How to stop harvested wood from splitting? - Router Forums
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post #1 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-02-2015, 01:24 AM Thread Starter
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Default How to stop harvested wood from splitting?

I had a large American Hornbeam (ironwood) tree die in my yard over two years ago. It stood dead for at least a year so i could make sure it was dead. I cut it down and drug it to the back of my field where it lay for another year. Over the holiday we cut it up to make gift for my son (Win Chun Wooden Dummy). We stripped the bark revealing a beautiful, dense hard wood but it imediately began splitting.

Any suggestions on how to handle harvested wood to prevent splitting?

Thanks
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post #2 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-02-2015, 07:54 AM
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Leaving it standing was okay but leaving it lying on the ground for a year wasn't. The tree will lose a lot of moisture when standing but it will soak it back up again lying on its side on the ground and the water will gravitate to the low side over time leaving it wetter than than the upper side. Uneven drying or drying too fast are usually what causes wood to split. Being in the sunlight also causes it. What to do right now is a bit of a judgement call and it would help to see the log up close. Most trees are cut green and then kiln dried under very carefully managed conditions or air dried in a stickered pile with lots of air flow. However, the moisture in green logs might be a little more homogenous than your tree is now. My best guess for what to do is to saw it up and dry pile with stickers between each layer that are at least an inch thick or criss cross the layers and leave at least 2" of space between each board. Keep light off the pile but without hindering air flow.

You are probably at least 2 years away from being able to use that wood in a project and maybe a lot more. I use a lot of western birch because it's the only locally available hardwood and all the old timers told me to cure it 5 years before I tried to use it.

Someone I consider a master woodworker once told me that a master woodworker is not someone who never makes mistakes. He is someone who is able to cover them up so that no one can tell.
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post #3 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-02-2015, 10:10 AM
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That is interesting chuck. Wonder how the Bowl turners turn green and don't get splitting.

Herb
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post #4 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-02-2015, 10:14 AM
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I understand that it helps to paint or wax coat the ends of your cut lumber so they don't dry out faster than the center. That uneven drying would drive splitting. Rockler had a green commercial product for that purpose, but Stick suggests simple paraffin, but be careful melting it because it is volatile.
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post #5 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-02-2015, 10:35 AM
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If you look at the ends of any lumber for sale retail, and most of the commercial quantities too, the ends will have been painted and you are correct about the reason. It is to slow the drying so that it dries more evenly. Lee Valley used to sell an end treatment made from Poly Ethylene Glycol, PEG, that looked like parafin. One of my uncles says regular antifreeze will work too. Thick paint will work.

Wood is like a bundle of tubes that run lengthways up the tree, the reason long grain is much stronger than cross grain. The moisture in the wood doesn't travel cross grain easily but it travels very easily lengthways so the idea is to plug off the ends of the tubes to allow the moisture to dry more slowly. Rapid drying is pretty much guaranteed to cause cupping, warping, twist, and splitting.

I'm not 100% sure how turning works, maybe Bernie or one of the other turners will comment. I think it has to do with relieving stress before it can dry. I do recall one of the turners, maybe Bernie, saying once that he was partway through a bowl and he got company over and didn't finish it and when he got back it had split.

Someone I consider a master woodworker once told me that a master woodworker is not someone who never makes mistakes. He is someone who is able to cover them up so that no one can tell.
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post #6 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-02-2015, 12:01 PM Thread Starter
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The tree was stored out in the weather but not on the ground. An unusually wet summer in TX did not help but we are thankful for the rain. I had placed some logs underneath it to keep it off the ground.
The splits and cracks actually add character to the project so I am not worried about the look. I will try to post some photos when I can.

Thanks for the replies.
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post #7 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-02-2015, 12:51 PM
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PERSONALLY, I consider standing dead trees very close to worthless for lumber or firewood, but they do have considerable value as ecological niches for birds and other wildlife. It just so happens that a fellow that worked for me in sales of my concrete forms brought his dad over to see my reptile collection (they were from Michigan).

The Dad was in the business of cutting trees specifically targeted to be made into veneer. He was there just at the perfect time to advise me of how to prevent freshly cut wood from splitting. I made the conscious decision to carefully select one tree from my forested back property to make all of the climbing limbs for my arboreal snakes and lizards. He suggested that I paint the freshly cut ends with SPAR VARNISH. I did exactly as was recommended and I can honestly say that nothing has split in over 8 years. The bark has stayed on, much to my pleasant surprise. The tree I had selected was Sourwood - which is plentiful in my region. Diameters of the pieces used are from 6 inches to 1/2 an inch and everything in-between.

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post #8 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-02-2015, 03:29 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks OPG3. I will try the SPAR in the future.
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post #9 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-02-2015, 09:34 PM
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Woodturners that turn green wood usually do a preliminary cut and leave the walls 10% thickness to diameter ratio. Then weigh the wood, and reweigh every week or so. When the wood stops losing weight, it's dry. Painting the wood with paraffin or cheap latex paint helps slow the moisture loss, especially from the end grain, where it loses quicker. Wood is organic, and it will do what it wants to, so cut the wood longer than you need, and thicker than you need, and allow for 1 year/inch of thickness to air dry.

BTW - most of the bowls I've turned end up ovalized after the are cut due to the shrinkage being more in the width rather than length.

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post #10 of 14 (permalink) Old 01-02-2015, 09:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mgdesigns View Post
Woodturners that turn green wood usually do a preliminary cut and leave the walls 10% thickness to diameter ratio. Then weigh the wood, and reweigh every week or so. When the wood stops losing weight, it's dry. Painting the wood with paraffin or cheap latex paint helps slow the moisture loss, especially from the end grain, where it loses quicker. Wood is organic, and it will do what it wants to, so cut the wood longer than you need, and thicker than you need, and allow for 1 year/inch of thickness to air dry.

BTW - most of the bowls I've turned end up ovalized after the are cut due to the shrinkage being more in the width rather than length.
That is interesting
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