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I was about to submerge fresh pieces of wood of various types in our barrel filled with water - to let the saps come out and after some time get good wood. These pieces will be used for small objects, kitchen utensils, carvings etc. And some outdoors elements that to become durable against rain.

But then my wife told me not to do it, because this should be done in a stream of water. Like the lumbermill nearby, they have their logs lying in their water stream for a few years and it becomes very good wood. My wife says that if I do it in our barrel, the barrel will be full of the wood saps soon and when the water isn't refreshed this will attract things like bugs and rot, etc. It sounds sensible but neither of us is an expert on soaking wood, I never did it before. Where I live (The Netherlands) This was a common practice throughout the ages but nowadays it is done rarely, which is why it's hard for me to find resources on it.

For instance I couldn't find any info on a second question I have; I remember once hearing that the best watered wood is the oak that was lying on the deepest bottom of the lakes. I remember the reason for that was that the deepest parts of the water have the least amount of oxygen in it, so the watering process takes place anaerobically. This makes the best quality wood, better than watering in undeep water.

So I was wondering: perhaps if I close the lid of the barrel airtight, the process will be anaerobic aswell? And produce better wood? I'm hoping to find some people here who have experience with soaking wood to answer my questions. I also find very little information resources online, especially in English. I don't seem to find the official phrase for this in English (in dutch it's called "gewaterd hout" but when I search in English I can only wood people who soak their wood for the BBQ grill...)

So these are my questions:

  • Is it a good idea to use a barrel to soak wood?
  • If so, is it a good idea to close the lid?
  • And how much should the water/wood ratio at least be?
  • Should I refresh the water once in a while?
  • This isn't done by anyone else, which should probably tell you all you need to know about the practice (although that's not universal it is a good clue). If you're starting with green wood (freshly cut) the process is well established, you cut to size, protect the end grain as quickly as possible with e.g. wax to slow moisture loss and then if in board form you stack the wood up 'in stick' to dry out for months or years depending on species, thickness and other factors. – Graphus Sep 23 '18 at 19:33
  • Hi Graphus, are you talking about not submerging the wood at all? Submerging does still happen and improves the wood durability a lot, I have seen studies which prove that. The reason it is done not as much as before is because it takes too much effort and time to make it commercially viable. I have no doubts about its benefits, just wanted to know whether it works in a barrel. Your statement still applies then; if no one does it, it might not be the best idea. Since people usually lay the wood in streams or lakes. However perhaps that's just because people need their barrels for other things – Hacktisch Sep 24 '18 at 8:45
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    I'm sceptical this will have any benefit at this scale, but my scepticism is basically irrelevant. You're the one who will decide either way and what have you lost if you try it out and it doesn't work as you'd hoped? A little wood, a little effort and waiting time. Go for it. In woodworking I do a few things that nobody else does AFAIK, including scraping softwoods with a kitchen knife..... I can't tell you the scorn that idea was met with when I posted about this some years ago, from guys who had of course never tried it. Point being, opinions sometimes have no weight. What works, works. – Graphus Sep 24 '18 at 13:40
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    I understand and appreciate your standpoint. And yes all knowledge once started with people who experimented. But please note that in general drowning the wood is really not an experiment. I will link a few of the many researches (which are in Dutch, sorry, since again, I don't know the English phrase for this): probos.nl/images/pdf/overig/HetWaterenVanHout.pdf - edepot.wur.nl/114117 - researchgate.net/publication/… – Hacktisch Sep 24 '18 at 14:32
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    Lumber yards in East TX soak logs to prevent borer insects fro eating them. – blacksmith37 Oct 2 '18 at 23:28
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I'm not sure this qualifies as an answer, but we might be talking about two different things here.

Mills used to float logs in their millponds to minimize splitting and checking while they were being queued up for sawing. The idea is that it suspends the drying process, and logs can be sawn green even if those logs had to wait for weeks or months after logging. Pond soaked logs decay slower in the water, but they do decay. There can be a recognizable pond-smell pong from lumber sawn from such logs, especially further away from the heartwood.

This is a bit different from the logging operations that reclaim logs from deep water low temperature and low oxygen environments. Again, the logs have been kept "green" to some extent, so they can make good lumber. There is far less decay, as well.

Once removed from the water, there still has to be a drying process, with all the usual caveats about splitting, etc.

So, it depends on why we want to soak the green lumber. Some turners like to soak walnut because they like the way it uniformly darkens the wood. (Maybe there is some advantage to softer wood for turning, as well?) I've never heard a good argument from any old-timers on why generally soaking lumber is advantageous, other than delaying drying until a more convenient time.

But as for soaking lumber in a barrel, it is going to get very smelly, even with a home-made anaerobic system. You will not get the advantages of cold deep-water logs (whatever those are). Your lumber is going to decay a bit, and you might even end up imparting an odour in the wood -- this might be an issue for things like boards, bowls, and spoons.

You might be able to minimize these downsides with running or changing water, though that sounds like an awful lot of work.

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