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Thread: Drying Big Pieces of Wood Faster Question

  1. #1
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    Drying Big Pieces of Wood Faster Question

    I'm just overflowing with questions! It's been so long!

    This is a long question so please bear with me.

    Some of you know that I have these big chunks of "big leaf" maple. I have some pieces that are from the base of the trees I had cut down. Some measure like 30" diameter and say 30" tall. Now I don't want to wait until the year 2050 to work with them. I may not even be alive then. The bark has been removed and they're sitting off the floor, on boards, in my shop, painted with latex paint and dusted with insect powder since mid-summer. So far no cracks.

    I want to make something that measures roughly 18" X 18" X 20" tall. Think of a square-ish cube with the underside hollowed out. The top has to be dead square/flat/level.

    So what do I have to do to work with this wood in 6 months from now?

    Could I trim it down (still oversize) and soak it in a giant DNA bath, and then let it dry (faster) and then get it to final dimensions?

    Should I trim it to final dimensions, hollow it out, and then soak it?

    What do you guys think?
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  2. #2
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    I don't have answers to your questions but just wanted to give the thread a bump. I am sure someone with experience will soon chime in.
    Chinese Proverb: Man who eats many prunes gets good run for the money.

  3. #3
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    Cynthia, as far as I know, there's not really a reliable way to speed up the drying of a chunk of wood that size. I don't think a DNA bath would have much effect, because I don't think the alcohol would ever migrate all the way to the center of the piece. It might cause the outside to dry a bit quicker, but that can also potentially be a recipe for cracking. If part of the wood dries faster than another part, cracks are often the result. I suspect a kiln would have a similar effect (drying the outside but not the inside), but that's only speculation on my part, since I don't have any personal experience with kiln drying.

    I believe the fastest way to dry a large chunk of wood is to have less wood. In other words, any place in that blank where you can reduce the thickness, you will be speeding up the drying. For that reason, I think roughing it out to approximate size (but still thicker than final thickness) would be the way I'd approach it. Much like a woodturner working with green wood, I think milling it to rough size, letting it dry, then milling it to finished size will be the fastest way to get your end product. I know in the case of turned objects, it's pretty important to have the wood be a consistent thickness. That help ensure the wood dries evenly instead of having one part dry faster than another.

    On a different note, where is the pith in relation to this 18" x 18" x 20" block of wood? Based on a 30 inch diameter of the stump, I'm guessing that your block has some pith in it. There is a very strong likelihood the wood will crack in and around the pith. I don't like being the bearer of bad news, but I don't know of any way to prevent cracking from the pith. My suggestion would be to simply expect it and plan for it accordingly. The cracks can become a design feature. They can be filled, patched with butterfly joints, or simply left in place and celebrated.
    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson
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  4. #4
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    Thanks very much, Vaughn.

    You're right about the pith. I've been puzzling over that because the largest trees had a particularly nasty punky pith--definitely made me wonder if the tree was rotting from the inside out. I did some more research and learned that the pieces don't need to be 25" X 25" X 25". They need to be max 25" X 25" X 6". So with those dimensions I think I can avoid the pith. And I think I can get them to dry faster.

    I'm still going to try the DNA bath for at least one piece and see what happens.

    I'll keep you guys posted. THANKS
    AKA Young Grasshopper Woodworker
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  5. #5
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    A recent thread about a guy who specializes in monster sized woodturnings had a custom built microwave kiln for his wood. Even in there, the large chunks took "weeks" to dry properly.
    "Folks is funny critters."

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  6. #6
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    Are you sure you need to build your project from railroad ties? 6 inches thick will be heavy and unstable. Could you design it so it could be constructed out of 4/4 lumber (planed to 3/4 or less) in a hollow structure? That would be very strong, much more stable, and could be moved without a crane.
    Charlie Plesums, Austin Texas
    (Retired early to become a custom furnituremaker)
    Lots of my free advice at www.solowoodworker.com

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Plesums View Post
    Are you sure you need to build your project from railroad ties? 6 inches thick will be heavy and unstable. Could you design it so it could be constructed out of 4/4 lumber (planed to 3/4 or less) in a hollow structure? That would be very strong, much more stable, and could be moved without a crane.
    I'd forgotten how funny you are, Charlie! I'm using larger than necessary measurements because a) the wood is still wet and b) I'm allowing for waste/checking to be trimmed off. When this thing is done, it will be about 20" X 20" X 4.5" thick and will be substantially hollowed out underneath. No crane necessary, my friend.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cynthia White View Post
    ... When this thing is done, it will be about 20" X 20" X 4.5" thick and will be substantially hollowed out underneath. No crane necessary, my friend.
    This sounds like a cutting board waiting to crack. If it is, I would suggest that you make the cutting board out of multiple pieces, glued up, even end grain up for the "ideal" cutting surface.

    If it is something else, I am back to recommending a flat sawn 4/4 top, with a 4 inch wide, 1 inch thick, frame around it. This gives a much more reasonable thickness to expand and contract with the seasons, with almost no chance of splitting.
    Charlie Plesums, Austin Texas
    (Retired early to become a custom furnituremaker)
    Lots of my free advice at www.solowoodworker.com

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Plesums View Post
    This sounds like a cutting board waiting to crack. If it is, I would suggest that you make the cutting board out of multiple pieces, glued up, even end grain up for the "ideal" cutting surface.

    If it is something else, I am back to recommending a flat sawn 4/4 top, with a 4 inch wide, 1 inch thick, frame around it. This gives a much more reasonable thickness to expand and contract with the seasons, with almost no chance of splitting.
    Charlie, you're making me very nervous. Yes, I could do a glue up as you suggest, but Asians have been making these Go Boards out of a single piece of wood for thousands of years, so why can't I? How come their boards don't crack?

    Here are some good photos to show you what I mean.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cynthia White View Post
    Charlie, you're making me very nervous. Yes, I could do a glue up as you suggest, but Asians have been making these Go Boards out of a single piece of wood for thousands of years, so why can't I? How come their boards don't crack?
    http://www.kiseido.com/go_equipment.htm

    Look at this site and read the details of how they are made and look at the grain direction in the photos. They are using, I assume, a very stable wood and solid quarter sawn chunks of wood which have probably been seasoned for a long time. Unless you can duplicate these same variables, I think you should follow Charlie's suggestion.

    Pay special note to where they talk about a Chinese version of the wood cracking over time.

    Now I am beginning to see that all your recent "question" threads are related. . I don't know about the others, but I do better when I understand the big picture.
    “When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.” - John Ruskin
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