roughly one half of the trunk to provide nutrients to the balance of the tree. Its chance of survival has been reduced to half and it is scared for life. Even if a tree does not die in a short period of time, its life will have been shortened.

One may also argue that you can look at photos of tree carvings and see no visible signs of damage. I assure you, there is damage… the carving itself is damage and other damage will lie behind the carving out of sight… but it is there. Ask an arborist.

One last thought. Certain trees such as Western Red Cedar, Big Leaf Maple and others often have hollow areas within the trunk. Carving such a trunk will greatly reduce the strength of the trunk.

Let us stick to carving dead trees. There are plenty of those around that we don’t need to inflict mayhem on a living tree.

Happy New Year to everyone. I wish you a truly amazing year. Keep sharp!

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  1. I have never carved a living tree. All and any wood I use is salvaged from storm damage or from timber that has died of natural causes . From your comments re damage caused by carving a live tree, cutting through the bark and living tissue is soon repaired by nature and any core timber is dead wood used by the tree to give it strength.

    • Thank you for your comment. From what I have learned from an arborist friend and books, it is my understanding that the damage from carving can not healed in any respect. The damage is simply compartmentalized. I suppose one could compare it to a tooth with a cavity where the cavity has been filled. The tooth is damaged and will remain damaged forever. The filling may add strength to a tooth but it certainly does not enhance the tooth’s original strength. The same applies to a wound in a tree. Damage done to a tree will weaken the tree, may introduce disease. None of that can be undone or add strength to a tree.

  2. Michael, you are “write on” with you comments about NOT carving a living tree – it is a novelty that is harmful to the tree as you so well pointed out. There is plenty of other kinds of wood to carve that are better and besides you can not carry a living tree to the next carving meeting for “show and tell” and as always I enjoy your “wordsmith” skills, so “Write On.”

  3. My daughter’s spirit creature is the tree the same as others have spirit animals. Thank you so much for the truth you put out there! Thank you for saying things that I prayer will help people become aware and awake. You are amazing!

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