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Alex Middleton

Score!?

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Work had a couple of old maple trees taken down today.  I happened to sneak a peak as they were cutting them up and the smaller one appeared to be spalted down near the base.  The arborist was nice enough to cut me off a 6 inch section.

 

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I dont have any experience with spalted woods.  Does this piece have enough character in it to make it worth blocking up and stabilizing?

Edited by Alex Middleton

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YES!
man, that spalting is all over and in different shades and shapes.
I find spalted wood look good when they're cut a little bit diagonally from the end grain.
if you cut it straight you get straighter spalted lines the higher the angle the more the mosaic pattern, cause the fungus follows the grain of the wood

I have some spalted maple myself and the stuff doesn't like being planed even with sharp honed plane irons, it really likes to crumble and tear out since the wood has weakened, which also makes it easy to work with rasps.
I would be careful tho with the dust, depending on what your using to work the spalted maple, it can get really dusty. 

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Yup, I'd say that was worth it.  Good score!

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Absolutely.  Cut it up and stabilize it.  That chunk could turn out to be a gold mine.

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You need to paint the ends ASAP! It will start checking very quickly. And If you have a chance to get more, try to get something at least a foot long - 2' would be better.

Edited by Ron Benson

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That is a beautiful cut- try to get more and it will take a year+ to properly dry (assuming you dont have a solar kiln or dryer).

As others have said- Paint the ends! a nice latex paint or even Elmers glue will do- Some folks use Bees Wax or commercial stuff... 

After it is dry- you need to cut blanks then STABILIZE it prior to working it- LIke J Leon said- it will crumble. Post stabilizing it will be safe to sand/file/work and if you get a wild hair while stabilizing you can dye or colorize it as well.

Wear a mold/fungus approved filter mask when cutting this! 

Awesome prize!

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I'm glad to hear that it was worth trashing the trunk of my car for! :D  I'll check later today and see if there is a way to get my hands on any more of it. 

A couple of quick questions though.  I understand painting the cut ends to slow down the drying process and help to keep it from checking.  But with that being said, should I block it up into smaller pieces, say 6ish" cubes, in order to shorten the time it takes for it to dry out?  With the ends sealed, it seems like it would take a loooong time for it to dry at 18" or so in diameter.   Also, where is the best place to store it while drying?  I would think that one would want it in a fairly stable atmosphere, but the closest thing I have to that is my basement and that almost seems like it would be too cool of a place to really dry the wood out properly.

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Alex,  patience is the key word here.  Your "cubes", whatever size you decide on, should come from dry wood...............otherwise they will be susceptible to warp.  I cut some burl recently that came to me as dry.................but I let it dry another 20 years.  That was really unnecessary but I had no use for it at the time.  I've cut it up now and it's really nice and will stabilize beautifully.

It takes about one year per inch of thickness for wood to naturally dry properly............that's why kiln drying became popular for commercial building woods.  But it really ruins the wood.  Paint the ends of the piece with a material called "Anchor Seal" and set it aside in your shop.  I'm afraid a basement would be too damp for proper drying.  The temperature in which it is stored isn't as important as the humidity.  For example, cut lumber is stored outside where air can move in and around it, but is covered so rain can't hit it.  I've got all the equipment and Cactus Juice for stabilizing, but haven't actually performed the process yet.................but I don't think it would go well if the wood isn't completely dry.

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@Alex Middleton Chris is spot on- Anchor seal is a professional grade product. In Woods with knots, curves or anything resembling "Figure" it actually takes LONGER to dry out than straight grains- the "soda straws" that make up the fibers are convoluted and trap moisture. 

In the case of burls- think of them as little tumors- each has a solid wall or a circular grain that does not usually intermingle with the outside/parent plant fibers- it has to dry by wicking the moisture from the burl into the regular cellular matrix of the plant. Loooong time there

Humidity is not your friend! A basement or other mold/mildew prone areas are going to cause havoc with drying that piece. A kiln will speed it up- but at a cost as others have noted- One way to accelerate drying without seriously impacting the natural drying process is to get a container (Tub/bin from your local home improvement store) and seal the wood in with some dessicant packets from a shoe store. Only a few (Maybe 3-5 at most).

The dessicant packets will absorb a residual amount of ambient moisture- and every month just pop them in the oven on low for about 2 hours (I use the "warm" feature on mine- your mileage/model may vary) then toss them back into the bin with the wood. You have to be religious and keep checking the wood for progress. Invest in a moisture meter or find a friend or local woodworker with one.

This is a true work in progress thread- WIP for 5 years! 

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How do you wood guys feel about microwave drying?  Just curious.  

And speaking of burls, in the world of pipemaking they cut the root burl green into blocks about 2x3x5", then boil these blocks for 12 to 24 hours in several changes of water, after which the blocks are laid out on wire shelving and left to dry for a year or two only.  This seems to both speed drying (although the Mediterranean climate of southern Italy and northern Algeria may help this) and minimize or outright prevent cracks and warping.  I wonder what that would do to spalted wood?  I wonder, because I have a dead plum tree standing out front that I strongly suspect is gonna be spalted when I cut it this winter.  

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Ughhhh, patience.  Not my strongest trait. Lol.  I'll get it cut into some smaller pieces and paint the ends this weekend.  Because I'm stubborn (and don't mind catastrophic failure as long as I learn something), I'll probably take a small piece and run it through my stabilizing process this weekend just to see what happens.  I've had pretty good luck with putting blocks in the toaster oven for 24+ hours in order to dry them out.  This one might get a bit longer than that.  One of my projects for the winter is a retirement gift for one of the co-owners of the company that I work for.  It would be pretty cool to be able to make the handle out of a block of wood that came from the shop property.

 

Edit:  I'll give the boiling a try this weekend and let you know Alan.  I imagine the point would be to drive all of the sap out of the wood and replace it with water.  It'll be interesting to see the differences between that and force drying it without removing the sap.  Do you recall if the wood is allowed to free float, or weighted down so that it is always submerged?

Edited by Alex Middleton

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I have never had to dry wood in the microwave, but it does get good reviews. You will need a scale to do it so that you can tell when it stops losing moisture. There are a ton of youtube videos on the subject.

One of the "safest" ways to dry wood is supposed to be vacuum drying. Wood is supposed to move and check less using vacuum than any other method. So if you have a vacuum device for stabilizing you should be able to dry handle sized blocks easily. 

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The curious point that makes this different from burls is the Fungus/mold that created the spalting- crumbling wood is often a sign of structural cell damage and the lignum being compromised- an inherent LACK of fiber stability... versus th burl being tight ingrained knots of lignum and centralized fiber bundles.

Would be an interesting experiment to say the least- I would think it may dry faster than a burl- and I would not think boiling it would be benificial as the heat+water will swell the already damaged fibers. 

Please take pics and do this as a WIP so others can know! 

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personally I have had some interesting results keeping wood from splitting by lathering on some shoe/leather fat.
tested it on some blackthorn due to a shillelagh makers advice and so far it has 0 cracks or splits, where as the test piece from the same branch without the shoe fat...is about to split in two halves. (been almost a year of drying now)
also the stuff is really cheap here, cheaper than paint, glue and candles.

that being said, haven't tested it on other woods yet

Edited by J.Leon_Szesny

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The briar burl (Erica arborica, white heath) is allowed to float free, but it's so sappy when green it sinks anyway.  And! I would not boil the spalted stuff.  It would most likely disintegrate along the lines. I only mentioned boiling because other people had talked about burl, and spalting is pretty much the opposite of burl in terms of hardness and inherent strength.  Microwave drying might be worth a shot, though, unless it messes with the colors too much.

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I'm pretty sure that my wife would find new levels of dislike for my hobbies if she caught me putting chunks of partially rotten wood in her new microwave. :D

I've got a couple of chunks of nice twisty wood from around the mouth of the hollow of the same tree.  I just might try boiling a piece of that this weekend and then follow it up by attempting to stabilize it next week.

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I must admit that I have, at times, had material for projects lined up waiting for the moment my wife leaves the house so I can get maximum use from some the kitchen tools until she returns.  Can't waste time trying to find something while the kitchen is unguarded!

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Ever think of a drying cabinet. A decent size wood box or something like a gym locker. Put a 100 watt light bulb protected in the bottom. Gets quite warm with out being hot. Museums use them to dry biological specimens. Definitely seal the ends of the wood first though. Will speed up the drying without being as drastic as an oven.

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How humid is it up in Middleville?  Here in the wet side of WA, I don't paint the ends.  I cut handle material maple into 6-8" slabs, then after a few months, cut them into over-sized blocks for the main drying.  I recently put a few pieces  that I cut into blocks a few months ago on a food dehydrator for 2 days before sending them off to K&G.  Mild warping was noted with a couple pieces, but no splitting.    

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Unfortunately southern Michigan is a pretty humid place.  I'm sure it'll be a long slow process for most of this to dry naturally.  Playing around with the toaster oven and/or microwave this weekend is more just for the fun of the learning experience.  I'm not expecting great things by any means.

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Well, I played around with drying a few pieces out in the toaster oven.

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One piece was spalted while the other two hard wood from various pieces of the same tree.  Surprisingly the spalted piece only measured 21% on my moisture meter, while the other 2 were well over 35%.

After 24 hours @ 220 degrees,  only the spalted piece survived to be usable.  The other two predictably cracked and checked quite catastrophically. 

After pulling a vacuum for 4 hours and then letting sit submerged in the Cactus Juice overnight before curing, the block passed the "doesn't float test" which is really the only way I have to test to see how well it stabilized.

I polished up 2 sides just to see what it would look like.

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I think there are a lot of spalted maple handles in my future! :D  Compared to most of the other handle sized blocks that I cut out today, this one has pretty minimal amounts of staining to it.

Edited by Alex Middleton
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