Wood FAQs

Why is the wood waxed?

Wax is used to protect the wood during the drying process so that it does not dry too quickly, causing checking and warping. It also protects it from large changes in climate, temperature and humidity which commonly occur when wood is shipped. Without wax, a large percentage of wood would be lost from checking and cracks. The wax and waxing cost is very expensive and we only use it to preserve the quality of the wood.

How do I remove/work with the wax?

The wood will dry slowly through the wax so it is not necessary to remove it if you are storing it for later or allowing it to dry. Removing the wax will increase the chances of checking and/or warping.  If you are going to use the wood immediately, removal of the wax is not necessary as it will easily cut away when you start turning the blank. If the blank is wet (freshly cut), use the twice turning method and a paper bag to dry the blank slowly without degrade. The wax is much softer than the wood and will turn away without you even noticing that it is there.  If you are planning on cutting a bowl blank into small boards on a band saw, just make the first cut for removal of the wax (usually a 1/16" sacrificial piece).  After this is removed, set your fence to the desired thickness of your boards and start re-sawing.  Remember to cut the boards thicker than your final thickness dimensions so you can sand or surface the faces clean at a later time.  Allow for more thickness if the blank is wet as the wood will shrink as it dries.  You can number the boards sequentially as you cut them off so that you can keep track of the book matched / sequential boards.  Very careful use of a razor blade can also be effective, but the best removal method is to cut the portion of wax off with a saw.

If the wood isn’t dry, how do I dry it?

TURNING BLANKS: If the wood is waxed (like some of our turning blanks) simply leave the wax on the blank and let is sit in a shaded area that doesn’t get too hot. Usually garage or wood shop shelves are fine.   Blocks dry faster than lumber so usually they completely dry in 3-12 months but this can vary.  If you twice turn, put the roughed out blank in a paper bag with some sawdust shavings and let it dry for a week or two and then check it.  If the blank has some checks, get the shavings wet and then close the bag and then check it in a day or two.  After a period of time (usually 3-8 weeks) the roughed out blank will be dry.

LUMBER: Lumber generally takes 1 year to dry for every inch of thickness (so a 3” thick piece would take 3 years).  Certain species do not take this long, but this is a good general rule.  For storing & drying boards, stack them flat on small 1” square wood stickers to allow air flow above and below the board.  The key is to have the water evaporate at the same rate on the top and bottom of the board so that there is equal tension, hence creating a flat board.  If it dries too fast on one side it will bend (bow) towards the side that is drier.  Get the dry side wet with a spray bottle (water) and then keep that side wet. The board will flatten usually after a couple of treatments.  Please feel free to call and we will help you with the wood drying process.

What is the difference between kiln dried & air dried wood?

Kiln dried wood is generally superior to air dried wood. The sap that is present in soft woods can be made solid or “set” to avoid seeping out of pores. In hardwoods, you can lock the color in. For example, in Maple, you can keep it looking pristine white without golden/brown discoloration or grey streaking. In colored hardwoods, such as Walnut or Bubinga the sapwood stays white while the homogenously colored heartwood retains a more even coloration. The fancy, streaks & color variation that you can find in air dried woods are less common when the wood is steamed through the kiln drying process. Kiln drying is generally hard on the wood if an aggressive, fast kiln schedule is used; however, if dried properly, it is superior for furniture, boxes, and cabinets as it makes the wood less prone to movement.  Musical instrument softwoods are generally air dried for a period of 5 years (for example, Spruce tops). Many types of softwood are dried for much longer than this. Musical instrument hardwoods, such as the Rosewoods, are air dried completely with some light kiln drying at the end.  This is low temperature drying that is very easy on the grain and does not promote fiber damage which could create an undesirable dampening of the sound of an instrument.  As exception resonation is critical, we take great care with drying all of our instrument woods. In general, air dried wood has more of a tendency to have richer, more unique colors, spalting and/or more patterns than kiln dried wood as well as being less expensive.

What does freshly cut/green mean?

Green wood is wood that is freshly cut from the tree and still quite wet. The water and sap in the wood makes the fibers more flexible. Sometimes freshly cut wood has been partially air dried; however, it is still classified as freshly cut or green until all of the internally bound moisture dries. On our website, we don’t use the term “green” because in the exotic industry there are times that the color green exists in wood and in the interest of preventing confusion, we have opted to say “freshly cut”.

Can I work with wood that still contains moisture?

Yes, some of the most beautiful vases have been turned with completely wet wood and then finished and allowed to naturally dry and change shape – appearing like the petals of a flower. Madrone or Madrone burl are the best for this natural effect. Additionally, turners often use the “twice turned” method to work with wood that contains moisture. Please see our section on how to do this. Lumber that contains moisture is best left to dry before working; however if you’re re-sawing, there are cases where cutting the wet wood will speed the drying process. We’ll be happy to talk with you about your specific application.

How do I know when my wood is dry?

A moisture meter with variable density settings is required to know absolutely if wood is dry or not. On sensitive items like instrument sets and rifle stock blanks, we will tell you what the reading is or you can call and ask.  But generally if you don’t have a variable density moisture meter you can tell if it still contains moisture by whether the wood is cold to the touch (evaporating water) or is room temperature (generally dry).  Another test with lumber is to tap it and listen for a warm ringing tone.  If you tap it and hear a dull thud... it is not dry.  Sometimes trimming the end grain will give indication if there is moisture. If you see moisture in your cut (darker color & moist to the touch), the wood is not dry. Also, the end piece that you cut off (if it is about 1/16” thick) will cup towards the dry side (the outside cut) within 5-10 minutes.  If the end grain sample stays flat or 99% flat the wood is dry. This cutting method works well for short boards but is not recommended for items over 3 ft. in length. For turning blanks that don’t have access to a variable density moisture meter, an inexpensive method is to put the wood on a scale when you first receive it and record the weight and the date. 30 days later check it again and record. When the wood stops losing weight, it’s dry. This method also works with boards. 

My block/board is cracking and splitting, what can I do to stop it? 

Generally thick wood cracks when the outside of the piece has dried too quickly and has shrunk around the larger center of the bound water core. The outside is under so much tension that it tears itself apart as it shrinks around the core that contains the bound water.  To stop this process, you need to add humidity / water to the outside of the wood when you see it beginning to shrink or crack.  Spraying the outside with a water bottle is a simple answer.  When you get the wood wet you are allowing the fibers to relax and some of the bound water will leave the center and have time to go into the drier outside of the block without further drying checks forming in the outer area.  After you spray all surfaces, put the wood in a sealed paper bag so it can dry at a slower rate.  If it is too large for a paper bag, loose shrink wrap is also an option. Sometimes wood cracks because of the stress of highly figured areas.  These areas have to dry very slowly.

What is your process for curing rifle blanks?

Our rifle and shotgun blanks have a lot of special attention and time given both to the cutting and the drying process. They dry for a minimum of five years for their three inches of thickness. Normally you could dry this in a three year period but because of the presence of exhibition figure/ fancy crotch wood, we want it to dry even slower.  This slower drying process greatly reduces the chances of the wood splitting/checking.  Even with this care, we usually lose half of what is cut to drying defects.  That is why you can expect to pay $500- 1,000 for a wet rifle blank of exhibition grade or $1,700-2,500 for a dry, defect free blank.  The older it is the more stable it is and the more it costs.  The more vintage the wine, the higher the price.  Old stable wood is worth far more than new unstable wood.

Why can’t I buy very thick, dry turning blanks?

Thick, dry turning blanks are very rare on the market because the drying cost exceeds the market’s willingness to purchase the wood. Additionally, thicker woods require expertise beyond most kiln operator’s ability level. When you get thicker than 3” in most species and 4” in some like Mahogany, no one will pay the expense of the kiln and loss of material incurred. For this reason, mills don’t produce it because there is not a viable market for it.  For better understanding the kiln drying expenses and how they affect wood take the following list into consideration. Depending on the species, these are typical drying times in a conventional kiln:

  • 1” hardwood lumber dries in 45-60 days
  • 2” hardwood lumber dries in 90-130 days
  • 3” hardwood lumber dries in 120 – 180 days
  • 4” hardwood lumber dries in 165 to 250 days

If you dry any of these thicknesses too fast, they check and split; dry them too slowly and they mold or get dark stains that ruin the value of the wood.  Our kiln has a relatively fixed daily cost.  In thicker lumber, there is more wood that degrades in the drying process, so the cost for the surviving wood goes up 30-40%. Also, thick lumber contains the best cuts from the tree, which drives the price up for these pieces. A cost analysis in Poplar will give you a better understanding of this.  1” thick Poplar wood sells for $1 a board foot wet and $2 a board foot dry.  4” thick sells for $ 3-4 a board foot wet and $12 a board foot dry. The expense & loss of this process are typically too costly for the market.

When re-sawing a freshly cut blank, how do I care for/dry the sawn pieces?

Temperature & Airflow Control: After you’ve sawn your blank into smaller boards, find a place to stack them where you can leave them in temperatures of less than 70 degrees. See stacking instructions below. Minimal air flow is ideal. Too high of temperature or too much air flow will result in the outside of the board drying faster than the inside of the board which can result in checking and movement of the lumber (twist, bow, crown, cup). If wood is dried too slowly it can develop mold.  In this case, slightly speed up the drying process by increasing air flow by only a small amount. Wood drying at a safe rate will not develop many drying defects.  Drying lumber properly is a work of art; this information is gathered from 27 years of experience. If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

Stacking Instructions: Stack your smaller boards back together again in the same sequence you sawed them off the blank so they are in order. Note that two sequential boards are called a "book match".  Three boards or more are "sequentially cut".  You will need to use "stickers" (small wood squares) for this process. Start by putting a row of stickers on the floor. Then stack the first board on it, add another layer of stickers exactly above the first ones that were placed.  Follow this process, putting stickers between every board placed and on the very top of the stack.  Place some heavy objects on the top to hold the lumber down. Make sure that the pressure is even on the top

My board warped/twisted/cupped – how do I make it straight?

There are many ways to get a board to relax and lay flat again. All wood is in constant motion regardless of if whether it is kiln dried or air dried.  Changes in relative humidity and temperature continually change and affect all wood.  If a board is bowed or cupped, get the face that is curled in on itself wet. It’s convenient to spray it with a spray bottle.  The amount of water you use depends on the amount of movement in the board.  The wood will start to absorb moisture and become straight again but you’ll need to aid further in this process. Continue by placing the piece on a concrete floor wet side down.   Then, place something heavy on the top of the board to force it to the concrete.  If you leave it for a day or two the board will usually be flat or close to flat. If the board has a twist is otherwise warped the process is a bit more complicated because it typically involves a combination of cup and bow. We’ll be happy to talk you through this as the method depends on what combination is present.  If you are gluing up several boards that that are bowed, place them so they are bowed in opposite directions so when you clamp them into place the tension will force them all to stay flat.  Surface the panel after glue up and it will remain flat.

Do you have any recommendations for stabilizing the wood or the soft spots?

For small areas, CA glue works well. However, it gets hot when it cures in spalted or soft wood so keep an eye on it and keep it away from anything combustible until it is cured.  This is usually the method of choice for pen blanks, bottle stoppers, and other small items.  For larger items, two part epoxies can be used or wood hardeners that you can find at a home improvement store.  These are commonly sold for hardening up rotten wood in your kitchen, etc.  Follow the directions on the products for proper use.

I’m concerned about deforestation and illegal logging. What steps do you take to protect against this?

We are concerned about this too, that is why we are Lacey Act compliant and take all reasonable steps to stop illegal trade.  A lot of our wood has been salvaged from orchards,  residential trees, hurricane downed trees, or dead standing trees.

What is twice turning and how do I do it?

Twice turning is a method that turner’s use when they want to work with wood that still contains moisture. “Green” wood is wood that is freshly cut from the tree and is still quite wet. The water and sap in the wood makes the fibers more flexible, enabling you to work with the wood more easily. With this process nice long shavings are produced without fine dust in the air or chattering chisels. The first step in twice turning is to rough out the blank to about 1/2" thicker than your desired finished dimensions. Then, put it in a closed paper bag with some of your wet sawdust shavings for about 2-3 months, allowing the wood to dry slowly. After this time the wood will not feel as cold to the touch (dryer wood feels warmer, wetter wood feels cooler) and it can be taken out for a couple of hours every week to allow for faster drying.  If you notice a check starting to develop, you will want to put the wood back into the bag. This will slow down the drying process, allowing moisture to flow from the center of the wood to the outside of the wood without creating rapid drying stress which causes checks to occur. As with most woodworking your best judgment is always needed and attention to detail is a must.  Once the wood is dry, you can turn it as usual.  We are always available at no charge to assist you with any questions about this process.

How should I store my wood?

Wood is best stored in a cool but not damp place away from direct sunlight. Ideally, it will be stored in a climate controlled environment that matches the environment the wood will be in once it is made into a finished product. Generally laying the boards flat on a shelf or standing the boards on their ends with an 8-12 degree lean is a good storage method.  If you purchase one of our turning blanks that is wax sealed, put it on a shelf so there is slight airflow around it and it will dry out slowly. 

How do I seal my wood if I’m only using part of it?

After cuts are made, we recommend immediately sealing the ends! We use latex paint, wax, or shellac.

What safety precautions should I take?

Safety when working with woods is of vital importance. Make sure to use all recommended proper safety precautions. Some examples include wearing a respirator, wearing safety protection for the eyes, using clothing that covers the skin, using ear protection, keeping open flame away from the work area, avoiding prolonged or repeat contact with the skin, avoiding eye contact with woods, avoiding prolonged or repeat inhalation of wood particles, avoiding prolonged or repeat contact with finishing agents, using proper ventilation, wearing gloves when appropriate (please make sure to be careful of baggy clothing or loose gloves when working around power equipment), and carefully washing skin and clothing that are exposed to wood. There are many more precautions that can be taken – please be educated when working with your woods! Woods can cause allergic reactions to skin or the respiratory system – please make sure to take proper precautions and if in doubt, always seek medical attention and err on the side of safety!

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