Instructables

Seasoning your own wood turning blanks from fallen tree limbs.

Picture of Seasoning your own wood turning blanks from fallen tree limbs.
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.
alan698 months ago

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.
Dr Qui (author)  SlickSqueegie1 year ago
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 !!! ;))
Dr Qui (author)  vincent75201 year ago
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.
ÁD1 year ago
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
Dr Qui (author)  ÃD1 year ago
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
Packmule1 year ago
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!
Dr Qui (author)  Packmule1 year ago
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.
Packmule1 year ago
BTW - let me know if you want to sell some of that that's not split.
copperaxe2 years ago
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.
Dr Qui (author)  copperaxe2 years ago
Out in my shed today and found that all but one of the debarked blank had split quite badly. Sadly most of it is now more or less firewood now with only one or two pieces have potential to be salvaged, I should have covered them in sawdust or something, i think it my own fault as i had been rearranging the shed and such and had moved them to a shelf in the corner that was too open to the air. 

Also the limbs where wind fall and i think that ther may have bee stress fractures in the timber caused by the storm that brought the limbs down.

I still have some bulks that have the bark still on, they seem to be drying out a bit better.

I had a variety of plum that had so much potential yet every single branch and even down to twigs split.

I guess it will just be a case of trial and error to see what woods season without splitting.

I cut some of the cherry into about 30mm square section and all of those pieces are seasoning perfectly.

Ah well you win some you loose some. just keep calm and carry on.
Dr Qui (author)  copperaxe2 years ago
I have left the blanks over the holidays, the weather has be abysmal, just to wet and cold for me to try to make any more, I have checked them a couple of times and see no sign of any cracks starting, I rotated them by 180* each time I checked them.

I have collected up some old candle stubs and the wax rinds of a couple of Edam cheeses to melt up to paint the ends of the blanks with.

I will update the Ible when I get back to it.

I have been thinking about making a simple drying box with a small fan solar panel combo to improve the air flow and help speed up the process. this is still in the R&D stage at the moment until i see what stuff i have to work with.
Dr Qui (author)  copperaxe2 years ago
I have heard about painting the ends with candle wax, I might give that a try.

The shed I store the blanks in has a cobbled floor and that leave the air quit moist so the don't dry out too quick.

The logs where standing for about a week after cutting with the bark on, the branch was fallen for about a month before I cut it down. there was still quite allot of sap flying when i spun it up. 

I'm lucky to have about 12 specie of hardwoods growing in the hedges of my land, so I intend to build a nice collection of blanks as they come to a usable size or when the hedges need trimmed.

I still have a big branch to cut up but i need help to lift that one, and i still have to saw up the smaller branches too also need help there, but i recon i should have about 20+ pieces about 12" long and between 4" and 8" and at least as many shorter pieces about 2" - 4" which can be used for handles and knobs etc.

I try any wood that is big enough to fit in the lathe just to see if it is usable. I have used both green and fallen dead wood (as long as its sound and not rotten or powdery)
rimar20002 years ago
Excellent instructable!

Some days ago I have to cut a branch from an apple tree. As I read in the web that the apple wood is good for turning, I saved it. It is not very thick, 4 or 5 inches, but it will serve for make little pieces. Maybe my error was to save it "as is", it is to say with bark as it got out ot the tree.
Dr Qui (author)  rimar20002 years ago
Thanks,

When i started wood turning i used beech logs from the wood pile stuff that had been outside for about 12 months, it had many cracks. removing the bark does help with the seasoning, it also shows any cracks in the wood and lets you cut the bad bits out so you can get as much usable as possible.

I made the first blank from some white thorn, it has very close rings and is lovely to turn when seasoned. because it grows so slowly I used as much as i could even branches down to about 2" its great stuff to make handles and knobs with.

I had a red cherry plum tree in my garden that brew down, the wood was a real nice colour and very hard and turned well but every branch had a crack running the full length of the branch, it was so annoying to not get any usable wood from such a nice type of wood.

I have even sawed some branches into small planks on the band saw. about 1/2" thick by about 2" wide up to about 12" long. they dry out very quickly and did not crack to badly.

I never turn down the chance of a branch of some wood that I have never turned with before.  I used some (green) ash to make a bowl but i found it almost too green and almost to soft, the bowl warped when it dried out into a really interesting shape.

I turned a few green wood bowl when I first started turning but most of them cracked because of knots or the wood drying out to fast. that's why i started making the blanks, to have dry pieces that had no cracks so there was less chance to crack once turned.

Good luck with the apple wood.