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Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

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  • Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

    I find that sometimes wood is almost too dry to carve easily, especially in the winter when the humidity is low. It seems to splinter out and dull the tools faster than wet wood. The solution that I found is to mix distilled water and rubbing alcohol in a 50/50 proportion and spray it on the wood with a misting spray bottle. I saturate the area that I'm ready to carve and let it soak in for a few seconds. What apparently happens is the water absorbs into the wood and keeps the alcohol from drying out too soon. Then the alcohol makes the tool glide along more smoothly and cuts down on sharpening. Try it and see if you have the same results. PS: I use distilled water to cut down on mold growing in the bottle. You would think that the alcohol would do this but whatever is in my tap water seems to get nasty after a couple of weeks in the bottle.

  • #2
    Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

    Hey Dave, Thanks for the tip! I am carving some cypress right now and not only is it dry but if your familiar with cypress it is sort of "stringy" for lack of better word. ou know when you have to go cross grain its really hard to get a good cut. Anyway I am going to try your mix and see if it helps...
    Tom

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    • #3
      Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

      Dave, I always keep a spritz bottle of 50% water/50% rubbing alcohol handy. I never had a problem with just using tap water though.....sort of makes you wonder what you're drinking, huh?

      We used to have well water but hubby insisted on switching over to city water two years ago, he has high blood pressure and thought it would have less salt in than our conditioned/softened well water.....I didn't but he won out! All I know, is that the cast iron steamer that sets on top of the woodburner now 'grows' a really thick, heavy white crust that you have to scrap off! He says it's calcium deposit....looks like salt to me.....either way, that never happened with our well water!!

      Anyway, back to the carving part....I think that the alcohol helps keep any mildew from growing on the wood too. I never thought about it helping open the fibers, but that makes sense, it certainly does make a huge difference in making the wood easier to carve, that's for sure! Thanks for mentioning it! Deborah

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      • #4
        Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

        I had a piece of mahogony that was so dry it gave me problems carving it and I have used and still use the water and alcohol mixture but in this case I used 30 weight motor oil. I brushed it on and let it soak in and then carve until it got to the dry wood again. Worked pretty good this way. I posted a picture of the results. it is 3" thick and 18X24

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        • #5
          Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

          Thats a sweet sailin ship! Gonna look great on someones wall!!!

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          • #6
            Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

            wizzla111 - Sounds plausible, I'm no chemist (LOL) All I know is that water alone will absorb but not make the carving as smooth as the alcohol additive. I'm going to try a side by side test to see which one absorbs better.

            Ron Davidson - Will it still take finish if you don't carve off all the oil? Also, the ship is cool!

            Callynne - I wonder if the softened water would leave a salt or calcium deposit in the wood and turn white later when dry?

            Mudbone - Cypress can be a tough nut to crack if your tools are even a little bit dull. Side cuts are sure to get tear outs in my experience. I've recently been using a dremel on cypress to get a smooth cut, but it's not the same as using hand tools. The mix should help.

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            • #7
              Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

              DewragDave it still will take a finish in this case I used Danish oil with a light coat of deft. It really soaked up the oil.

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              • #8
                Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

                Howdy Ron,
                Beautiful carving - great detail, that's the beauty of hardwood.

                Dave, Thanks for the tip, I carve yellow cedar quite a bit and will try adding the water/alc. mix. as well a oil or whatever's handy. Tear out is a real problem going cross grain.

                Regards,

                Merv

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                • #9
                  Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

                  I've used alcohol and water mix on hard,dry driftwood and it worked pretty good. Found out on accident that walnut oil on a carving helped too.I had to shave off a mistake on a spoon that I had put multiple coats of walnut oil. Made the carving go real easy. It also kept the dust down on sanding.
                  My ETSY shop:
                  https://www.etsy.com/shop/WoodforddellDesigns

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                  • #10
                    Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

                    Good point Dave, I never thought of that happening, fortunately, it hasn't, at least not that I've noticed, but then, of course, I usually put a couple gallons of paint on my carvings!!! Deborah

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                    • #11
                      Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

                      I heard of this technique from a carving video on YouTube and that carver's wood definitely looked like butter compared to what I'm using (both basswood). For those of you who use alcohol/water combo what strength of alcohol do you use in the mix? I've seen 30% and 70% rubbing alcohol at my drugstore and was wonder which would work best.

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                      • #12
                        Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

                        I use a 90% rubbing alcohol because that is what I had. I tried just water and just the alcohol and the mix is the best. The water made the caring a little easier. The alcohol dried to quickly. When I added the alcohol to the water the knife seemed to slide smoother. My theory is that the water keeps the alcohol from evaporating and the alcohol lubricates the blade. Hope that helps.

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                        • #13
                          Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

                          Thanks Dave i have cypress knees i had given up on will try your method.
                          Larry

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                          • #14
                            Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

                            What about soaking the wood in a bucket of water over night? I'm new here.

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                            • #15
                              Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

                              That might be counter productive as most carvers try to dry green wood prior to carving to reduce cracking in the finished work.

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