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Question about handle material (from tree to slabs)


Donald Babcock
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I recently was clearing some trees from my in-laws side pasture and found out that it is about half rock maple and the other half was apple. I've been told that they are both hard wood.

 

The rock maple was extremely hard on the chainsaw. It is a very dense and very hard wood.

 

So the question is how would I go about to properly prepare this for making handles? Should I cut it down to slab size now, or wait and let it dry? If I let it dry then for how long?

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I'm certainly no expert on making handles from wood. When I've used it, I can't seem to get the joints to fit tight no matter what I do. But I do know a little about wood and what I do know is that it takes a very long time to season wood properly. I make walking sticks that I let age for a year or more to make sure that most of the moisture is out of them. They also have a tendency to split while they dry but if they are to be used for handles I wouldn't worry about that. Debarking is best done immediately for ease. This causes the aforementioned splits, but like I said, I wouldn't worry about it since you are only using small pieces. After the wood has aged and cured, it should be hard as a rock and difficult to work but it looks really good.

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I would recommend splitting the wood. First, as smaller pieces dry faster and second as it prevents splitting. If you let it dry as a complete log, the splits will happen at random places, so it's best to place the splits in advance where you want them.

Jeroen Zuiderwijk

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Wood for handles should be cut into slabs that run vertically, not horizontal, this way you avoid end grain. The roots of the tree are also usable and have interesting grain in the part where the root meets the tree. Cut the wood into junks at least 2 inchs wide to keep warpage to a minimum. keep the wood in a warm dry place for a year or two to dry. If you are impatient you can get it kiln dryed, this takes a couple weeks.

 

Hope this helps :)

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I would also recommend that you cut it into boards to dry. The rule of thumb is one year for each inch of thickness plus one additional year. Make sure that when you stack it for drying that you put battens between each layer and give room between each board to give good air circulation. Painting ove the ends of the boards can help it dry evenly.

 

Doug Lester

HELP...I'm a twenty year old trapped in the body of an old man!!!

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Thanks for the replies. I guess I didn't realize that it took so long to get the wood dry. I was expecting it to be maybe a few months or so, not a few years. <_< I've never been known for being the patient type. Guess I'll have to cut them down to the sizes I want and find a nice corner of the house that I wont forget where they are.

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Thanks for the replies. I guess I didn't realize that it took so long to get the wood dry. I was expecting it to be maybe a few months or so, not a few years. <_< I've never been known for being the patient type. Guess I'll have to cut them down to the sizes I want and find a nice corner of the house that I wont forget where they are.

 

I get the impression that you've got a good amount of this wood, having used a chainsaw to cut the trees and all. There's bound to be someone on this forum with the ability to kiln dry wood. If you want the material quicker, you might consider trading a portion to someone who is willing to dry the rest for you. Just a thought.

MacGyver is my patron saint.

 

"There's nothing in the universe cold steel won't cut." -Conan of Cimmeria-

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You'd be better off splitting the wood instead of cutting it. This way the natural plane the wood wants to split will be along the widest part of the cross section and it will be less likely to split when you pin the slabs on the knife. Also the rule of thumb of 1" / year may or may not apply. I've had 2" of some wood be usable after 8 or 9 months and some that was still wet after 4 years. It depends on many things such as species and humidity and temperature among others. The apple will probably dry faster than the maple (that is what happens in my shop anyway).

I take slabs I may want to use soon and split it about 2X the final thickness I will want, about 1.5X the width and as long as is convient to handle.

Expect some warping and some checking (checking is specifically splits at the ends from drying and my render 2-6" of each end unusable). Longer pieces will give you some play to get the maximum number of usable slabs.

 

ron

Having watched government for some time, it has become obvious that our government is no longer for the people. If the current trend continues, it won't be long untill armed rebellion is required.

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To help on the checking on the ends, it can be a good idea to seal the ends of the boards with something be it wax, or some other sealing media like urethane or something, just to keep the ends from drying out faster than the center, which can cause the splits.

Beau Erwin

www.ErwinKnives.com

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You can make a hot box using light bulbs and vent the ends of the box....let the wood (after cutting to rough oversize dimensions and sealing the ends) dry naturally for a couple of weeks, then put it in the hot box on low (1 bulb) for a week or so, then gradually add in bulbs over the next couple of weeks. You should have usable wood in a couple of months at that rate. This is commonly done by bowyers who make wood bows, should translate to handles as well. Check out bowmaking forums for examples of how to make a hotbox....I recommend Paleoplanet.

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Thanks for all the tips. I have a decent amount of both the rock maple and the apple, but they are all fairly small width wise. The largest sections that didn't get put in the tiers for the wood stove were around 3" round. So far I have two sections that are roughly 3" round by 16" long of rock maple that I was able to set aside, and I'm thinking of sneaking a few pieces of the apple from the wood stove pile as well.

 

Both the rock maple and the apple were very dry as they were getting cut. The rock maple is almost solid white the whole way through. Both the apple and the rock maple trees where only about 10-12 years old, so nothing was very big on them. Most of the wood that we got was "grey" birch (that is what my wife called it) and I think ash.

 

On a side note, what are some other good hard wood trees that I should keep an eye out for (I live in central Maine). We have only had a wood stove for 1 year now, so when it comes to wood I am very "green" (I know, bad pun).

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Do you mean "hardwood" (as in the opposite of coniferous), or "hard wood" (as in physically hard)? Hickory, white oak and white ash are all pretty hard, as domestic woods go, but generally they're not especially pretty. Osage orange (bois d'arc/bodark/hedge apple) is a big favorite of mine; it's hard, very dense, very strong, and very resistant to bugs and decay. I also like the color and grain, though some may not. But I don't know if it's made its way all the way up to Maine.

Edited by Matt Bower
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I've seen where some will use that same box method but seems like some lined it with foil, but the person using it was making some chairs, and would dry them out extra dry, so when he put the chair together and it picked up moisture, it would lock itself together.

Beau Erwin

www.ErwinKnives.com

Custom knives

Bcarta Composites

Stabilized Woods

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You should have some of the birches up there - they make quite good handles. Beech can be a pretty wood, too, 'tho the straight stuff is kind of boring to most. I never thought overly much about the actual hardness of a particular wood for handles, as most any of the "hardwood" species hold up pretty well, unless you're pounding tent stakes in with them or such-like. Walnut is softer than ash, but you don't see too many ash gunstocks. When I look at wood, I see more the aesthetics of it - color, grain, figure, etc.

 

If you want some "figure" in your wood, look for crotch pieces, root wood as mentioned earlier, healed wounds, & other places where the tree was forced to alter its normally straight growth pattern. We were cutting up firewood at my Dad's place last weekend & I kept setting pieces off to the side, & then I'd look over at the little woman & she's giving me the "death-ray" eye, & on the wagon they went. I almost cried over a couple gorgeous maple crotches, but my garage is so full now Ill never use it all in 2 lifetimes. (Did manage to squirrel away some nice cherry, though - I love livin' in Pennsylvania....)

 

The down side of figured wood is that it's a bit harder to work if you don't keep your tools sharp. If you shape mostly with a sander, then that doesn't apply so much. Give some different things a try & see what works for you. Once you buff up a nice "deep as the ocean" oil finish on a piece of curly maple you found, cut, dried, & shaped yourself, you'll never see firewood the same way again....

 

Enjoy-

randy

"Despereaux?"

"Yes...?"

"You didn't cower."

"It looks like a sword."

"It's a CARVING KNIFE!"

"It's BEAUTIFUL..."

"It's DANGEROUS!"

"Do... do you have any more?"

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Ah something I can actually help with ;-) I may not know metal but I know my wood. First thing you need to do is get that wood cut up, if you leave it as logs you will end up losing a lot if not all of the wood. The easiest first step is to split the log through the pith. The pith is the center of the bullseye made by the growth rings of the tree so either stand the log and end an use wedges or lay the log on it's side and use the chainsaw at an angle to cut the log. If you use the chainsaw please take some time to properly secure the log and BE SAFE. Do this now and seal the ends either with commercial endgrain sealer, paraffin wax, or latex paint. The log is shrinking towards the pith and the outer layers dry faster so the have to split to relieve the stress. Once the logs are split you have some time to decide how you are going to cut them up. Personally I would split the logs with the chainsaw into 1-2 inch slabs then stack them with spacers between the slabs and forget about them for a while. The wood is going to dry by first giving up the free moisture in the wood then over time it's going to give up the cellular moisture this is the what you have to wait for. The rule of thumb is 1 year per inch plus a year. It goes a faster with smaller thinner pieces of wood so you could probably have something by summer.

 

If you want something sooner you can do the following YMMV, don't try this at home, etc.

 

You can dry wood using a microwave but you have to be CAREFUL and DON'T use your wifes/girlfriends/mothers good microwave or DEATH may follow.

 

(It's important to do this slowly so plan on taking an evening or three)

1. Cut the wood into slabs a 1.5 to 2 times thicker than the final thickness you are going to need and maybe 1.5 times longer.

2. Put the wood in the microwave and microwave it for about few seconds (20-30 max) - The drier the wood the less time you want on the microwave so as the wood dries start cutting down the length of time.

3. Allow the wood to rest for a bit then repeat. You want the wood to be warm and not hot. You also want to give the wood a chance to rest and move.

4. Pay close attention to the wood, you can set it on fire and it will burn from the center. Should you set it on fire get it outside somewhere safe and allow it to burn itself out. (see disclaimer above)

 

-Now allow the wood to rest overnight and repeat again in a day or two.

-The wood is dry when it quits changing weight. So if you have a scale that measures to grams to can weigh it.

-Once you think it is dry allow it to set for few days to allow any movement to occur.

 

My success rate with this is about 50% or so. The failures are usually either split or severe warpage.

 

Remember it's just firewood!!!

Scott

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Scott,

 

Thanks for the reply. that was a very detailed post. I'll work on splitting it in the next few days and then cut it down and set it aside. I'm not really in that much of a hurry as the knifes have been sitting around for 2 years now with no handles on them, so another year wont hurt them.

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