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Cutting blanks & storing wood

Updated: Mar 6, 2019

One question I get pretty often is about how to store logs, cut them into turning blanks, and how to store those blanks. I'm going to give a quick rundown of my methods in this post, but this is a topic where there can be lots of variables and, of course, personal preferences. I will probably revisit this subject in more detail at some point and hopefully have some photos to help explain, but it's a bit too cold and windy outside to make a photo tutorial today.

I always try to keep the wood in log form and as large as I can manage until I plan to use it. In general, I'll be talking about what I do with logs that are at least 8-10" in diameter. The concepts still apply to small wood, but you probably won't be splitting those with a chainsaw and I highly recommend keeping those logs in longer lengths than you would with bigger logs. For medium logs (8"-15" diameter) try to keep the length at least twice the diameter, since in long term storage the ends will crack and you might have to cut several inches off each end to get to solid wood. Big logs (15"+) can usually be kept in shorter lengths because there is more wood that is farther away from the pith and you have more options of how to cut the wood and still end up with crack-free blanks. Still, I recommend trying to keep those as large as you can manage.

As soon as you cut a log from a tree, it will begin to lose moisture and check (crack), usually starting at the pith (center of the log/growth rings) and radiating outward, although sometimes it may start at the perimeter of the log as well. If you split the wood or remove the bark, this will just happen faster. Leave the bark intact if possible and don't cut a lot of blanks for long term storage unless your goal is to dry them for a long time. I turn green wood and do most of my drying between the roughing out of a bowl and the finish turning of it (but that's an entirely different subject).

The main goal in storing wood is to slow down the drying process. I try to store my logs outdoors, covered/shaded, and standing up with one cut end on the ground; this keeps that end from drying out too quickly and I don't even have to seal it. I seal the exposed ends with Anchorseal 2, but I've also used spray paint, latex paint, that plasti-dip spray stuff, paraffin wax (which works great, but is hard to apply), and even wood glue thinned with water.

The capacity of your lathe will likely determine the size of the blanks you're cutting. You'll have a number of other decisions to make as well with regard to the size of the blanks, grain orientation, natural edge, etc. (that's an entirely separate post). When you cut your blanks, cut an inch or two away from the pith; you don’t want the pith or the smallest growth rings in your blank (until you’re at the point where you use it as an aesthetic feature). If the logs have already checked, then try to cut away those cracks also, by either cutting through them (as if they are part of the line of your cut) or parallel to them and trash the cracked portions.

Once you cut your turning blanks, you’ll want to seal them (longer term) or store them in a plastic bag (shorter term) until you turn them so they don’t crack. I use Anchorseal 2 for most of my sealing of blanks that I won't get to for some time or that I intentionally want to air dry for a long time. For extra long term storage/drying, I find that sealing the end grain with melted paraffin wax and using Anchorseal on the other surfaces is better than Anchorseal alone. The faster the blank dries, the more likely it is to crack and since the end grain releases a lot of moisture, the heavier paraffin wax seals it better than Anchorseal. For blanks that I'll turn within the next few weeks, I put them in a large black trash bag and maybe spray a little water on them occasionally. I have kept blanks like this for easily over a month and it's now my preference... plus, it has saved me quite a bit of Anchorseal.

So, that's the gist of how I currently store wood. I've tried all sorts of different methods over the years and this is what works for me. I hope it helps you figure out what might work well for you!

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