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Janel

Seasoning Boxwood

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I have received a question by email about how to season boxwood. We have discussed this before, but I would like to make a topic and open it up for further discussion. I do not claim to be or feel like an authority on the subject, but I learn a little more as time goes by. Please offer your corrections or additions to this topic. Here is the question and response:

 

Dear Ms Jacobson

 

I saw your advice on the Netsuke Society site.

 

I am fortunate in living in an area with much boxwood growing around. I have just picked up a piece about 6' 0" long and 5" diameter at the base,

how should I go about seasoning it so it does not split?

 

If you can spare the time to advise me I would be most grateful.

 

My response:

 

I am not the most knowledgeable person regarding the seasoning of boxwood. I do have pieces that are about that diameter, which were given, or sold, to me a long time ago. Each one has reacted differently to having not been cut lengthwise to remove the center of the log (pith). The pieces are still intact, but each has some degree of cracking except one.

 

This year I have learned about how to prepare wood for woodturning on a lathe, either for green-turning or for seasoning to dry wood. Each method recommends cutting through the midline of the wood in such a way that removes the pith. This is done because of the differences in density and moisture between the outer and inner areas of the wood and the rate at which it dries.

 

The wood looses moisture from the end grain cuts, much like a bundle of drinking straws filled with water would. It is important to use a sealer to stop the rapid water loss from the ends of the log or sections of log. A water based liquid wax emulsion is used to coat the ends and several inches up the log's sides. I would also cover any places where branches were cut off since those represent end grain as well.

 

Whether or not to remove the bark, I am not sure. I have some 1" to 2.5" diameter branches seasoning with waxing as described above, with the bark on. I purchased a log some time ago that had the bark removed, but it was from Thailand, and perhaps it had to have the bark removed for export/import reasons.

 

If you are preparing the wood for netsuke rather than larger carvings, one could cut the log into shorter pieces, and from those, cut lengthwise pieces to create "sticks" of the approximate size that would be appropriate widths for netsuke. If being prepared for turning, cut the lengths into a square dimension and then turn the lengths to cylinders and wax the ends.

 

In either case, stack the "sticks" in such a way that air flows under and around the pieces, and place lath or slender long pieces of wood between the layers of drying wood, alternating each layer to position the pieces above the open spaces beneath, to allow for air to flow around all exposed wood sides. Store these pieces in a place that has a stable, cool, environment. Great fluctuations in temperature and humidity are to be avoided. Air flow should be present, but moderate, not rapid or hot.

 

I have also recently learned how to judge when drying has ceased for a piece of wood. One weighs the newly cut and waxed wood sections, and would write that information on the wood pieces, along with the cut date and the date of weighing. In intervals of several months, the wood pieces are weighed and recorded. When the wood no longer looses weight for several months or a longer, then perhaps the wood has dried sufficiently for use. One "rule of thumb" might be: one year per inch plus one more year, for drying wood. Boxwood may take even longer.

 

Boxwood likely will take a long time for this process because of its density. Prior to use, after drying might be complete as an intact or halved log, or as sticks, it may be advisable to cut the wood into the size pieces in preparation for use. Let them acclimate for a period of time (days, weeks, months? I am not sure) to the ambient conditions.

 

Please go to http://www.thecarvingpath.net/forum and enter boxwood as a keyword in the SEARCH function. You will find much information about boxwood from our discussions on this forum. I hope that you will learn even more about it there!

 

 

Janel

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I've two lots of boxwood: one is a 4" diameter log; the other is a piece I was given by friends who found it in the garden shed of their new house and is much checked, cracked and water-stained.

 

The advice I was given for the first was to saw the green log in half longitudinally, coat the ends with wax and to about an inch down the log, strip the bark and store in a cool, dry place on its end, upending about every two months. It dries at the rate of about 1" per year, plus a year over for hardening. I've had it a year and, so far, it seems to be doing OK.

 

The other piece, roughly 15" x 3 1/2" x 2" looks as though it was never seasoned properly, but still has enough good wood for about 10 netsuke. Some interesting checked bits fell off while I was sawing some of it into blocks and I'm currently using those for experiments, while some of the other smaller bits will make ojime.

 

Nothing's ever lost, really, but I suspect the first method will yield much better if less interesting wood.

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I have had bad experiences with sealing the end of boxwood. What happens is that the moisture gets trapped, and fungi move in, staining the wood with blackish streaks. I did dry quite a bit of it simply by hangig the sticks up from the rafters in a shed with no real walls, and it seemed to work perfectly. Bark was left on, too.

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I have "NEVER" tried this -- but an old gentleman whom I was watching carve some details into basswood told me in our conversations that he dried all his green cut basswood in a microwave set on high.

 

My first reaction was won't it explode like a potato or egg yoke?

He said no, as the endgrain lets the "steam" out. Potato's you poke to let out the steam.

His claim was -- depending on size it could take several hours.

 

I would not try it with an expensive microwave, but my personnel opinion is it should work. It could be I am sure, tried with a small piece and maybe even at a lower setting to see if it could be achieved.

 

Perhaps there is someone out there that knows if this practise is successful.

 

I do advise caution, as I have said -- I have not done this.

 

Regretably this old Gent has passed.

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I've used a microwave to dry small pieces of wood on occassion, but NEVER on High. You might get by with Basswood (or as I call it, pseudo-cellulose), but with the tight grain hardwoods in typical use on this forum, that would be disastrous. I microwave on LOW for maybe 20 seconds, then let the wood cool to the touch, then repeat as necessary. Remember that a volume of water expands by 300 times when it flashes into steam, and at the least will cause checks in the wood, if not an explosion.

 

The microwave I use began life cooking food in our kitchen, and a few seconds of inattention caused the piece of wood I was drying to catch on fire (about 15 years ago). This microwave now does sole duty in my studio, occasionally roasting wood and heating up my Sparex pickle for metalworking. There is still a faint odor of barbeque emanating when I open the door today.

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Thanks Tom for your insight.

I am always leary of passing information on in which I have had no experience, hence my caution.

What you state makes good sense in regards to potential danger.

Perhaps there is more out there with experience in this practise.

 

Be safe everyone.

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Now this takes me back.

If you don't like long-winded tales, give it a skip.

A few years ago I worked in a gallery/workshop run on rather unusual principles, with maybe a dozen crafstmen associated with it at any one time. Across the road a cafe was run by a good friend. (that's the sum total of any kind of public shops in the settlement, this being a real tourist destination, just the cafe and the gallery making it practically a captured audience.) Now, one day we decided to try microwaving. Timber, that is. There was a small maple bowl turned, green, slightly oversize. The idea being to microwave it, then turn it down to final dimensions. The friend from across the road had the microwave, (yes, the kitchen's, well, it was an unusual place...), so he shoved it in, and set it for 15 minutes. Next thing we know is him, holding the pristine white bowl away from his body, hurrying across the road. As we watched, the snow-white bowl started smoking, slowly turning grey, then black in the middle, and then red embers appearing around the edge of the by now charcoal-black middle patch. By the time it arrived, it was black all the way through, except for the rim. We had to douse it with water, to stop it exploding into flames.

I think I don't need to stress the moral of this tale.

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I don't know if I should say that is "funny" or not.

But the visual picture made me chuckle.

 

I did google useing micro - wave ovens as an instrument to drying wood.

From what I could see it is done by many people.

The " cautions " given are supported by what Tom has stated in his experiences.

 

Play safe.

Bill.

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It was funny. We did a lot of experimenting at the time, so this was all in a day's work.

Later I did dry wood in microwaves, though not with such spectacular results. Generally speaking I found that if you do it carefully enough, it does speed up drying time, but the wood still needs final air-drying. All in all I have basically abandoned the idea.(Mind you, all this was done mostly with woodwind instruments in mind. I would think that a really small piece of wood, like for a netsuke would actually work with a microwave.)

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If I were to put as much time into a netsuke as I usually do, I would begin with seasoned/dry boxwood, or choose a different seasoned and dry piece of wood, rather than commit to chance all of the time and creative energy to the microwave. Making netsuke and hoping to sell them is enough of a gamble.

 

Janel

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Guest Clive

Janel.. suggest to your origanal enquiry to look into wet seasoning boxwood in a fast flowing stream before air drying to improve colour. Gentle boiling can achieve the similiar results but is really risky... Oh and best just ignore all the nonsense regarding microwaves.

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Hi Clive,

 

Thanks for re-mentioning the water-seasoning. I'll see if I can find the other topic that discusses the flowing stream seasoning that is in the archives. *

 

Here are a couple of questions for you that come to mind:

 

When you say that the colour is improved by the fast flowing stream, what direction does the color go in, to more yellow or more pale? **

 

Is there a recommended length of time to remain in the stream? Does the diameter or length have a part to play in the length of time the wood remains in the water?

 

How fast is fast flowing? Our little Sunrise River flows but is not a really fast flow. Many people take auto or tractor inner tubes and float down its length from Sunrise, the little town that I live in. Closer to the Saint Croix river there are some rocky rapids which goes by quickly.

 

I had not heard about gentle boiling. Again to you, questions about length of time, diameter and length of wood, any recommendations?

 

 

Janel

 

* I have spent a good amount of time looking for that needle in the haystack, and have not found it. Does anyone remember about when and what the topic was originally about where Clive described seasoning boxwood, perhaps other woods too, in a stream?

 

** More questions about the color: What makes the difference in color from one boxwood to another? The samples that I have suggest that the more dense and hard boxwoods are more yellow and seem to be harder. Is it species related, climate related, curing or seasoning related?

 

J

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Guest Clive

I can't remember either Janel.. its probably hidden in a thread topic of something totally different. Basically the colour will improve to a richer yellow.. I have however achieved even richer colour.. almost orangy nutty brown but I think its really very dependent on the type of box, its oil content and density... and time and ph of stream and its flow... which BTW doesn't have to be very fast, just so long as there's a constant flow. I've no scientific evidence to support, but some of the streams I use are very peaty, flowing straight of the high Yorkshire Moors and I personally think that might have some influence.

 

Boiling is tricky.. and only really to be used on freshly cut box.. 12 hours gentle gentle simmer.. then air dry for at least 3 years. Some of my inherited box is over 60!!

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I can at least say something about tthe colour.

I have cut some sticks of a box bush, about 100 years old or so, courtesy of a friendly farmer. That's one root system, so I imagine the same plant, really. Now, some of the sticks turned out to be paler than others, throughout. There doesn't seem to be any difference in anything between them. Go figure...

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:) Thanks Phil!

 

Do you recall any other discussions of such a seasoning treatment? I thought that we had more discussion about that technique somewhere. . . oh the brain is aging :rolleyes: !

 

Janel

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Here's a link to some interesting information I ran across about using alcohol to season wood with. This is the first I've heard of such a thing, and I have never tried this, so approach with caution! If it works, it might shorten a very loooooong road, and if it doesn't, then not much lost as long as you experiment on a small scale!?

 

http://alcoholsoaking.blogspot.com/

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I don't remember any other discussions about seasoning boxwood, but that doesn't mean that they didn't take place.

 

The alchohol treatment sounds interesting, and you are right, Tom, to advise caution on a small piece first. Alchohol is expensive, highly toxic (at least the hardware store variety), and I wouldn't advise anyone keeping large vats of it around due to fire hazard. It should logically replace the water in wood. There are a few other such approaches, such as sugar water, where the concentration of the sugar is gradually increased in successive soluttions. Also water-based waxes, such as polyethylene glycol (PEG) have been used, particularly by turners. PEG is often used in the conservation of waterlogged wood from archaeological sites, as it replaces water in the wood structure with a semi-solid supportive material that keeps the wood from collapsing, which is why it has been used by turners and carvers working green wood.

 

A few years ago, I acquired a large supply of semi-seasoned French boxwood branches and logs, all in 24" length. It was set aside in my basement on open wooden storeage shelving to dry slowly. It was stable within about a year with only minimal cracking through the larger branches. A few of the larger pieces didn't crack at all, or only produced one split through the cross section.

 

My advice to the person posing the question would be to have patience, and just put it away in a dry cool place and leave it for two or three years, depending on the thickness, until it is ready. The water curing process is very interesting, though, and if I had access to a stream, I would try it out.

 

If they are really chomping at the bit to carve boxwood before their wood is ready, there are several suppliers who will provide them with a nice dry piece to practice on.

 

Phil

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Now that this comes up I notice that Clive had posted about the genus Buxus and I wanted to ask if anyone here has worked with buxus citrifolia. I say this because I could never recognize the tree and there's no contemporary carving worth noting being made in the countries this kind of boxwood comes from, however if it is particularly good I could still get some.

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Guest Clive

Hi Hyllyn.. buxus citrifolia is a species from Venezuela.. isn't that where you're origanally from?.. its similiar to Cuban box, notably B.macrophylla... it has a relatively large leaf.. is quicker growing and is ligher in colour.. Not bad as far as tropical hardwoods go but not really worth prefering over Eurasian species. Wouldn't mind a small piece for my collection though... :rolleyes:

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Hi Hyllyn.. buxus citrifolia is a species from Venezuela.. isn't that where you're origanally from?.. its similiar to Cuban box, notably B.macrophylla... it has a relatively large leaf.. is quicker growing and is ligher in colour.. Not bad as far as tropical hardwoods go but not really worth prefering over Eurasian species. Wouldn't mind a small piece for my collection though... :rolleyes:

 

 

Yeah that is where I hail from.

 

It was worth asking just in case anyway. The only guy I know in Venezuela who does some staff carving doesn't know the tree and he only works with vera wood from Falcon o Lara, which is the northwestern coast and that is where most of the best of that wood comes from. Thanks for the info though :lol:

 

I have a friend who could get me some as he regularly collects any piece of wood he can get his hands on, what would help is a photo or illustration to help identification because I am pretty sure that we don't call it 'madera de caja' in spanish, in fact in Spain they call it Boj (they replace the x with the j) but I have never heard any wood called by that name anywhere in south america. If I can get my hands on a couple of pieces I will be glad to let you know and send it your way but it could take a while knowing the procastinating spirit of venezuelans.

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Guest Clive

post-2059-1250855475.gif

what would help is a photo or illustration to help identification..

 

Theres a pic of its leaf on this page.. http://www.boxwood.co.uk/aboutbox.htmlTricera.

 

and heres a link to a photo.. http://www.discoverlife.org/mp/20q?guide=P..._Dicotyledoneae.. click on the search box at top of page.. search buxus citrifolia.. nice picture of leaves and its flower.

 

And it was origanally described as genus Tricera.. http://www.botanicus.org/page/671008.. now Buxus citrifolia (Willd.) Spreng.

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Guest Clive

Back to the general Boxwood discussions..

 

A little known snipet of info.. from http://www.boxwood.co.uk/Specimens%20buxus.htm if anybody get the chance to dig one up..

 

Buxus sempervirens

This is our native common box, cultivated through the centuries for its dense, cheerful, green foliage and its highly prized wood. The name Buxus is derived from its use in ancient Greece for finely carved small boxes, for which their word was pyxos or pyknos. The rootwood is even harder and paler and is known as dudgeon.

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You mentioned you can seal boxwood with wax. When I tried this method (usually I use pasta not wax to seal wood) the wax covered the logs firmly (end-grain plus about an inch up the sides), but I noticed on the end-grain surfaces of some logs that the wax did not stuck to the wood at some portions of the surface. Do you think it is a problem? The wax rests firmly on the wood, there are only some portions that don't seem to have been stuck to the end-grain.

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