Powder Post Beetle - Extermination in antique/vintage furniture

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Forum topic by Robert Campbell posted 09-09-2010 04:30 PM 24979 views 1 time favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Robert Campbell

3 posts in 4886 days

09-09-2010 04:30 PM

I own and operate a furniture restoration business in central Texas. I am frequently approached by furniture owners having problems with the destroying effects of Powder Post Beetle in their treasured antique/vintage furnishings, particularly items produced from airdried lumber. I have contacted numerous Pest Control business in my area, and found that they had no solution to the problem. I have tried to “Bug bomb” the problems and “think” I have had some form of success, but had to deal with damage to finishes as result of the “Bombing”. Is there… any safe, workable solution to this problem?

22 replies so far

View sras's profile


5760 posts in 4100 days

#1 posted 09-09-2010 04:44 PM

While I have not had a need to try this, I recall from somewhere (maybe here) that heat will kill off the pests. Maybe putting smaller pieces in an oven. I have planned on using this idea on raw lumber pieces. Need to think about the integrity of glues and finishes …
I’m not sure this is much help!

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View mmh's profile


3680 posts in 4693 days

#2 posted 09-09-2010 04:53 PM

Alcohol doesn’t leave a toxic residue, but may alter the finish and raise the grain. Boric acid products (Boracide) may work but you still need to use water to apply and penetrate the wood. Cedarcide is an oil that I have been using on finished pieces and evaporates without residue. It’s supposed to penetrate the wood and remove all moisture and petrify the wood in due time. It should kill any burrowed insects. You can contact them and ask any Q’s about the product. Tell them I sent you and that they really should advertise her on LJ’s, as I’ve suggested this to them earlier with no response.

Meilie Moy-Hodnett, Rockville, MD

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

View Gofor's profile


470 posts in 4758 days

#3 posted 09-10-2010 03:25 AM

Moving companies that ship overseas (like to places like Hawaii, Japan, Okinawa, etc) usually have a source where they can sterilize any wood products that face an agricultural (read that as more stringent than customs) inspection. Two methods are used, both which have the potential to damage antique furniture.

Method 1 is putting the furniture into a fumigation chamber. The chemicals may damage a finish

Method 2 is to put it into a heat kiln that will raise the internal temp of the wood to over 140 degrees for 24 hours. The temps will loosen hide glue joints, etc. ( I think the actual time for the temp is around 4 -6 hours to kill the bugs, but the wood has to be heated down to the core of the thickest piece.)

I don’t think any provide any liability for damage to the furniture.

However, beings you are in central Texas, and Tx has a lot of military bases that ship families overseas, there is probably someone not too far from you that could offer more insight. Might find someone around San Antonio, as it has the most bases, or Galveston, as it has a large shipping port.


-- Go

View Dark_Lightning's profile


4317 posts in 4080 days

#4 posted 09-10-2010 03:41 AM

OK. Powder Post Beetles need to breathe just like the rest of us. If you were to put the infested furniture in a container and pump in gaseous nitrogen, they’d be dead in short order. The rule of thumb for people is three breaths, you’re down, and without resuscitation, you’re dead. Note that just using a tight poly bag (OUTDOORS) would be good enough. You can get nitrogen from the welding shop. Or argon, it doesn’t matter, as long as it is not oxygen…well, pure oxygen would do the trick too, as us oxygen breathers need it to be in a pretty tight range for life. But under the right (or wrong, depending on how you look at it) circumstances, there could be a fire with pure oxygen, so I’d stay away from that. Since the bugs are inside the wood, you might have to leave it in the bag for an hour or so just to be sure they are dead. Ammonia or chlorine would also do it, and quicker, but I’d stay away from them, as they would almost certainly ruin the finish.

Alternatively, I’ve been hearing about orange oil for termites, where they buy the farm but you don’t. I can’t vouch for that, it’s a question for a bug person.

Then again, the bug people could put your furniture in a container and pump in Vikane, which is frequently used when tenting houses. 100% lethal in seconds. It doesn’t wreck furniture or finishes, either, or they wouldn’t be allowed to use it on homes.

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

View flyfisherbob2000's profile


81 posts in 3958 days

#5 posted 09-10-2010 04:36 AM

As a former Fumigator, I can tell you that Powder Post beatles have a very slow respitory system, and can withstand fumigants for a long time. A typical fumigation for termites, roaches and such just lasts about 24 hours, but you need at least double that for Powder Post beatles. Heat works as well, but the damage that results is usually not welcomed. Look for a fumigation contractor in your area, not a pest control company. Pest control companies usually sub out fumigation work anyway. Fumigators usually have a chamber that they can put furmiture in. You might have to wait until they have enough objects to do a fume job, or pay a premium cost to do your stuff alone.
Vikane (sulfuryl flouride) is the fumigant of choice these days, now that methyl bromide has been removed from the market. But, contrary to what AtomJack says, the Powder Post beetles need to be exposed to the gas for a long time, again as much as 48 hours. Vikane will not damage furniture, unless it is sprayed directly onto finishes, and then can do some damage due to the nature that it comes out of the cylinder at a very cold temp.

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 4683 days

#6 posted 09-10-2010 04:39 AM

I have heard where a repeating cycle of freezing and then warming the furniture up kills of the bugs. It is something like three days frozen, three days room temperature and repeat to kill any generations (eggs) that survived the previous cycle. As far as I know it doesn’t harm the glues or finishes (as long as you keep the condensation off the wood). Mind you I don’t know how often or how predictable freezing temperatures are in Texas, up here we can count on them for months at a time :-)

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View Dark_Lightning's profile


4317 posts in 4080 days

#7 posted 09-10-2010 05:03 AM

flyfisherbob2000, that’s good information. I’m kind of surprised that the length of exposure is so long for the beetles. But then, I don’t admit to being an expert. It really does seem that a suffocating gas like nitrogen or argon would do the trick, though. I guess I place my lethality estimates on humans, which won’t always work in the rest of the animal kingdom.

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

View Rj's profile


1047 posts in 4602 days

#8 posted 09-10-2010 05:43 AM

Bobinn a friend of mine (he’s also a Ljs Brian Havens) turned me on to this product called Timbor he swears by it Here’s a link … it states its for Powder Post beetles the Great thing about it is its safe to use !

-- Rj's Woodworks,San Jose & Weed Ca,

View Sawmillnc's profile


150 posts in 4025 days

#9 posted 09-11-2010 04:55 AM

If you can raise the temp to 135 for 24 hours this will kill any and all beetles and larvae. This is the minimum sterilization temp.

I do not recommend a fumigation, it will not solve your problem unless it is under vacuum and uses a lindane type substance which is toxic.

-- Kyle Edwards,, Iron Station , NC (near Charlotte)

View flyfisherbob2000's profile


81 posts in 3958 days

#10 posted 09-11-2010 06:24 AM

I suppose the final question is this? Do you intend to make this a do-it yourself kill, or find someone to do it for you?
In the heat process, remember you need to heat the beetles up, not just the air around the furniture. If you have thick pieces of wood, it may take a higher ambient temp to get the core of the wood up to a kill temp. How do you do this? Heat the piece up, hold that temp for as much as 24 hours ? Not something the average guy has the equipment or experience to do.
Same for fumigations. Over the counter bug bombs wont work for what you want. You need the speciaized fumigant to kill Powder Post beetles. Again, not something you can do at home.
Yes, of course fumigants are toxic! That is what is needed to kill the damn things!

The Timberbor sounds like it might work ok on unfinished lumber & timbers, but not of much use for furniture, especially antiques. In my opinion (with a professional background both as a furniture maker & Fumigator) fumigation is the best, safest way to go, providing it is done by qualified professionals. I have seen a lot of heat damage done from the “Bake” method. A major pest control company in Calif. uses a “Blizzard” method, but it works best on the faster resporating insects like termites, ants & such. Again, have to reduce those temps in the center of the wood.
anyway… sometimes beetle holes add to the character of old furniture & antiques…... right?

View Sawmillnc's profile


150 posts in 4025 days

#11 posted 09-12-2010 01:56 AM

Find a local kiln that uses a conventional heating system not DH and can put the whole piece in at once. My kiln could easily handle the piece on a sled and you can get it up to 135 in one day. It may cost you a 100 bucks or so.

-- Kyle Edwards,, Iron Station , NC (near Charlotte)

View flyfisherbob2000's profile


81 posts in 3958 days

#12 posted 09-12-2010 07:22 AM

Sawmillnc…... you need to check up on the heat sysyems that are suggested for heat treating antiques. They suggest a warm moist heating system so as not to dry out the wood. Correct me if I am wrong, but isnt the purpose of a drying kiln to do just that, dry out wood with heat? Finding someone that uses the proper type of heating chamber is difficult:

There are a lot of suggestions here, so a smart man will check the options himself, weight the pros & cons.
Here is one more article in support of fumigation over heat:

Some places to contact about fumigations in your area:

View Stephen's profile


44 posts in 3816 days

#13 posted 09-12-2010 07:34 AM

A friend showed me this trick. He used a hypodermic needle and injected mineral spirits deep into their holes. He had real good success from that and so have I all tho I just really soaked em down good with the ms. My projects came out bug free.

-- Loving it in Tucson .... Stephen

View Robert Campbell's profile

Robert Campbell

3 posts in 4886 days

#14 posted 09-12-2010 04:12 PM

Thank you all for your response, and input. The suggestions were wide and varied in how to resolve the problem. The most frequently suggested method of climente control (freezing or heating the piece) is not available in my area in that there is no business with facilities, willing to offer their facilities for this purpose. I have approached a couple of business that would be able to take on the task, but all cite liability problems and too, would not warranty their services for this purpose. The next methods, using chemicals that were suggested, seem to be the most economical approach, but again, none of the suppliers have responded to my requests for information. The simplest process suggested, (injecting mineral spirits into the worm holes may resolve the problem, but there were no other users of this method to evaluate the results. Seems, everyone has a suggestion, and I’m sure each of you have either had some form of success in the manner in which you all approached the problem. I will continue to seek remedy for the problem, and again, I thank each and all of you for your response and input. Bob

View Sawmillnc's profile


150 posts in 4025 days

#15 posted 09-13-2010 10:40 PM

@ Fllyfisherbob That is one opinion regarding how to dry wood in antiques. Steamy moist air will almost certainly destroy the finish and glue joints in a valuable piece of furniture.

The vikane versus heat treatment slide is full of misinformation regarding the negatives and is flat out wrong on several bullet points especially regarding insects will adapt to temperature. They won’t. I have been kiln drying lumber for 10 years and none survive.

There is a difference between warm moist air and the temperatures needed to kill insects. 135 F is considered hot and the minimally acceptable temperature to kill boring insects in wood. The combination of the heat and dry air is what kills the insects.

HOT Dry air for 1-2 days will cause no damage to a furniture piece. If you are concerned with RH in the kiln chamber it is a simple enough task to add a bucket or container of water to a conventional kiln chamber. The evaporative effect will add enough moisture for the time frame the piece is in the chamber.

-- Kyle Edwards,, Iron Station , NC (near Charlotte)

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