Seasoning Small Section Timber.





Introduction: Seasoning Small Section Timber.

Small branch off-cuts from garden shrubs and trees make for interesting timber for use in your woodwork projects.

Recently a neighbour was clearing some ancient honeysuckle and a flowering cherry tree. My packrat-edness got the better of me. I needed some of that mini-lumber goodness for making handles, file handles, screwdriver handles etc.

So get on your lumberjack shirt and sing the song as you gather your, umm logs.

Step 1: Shakes, Splits Cracks

Fresh cut wood has a high moisture content.

Relative to its dimensions - although the cubic area isn't great, we still need to dry it out under controlled conditions. There's a shrinkage calculator here, and there's an fascinating equation used to ascertain equilibrium moisture content here.

Me? I just dip both ends in wax and leave it for a year or two..

Imagine a tree trunk or branch is like a bundle of very long, leaky microscopic drinking straws. The sap can evaporate out of the ends much faster than it can along its leaks. If we seal the ends with wax it will still leak but at a much slower rate. This gives us a stable drying-out, helping to prevent splitting - of course there are no guarantees :-)

The picture shows timber that has dried rapidly and with no control. We want to avoid the damage that causes to our exotic timber haul. Big thanks to Sean McClean for the image.

Step 2: Hot Wax.

Get an old saucepan, then make sure it isn't somebody's favourite old saucepan. Add wax and melt on a very low heat. It's up to you what colour combination to use. I had a small amount of these and so it all went in the pot....

Step 3: Dipped and Done.

....and so chocolate will be the colour for my 2009 stock of sticks.
Wood will breathe moisture in and out until it has reached equilibrium with the ambient moisture level of the area it's kept in, this can take years after the wood has become seasoned enough to work with. I plan to make tool handles with this stuff, so I'll season the wood at the draughty end of the room where I keep my tools.

Other cool timber to look out for includes...

" Sumac which glows green under a blacklight!
" Ivy, which if it's from an ancient specimen is extremely hard and turns like plastic - very smooth to
work with
" Rose, a shame to see any ancient roses getting dug up, but if you can get hold of the bole and
base stem of an old rose bush, depending on the condition, you'll have some interesting grain.

Again with the grain, fruit trees are usually one variety grafted onto the rootstock of another, if you can get hold of the root ball of a mature tree you'll have some burrs and grain effects.

And of course by treating the choice bits as timber and not firewood you're taking a bit out of the carbon cycle.

Shameless plug - I'm entering this 'ibble for the Gardening contest, please give it your vote :)




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    30 Discussions

    Hi there. I am wood enthusiast who is learning more than he's making - saw some felled logs... or more like thick slices of pine tree at a dump - couldn't resist loading them onto my trailer and van and hauling them home (to my wife who clearly doesn't share my vision!lol) .. The slabs are fairly big / thick - roughly 600-800mm in diameter and about 200-300mm thick (cut with a chainsaw). My question is: do I need to go through the same seasoning process as mentioned above in order to get them to a stage at which the will be workable - and if so: how long do you estimate this to be? I don't mind them splitting to be honest as I think there is natural beauty in that (as well as some cool idea's as to how to fill the cracks)... what I don't want is to have them split so badly that I can't end up using them. All feedback welcome. Thanks. Jason - RE-seat Eco-Friendly Furniture & Decor, South Africa

    1 reply

    Hey, I've got pretty much the same issue.
    Same size logs, maybe thinner, but I don't know if I should be treating them with anything while they're outside?
    What did you end up doing?

    M L G

    2 years ago

    Very INteresting and extremely helpful facts, thank you for sharing your wisdom.
    learn summit new evryday! ;-) saved the shrinkulator link to pocket already, cheers.

    Ok, maybe this is a dumb question, but how do you know when the timber is ready to be used?

    1 reply

    Straight up? There's no guarantee that the timber ( or you ) will not suffer some form of major cleavage!

    In ancient Europe you could always spot the woodturners, they had a gouge sticking out of them*

    So I give it a minimum of two years seasoning, in a relatively dry cellar, for timber that's not more than 5" diameter - taking it from there - if it doesn't feel right while you're using it, stop and get another piece - or stop altogether, it's your call.

    Professionally kiln dried timber is expensive by comparison, yet I've never seen a guarantee from the wood yards that the wood won't split.

    Hope this gives you some clarification, please take care - it's your body.

    * Ok I made this bit up

    For sealing the ends of logs there are a lot of options - used motor oil (don't worry that it's black - it doesn't penetrate more than a few millimetres), acrylic pain (cheaper than enamel or high gloss paints), plastic bags fitted over the ends and stapled.The most important things about the storage place for freshly-cut logs are dark, cool and dry.

    I am new to this site So here goes I personally use Anchor Seal can get pricey but it works very well I am a wood turner and I have seal blocks form very large trees being careful not to get the pith of the tree (very center) and got 12x12x12 block drying right now It does not save every one but i have done a little test of cutting a log in two and doing one piece and not the other and hands down It can pay for itself by selling one good spalted maple block.I also make 1\4in and 1\2in stock for making small boxes. I have what I call my drying shed faces south and has a pallet floor with door that I can open for even more air circulation It works very nicely . My newest adventure is drying my 1/4in stock witch starts out 1\2 inche-ish in a dodge station wagon in our field I have dry sycamore from cutting the tree down to selling the boxes from it in less than three weeks It has worked great so far and now i have some sycamore bowl blanks 10in x 5 in. seal with the anchor seal and they have not yet split the unseal one turned to fire wood already So Anchor seal works for me.

    syca grain.JPG6in x 3.5in spalted maple urn.JPG

    I read your instructable and it is good. Persimmon wood would be a good one also. It is very light colored and after it is seasoned it is very hard to split. We used it for wedges when cutting timber. In toys a friend used a flat piece that had about 3/4 inch holes drilled through it. He had round dowels the exact size of the holes to drive through them. The dowels and a mallet for driving them were of persimmon also. This i a very tough wood. Thought you might like this wood also.

    hey question i do a little bit of lathe work and i have people telling me different things some people insist that all natural beeswax will only work the best. others say normal wax will do i see that you did normal wax and it seemed to work i am glad of this because beeswax is expensive it can be $5/lb and up. also in the one pic the red wax was that from little cheeses>? lol thx nice ible

    1 reply

    Weeel, I always tend use #1 what I have to hand or failing that #2 what's cheapest I'd like to use beeswax throughout, but I can't afford that. You guessed right - it's the mineral wax from cheese - gives my timber store a unique parfum too!

    I can imagine it is, unless making v.small stuff. How does it turn?
    I'm definateley on the lookout for more ancient ivy it's sooo smooth.

    Some good info there. I've a fair bit of raw wood a buddy gave me. Just finished turning an end grain goblet from a bit of black walnut. Beyootiful grain pattern. Bit of a caveat though, sometimes branches have internal stresses which can lead to cracking/checking when working the wood. I didn't notice it once last year, glad I was wearing the face shield.

     Man, I wish I could do this.  There were so many old-growth trees in NYC that fell from the recent snowstorms.  They just chip them up to get rid of them.

    Do you just pile up the wood in a shed or leave them outside to season?  The bark is still on so do you have to worry about that getting rot or attracting bugs?

    2 replies

    Stack your limbs up, each layer perpendicular to the previous layer.  Cover them up to keep them dry.  I keep my favorite ones in the garage.  The others are outside under a tarp.  A shed would work fine. 

    I wonder if they feed the chips into a biomass plant?

    I keep mine in the workshop it's pretty bug free and dry enough to halt decay. No mould or woodworm so far :)

    Thanks for sharing.  We lost a number of limbs from our cedar and magnolia trees this past winter and I was wondering how to store the larger pieces for woodworking.  Is there any reason to remove the bark before it is seasoned?

    2 replies

    I have a friend who swears by removing all the bark, dipping the entire limb in 50% shellac/50% alcohol, then sealing the ends with wax.  It seems like a lot of work to me, but he has good success with it.  The bonus is that the bark is a lot easier to remove when the limb is green.

    Big stuff is outside the scope of this 'ibble really. You may need to hire/buy a chainsaw mill for larger limbs or the services of a professional tree surgeon to dimension up big timber. You will have to store it right to ensure correct airflow, thepelton mentioned Taunton Press there's also a publisher called Stobart Davis that has books on the subject.
    You shouldn't need to remove the bark for seasoning, but why did the tree shed a limb? If it was diseased you might want to reconsider using that timber.
    Cedarwood is beautiful , I'm envious. Always good practise to use a quality dust mask when machining any wood.