I have a piece of hornbeam wood which was cut green. I plan to make a couple of knife handles from it. Now it's extremely wet.

Does it make sense to try to force dry it? If yes then do smaller pieces dry with less cracking than larger ones? I'm not talking about drying speed right now. My assumption is yes because smaller piece has more freedom to shrink and move especially if it's cut from the periphery where the rings radius is larger (in extremity it will shrink linearly in one direction).

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  • 1
    Hi, welcome to Woodworking. I've dried numerous pieces of hornbeam and IME it is particularly prone to cracks (the worst or equal worst of any species I've collected in the wild). So it is especially important with this wood to follow the standard drying instructions which include sealing the end grain (which ideally should be done as soon as possible after cutting). Then you allow the piece (or the split wedges) to dry naturally for many months at minimum, a year or more if you want to err on the side of caution. If you want to speed-dry, please don't follow the instructions in that eHow!
    – Graphus
    Feb 7 at 18:57
  • When was this cut? And it was cut from a tree that was alive yes? And do you know if this is a section of trunk or a piece of branch? This could be an important detail for which section(s) to use preferentially if you plan to use sizeable pieces (e.g. for something equivalent to the largest sizes of Opinels). And related: are you making handles in the round, or are you attaching scales to a full-tang knife?
    – Graphus
    Feb 7 at 19:19
  • It was cut very recently. I struggled to find a dead tree that wasn't rotten and committed a small crime by cutting live tree. It will be a small utility puukko style knife with a solid handle
    – e_asphyx
    Feb 7 at 20:06
  • 1
    Hornbeam is hardly a rare and endangered species, I don't think your conscience needs to be too concerned because you cut down a live one :-)
    – Graphus
    Feb 8 at 8:16
  • @ColinAsh6, if you want to dry your log as-is I would suggest you dry for a lot longer than a year. The rule of thumb for drying hardwoods is a year per inch of thickness — and this is after the wood has been converted to planks! This will gives an idea of how much longer than only one year a log of this diameter will take to dry (as much as it can, very thick wood does not dry evenly through its thickness). I suggest cutting your log into very oversize blanks for the two projects, sealing all the end grain and then waiting for those to dry individually, rather than having to wait 3+ years....
    – Graphus
    Mar 10 at 23:06

3 Answers 3


Does it make sense to try to force dry it?

Only you can answer this, since it's only your requirement that drives the decision to speed-dry versus just waiting for the wood to naturally season over a long time.

This piece, if dried whole, should be left for at least a year, unless you can put it somewhere unusually warm and consistently dry, ideally with good airflow too.

If yes then do smaller pieces dry with less cracking than larger ones?

If you don't seal the end grain, very much so.

If you do nothing to chunks of green wood cracks are virtually inevitable in most species, and they can be severe. However, given the exact requirement clarified in the Comments (small puukko style knives) it's possible that you could do nothing with a piece this size and still get numerous1 handle blanks from it.

I'm not talking about drying speed right now.

If you are intending to air-dry it's best practice to seal the end grain (see link below). This will maximise the yield2, giving you the most flexibility on what wood you can select from for each handle — choosing for grain, colour/figure — and so you have as much usable wood as possible for potential future uses.

If you split or saw the 'log' into wedges, these smaller pieces will air-dry substantially faster than the original piece of wood; note that it would be absolutely vital to seal the end grain if you do this because cracks in smaller pieces are more likely to intrude into wood you want to use. I've lost many handle blanks this way.

Additionally this would allow you to experiment if you'd like to, air-drying the majority of the pieces and trying out two of the fastest speed-drying methods — boiling and microwaving — which could potentially give useful handle blanks in half a day.

See A few notes on seasoning at the end of this Answer for some info on boiling handle blanks, and cautions about microwaving, as well as guidance on sealing the end grain with melted wax.

1 I'd say three for sure but as many as five might be possible.

2 If this chunk is long enough the yield could go up from 3-5 to as many as 10-12!

  • I'm fascinated by the boiling idea... will have to do a deep dive. Feb 8 at 14:43
  • 1
    @AloysiusDefenestrate, definitely worth a look for small pieces if you can't wait for natural seasoning. I've had extremely good results from it, far exceeding those from microwaving which is why I only use microwaving now as part of a process to kill wood-borers (I freeze immediately after), and for wood that isn't green but is very wet. Only thing I don't like about boiling is the potential for colour change; I haven't had a chance to compare results using distilled water yet. And anyway this could be a positive as well as a negative, if you're not wedded to whatever the original colour was!
    – Graphus
    Feb 8 at 15:45

There are a number of species that are known as hornbeam, but since you're posting from Bulgaria, I will assume you have European Hornbeam (C. betulus). It's a very hard wood, and is prone to surface cracks when drying. With your small piece, and the intended use as knife scales, I would consider cutting the billet and drying the resulting small boards, rather than trying to dry the entire chunk. If you really only need to get a couple of knife handles, then to maximize the stability for drying, I would cut radial boards circa twice the thickness of the knife blanks you want, first by cutting a slice from directly through center that contains the entire pith, and then by cutting slices from the center of the remaining half circular chunks. You can continue to cut small slabs from the flats of the remaining quarters, if they are large enough.

Or, in to put it in shorter terms, quarter saw the piece.

You don't want to dry the resulting blanks too quickly, or they will likely surface check and case harden, particularly if you just air dry them. You may well get good results, though from drying them in a microwave. Just be sure to get good instructions on that technique. If you experiment with no guidance, you'll get it wrong. For wood of the thickness you'd be drying, you want to err well to the low end of the microwaving times in the instructions.

  • Yes, it's European Hornbeam and it grows as a sort of semi-shrub with multiple trunks and it's abundant in Bulgaria
    – e_asphyx
    Feb 7 at 17:00
  • Yes, good instructions on microwaving wood are important, problem is what you link to are not good instruction on how to do it :-/
    – Graphus
    Feb 7 at 18:44
  • I tried microwave and it does some magic. Pieces that already started to crack stopped doing this and cracks even closed a bit. I assume that heat makes wood fibers flexible which allows the piece to deform easily without cracking
    – e_asphyx
    Feb 10 at 11:42

I dry a lot of wood like that (many different species) for bowl turning. and I find that splitting the 'log' in half (top to bottom, like firewood) does a great job of allowing to dry reasonably quickly and reduces the cracking. by splitting it in half you are dramatically increasing the surface area for the wood to dry from, and many cracks happen because the outside layers are drying faster than the inside putting a lot of stress on the wood, this also puts the 'crack' where you want it.

For what you want it for, I'd tend to split it into quarters, and I follow any major splits or cracks already in the piece.

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