Drying Mesquite with Denatured Alcohol

      Denatured alcohol (DNA) drying techniques work best on porous wood, not so well on a low-porosity species like Mesquite. October 1, 2010

Is there any reason why the denatured alcohol method used by turners to dry green blanks wouldn't work for green mesquite knife handle blanks? I cut some today from scrap given to me by my local sawmill, and I wanted to skip the kiln if possible.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
DNA (denatured alcohol) will work on any wood that has reasonable porosity so the alcohol can get into the wood.

From the original questioner:
Thanks Doc. Should I seal the end grain with Anchorseal at some point (days/hours?) after I take them out of the alcohol to dry? Could it hurt?

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
I do not know. Sorry. You will have to try it.

From the original questioner:
No worries. Most are straight grained, so I will seal the end grain of some an hour or so after they come out of the alcohol, and leave some unsealed.

From contributor D:
As Gene mentioned, the wood needs to be somewhat porous. I have seen mesquite from Texas with low porosity and mesquite from Arizona with no porosity. That is how it survives in desert conditions.

From contributor T:
It doesn't work on mesquite; at least it didn't for me. It works great on flame boxelder. Works very well on other species I've used it on, but as was pointed out, the denatured alcohol has to have pathways in order to saturate the wood.

Think of denatured alcohol suitable woods this way: on one end of the spectrum you have Lignum vitae, which is so dense it will not even float. Denatured alcohol is not going to penetrate that stuff even slightly. At the other end you have woods like pine or juniper. It goes through those species like sand through a sieve.

If you want to do a crude test, cut a 4" end grain cookie of the species you are interested in drying, and pour some denatured alcohol on top of the cookie. If you do this with hard maple for example, it will take a long time to soak through, if it does at all (I have never tried it on HM). But if you do this with a soft (and more porous) maple like boxelder, it goes through the cookie in minutes.

One of the reasons you see so many end grain butcher blocks and cutting boards made with hard maple is because it is so dense... It resists hosting bacteria because there are no large pockets to contain it. I've seen many built with oak, but I would never do that. Oak has large pores and would hold bacteria an order of magnitude better than hard maple; however this undesirable characteristic for cutting boards makes oak well suited to drying with denatured alcohol.

But not everything is black and white. If you pour a cup of denatured alcohol on top of a mesquite end grain cookie, you could very likely see it coming out the bottom rather quickly. That's because mesquite tends to have a lot of ring separation due to wind shake, and probably other reasons I don't understand, but the point is the denatured alcohol can drop through the spaces between clusters of rings, but it won't penetrate the cells in the fibers, and thus it won't dry the wood.

From the original questioner:
Thanks so much! If you can't tell, I am a rookie, but I am also a man of action who, for better or worse, likes to find out for himself, so I am going to run a little experiment. Half the blanks soaked in DNA, and half not. I will monitor moisture levels for the next month after they come out. Oh, and I just bought 7,000 lbs. of chunky mesquite and pecan scraps from my local sawmill, so the results might come in handy.

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