Waxed exotics

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EricRN

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May 16, 2019
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164
Hi all,

Quick question--When turning an exotic hardwood that comes covered in wax, is it advisable (required) to turn it down to a cylinder and then let the wood acclimate/dry out for a bit in my shop before turning to final shape? I ask because I had a block of tiete rosewood that came covered in wax. I turned it down into a pepper mill, and it's since developed some cracks. Nothing major, and I use it as my everyday mill in my kitchen--between my wife, me, and my three kids, who knows how much it's been banged about. That could definitely have caused the cracks. But I was also wondering if maybe I'd messed up by not letting it acclimate before turning to final shape. Obviously, the wax is there for a reason. Maybe it holds a little water in (especially if it's waxed in the tropical clime where it was logged); maybe it's supposed to keep water out. Either way, it seems possible or probable that there could be some significant movement in the wood that would benefit from turning to rough shape and then letting it acclimate a bit. I'm curious what others do.
 
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Jonkou

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May 1, 2020
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Alton Bay, NH
There is no finite answer to your question, but here’s one woodworkers advice for a typical 3x3 mill blank. Most exotics are sealed in wax to preserve the wood in the same condition as when sealed and is shipped all over the world for sale. Rarely is the wood dryed to 12% or less, which is optimum for most species end use. If you don’t have a moisture meter recommend let the wood sit in the shop as is for about a week to acclimate, then scrape off most of the wax on side grain only, don’t scrape to raw wood, just get off the heavy stuff. Leave wax on the end grain. Let it sit for a few more weeks out of direct sun and wind. If still no checks scrape the side grain mostly clean, doesn't have to be all off, and the heavy wax off the end grain and let it dry for one year per inch of thickness on average depending on your climate, in 1 1/2 years it should be stable. Drier the climate the quicker it will dry and each species of wood has its own characteristics. There is plenty of info on the interweb for drying wood so do your research for the wood you have. Bottom line for air drying is the more you slow down the drying process the better the chance it will dry without degradation. This is only a brief summary, tomes have been written on this subject. Good luck.
 

jttheclockman

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Feb 22, 2005
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NJ, USA.
Wax is there to prevent cracking and control moisture when harvested and when stored. Exotics take on moisture easily and are more prone to cracking than domestics. They were grown in moist climates. I would turn down enough to take wax off and then let sit a day or two. Then maybe do a slow calculated drying in a taoster over with low heat on and off for periods of time. There are threads on this here. Do a search for them or do a search on google for drying woods. I would treat blocks of wood differently if not using entire piece. Strip what is needed and then reseal rest. As said one man's opinion.
 

EricRN

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May 16, 2019
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164
Thanks. Appreciate the insight. I might have to invest in a good moisture meter.
 

Dehn0045

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Mar 19, 2017
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Location
Houston, Texas
I would bet that if a turning block is completely waxed then it was probably not dried. If just the endgrain is waxed then it's a little more of a toss-up.

I have a pinless style moisture meter and haven't really found it useful for turning blocks. The pin type might be a better option for turning. Also, the measurements are highly dependent on wood species. So it seems that they are better for relative measurements over time, or if you work with the same material frequently you will get a better feel for the measurements.

There are some other options for estimating moisture. You could cut off a small piece (remove wax) and weight in and then bake in a toaster oven for a couple hours at 220 degf. Comparing the initial/final weight will give you moisture content. Another option is to remove the wax and place in a bag of sawdust/shavings - weight ever week or so, if the weight doesn't drop for a few weeks then you can be pretty confident your at equilibrium. Another option is to place it in your HVAC air return, the constant air movement will accelerate drying, but at slightly more risk of cracking. A food dehydrator or toaster oven are options if your in a real hurry, but again even higher risk of cracking. Water boiling wood that you know is wet can allow for faster drying with less risk of cracking - I did this once with Texas Ebony, the result was acceptable but not perfect.
 
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