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Is it beech or is it me?

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I’m having particularly bad luck drying recent beech rough turned bowls. These bowls were from a tree that was taken down a month ago, and rough turned within a day of coming down. They are just about 10% wall thickness/diameter and were coated with Highland Woodworking’s End Grain Sealer. I’ve formerly used Anchorseal with good results, but thought I’d give this a shot. I haven’t looked at the bowls til today when I saw how badly they’ve cracked. It has been unusually cold here, 16° F last night. Is this a function of the cheaper sealer? Should I have used more than one coat? Cold? Beech? I’ve got several smaller blanks from the same tree, which so far are not looking bad, but any larger bowls (12” or bigger) are becoming firewood. I’d love to hear any thoughts. Thanks!B89CC314-8386-43A8-B209-F9304D2CB58E.jpeg
 
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just an observation....bowl on right to close to pith
bowl on left lots of sapwood......almost looks like wind shake
 
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I've not experienced Beech to be one of those woods that has a tendency to crack easily - like for example, apple, or several species of oak. However, when I began turning, I lost plenty of roughed out blanks because of small things that are easy to miss but make a big difference. For example, the rims on your bowls: the inside lip cuts inward, meaning that at the rim, your bowl is slightly thicker than the wall 1/4" down. That small thing means that there is a lot of stress on that rim when it begins losing moisture. That explains the two very wide cracks at the rim. I know many turners recommend chamfering the outside edge (aka remove that sharp edge on the outside of the rim) to help reduce that stress.

I'm guessing that if you put calipers on your blanks and ran the caliper down the wall from rim to foot, you would see a couple areas where the wall isn't uniform in thickness. I also leave the foot just a bit thinner than the rest of the blank, because of the tenon. There usually isn't as much wood movement at the bottom of the bowl - so much so that you'll run out of wall when second turning it - so making it slightly thinner takes into account the extra wood you need to leave for the tenon.

I don't know anything about Highlands End-Grain Sealer; I've always used Anchorseal, (Original, not version II). But I don't use it to coat the bowls, rather coating the ends of logs before I can process them into bowl blanks. Instead, I put the bowl blanks in paper bags, doubled if the wood is freshly cut, and check them every day. I exchange the bags every 24 hours (letting the wet ones dry out before re-using) for at least 2-3 weeks. After that they need only one bag per blank, for another 3-4 weeks, then they get moved to my bowl blank storage racks for continued drying. I write on the blanks with a sharpie the date they were rough-turned, wood species, and dimensions. The date makes it easier to determine whether the blank really is dry, and the dimensions/species are helpful if I need an exact species and size for a commission.
 

hockenbery

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I use paper bags very much like @Donna Banfield described.
It’s not practical for a high volume production turner. Works great for me. A big bowl run for me is 3 at a time.
This method has the advantage of creating a humidity chamber that keeps the endgrain from drying too fast.

When you have lots of sapwood - really have to slow the drying

I also suggest checking the bottom thickness including the tenon.
This section has the longest grain in the bowl so it dries slower.
As above it won’t warp much so can be thinner than the rim is with the tenon.
 
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Donna and Al, thanks for these suggestions. I’ll put the remaining pieces that haven’t checked in paper bags and follow your suggestions. I think you’re both also correct that my bottoms may be too thick, when the tenon is included, and yes, the rim is just slightly thicker than further down the wall of the bowl.
 
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It's hard to see much sealer on them. Except for some runs over the rim, I don't see any on the outside. For fruit woods and others that have a tendency to crack, I put at least 3 coats of Anchorseal on the end grain, and if it's really a special piece of wood, I completely cover the bowl. I also use yard waste bags to dry that kind of wood, because it has two layers of brown paper. As mentioned, pretty close to the pith. I stay at least 1 1/2" off the pith. I check the bags often and if a crack starts to appear near where the pith was, I put it back on the lathe and cut down the rim to get rid of the crack. Lastly I wonder if that is beech. Beech around here has distinct medullary rays, and I don't see any in the picture.
 
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Richard, I think multiple coats of sealer would have helped, and this Highland stuff is quite a bit thinnner than Anchorseal. I’ll go back to Anchorseal asap. As to the species, it is definitely beech. I saw the tree come down, and I also have a forestry degree. While lots of forestry practices have changed since I got my degree, the trees have not.
 
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speaking of trees.....i have a young tree on bank I had cleared of brush....its leaves have browned lightly but have not fallen....i thought leaves sorta. Looked like cherry but found that leaves not falling sure indicates elm
 
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I had one batch of beech that really tended to warp and crack as it was drying (so much so that I wasn’t sure I wanted to try another batch of beech). I’ve since turned wood from a couple other beech trees and it has shown much less warping and no real cracks. So it could be the tree.

Also you mention the “cold” are these drying in a climate controlled space? If so the the really low humidity in the space would certainly be a problem.
 
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Also you mention the “cold” are these drying in a climate controlled space?

Kent, good question. The wood is in a usually unheated shop. I turn on the heat when I’m working, but otherwise it gets close to outside temperature and humidity. I think that, along with inadequate sealing, and possible inconsistent wall thickness may have been my undoing. I’ve usually got pretty good success with other species, which made me wonder if it was something about beech. I’ll add sealer to the remaining pieces of the same tree, and also put them in shavings in bags and see if I get better results.
 
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speaking of trees.....i have a young tree on bank I had cleared of brush....its leaves have browned lightly but have not fallen....i thought leaves sorta. Looked like cherry but found that leaves not falling sure indicates elm
Charlie, not to beat the beech theme to death, but beech does what you describe. Often holds its leaves (copper or brown) til new leaves come in the spring. Elm leaves are, I believe, lighter, more yellowish-brown. Both are the same elliptical shape similar to cherry but more serrated edges. Elm, I think, has the largest serrations.
 
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Charlie, not to beat the beech theme to death, but beech does what you describe. Often holds its leaves (copper or brown) til new leaves come in the spring. Elm leaves are, I believe, lighter, more yellowish-brown. Both are the same elliptical shape similar to cherry but more serrated edges. Elm, I think, has the largest serrations.
I'll take pic tomorrow after auto appointment.
 
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I live in the kiln that is New Mexico where the most humid it gets is ~0.00987% during a summer monsoon storm for 30 minutes. I’ve roughed bowls from pine to maple, cherry to elm, Russian olive to walnut, pear to apricot and many in between. I mostly use Craft Supplies USA stuff called Tree Saver - a PVA based sealer. I have very little loss. Elmers is cheaper, by the way.

Aside from the bowl’s thickness, time from felling and how much heat that’s generated from tooling I think the biggest factor during drying is not temperature but airflow. Now, I say I have very little loss for a specific reason. The nights are cold and the days are hot. The temperatures fluctuate drastically here. The biggest reason I have very little loss is, in my shop, the AIR DOES NOT MOVE unless I make it move. In my humble opinion, the biggest contributor to timber loss is air movement, considering all else equal. I wish I could slow down the drying process where I live!

I also believe that wax-based sealers are more prone to cracking than PVA-based sealers. Cracks allow air in and out. The PVA-based dealers have some give or stretch. My experience here so your mileage may vary.

For what it’s worth, some wood, even of the same species, moves more than others. Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. Life’s a “beech” kinda stuff. Now go out to your shop and put some Elmers on your hand, let it dry, peel it off and repeat. Try Elmers on your bowls…cough, cough… and keep the air movement to an absolute minimum!!!

Scott
 
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American Beech shrinks more than most native hardwoods, 11% IIRC, the European Beech is a little less splitting prone, but still get very often steamed to prevent the warping/splitting and to equalize the light color.

I have turned quite a bit of Beech, and turning thin does help prevent the splitting, though not guaranteed as I found out.

Best Beech wood should be felled in the winter, it does help, but still if you do want to twice turn some bowls, it is important that you slow down the drying dramatically.

Just some wax wood sealer is not going to do it, yes you can get lucky, but I have all of the twice turned pieces dried in the brown paper bag and these set at a cool place, no sun no draft, my standard way and successfully done for a long time already.

Beech bowl 1.jpg Natural edge Beech bowl.jpg Beech vase.jpg Beech bowl.jpg Beech bowl warped.jpg

Thin turned Beech.

Beech pot.jpgBeech turned thin.jpg Beech split.jpg
 
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If it's anything like ash for me here, in the summer I rough turn it, seal it and put it on a shelf. In the winter I rough turn it, double seal it and hope it doesn't crack before I get it in the paper bag. W
 
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speaking of trees.....i have a young tree on bank I had cleared of brush....its leaves have browned lightly but have not fallen....i thought leaves sorta. Looked like cherry but found that leaves not falling sure indicates elm
Charlie, the Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila often mistaken and called Chinese Elm) it does not loose its leaves when the days get shorter or when it gets colder, just for where this tree originated from.

Cold hardy though, they do grow up here where the temps do dip down to -40 or more, they do grow much slower here than in milder climates where it can can grow fast and tall.

I did have two of these behind my house in London Ontario and they were not affected by the Elm disease, the disease was identified in the Netherlands, and then called Dutch Elm disease, but it originated much farther East.

These trees were a real problem in our area, as we would get some years early wet snow falls that would load up on those trees with their thin twigs still full with leaves, they could not handle those loads and large limbs would break off (made good turning wood though, I did get lots of the Elm trees to turn :)

My Elm tree and harvesting someones Siberian elm.
Siberian Elm.jpg Felling Siberian Elm.jpg
 

Emiliano Achaval

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An encyclopedia could be written with all the tips and ways that turners do to prevent cracking. I use Anchorseal on unique pieces. Most of my work goes on a shelf, to sleep there until a customer picks it up. I'm lucky that I live in Hawaii and close to the rainforest. Humidity is high, most of the year. Koa is famous for splitting when it reaches the mainland. When I sell my work to mainland customers, I warn them about Koa may be splitting. The most common "technique" I keep hearing is the brown paper bag. Some add shavings.
 
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Is that finished koa when reaching mainland or blanks????
 
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Sounds like beach blanks need a barrel....i guess I've said that before.
 
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I still have about 15 gallons of Anchorseal of both formulations, never had a problem with either and they both worked fine. But I have not used it in the last 8 or 9 years as I found that 95% of the wood I bring into the shop in log or half log form does not crack. If you look at my photos in the "Got Wood" link basically none of that was sealed and really the only wood that came in and cracked was Beech. Our club being only 90 miles from where AnchorSeal is made and we would get 55 gallon barrels and sell to our club members for a buck or two over cost. I think the first time we got it members paid $5 a gallon and the last time I think club price was $7 a gallon. Beats Craft Supplies $30 a gallon and the clubs bank account went up about a $100 or so.
 
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Thanks all for this wisdom! I’ve got lots to do differently next time I come into some beech logs. Leo, your pieces are beautiful! Thanks for sharing them.
 
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Elm????
 

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I have only had chunks of beech once, and they cracked like the above pieces, then heard that this is typical for beech. Every piece of wood is different. The steaming and boiling might be good for this wood, but don't know as I never wanted that extra work. Wood that warps the most when I turn it is Pacific Madrone, and I can't predict how any piece will warp, it just does its own thing, including cored sets that warp in different directions. Sycamore tends to warp a lot, but it is predictable. If I was to try beech again, I would try the Christian Burshard method that he uses for Madrone. Puts the blank in a paper bag, and puts that inside a plastic bag. Change the paper bag every day. I did find with Madrone, that I got less cracking if I got trees that were cut when the spring sap is running. No clue as to why, but summer and fall or winter harvested trees all seemed to crack a lot more.

robo hippy
 
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Charlie, your picture looks like it could be beech to me. The twigs look like I’d expect, but I realize they are in bright sunshine so it might be making them look lighter and smoother than they are. Maybe someone with more experience with elm can comment. I don’t see a lot of it here.
Robo, I appreciate your confirmation that you’ve had similar experience with beech.
 
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Richard, I think multiple coats of sealer would have helped, and this Highland stuff is quite a bit thinnner than Anchorseal. I’ll go back to Anchorseal asap. As to the species, it is definitely beech. I saw the tree come down, and I also have a forestry degree. While lots of forestry practices have changed since I got my degree, the trees have not.
I really couldn't see details in the pictures, I agree. That was one fast growing beech with those giant growth rings. That doesn't help with drying.
 
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8CBB584A-5F3C-4F31-9DDA-FDB60E6CBA9F.jpegjust to add an additional mystery to the puzzle, I went out to add sealer to the bowls that are still intact. The sealer (again, not Anchorseal, but Highland Woodworking’s end grain sealer) did not go on smoothly, but constricted up almost as if it’s on a varnished surface. I tested on a cherry bowl (the top right in the photo) that was cut and processed on the same day, and it went on smoothly, as I’d expect it to. In both cases, it is over previously sealed wood. Curious???
 
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for plain Jane wood is beech that's funky
 
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View attachment 42379just to add an additional mystery to the puzzle, I went out to add sealer to the bowls that are still intact. The sealer (again, not Anchorseal, but Highland Woodworking’s end grain sealer) did not go on smoothly, but constricted up almost as if it’s on a varnished surface. I tested on a cherry bowl (the top right in the photo) that was cut and processed on the same day, and it went on smoothly, as I’d expect it to. In both cases, it is over previously sealed wood. Curious???
I suspect that's because the new sealer is going onto an already waxed and dried surface, so the new is sort of pooling. Adding more sealer not likely to prevent cracking of the other factors weren't fixed (consistent wall thickness, sharp edges on rims, for example.)
for plain Jane wood is beech that's funky
 
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View attachment 42379just to add an additional mystery to the puzzle, I went out to add sealer to the bowls that are still intact. The sealer (again, not Anchorseal, but Highland Woodworking’s end grain sealer) did not go on smoothly, but constricted up almost as if it’s on a varnished surface. I tested on a cherry bowl (the top right in the photo) that was cut and processed on the same day, and it went on smoothly, as I’d expect it to. In both cases, it is over previously sealed wood. Curious???
Not sure but I would think that the Cherry has the sealer absorbed and the denser Beech has it sitting on top, so your added sealer acts like you would expect painting it on a greasy surface.
 
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View attachment 42379just to add an additional mystery to the puzzle, I went out to add sealer to the bowls that are still intact. The sealer (again, not Anchorseal, but Highland Woodworking’s end grain sealer) did not go on smoothly, but constricted up almost as if it’s on a varnished surface. I tested on a cherry bowl (the top right in the photo) that was cut and processed on the same day, and it went on smoothly, as I’d expect it to. In both cases, it is over previously sealed wood. Curious???
Why? If you have uniform wall thickness one coat of sealer should be all you need.
 
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No matter what you do, sometimes a log's bowl blanks are simply not going to behave the way other wood does when sealed properly. As long as there is a side grain exposure stripe for the moisture to escape, that's the best you can do.
Below some uncooperative dogwood blanks. Three out of four were fire wood.
1      sealer - 2.jpg
 
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