Drying A Wood Product

Drying A Wood Product

I received a message from Tim Sisko this week with a question and comment along with some photos of the Native American masks he carved, which has opened up an intriguing topic of discussion that I’m sure you will all want to read about.  The message reads:

“Bob , I enjoyed your article on wood burning but I am curious that under the species of wood commonly carved I don’t see Alder listed. I began my journey in carving by taking classes from Jim Ploegman a Master carver who specialized in Northwest Native Carvings. Many of the projects we carved were out of Alder. We would always prize green Alder for carving of bowls and masks inspired by the carvings of the First Nation’s People.

Northwest Native American Mask
Carved by Tim Sisko
Northwest Native American Mask
Carved by Tim Sisko
Northwest Native American Mask
Carved by Tim Sisko
Northwest Native American Mask
Carved by Tim Sisko

When we get fresh cut Alder we would wet it down and bag it in plastic bags and freeze them to keep them wet between carving sessions.

Alder gets very hard when it is dry.  It grows very well around the coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest.  The other wood that is used for masks is old growth cedar.  One of my masks out of cedar had as many as 48  growth rings per inch.

This procedure of carving wet wood necessitated a method of drying the finished project. We would use the following method.”

Before I go on to show the ingenious wood drying method you have sent in, let me first answer your question about alder.  The only reason why alder was not shown on the list of carving woods I posted is simply because it wasn’t mentioned in the particular database from which I got my information.

Alder grows mainly in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.  It is a member of the birch family and can be an excellent wood for carving.  Electric guitars, most notably Fender Guitars, have been built with alder bodies since the 1950s. Alder is appreciated for its tone that is claimed to be tight and evenly balanced, especially when compared to mahogany, and has been adopted by many electric guitar manufacturers.

Drying a Wood Project

  1. Weigh the project and record the weight (”IN” weight).
  2. Heat project in microwave at full power for ½ the time it takes to do Microwave popcorn *.
  3. Rotate project in oven each heating cycle.
  4. When project comes out of oven. put on scale for 8 min. to let heat come out of wood then record the weight (“OUT” weight).
  5. Put project into cardboard box with box opening on side. Set project on sticks to allow air to circulate around piece. Put box and project into a plastic bag and let cool to room temperature before doing the next heating cycle.
  6. Turn plastic bag inside-out each heating cycle to remove moisture.
  7. When you are finished drying, put project back in the box and plastic bag. Punch holes in the top and sides of the bag and box.
  8. Let project set in the box and plastic bag until you put on a clear stain base.

When “IN” and “OUT” weights are the same for 3 cycles in a row you are finished

Jim Ploegman, Master Carver

*  A little explanation may be in order here.  The reason for testing your microwave with the popcorn is because microwave ovens vary in power so we use about 6 or7 kernels of corn to see how long it takes to pop on max power, we time this and when we put our carving in to dry it we cut the time in half.

             NOTE: The drying process is used before painting for wet or green wood.                        Some of my masks or bowls have lost as much weight as to equal almost a pint       of water.  Remember that saying “  A pint is a pound the world around “

Thank you very much, Tim, for the photos of your magnificent Native American masks.  They are bright and brilliant, and so very well done.  And thank you especially for the interesting method of drying wood (projects).

NOTE: Tim’s drying method also included a diagram and a blank “IN” and “OUT” weight table which I was unfortunately unable to transfer when I put this post together. My apologies to you, Tim. If anyone is interested in having the diagram and table just drop me a message and I will be happy to email Tim’s complete drying method with the diagram included.

Your information brought some thoughts and questions to my mind:

1. Since alder is in the birch family I imagine it’s pretty hard to carve (when dry).

2. I realize you wet it to soften it but why do you soak it so much?  Does the excess water make it that much easier to carve?

3. FOOD FOR THOUGHT: We have all heard about using 50:50 water/alcohol mixture to soften our basswood for carving.  When the wood gets dry again, you have to reapply it…or basically keep the wood wet.  Sometimes when I’m away from home and don’t have my mixture I’ll just run my carving under tap water and soak it.  The wood carves like butter after that!  I just keep the carving wet with tap water.

So my first thought is…do we really need the alcohol in the water?  Why not just use the water alone?  My second thought is…should we be carving wood with more moisture in it to begin with?

I would love to hear some readers’ comments on this subject.


Our first question today comes from Jakobo Santiago with regards to knife stropping.  Jakobo writes:

 “hello everyone, hello Bob

I have a question about knife stropping and I would like your opinion. Surely someone has already heard about this, because it is generating some controversy on social networks.

I have found an account, ‘spoon carving with tom’, very interesting.

Tom claims that stropping knives on thick leather, such as cow or pig, is detrimental to the edge and does not achieve a fine finish, as the thick leather compresses and sharpens the knife blade with more angle than it should.

Tom proposes kangaroo fur as optimal option. It is only 0.6mm thick and harder and softer than cow. No compression

I let you the Instagram link


what do you think about this?”

You’ve touched on a wide open topic here, Jakobo.  The questions you raise are valid and have been discussed among carvers for many years.  First, I will say that the kangaroo hide strop sounds like an excellent idea.  In fact, I think I would like to try one out myself.  However, Tom’s theory on knife stropping, while somewhat correct has some holes in it, and I will address them in my next post when I discuss “Strops & Stropping” in more detail.  Stay tuned!

Our next comment comes from Wade Harvey regarding How To Paint Plaid, which I posted in my last blog post.  Wade writes:

“Bob, Thanks for the tutorial.  This is my one and only attempt at painting plaid (circa 2015).  I’ll save the tutorial and do some practicing.  wh”

I‘m glad you found the article helpful, Wade!  Practice, practice, practice!

Our next comment comes from Sue MacCullum regarding How To Paint Plaid.  Sue writes:

“What a helpful article.  I’m anxious to try plaids again now.  My previous attempts were pretty bad!  Thanks Bob and Mike..  I am enjoying your blog.”

I‘m glad you found the article helpful, Sue.  With just a little practice I’m sure you’ll become an expert.  And I’m pleased that you are also enjoying Wood Chip Chatter!

Connie Teeters sent in our next comment on How To Paint Plaid and says:

“Thank you so much for the instructions love them”

I‘m glad the article on How To Paint Plaid was helpful, Connie!

We received one last comment on How To Paint Plaid.  This one comes from my friend Bob Nesbit from Pennsylvania who says:


WOW now that was very interesting on painting the plaid shirt and the steps taken to achieve this.  Will add this to my notebook and give it a try.  Never seen this done on a carving before.


Bob Nesbit”

I‘m glad you found it interesting, Bob, and I definitely agree with you.  I will be trying this out on my next opportunity as well.

Let the chips fly!  Tell your wood carving friends and spread the word about Wood Chip Chatter, and don’t forget to click the ‘Comment’ button at the bottom of the page to send in your questions and comments so we can keep Wood Chip Chatter active and keep the conversations going! 

And remember, we need your photos!  I’m sure you all have some terrific carvings to share and photos of your carvings will help to liven up the blog’s appearance and make it more interesting.  Perhaps we can start a carvers photo section!  Email your photos to carverbobk@woodchipchatter.com

Keep a sharp edge and keep on carvin’!

                             Darth Vader had a corrupt brother, Taxi Vader.

Published by carverbobk

I’m a self taught award winning wood carver who has been carving since I was a teenager. I enjoy instructing other carvers, especially beginners.

2 thoughts on “Drying A Wood Product

    1. Thanks, Tim! Unfortunately, your diagram and the table didn’t transfer over when I put the blog post together. I’m bummed about that but it’s a problem with the WordPress web design that I use. Thanks for sending it in!


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