Introduction: 'Tree-Nex' - Woodworking With Natural Forms (UPDATED)

Picture of 'Tree-Nex' - Woodworking With Natural Forms (UPDATED)

The more I'm working with wood, the more I'm loving it and the more I feel deep admiration & respect for it.
Respect for the ease to work it, even with basic tools.
Respect for it's enormous variation - every piece of wood is unique and not two pieces are the same, even in the same species.
Respect for it's natural shape, it's curves & texture.
Respect for the warmth of the product - woodworking is almost therapy. To me.

Wood has it all, and it's almost a shame we're cutting it into planks & mathematicly correct designs, cutting through forms & fibres.

A few months ago I felt I had to change course.
So this winter I surfed on the wave of minimal interference, guided by natural forms.

This I'ble is just a glimpse on my journey in what I started to call 'Tree-Nex' ;) - using wood like it comes from the trees, benefiting from it's natural shapes.

In Tree-Nex not the skill is the most important - like in classic woodworking - but the creativity of the woodworker.
There are poor woodworkers, but no poor Tree-Nex-ers.
No big tools are required, you can do everything with basic tools. Keeping budgets low.

In Tree-Nex you're building your own pieces & connections. No standards from the market, the trees will give you all you need & the forests will become your shopping mall.

Back to basics, again.

Step 1: Getting Supplies

Picture of Getting Supplies

In contrast to classic woodworking you'll not play the role of tax payer 'pay, pay, pay till you can't no more, and then pay a bit more' to buy that wood, but you'll be a beaver, searching for branches and hauling them to your kingdom.

Before you'll get to work you'll have to learn seeing. Most people look, but they don't see.

I want you to look closely to nature. You'll be searching specific branches, specific shapes, that kind of curve, that elbow, that nice burl. Or you'll just discover nice branches and find a use for it. Called creativity.

Common sense: stay away from private property, protected areas etc.
Ask owners & guards for permission if you can harvest what you discovered.
Don't cut more then you need and harvest respectfully.
Pay attention to the wounds you made.
Here's an example how I harvest natural elbows to make my boomerangs.

Step 2: Exit Bark

Picture of Exit Bark

De-barking is needed to let the wood dry and to take full profit of the beauty of it.

You can do this with a knife or hatchet, or you can build a nice tool to get it all easier & faster.

It took me only a half day to prepare all those branches you see on the picture.

Let the bark dry in a well ventilated area. It's a great firestarter.

Step 3: The Art of Wooden Plugs

Picture of The Art of Wooden Plugs

Plugs are essential stuff in Tree-Knex. You can use steel bolts, of course - sometimes you just don't have the choice - but wooden custom plugs are perfect in 90% of the cases.

I'm using hard(er) wood to make them. Oak or beech are perfect. You need straight-grained species.

Cut a log into fries with a hatchet & use a knife to shape it to the diameter you need.

Don't make them too smooth, let them raw - they'll stay better in place.

Drill a hole straight through the two pieces you put together and jam the plug in.
Cut the excess with a saw.

Nice & smooth. You're done.

Wanna use some glue? Use some glue. Make it stronger.

Step 4: Mini Workshop 1: Make a Simple Ladder

Picture of Mini Workshop 1: Make a Simple Ladder

This is a very nice & rewardful thing to make.

There are two versions: the parallel-style & the piramid-style.

Supplies for both are the same: two large branches & a lot of small stuff (1/3 diameter of the large).

Note: these ladders are pure decorative. They are perfect for cats, or to hang towels on in the bathroom.
If you want a human-proof ladder you'll have to pimp up diameters. Same method.

Let's start with the difficult one
1. get those branches
2. place them in the position you want (you can clamp them temporarly to a plank)
3. drill the highest & lowest holes - respect the right angles
4. smash the higest & lowest step in place
5. put those plugs
6. drill the other holes
7. smash the other steps in place & plug them
8. cut the excess

The easy one
1. two branches
2. clamp them together & drill all the holes at once
3. smash the higest & lowest step in place & plug them
4. you know how to do the rest

Congrats. You made your first Tree-Nex project.

Step 5: Mini Workshop 2: Build a 'rocket'

Picture of Mini Workshop 2: Build a 'rocket'

'Rockets' are the base of many great projects and they are simply useful on their own.

The first thing I build 'Tree-Nex-style' was this wooden tripod. It opened the world to me.

To build one you need one bigger branch and one smaller - 1 to 3 ratio if we talk cross-sections.

It's easy as peeing in a fire
1. Cut the big one the length you want.
2. Plane it if necessary.
3. Measure the circumference.
4. Divide by the number of legs.
5. Mark the spots.
6. Take a long drill & use it in a 45° angle.
7. Take a clock drill with the same diameter as the legs & use it.
8. Drill to the middle of the piece & remove the core with a chisel.
9. Repeat.
10. Insert every leg - the more it's tight, the better
11. Pre-drill the screw-zones.
12. Use long screws to get it all well solid - or poor some glue in the leg-holes.
13. You can reinforce the whole by adding smaller sections to link the legs one to another.
14. Adjust the length of the legs to get it all levelled.

Congrats, you just made your first rocket.

What is it good for? Many things, as you see. I made a stand-up for my bow and a mug-holder, for example.

Step 6: Workshop 3: Make a Gym-rig

Picture of Workshop 3: Make a Gym-rig

Needs: one ladder, two rockets, a straight branch and a hoop.

Ladder: you know how to make one (size: measure your body without the legs)

Rockets: you can do it, but make it high enough (5 feet will do the job)

Assemble and you're done.

Make it the way you can disassemble it later. It's rather uncomfortable to move.

If you're really in the mood you can make the weight from wood as well.
Just two big logs and a solid beam. I'm working on it!

Step 7: Workshop 4: Make a Garden Gate

Picture of Workshop 4: Make a Garden Gate

You've got a garden?
You've got the vibes?

Why not making a full wood gate?
If you're looking for a different woodworking challenge: this is it!

From tree to fixed gated: three days.
Benefiting time: one generation - at least.

Why not have a walk through the pictures? Instructions in the pics.

Step 8: UPDATE: Fixing a Small Garden Gate

Picture of UPDATE: Fixing a Small Garden Gate

I made a smaller gate for a friend, and just for fun I wanted to know what it would look like once fixed.

  1. Anchor a big pole in the ground.
  2. Measure the distance of the wooden pivot pole from the gate.
  3. Drill two holes in the anchored pole.
  4. Add smaller (pre-drilled) poles in the holes.
  5. Use wedges & a hammer to get it all leveled.
  6. Add your gate.
  7. Cut off all the excess & oil.
  8. That's it: a full natural pivoting system!

Step 9: Don't Be Affraid to Think Bigger

Picture of Don't Be Affraid to Think Bigger

It doesn't stop with gates & fences, of course.
You can go as far as you want. Tree-Nex is based on modularity.

To build a box you need a few frames (like a ladder, but wider).
To build a house you need a lot of bigger frames, correctly assembled.

Use that imagination & creativity. Come up with something special!

Step 10: Endless Possibilities!

Picture of Endless Possibilities!

In the same spirit of this Tree-Nex project I already made a few other projects that unconsciously must have lead me to this, I guess.
There was my natural elbow boomerang and in the same style the dreamcatcher and zombie stopper - all based on natural elbows - and I'm still into kuksa's & mugs. No publicity, only to show you the endless possibilities of using natural shapes.

Call it Tree-Nex, call it natural wood woodworking, call it whatever you want. I just hope I've transmitted a bit of my enthousiasm to a few of you to leave the beaten tracks of classic woodworking.

Thanks for watching, and thanx to everyone following me. I didn't say thank you to all of you individually but know that I'm really, really honored.


Can't wait to see those 'I made it'-buttons appear in the comment-zone ;)


prickly vegan (author)2015-01-11

I respect any man who includes cats in his instructable photos. :)

I look forward to making the ladder for my feline friends. Thank you!

bricobart (author)prickly vegan2015-01-12

Thanx! They must be the only animals who are always perfect on the pics - never seen a bad cat shot!

Good luck with that ladder, they'll love it!

AARENAARON (author)2014-05-20

Cute kitties :-*

bricobart (author)AARENAARON2014-05-21

Thanx, I'm sure some have a few monkey genes also ;)

DIY-Guy (author)2014-05-18

Beautiful forms! I lean toward natural shapes for extra beauty.

There is a name for this (vs milled lumber building) but I have forgotten. It was common in England to build roof trusses with branches and the engineering rules were well established (vs the American way of using dimensional lumber and identical angles and pieces of wood). Not to complain about your newly coined name, but ... someone out there knows the old name for this concept.

Anybody here remember the term?

bricobart (author)DIY-Guy2014-05-18

I didn't know there was a real name for it - mine was more then a joke, it's just the way our ancestors did it. If you look at old farms & barns, often you'll find unmilled beams in the basic structure and even in old stone windmills (we had one, once) you'll find almost entire trees to support the turning 'hat'.

It's also part of the japanese 'Shinto'-culture to use entire wood-sections but I'm far of a specialist to go into details. Let me know when you find that term, and thanx for commenting!

Tarun Upadhyaya (author)2014-05-15

Wooow.. double winner :). Congratulations!!! dear friend :)

Thank you, I just love those two medals ;) And thanx for your vote, also ;)

* Which counts for everyone who supported this project, THANK YOU ALL!!! *

heathbar64 (author)2014-05-11

Love what you're doing here.

bricobart (author)heathbar642014-05-16

Thank you!

rimar2000 (author)2014-04-05


I don't understand what is the reason for I did not see this when you published it.

Maybe it is due to Instructables RECENT order is by YOUR publishing date, instead of THEIR. I warned them many times of that problem, but nothing happen.

bricobart (author)rimar20002014-04-14

Thanx rimar, always nice to recieve compliments from great craftsmen!

bricobart (author)2014-03-26

Thanx to everybody who has voted for this project in the Spring Contest, you made it a winner! Hope it helps to put old school work on the map again ;)

rippa700 (author)2014-03-05

Lovely instructible and I am doing a lot of craft woodwork stuff at the moment, so thanks for the great inspiration and some good tips. Lovely work!

bricobart (author)rippa7002014-03-06

It's a pleasure that this I'ble inspired you because that's the reason why I wrote it - and also because I'm proud of that gate ;) Have fun with your woodworking, and don't forget that beer at the end of a great day!

rippa700 (author)bricobart2014-03-06

Home made cider but thanks for the thought!

Ricardo Furioso (author)2014-03-05

Great determination. Fabulous results. Amazing photos. Do more please.

It's all about the seeing. Our trees did 99% of the job. Canon Powershot. More in the pipeline.

Thank you Ricardo!

I have a Canon Powershot D10 that I bought on Ebay for $100. Waterproof. And I shoot underwater photos. And I have no fear of taking it fishing. Thanks again.

Sabata (author)2014-03-05

Very nice! I like the projects and your old buildings are super cool.

bricobart (author)Sabata2014-03-06

Thanx - those buildings will give me a lot of work the coming years ;)

qewt (author)2014-03-05

Awesome! Love the look of the finished pieces and the idea behind them :)

bricobart (author)qewt2014-03-05

That's great, thank you so much!

thirst4know (author)2014-03-05

Thank you for seeking ancestral methods to living, being kind to the wood producing roots and inspiring others so they don't have to rely on corporations for items they desire.

bricobart (author)thirst4know2014-03-05

Thanx my friend, you've got that picture totally!

abon (author)2014-03-05

You are my new idol!

bricobart (author)abon2014-03-05

That's too much honor! If I only could be a small example in some ways that would already be enough ;)

Lindie (author)2014-03-04


bricobart (author)Lindie2014-03-05

Thanx lindie!

Woodenbikes (author)2014-03-04

Very cool! Looks like you are ready to make a wooden bike. Here is one way.

bricobart (author)Woodenbikes2014-03-05

Veeery nice projects! To be honest, I've already made some sketches a few months ago and it's one of those projects I've in mind while scavenging the wild grounds in the region. Once I'll find that piece I'm looking for! ;)

Jobar007 (author)2014-02-27

Favorite quote of any 'ible ever: "Before you'll get to work you'll have to learn seeing. Most people look, but they don't see."

Just as an FYI: some species readily split as they dry. Pacific Madrone (Artubus menziesii) is an excellent example. Sealing the cut ends with wax can help with the splitting as it forces the log to dry through it's outer skin and not through the ends first (which causes most splitting). Madrone will split unless you boil or freeze/thaw cycle it but it is worth it given it's species.

bricobart (author)Jobar0072014-02-27

I'm using that sealing method to dry my boomerang elbows and it works great, I confirm. Never had the chance to work with those tropical species since I always try to use the local resources. I guess you got them in your garden?

Jobar007 (author)bricobart2014-02-28

Western Oregon in the USA is hardly tropical. We are a temperate rain forest. I can only speak to species here in North America, but there are several that readily split when drying. Some research on local trees and air drying logs can be fun if you are like me and enjoy scientific papers.

bricobart (author)Jobar0072014-03-04

I thought you lived on Hawaii or one of those remote islands but you're even more lucky, living over there. I bet you've access to a lot of useful species!

craftclarity (author)Jobar0072014-02-27

I second that. Learning to see rather than look is possibly one of the most important skills a craftsperson can cultivate.

Earthlove (author)2014-02-27

Awesome! I was just thinking I could do something similar with bamboo/scrap wood. I voted for you! :)

bricobart (author)Earthlove2014-02-27

That's nice my friend, thanx!

Jobar007 (author)Earthlove2014-02-27

If I were to do this with bamboo, I would lash instead of drill. Lashing can be nearly as strong and bamboo is strongest when it's layers are intact.

Jonnis shed stuff (author)2014-02-27

nice! could i recommend the use of a drawknife for getting the bark off? much easier on the hands and really easy to use.

Never had the chance to use one but I'll keep your suggestion in mind, thanks!

Tarun Upadhyaya (author)2014-02-27



drchimpy (author)2014-02-27

fantastic ible, cant wait to try some stuff myself as i'm fortunate enough to have recently had an area of land trimmef back near me recently

bricobart (author)drchimpy2014-02-27

Good luck, and let me know!

About This Instructable




Bio: I made a beer mug with only a knife & a hatchet. I think that says a lot about me.
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