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Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

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  • #16
    Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

    I try to avoid much water.....could rust your knifes if not cared for....and at the price...something like .88 cents for a quart.....I just use straight rubbing alcohol..........!
    "Lif iz lik a box "o" choc lets, ya nevr kno whut yull git!"

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    • #17
      Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

      My first post :-)

      I bought a funny piece of furniture at Goodwill solely because the wood looked nice. I took it apart for carving material.

      The wood itself was nothing like anything I had seen (I am a novice) so I gave a piece to a friend who is an intarsia artist and asked for an ID. He came up with etimoe. Well, OK, better than shrugging your shoulders, right?

      So I began a project. Very difficult carving. The fibres seemed to resist cutting, even with a pretty well sharpened blade (I am not an expert, but I can get my knife pretty sharp). The pith between the fibres seemed weak, so I was basically carving by crumbling, then using very delicate cuts to smooth the crumbled cuts.

      Idea occurred. This seems like very dry wood. I have no way to measure wood moisture, but I said what the heck -- google "how to carve very dry wood" and see what happens. That is what brought me to this forum, that is what got me to become a registered user.

      Thank you, thank you, thank you.

      The 50/50 mix of rubbing alcohol/water works. Works fine. Worked fine for me anyway. Thank you again.

      Having a small bit of chemistry in my background, I would volunteer the following: alcohol is both hydrophylic (likes water solution) and oleophylic(likes oily solution). Many woods contain resinous substances that repel water. Look at your knife blade after some carving and notice the smears; on some woods they are minor, on some they are major. Those smears are resinous and are indicative of a wood that is resistant to water penetration. But add alcohol and the alcohol/water mixture can penetrate relatively easily. Then the alcohol evaporates, leaving water behind.

      Anyway, heck, I am enjoying scratching through the archives here.
      HonketyHank toot toot

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      • #18
        Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

        Great tip. I hadn't heard of it before. Thanks.
        Rodster
        https://rodster.ca

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        • #19
          Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

          Air dried outdoors under cover, the equilibrium moisture content (MC) should run about 12-14%. Practically all the free water in the wood cells is gone. What is left is the so-called 'bound' water, stuck to the various biochemicals in the wood cell walls.

          Age-old, indoor furniture. House air can be so dry that it will suck off some of the bound water. Yup. Talk to people with $20,000 classical guitars.
          Anyway, you can't put it back. You can add some free water by soaking it but you might as well go soak your head = it takes years for that water to penetrate to the core of your WIP. Took years of house air to suck it out, right?

          The alcohol/water mix works well in the carving surface. Who cares what's 2" below that, huh?
          Brian T

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          • #20
            Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

            I have an old solid mahogany coffee table, which had been broken, and in poor condition. My wife told me to bin it, and get a new one. But I thought it could make it into good carving wood. I tried to cut them a bit with carving knives, but it was rock solid hard.

            I sectioned them into parts, and left in the back garden for a few weeks - it has been very damp and cold with winter rain, and there were a few days of snow.

            This afternoon, I brought the 4x table legs into the house, washed them, and put them in the bathroom to dry. They look and feel a lot softer now, so after light drying, I will see how they carve. The table top is still lying out in the corner of the garden getting softened. Not sure if this is good way to do it, but I was going to give a try, and see how it will work.

            cheers.
            k.

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            • #21
              Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

              I can't re-find the article in WCI forum. It was about turning, with a tip for making wood easier to carve/turn.

              I carve small items, refrigerator magnets, wood 1/4 inch thick.

              The article said to use a 50 50 solution of concentrated dish detergent and water. Because of my allergies I used Tide free and gentle for he washer. I soaked it overnight. I've only had one piece warp, it had been partially carved. I re soaked it as with the other pieces padded both sides with paper towels and pressed it between to flat pieces, solved the warp.

              After treatment and setting in air conditioned house (low humidity) for a month. I got distracted.

              I was amazed at how much differently box elder carved. Knife seemed to go smoother through the wood with less flaking. I had a flat piece that was 2" square that was all end grain. It was frustrating carving on it. Had another piece of the end grain that I treated as above and was really pleased at how well I could carve it.

              So I tried some dark oak. When carving it untreated the knife felt like it was chiseling, chipping trough it. Treated it and thoroughly dried it knife cuts through it with no stuttering, chiseling, or chipping.

              Don't know how it would work on large pieces of wood. It does seem to lubricate the cutting edge of the knife making the cut smoother.

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              • #22
                Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

                Great info here!

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                • #23
                  Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

                  I pay very little attention to the difference(s) between birch and western red cedar. When I see the cut surfaces that I expect, I'm satisfied. Dry as dust.
                  I think this underlines the difference between knife carving with a 12 degree bevel and mallet and gouge or gouge handwork with bevels of 20 degrees.
                  Brian T

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                  • #24
                    Re: Problem Carving Too Dry Wood?

                    rubbing alcohol and water....won't stain the wood.
                    "Lif iz lik a box "o" choc lets, ya nevr kno whut yull git!"

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                    • #25
                      Hello, all. I just joined to post this. Also, sorry for bringing this thread back from the grave..

                      Anyhow. I just recently started trying my hand at handcarving bowls and spoons. Nothing fancy, with no high expectations: just trying to learn. So I get some turning blanks from various places, watch some YouTube vids, and off I go. And that hard, kiln-dried wood kicked my arse! I spent more time honing than cutting. With the grain wasn't really a problem, but trying to go accross it felt like chiseling marble..(not that I've ever carved marble, but you get the picture ​).
                      So I search for ways to safely rehydrate the wood without damaging/staining.. I was led to this thread. I thank you all very much! It works! And it's made me feel like I can actually make some progress, and learn, instead of sharpening my tools to nubs, just to beat em against rocks again.
                      ​​​​​​Again, I salute you all! Many thanks!

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                      • #26
                        Originally posted by badfish29 View Post
                        Hello, all. I just joined to post this. Also, sorry for bringing this thread back from the grave..

                        ...
                        No problem with bringing back old threads. Welcome to the forums! Glad we were able to help you. Please show us photos of some of your work!

                        Claude
                        My FaceBook Page: https://www.facebook.com/ClaudesWoodCarving/
                        My Pinterest Page: https://www.pinterest.com/cfreaner/
                        My Instagram Page: https://www.instagram.com/claudeswoodcarving/
                        My ETSY Shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ClaudesWoodcarving

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                        • #27
                          Outdoors, under cover in the open shade, most woods reach a balance, an equilibrium, for moisture content at 12-14% or so. Fresh might be 35-70 % MC and that dries down. What you discover is that your favorite wood has gone from cheese to bone in that time.
                          Stockpiling wood is a big fat mistake in many instances.
                          Extra care, painted ends, several things to slow the drying.

                          Here in the Pacific Northwest, First Nations carvers make masks primarily from alder.
                          It really does carve like cheese when fresh. Yeah, it's amazing stuff. Never gets very big
                          where I live. 6" is rare.
                          To keep it soft during the carving process, you need a bucket of water and a rock.
                          You need a very complete plan of the mask to do the most in the least time.

                          Other woods, northern bass wood and some of the conifers like red & yellow cedars, are about the same at any stage of MC. I have piles of both cedars, indoors and out, which change very little as the years pass by. Bits of logs, beams, posts, fat shake blocks, all the same.
                          Brian T

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                          • #28
                            Firstly, thank you all for the kind words, and additional info.
                            I've started carving a bowl out of 6x6x2 kiln-dried purple heartwood. Slow-growing, due to many factors, but it's finally starting to somewhat resemble a bowl..sorta

                            And, yes, that is an oak chair I'm using as a "workbench".. Use what ya got, eh?
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                            • #29
                              Finish the outside first or come close to it.
                              Then you will know how much wood you have to fool with for the inside.

                              You are very courageous to carve purple heart. That's what I call "boney."
                              Brian T

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                              • #30
                                I'm done. It's not finished, but I'm tired of working on it. It's the most disagreeable piece of wood I've ever dealt with.. Got to the point where it just refused to be carved.. It would just keep tearing/chipping. So I said screw it. Gave it some sanding, some walnut oil for a finish, and I wash my hands of it. Pretty wood. Ugly bowl.
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