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Jul 31 / Scott

Wood Type from maple logs, the results

On Monday I couldn’t wait to see how the cart of maple slabs were drying. When I left on Friday the over 200 half slabs on the cart were still frozen. They were sticked with 3/4 by 3/4 inch pine strips all running the length of the cart. This arrangement allows the air to circulate through the stack, and supports the drying wood.

A sawyer friend told me that this was the minimum size. Most sticks used in air drying wood are 1 inch square rough wood, usually pine. He also stressed that I should never use particle board or plywood strips to air dry wood. When you air dry long boards, they usually stack cement blocks on top of the final layer to keep the wood flat as it dried.  I ran long 2 x 2 pine boards on top and used hold down ratchet straps both directions. The wood cart looked like a big wooden Christmas present.

I had wrapped the entire load in heavy, clear plastic with the ends open to allow the air from the two big box fans to flow down the length of the cart  to thaw the wood and carry off the moisture.  I had done the same procedure with a cart full of walnut half slabs the summer before as an experiment. They were were wet, but not frozen and I used a small desk fan on low setting, 4 hours every other day to very slowly dry out the walnut. The entire load dried without a crack or “check.” If it worked for the walnut, why not the same for the hard maple.

WRONG! The 2 big fans had been running on medium for 3 days straight while I was out of town,  I had reasoned that the maple slabs were frozen solid and very wet. They needed lots of air to jump start the drying process. Big mistake!

When I removed the two big fans and the plastic sheeting I wanted to cry. I could already see the entire top layer was not cracked into big pieces like firewood, but full of hundreds of micro-cracks, crossing the rings in small segments. The half slabs would be useless as future wood type. If the slabs had just cracked in half, I could still have slow dried them and still used the maple.  It just got worst and worst as I pulled the ruined maple off the cart and threw it into a pile by the shop door.  Every layer was the same.  The pile of ruined wood got bigger.  I threw them harder.  I was mad at myself for rushing the process and wasting the best part of the maple logs.

I still had some of the maple half logs outside the door under a tarp. All was not lost. I was surprised to find that the logs were still frozen after 5 days in the sun. Wood is a good insulator. I called some friends who knew what I was doing and they showed up to help me start over and finish cutting 204 new frozen slabs. The new bi-metal bandsaw blade was still sharp after over 400 cuts.

I reloaded and sticked the cart  with the replacement pieces. The new slabs were strapped and the cart covered with plastic sheeting. However, this time I took a small 6” desk fan, built a defuser to help spread the air out over a larger area, and ran it only on low. I moved the 1,000 pound cart to a storage room and started the drying process.

I used the same schedule as I did for the walnut.  4 hours on low every other day, alternating the fan position high and low on the end of the stack, and switching ends every week. I later incresed the schedule to 4 hours on low every day.

The air that flowed out of the other end of the stack was moist and smelled like sour apples. I have no idea what the smell means, but I know different woods have different odors. Wet poplar logs I slabbed to air dry several years ago smelled like a floral shop, and cutting old oak smells like musty fruit.  The smell went away as the wood dried. Maybe some additional research at  Two Rivers or Norb can answer that question. Two months later I trailered the cart of maple home to finish drying in my garage.

In case you are wondering how it is going, I pulled a few loose pieces out of the stack last week. To my joy, after a total of 7 months of slowly drying in my garage without  the plastic sheeting, and still strapped to the cart, the maple was not cracked or checked. I had left the bark on them as instructed by Jim Moran, and they had compressed along the bark edge (like slightly closing an open Japanese paper fan) about 8 percent. Lots of usable wood for future type.

My experiment showed that you can actually cut hard maple wood wood for type from that tree in you have been watching get bigger in your back yard.  Good luck if you want to try. E-mail me if you need any advice or want more instruction. I will set up a Flicker page with lots of process photos.  I am already trying to get my wife use to the idea of two carts of maple this next winter.  –  Scott


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