Drying Capitol Christmas Tree Slabs

      Despite several interesting suggestions, Woodweb fails to provide a secret formula for drying cross-sections of a pine tree trunk with no radial checking. Still a fun thread, though. August 16, 2012

I was lucky enough to be the one to cut the Capitol Christmas Tree. Along with 2 cranes and dozens of highly experienced volunteers (my crew averaged 65 years of age), we were able to successfully cut the top 65' off a 101' white fir and lower it onto a waiting custom 60' flatbed, pulled by a brand new (donated by Mack) 2012 Mack 10 wheel tractor with sleeper and custom graphics. The tree left Sonora CA yesterday for a 20 day tour of the US on its way to DC.

Now you are probably asking, what does this have to do with us? The Stanislaus National Forest (provider of the tree) wants round slabs for the 5 district offices. I cut them roughly 4 inches thick and they range from 28" to 24" diameter. Got any ideas for total elimination of radial checking?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor R:
I'd say you are asking to fight laws of nature. No radial checking? Not going to happen. Congrats on the special call for this job!

From contributor B:
I have never tried either method, but I've heard of two ways to do that. The first is to use a product with PEG, or polyethylglycol, in it; it soaks down in the wood and keeps it from moving around. Turners use it and swear by it. The other is to make a 50/50 mix of water and Kirkland brand liquid dishwashing soap, then soak it in that for a while, maybe a couple hours; same thing, it soaks in and keeps the wood from moving as it dries. I have heard nothing scientific, just that it works.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Indeed, you are fighting nature, but your one option that will work is detailed in Drying Eastern Hardwood Lumber on page 66. It uses eggs, salt and a few other things. Do not delay.

From the original questioner:
PEG is good for sure - I've heard lots of good reports from turners and gun stock makers. My Dad was aware of and excited about the stuff 30+ years ago. No personal experience though. Most of my projects are too big to justify building and maintaining a pond of the stuff. I'm looking for some miracle cure! That's why I came here.

From contributor R:
Another woodturner trick not mentioned yet is to soak it in denatured alcohol. The idea is that the alcohol mixes with the bond water in the wood cells. Guys make a plastic lined trough and give it a soak for a couple of days. Then bring it out and wrap it with brown paper to slow the moisture loss as the alcohol and water evaporate. Good luck! Found a fun site that shows real time tracking of the tree on route. Can't find a route map that tells how close it gets to Peoria, IL.

From contributor C:
I would take these slabs to a farm near you. Bury them in hay or straw and keep them that way for a year. After a year the slabs should be stable enough to finish how you like. There still will be cracking no matter what you do.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Contributor C has a good idea, but it is better if you use manure mixed with the straw as the urea will be like salt curing and there will also be some natural warmth. I cannot guarantee about the odor. Nevertheless this is a known technique used by some bowl makers.

From contributor C:
What are you doing with the slabs right now while you are deciding what to do? Hope they're not in some office leaning up against a wall. You have to take care of them the minute they are cut.

From the original questioner:
No office, no barn, no manure! Had to go with the old tried and true but fallible, 1/3, 1/3, 1/3. Thanks for the input.

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