Turning Archive 2004

Turning Apple wood

Russ Fairfield
>I recently sent an answer to an inquiry about turning Apple wood. I thought my answer might be interesting to others. The following is my answer.

My opinion is that everybody is right and everybody is wrong because Apple is a wood that can be many things to many people. Some will say it has to be turned green because large pieces will crack as they dry. Others will say that it has to be turned dry because the turned bowl will crack as it dries. Some will soak it in soap or boil it and claim that it didn't crack. Others will do the same thing and claim that it did nothing to stop cracking.

Like any other wood, you have to understand what it is, what it will do, and how to work with it. What I have learned about Apple follows:

Apple is no worse that any other fruit tree wood. They all have a grain structure that that is there to support a considerable branch and fruit load, and they all have a large sap-wood band to carry nutrients to their fruit.

All fruit woods have a higher shrinkage rate than most other hardwoods. The large sap-wood is partly the reason for this, and this means that there is a considerable movement as they dry.

In other words, these woods will want to crack as they dry, regardless of their being in log form or bowl form.

The secret to successful turning is to keep the wood as wet as possible until ready to turn. Then turn it thin and a uniform thickness so that it can dry without there being a lot of wood to resist movement.

The following is how I handle Apple and similar fruit woods.

Cracking around the pith starts within a few minutes after cutting the wood to length. It should be coated as soon as it is cut to prevent this initial cracking. Many of the cracking problems with these woods start here.

The best results will be from cutting it to as close as possible to the round bowl blank that is put in the lathe, and then coated on all sides with AnchorSeal.

The trunk of the tree is more stable than any of the wood above the first crotch. I save the trunk wood in short sections that can be used for bowls. If it is 10" or larger, I cut it in half to remove the pith. Less than 10" and I store it in the round block. I save the crotch as a whole piece if possible.

I coat all cut surfaces with Anchor Seal, both end and flat grain, and then store it in a plastic bag. I use trash compactor bags because they are stronger. This wood will still be wet when it is ready to turn.

If I can't cut it up immediately, I leave it in a long length, seal the ends, pile it on a pallet in the shade, cover it with a plastic tarp, hold it down with bricks, and plan to trim 6" off the ends when I am ready to use it.

I have never had much success with keeping wood above the 1st crotch of an orchard tree, so I cut that wood into convenient lengths, coat the ends, store it under a tarp, use what I can for turning stock, and the rest for firewood. Apple is a good cooking fire in an open pit BBQ.

I have said Anchor Seal, but 3 coats of latex paint will do as well. End sealing is also a good way to get rid of a lot of building materials - old glue, latex caulking, Liquid Nails adhesives, and similar materials.

I have never had any success with a rough turn/dry/finish turning schedule for orchard wood. I finish turn the Apple wood to final thickness (1/4), rough sand it, put it in a paper grocery bag or wrap in several layers of newspaper to slow the evaporation rate as it drys. When it is dry, I finish sand it as it is. If there is a lot of warp, this means power sanding with the lathe OFF. Small cracks are filled with CA glue and artists charcoal. I use epoxy and charcoal on larger cracks.

I don't treat other woods much different from Apple.

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