Holly - my experience *PIC*
Response To:
Holly ()

John K Jordan
>>>How much of a pith does Holly have? Is it likely to crack as it dries, like Maple? A friend just brought me two large trunk pieces of Holly and I'm unsure about how to cut and dry them. Any advice is appreciated.

Jerry, I love to use holly and have sawn and dried a fair amount. I am no expert but here are some things I've learned:

- As mentioned, Holly is known to stain and turn ugly but can be bleached. It is notoriously difficult to dry. To keep it white the experts (Gene Wengert, etc) recommend cutting the tree ONLY in the dead of winter when it is dormant, processing into boards/blanks, and drying. The holly I've cut in winter and sealed well with anchorseal has dried white. That I've cut at any other time of the year has turned ugly grey/greenish grey. Wengert also recommends drying fast which means a kiln but all mine is air dried.

- A gentleman on another forum chronicled his extensive chemical experiments to try to keep holly cut in warm weather from staining. None were successful.

- Holly is also notoriously unstable as it dries. I've had turning blanks crack down sides when cut a little too close to the pith. I've had longer pieces cut close to and at an angle to the pith cup, bow, and twist in "exciting" ways. (The angle and proximity to the pith almost predicts the type and amount of distortion.) How close is too close? Good question - probably depends on the size of the log as well as the differences in individual trees.

- I find blanks cut from larger holly trees are far easier to dry successfully than those from smaller diameter. The biggest reason is probably the blanks can be cut from the outer parts of the log where the T/R shrinkage across the blank is more uniform within the blank. Quartersawn boards or face turning blanks of course warp far less. I've successfully dried some fairly large square and rectangular blanks (some 3-4" thick, up to maybe 8" wide) cut from 18-20+" rounds. These, of course, take a while to dry - my largest have been air drying indoors for around 10 years. (The hardest thing is finding holly that big!!)

- When I cut blanks (such as spindle squares), as well as sealing the end grain I also wax the side or sides closest to the pith. This seems to help somewhat. If I fail to do this the holly sometimes has cracks in a day or two. I do the same for dogwood, another wood unstable until dry.

- You can find pure white holly at times for sale but it is expensive and not easy to find. A guy I know used to order it to use on his rose engine.

- Holly doesn't spalt worth a hoot. Well, it spalts OK but the times I've tried I've never gotten the black zone lines we look for, just the indistinct blotchy colored areas from the true fungal spalting. Maybe the fungii in holly just play too well together!

- When I process holly for turning I cut, wax, partially dry (most of the warping seems to happen within the first few months), then put back on the bandsaw and trim square, then re-wax the end grain. This lets me see if it stayed white and mark or remove any defects. In my experience if it's white then it will stay white.

Maybe of interest: http://www.wood-database.com/holly/ He mentions holly has a lot of knots which may compound drying problems since each has it's own pith, but I've been lucky I guess to mostly get clear holly.

When I do get beautifully white holly I guard it selfishly! Maybe I should get a shop safe... :)

I love holly for spindle turning:


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Holly - my experience *PIC*
warped Holly *PIC*
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