What woods to use for thin flexible strips.

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    Alexander Miller

    I’m experimenting to make wooden tongs for use as kitchen cookware. A very simple concept; 2 long, slender, bendy ‘fingers’ with a wooden spacer block sandwiched between them at one end. A small trial using soft, softwood fingers is quite successful. Attempts to scale up and use harder woods, have been failures, the fingers either breaking when flexed or being too stiff to be useful. I’m not exactly a beginner but very inexpert and unencumbered by fancy tools.

    What opinions are there about the most suitable species to use – preferably plentiful, easily worked and neither endangered nor highly expensive. All other thoughts welcome – best way to make thin, narrow strips, how to read the grain on thin material, how to get the right balance of strength vs flex, how to finish etc, etc

    Or is it just a silly project and I should just give it up?

    Jonas Ericson

    This is a common first project for young students in Sweden, when they start learning woodworking, It is also rather common to sell at markets – cheap enough for people to buy and fast to make. Birch is the normal wood to use – soft enough to work fast, doesn’t give taste to the food and still durable enough for manye years of use. Sometimes with details from apple or pear.


    If you want it to be really thin I would work with green wood and maybe use rowan (sorbus aucuparia) or ash which are springy with long fibers. Juniper could be a good choice as well.
    Then you can easily split thin stripes wth the grain running the full length. Use the part close to the rim to get the highest strength. Maybe branches with a slight bend will get even more springiness. Fast and cheap to do so you can experiment a lot. Sharpen your knife and start whittling!



    Alexander Miller

    Thanks, Jonas, for the advice and inspiring photos. I’m having enough challenge working with lumber, which is really what I’m trying to learn; experimenting with green wood would be interesting but a distraction at this point – although I can see merit in starting at ‘square one.’ I’m a bit old for that 🙁 :). Of the woods you named, Birch is the only one I could easily find here unless I cut down someone’s tree. So I’ll get some birch & go from there. You’ve put me on track to consider splitting rather than sawing – thanks.

    Around here (W. Canada) Rowan is called Mountain Ash but as an ex-Scot I know its ‘real’ name.

    Jonas Ericson

    Dear Alex,
    Green wood is not a challenge. On the opposite, it is much simpler. Easy to split, easy to cut, easy to shape with a knife. For the final finish you may have to wait for it to dry, but thin stripes like yours will dry in a day.

    With the dimensions you are looking for you only need thin branches, or even twigs, so also if you live in the middle of a big city, there will be off-cuts and branches enough from the city managing the parks or people managing their gardens. Then you will also receive a large variety of both domestic and foreign species.

    Being in Canada you also have so many morenative wood species to choose from, so I hope you’ll get some replies from woodworkers over there, with local knowledge. Hickory would possibly the optimal choice in North America – but then you should work it green. Dried hickory is hard.

    Anyway – good luck and keep on wood working!


    Larry Geib

    A couple traditional woods for tongs are willow and bamboo. ( ok, bamboo is a grass) I have made tongs from bamboo, and the main hazard for kids would be getting cut from the sharp edges when you split it. You do best with one of the giant species like Timber Bamboo.

    Inuits used willow for Greenland kayaks and when fresh and soaked can be bent to quite tight radii without steam or heat. The downside is it needs to be constrained until it dries. Bamboo bends easily with heat ( even a blow dryer will do it. ) both remain springy in their new ‘set’.

    And you might want to look at the Wood database at their entry on bow woods. What you look for in bow construction is woods with a low modulus of elasticity and a high modulus of rupture woods like rosewood, the yews, and Osage Orange, a favorite of native Americans.

    But is sounds like you want the opposite, and the poor bow woods on the list might be what you are looking for. These would include Aspens, Spruces, poplars, the true firs ( NOT a Douglas fir) , and wood in the Basswood/linden/ lime family.

    This being the Christmas season , I have a new appreciation for how flexible fresh cut Grand fir is, and I think I could tie the branches of the Norway Spruce we got this year as a live tree in a knot. You might have something in recycling this years crop of trees.

    The list is here:

    Bow Woods (From A Mathematical Perspective)

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