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About 2 months ago my grandparents cut down 80% of an old cherry tree (topped it). There were some big branches/thin trunks that ended up in their massive compost piles (my grandad like his compost piles...) I might also end up with a bit of pear wood as well depending on if they still want to top their pear trees or not (and the branch sizes)- would there be a huge difference in how I should treat the wood between cherry/pear?

I was thinking about grabbing some of the thicker branches (~4"-6" diameter) and attempting to work them into an end grain cutting board/butcher block.

I've read about branches having internal stresses and twisting/warping. Is this a problem if they are cut into small cubes as appropriate for an end grain cutting board?

Since the pieces will be small pre-glue, do I still need to let the wood cure for ~1yr? (I've read that green wood should be cured?) If so, should I leave it in long square sticks to cure, should I just leave it sitting in the compost pile for a year or should I cut it to cubes and then leave it to cure for a while?

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I've read about branches having internal stresses and twisting/warping.

The main reason not to use wood from branches normally is that it's full of reaction wood, wood that has internal stress from its original orientation of the branch where it was under stress, supporting the weight of the branch and its foliage. When the branch is sawn into planks the release of this stress can lead to very bad warping.

Note: this is not to say you shouldn't try to use branch wood. There is much fine wood wasted because it was originally in a branch, but you'll never be sure how much it might warp. However confine yourself to smaller pieces and work in stages to your final dimensions and often you'll have few problems.

would there be a huge difference in how I should treat the wood between cherry/pear?

No I don't believe so. I think you can treat most hardwoods and fruitwoods equally when it comes to drying out pieces like this and get approximately the same results.

Is this a problem if they are cut into small cubes as appropriate for an end grain cutting board?

I don't think so:

Branch end-grain wood uses

But obviously make sure the wood is fully dry (or seasoned) before you use it.

Since the pieces will be small pre-glue, do I still need to let the wood cure for ~1yr? (I've read that green wood should be cured?) If so, should I leave it in long square sticks to cure, should I just leave it sitting in the compost pile for a year or should I cut it to cubes and then leave it to cure for a while?

Definitely don't leave it in a compost pile! Leave the pieces as-is (I think this is referred to as "in stick") to dry before dimensioning and glueing. They can be dried outdoors (off the ground and under cover) or in an airy space indoors (e.g. a well-ventilated garage or covered porch).

As for how long to wait, there is a rough rule of thumb about drying green wood given out a lot online, saying to allow one year per inch of thickness. While this is for hardwoods specifically (a detail often left out when the phrase is repeated) and obviously will vary somewhat even among hardwood species it is a good conservative timescale to have in your head for any drying.

Further to this I would say myself, wait as long as possible. It's almost never a bad thing to wait longer when drying wood compared to doing the opposite — in normal circumstances wood can't be over-dried, but it can most definitely be under-dried!


For future reference if you get a chance to acquire wood like this, you want to cut it up into the pieces you'll be drying and immediately coat the end grain with something to protect from cracking. Don't be complacent and wait until the following day or later in the week, you can start to get cracks forming in just that little time. The goal is to prevent the formation of cracks entirely, not halt them spreading.

The best thing to use for sealing end grain for the DIYer is melted wax, which should be applied liberally. Any solid wax will do, from canning wax to virgin beeswax to random bits of old candles.

Don't rely on "latex" paint for this. Despite how frequently it's recommended online for this purpose it's a bad choice as it's a terrible water barrier. The only reason to use this type of paint would be if you literally had nothing else on hand that would do the job better. In the absence of wax things that would work better than "latex" paint include enamel paint and varnish, both of which have good water-resistance. But they must be applied very thickly for best results so multiple coats may be required.

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    Sounds like this is a good project to start (gather wood) and then forget about for a year! XD Conveniently, my grandparents also have an area that is undercover and pretty much unused so I can probably stack the branches there. – BunnyKnitter Aug 19 '16 at 16:33
  • Thanks in particular for the comments re sealing end grain. Stuff from stores always just seemed painted, but I presume that's just origin marking? – keshlam Aug 19 '16 at 18:36
  • @SnyperBunny, yes definitely patience is the order of the day from wood collected from a freshly downed tree. And the good news is you usually do forget about it once it's stacked up out of the way :-) – Graphus Aug 20 '16 at 6:15
  • @keshlam, I'm not 100% about why they paint the end grain on dimensional lumber. The intent could be partly to prevent moisture loss and gain but it might be for identification only. If it is partly for the former then it's a very poor choice, if you look at wood blanks for turning which are invariably better quality it will always/nearly always be wax you'll find on the end grain. – Graphus Aug 20 '16 at 6:21
  • At my local big-box hardware store, @SnyperBunny, I usually find "specialty" pieces (like dowels, small squares, trim pieces, etc) with a painted end. It appears this is usually used to identify to dimensions - red = 1/4", blue = 1/8", yellow = 3/8", etc. I've never really noticed it on dimensioned lumber before. /2¢ worth – FreeMan Aug 25 '16 at 18:46
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Interesting idea; it never occurred to me. I have a few narrow branches that I thought weren't going to be usable for much more than veneer, but using your approach if I can get a few 1"x1" cross-section sticks out of them I might be able to reassemble them into something more useful.

Yes, you want to let the wood dry --and mostly settle into its final shape -- before gluing it back together. Rule of thumb for unforced drying in a workshop environment is a year per inch of thickness if the wood; you can get a more precise measurement with a lignometer (wood moisture meter).

Wood may check (split) as it dries; the trick to limiting that is to seal the end grain (varnish will work; answered better elsewhere) so the ends lose moisture at the same rate as the rest of the board/stick.

Usual practice for woodworking other is to cut the green wood down to something a bit larger than you expect to eventually need, sticker it (stack it with lots of airflow) and let it dry (faster for a bunch of 1" boards than for a 12" hunk of trunk), then straighten the resulting pieces if they moved (jointing and planing and trimming -- which is why you want to start somewhat oversize) before cutting down to the sizes your project actually needs.

(Wood turning is the main exception; turners sometimes work with green wood and let the warping than can occur as it dries out be part of the process.)

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  • My grandparents have chopped down some massive trees before and may do so in the future... In a case such as a big tree trunk cut to thick planks with a chain-saw, would I need to be coating the ends with something still as the whole 'board' would be raw wood in that case? – BunnyKnitter Aug 19 '16 at 16:44
  • Yes, you would still want to seal the ends, to keep them from losing moisture faster (due to the tree's vascular structure) than the rest does. Re cutting trunks into planks, there are chainsaw mills which can do this fairly safely; I wouldn't try it with a handheld chainsaw. (Fancier portable mills use bandsaws, which make a thinner kerf and don't waste as much wood. It is possible, though awkward, to set up a shop bandsaw as a lumber milling system if it can handle the necessary size cuts; the problem is lifting the log into place and safely guiding it past the blade in a straight line.) – keshlam Aug 19 '16 at 18:45

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