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I want to turn a large western cedar tree round into a low table for a covered outdoor area.

My tree round is from a 100-ish year old western cedar tree that a neighbor recently cut down. It's big, hard to move and freshly cut, a month ago. It's roughly 4 feet in diameter and around a foot thick.

Is there some way that I can prevent it from checking/cracking. Probably more realistically, are there ways that I can limit the cracking as it dries?

How long must it dry before I can put a finish on the top?

I don't need to keep the bark.

Large Cedar Tree Round

Related Question... and Original Post too long...

  • I can't give you an official answer, but the usual rule of thumb is to allow a year of drying for each inch of thickness before you can trust that it's reasonably stable, and that to reduce risk of checking you want it to dry evenly. With a log you could seal the cut ends to keep them from drying faster... I have no idea what proper procedure is for a large round or slab. – keshlam Jul 28 '15 at 16:51
  • Personally I have never heard of it called checking. I'm used to splitting or cracking. I don't mean for anything to change. Just mentioning it. – Matt Jul 28 '15 at 17:32
  • possible duplicate of How can I tell if my green wood is dry enough? – Matt Jul 28 '15 at 17:33
  • @Matt, I believe this Question is sufficiently distinct from your link to not be considered a duplicate. Also, since this is more a question of reducing checking/cracking and not whether the piece is dry enough to use. – grfrazee Jul 28 '15 at 21:01
  • Hi DavidC, I've added a pictoral description of shrinkage that hopefully helps. – grfrazee Jul 29 '15 at 1:43
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To repost and add to my response to your previous question:

You will likely not be able to prevent checking and cracking of this piece as it dries. You have different rates of shrinkage depending on the direction of the grain, and with the cut being kept essentially in it's original configuration (i.e., a section cut from the whole tree), it will want to crack and check like every piece of non-split firewood you've ever seen. Additionally, due to the thickness of the material, you will likely have an exterior layer that dries much sooner than the interior, further exacerbating the checking/cracking issue.

As @keshlam mentions in his comment, the rule of thumb is one year per inch of thickness for drying wood. This is a rough approximation and depends on a lot of factors (species, local climate, how the piece is stored to be dried, thickness, grain orientation, among others). There are quite a few Lost Art Press blog entries on the subject of drying of monolithic workbench pieces you might find of interest (see also this google search for more on the subject from LAP).

In your original post you mentioned cutting out the rot in the center of the log, which I would like to address here as well as it pertains to drying. Removing the rot will not only help keep the rest of the log rotting along with it in time, but it will also help with cracking in that you won't have the center pith. By removing this, you will allow the outer portions of the log to shrink in with less inhibition, thereby (hopefully) alleviating some cracking. Also, assuming you remove the center, I would refrain from jamming another piece of wood in the open space for fear of increasing the log's likelihood of cracking.

However, once the piece has had time to dry and season, you can stabilize the cracks with butterfly keys or epoxy, to name a couple options. Given the thickness of your piece, you may be waiting a while before being able to do this.

Edit: I've included an excerpt below from Roy Underhill's book The Woodwright's Guide: Working Wood with Wedge & Edge to pictorially show how shrinkage occurs in a whole log.

enter image description here

  • The conclusion is that I am going to have cracking. There may be ways to limit this by slowing the drying with a coating of a water-based wax emulsion product, like Anchorseal / Henry's or alternately a rubberized leak stopper roof sealant. It might also be best to leave the middle section not coated while trying to slow drying in the the outside 2/3 or so of the round. – DavidC Jul 29 '15 at 17:07
  • this answer's structure is confusing. I believe it refers to this post here (closed). At first, it would seem that cracking can't be avoided. And then later on we learn about butterfly keys, wax compounds, and slow acclimatization -- which all sound like potential solutions to me. Wax, in particular, is "painted" in lumber yards on the end of boards for precisely that reason, no? – ww_init_js Mar 19 '18 at 20:37

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