Seasoning Your Own Wood Turning Blanks From Fallen Tree Limbs.

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Introduction: Seasoning Your Own Wood Turning Blanks From Fallen Tree Limbs.

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A recent storm broke 2 large limbs on the big cherry tree in my garden.  Rather than cut them up for fire wood I decided to turn them into blanks and leave them to season naturally for future use.

Cherry is a hard wood that would be expensive to buy pre seasoned especially in large pieces so i could not let this opportunity slip past.

Fallen tree limbs are heavy and can be very dangerous if they are still attached to the tree, I will not go into how to remove fallen limbs as it is best done by someone who has had experience working with trees.

Once the limbs where sawn up into manageable piece i turned them into down to remove the bark and make them into uniform cylinders, these blanks are then left to dry out naturally, seasoning will take up to a couple of years depending on how thick the pieces are. 

Removing the bark and turning the wood to a uniform cylinder allows the wood to dry out uniformly and also allows you to see any cracks that start to form in the blank, any cracks that stat to appear should be turned down to about 1/4" past the crack and left to continue to season.

Blanks should be stored in a cool dry place that has a good air flow around it but not be in direct sunlight or near any source of heat.  the blanks should be checked every few weeks at first for cracks or signs of mould growth, cracks should be turned down until they are no longer visible are bad cracks should be cut of rather than loose the full blank.   I store small blanks in old cardboard fruit boxes with a loose cardboard cover blanks should be stacked with enough space between each other to allow a good air flow this will help reduce the chance of mould growing on the blank.

About 2 years ago I seasoned some pieces of white thorn from a big thorn bush that grew in my back garden it would have been about 100years old and I turned as much usable pieces as possible as i would be unlikely to be lucky enough to get hold of large bits of white thorn again. These pieces are now nicely seasoned and are proving to be very nice to work with.

Turning green wood is kind of a messy affair as depending on the wood and its density can leave you soaked in sap that gets flung out by centrifugal force when the piece is spun on the lathe.

Large pieces of wood can be very off balance when mounted on the lathe and may should be spun at the lowest speed until they had been trued, green wood is very soft and cuts like butter but until the blank is truly round be aware that bark or large pieces could fly off while cutting.

I have about 12 species of hard wood trees that grow in the hedges of my land and I intend to use as much as I can for my wood turning projects.

I have even turned some Castelwelland Gold a soft conifer that someone gave me but it was way to soft and seriously full of sap that is a skin irritant for some people.

For anyone with the time and space to store green timber blanks this can be a source of free hardwood, so if you are out and about and see someone cutting large trees its often worth asking if you can have some of the branches as quite often they are just going to dump the wood.

Its also nice to to be able to say that the nicely turned object you just turned was once growing in your own garden, seasoning you own timber is 100% eco friendly and being 50 feet from my shed has zero fuel miles, natural seasoning also has no additional fuel used to power drying kilns so has no carbon footprint either.

Thanks for looking and I hope that all you wood turners find this post of use.

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    JilW

    5 months ago

    I’m fairly new at wood turning & I’ve never used green wood. Recently a storm took down a cedar tree in my grandparents yard that’s been there forever. My grandpa was a master carpenter that made furniture & loved cedar. My grandpa just passed away & my grandma is near 90 so I’d like to use the wood to turn some small things for some family. I took a few branches & I really have no idea what to do with them. I cut a few pieces & they cracked pretty quickly. I’ve learned a lot from this article & thread. I was wondering if someone might have suggestions to save as much of the cedar as I can. The biggest branches are about 4 inches in diameter. If anyone has suggestions on small projects that it would be good for, I’d really appreciate that too. Thanks!

    2 replies

    Cedar would make some nice needle holders, or knitting needles just because of the color variations in the wood.

    This isn't cedar but is a good indication of how to map out a round prior to blanking.

    Cut it into manageable rounds then map out what you plan to make with it. dont use the pith. it will crack straight to it and then you'll be back tracking with CA and sawdust to fill it.

    I use a lot of cedar in my shop. I use it to make plates, bowls, goblets and wands. keep the shavings to. put them in small drawstring cloth bags. Hang them in your car or in your bathroom. you can also sprinkle the shavings in your garden. cedar is a natural bug repellent.

    A word of caution. Cedar is toxic to breathe. if you turn cedar, especially if it is dry, wear some sort of respirator. this is especially important when sanding cedar.

    Happy turning!

    Do you seal the ends of the "logs" before setting out to dry? I have found that Armor Seal and latex paint work the best for such a task.

    Another question: When you are drying, have you ever packed the turned logs into bags with the shavings from the logs packed into the containers you are using? I understand that this will reduce the time it takes to bring moisture content down.

    Love this article, thank you.

    wonderful article and it is way environmentaly sound.

    What's all this talk about split wood being used for firewood? Some of the best pieces I have made were from cracked wood. I turn them to almost finished and then fill the cracks with "Inlace" or sawdust or coffee grounds (used) or any other fine particles and then add CA glue. Mostly I use turquoise Inlace and it makes beautiful bowls and vases. I am working on several tall tapered vases now that I have put out in the hot Arizona summer sun to force them to crack so that I can apply the turquoise.

    I live in the apple country portion of Eastern Washington. It is not uncommon to see orchardists pull a hundred acres of trees to replace them with another variety. Too, the orchards must be pruned each year. As such, I am able to grab lots of apple and cherry wood. I can pick through stacks of seasoned wood and grab small pieces that seem to have few cracks, then run them though my band saw to make 3/8" slabs for spurtles, butter knives and so on. Other pieces become wine stoppers, tool handles, coasters and so on. It may be your cracked pieces would also work for these kinds of projects. Use your imagination for other possibilities.

    The apple and cherry is beautiful and holds up well for these things, if oiled (mineral oil).

    I cut some cheery into turnning lengths and cut off one lumps bark it split badly in two sides wondering why this happened the other s are OK ?

    Thanks for the hints on waxing the ends, which I have under way with barked, un-barked and sawn hardwood.

    A couple of methods I have used for quick seasoning of small pieces wood to prevent cracking are pressure cooker (willow - Salix sp) then carve wet or dry. Also microwave (strawberry tree - Arbutus sp - excellent for small tool handles) 7cm_3" sections took 15 minutes on power 7. Best done when you wife is away on holiday !. I did not use wet, but it was dry in 9 months. I think this method breaks the cell walls which seems to speed up drying and prevent cracking.

    For larger bits, I intended top try a BBQ and heat over time till the end grain is really fizzing. Next up is to build a big pressure cooker from steel pipe or an LPG cylinder. My guess is about 10psi_70kPa would do the trick, with heavy emphasis on safety. A friend suggested cooling it in a 10% food grade glycol solution to leave the wood nice and waxy. It worked for the "Mary Rose" and other water preserved wooden artifacts. If you can apply a vacuum whilst drying, it should speed up the process.

    I am trying to season New Zealand hardwoods to make Putarino (Maori flutes). Kowhai (Sophora sp), Puriri (Vitex sp), Akeake (Dodonea sp) and others are very heavy and have beautifully grained and dark colored heart wood, ideal for this use.

    I dont know If I would call them firewood. When drying wood the "Pith" must be removed...
    if you look at the end of the log the pith is the very center of the tree rings of the log. The pith contains a lot of moisture. As the outside of your log dried, it shrunk. the inside was still wet because of the pith and didnt shrink at all yet. that is why they split. also, In my experience if you turn anything with the pith in it, it will crack later on. I have tested this. the log was dry, I turned an egg leaving the pith in it and the project looked great. but the summer and fall came and went and the next time I saw the egg, it was split... so you cannot include the pith in your turnings.
    It is hard to explain this, but if you look at the log and see the pith (the center of the rings) cut about 2" to the left and 2 inches to the right leaving you with a total of three chunks. (two halves and a center slab (with the pith still in it) take the center slab and cut the same amount about two inches to the left and two incehs to the right and cut the pith completely out of the equasion. next paint the ends with a latex paint or simply melt candle (parraafin) wax on the ends and then let the wood dry as you did, you should end up with a couple nice bowl blanks and a couple nice slabs to work with. I hope this helps.

    On another note, if you continue the splits on the current logs you have made, you could at least get a couple nice blanks out of what you call fire-wood.
    I hope all this helps. I have spent a lot of time trying to find cheap lumber for turning. I have the best luck looking thru peoples firewood piles. Also, I should mention those wrapped firewood packs you see at gas stations for your fire-pit. I check them out all the time. I have found all kinds of good stuff in these, lots of spaulted stuff mainly.

    1 reply

    I seriously think the problem with this stuff was it was storm fallen, it takes alot of shaking to snap a big branch it would been full of stress fractures plus I never put any wax on it.  i have a selection of pieces of ash, sycamore and apple from recent pruning just layed down for future use, this time I made a point of dipping the ends in wax.

    I have successfully used wood with the pith still intact, but the one thing I can say was that all of it was cut down rather than wind fall.  The one thing I have learned  when using green wood is to spot where the cracks are most likely to start from  ie knots and inclusions near the lip of a bowl and learning to keep cutting until l these defects are removed, more or less learning to read the wood,  My first bowl looked beautiful but split over night cause I left a knot and some pith wood on the edge of the bowl and also because I also brought a fresh piece into a centrally heated house, but I have learned by these mistakes, am still learning and i'm bound to make a few more but that the fun of using green wood.

    I was all set to get into my shed and start making some dust last week as a friend bought me a work lamp and i've been busting to get using it, unfortunately he also gave me a bug that he was just getting over and i've spent the last week stuck indoors with a temperature and coughing up goo...  you just cant win lol

    I totally agree with you on keeping an eye out for pieces of wood to turn you never know what will turn up and be usable, i crashed my lawn tractor into a blackcurrant bush and ripped it out of the ground and found that part of the tap root was big enough take a piece from, it may work and then again it may not, but then i'm giving it a try because it smells of blackcurrants...

    Impressive.
    Excellent Inst' as the photos with embed comments say it all.
    A nice job on all aspects and from beginning to end !…

    Thank you Doctor !!! ;))

    1 reply

    I must add an update to this, they all cracked..... The logs should have been split in half to release the stress of drying out, also the wind fall limbs would have lots of stress fractures from the storm shaking the tree until the limb breaks and this adds to the stress cracks. the method does work on certain types of timber that has been cut down rather than fallen due to storm damage.

    Hi,
    i know its probably too late now (old post etc).. only coming across this thread now.
    very disappointing that the wood cracked, happened to me before too.

    cherry and apple (and most fruit tree woods as far as i know) are notorious for cracking.
    for big logs i would cut them up to the required dimensions as soon as possible after felling, always removing the pith! then seal/ or wax the end-grain
    For small logs and branchwood always wax the ends and usually remove the bark.

    some woods (including birch and cherry i think) always crack and sometimes rot if left as whole log.

    thanks for sharing, and good luck

    1 reply

    Not at all never to late to discuss a topic.

    I should have split the larger pieces in 2 length wise across the center of the rings, from what I researched the problem is due tho the outer rings drying to quick and when they shrink they become under a lot of stress which causes the splits when the log is split the tension is released and there is less chance of splits, being wind fall probably also was a factor it take quite a bit of shaking to snap a 12 inch branch of a tree it bound it have been full of stress fractures. I guess i got greedy with the idea of such nice large pieces, I should have settled for smaller bowl blanks

    In a nut shell its all part of the learning curve, well anyway it didn't go to waste, it kept the shed warm during the drift trike build. lol

    I buy cheap wax, heat it up in an old tin pan and dip the end grains if the wood in it twice then that will stop the cracking and help the wood dry slowly. Then when your ready to turn it, rough it out int the shape you want it then let it set for 6 months to a year then turn it the rest of the way out. But I bet you know this already friend. (-: No pun intended but, Nice wood!

    1 reply

    The problem with the stuff i used is that i got blown down in a storm, storm damaged stuff if full of tiny stress fractures, just think abut it a 10" limb shaken until it breaks of course it will have fractures. I have had no success with anything that has been storm damage, yet any stuff that was sawn down seems to season up much better.

    BTW - let me know if you want to sell some of that that's not split.

    Painting the ends of the logs will help slow the drying process and even out the seasoning, reducing chances of a large crack. With fresh cut wood I would debark and let it stand upside down for about a week then paint over, gives time for any excess moisture to seep out. If it seasons through the sides instead of the ends you get even shrinkage and compression of the fibers. Lucky you to have cherry growing around lol.