What to do about old splitting lumber

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Forum topic by swied posted 04-09-2008 12:45 AM 2502 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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74 posts in 4680 days

04-09-2008 12:45 AM

My Dad has about 80 board feet of old growth Philippine mahogany in his garage. He inherited the wood from my grandfather, who died in 1970. Basically, it is pretty old wood. He said that I can have the wood to use on my projects. I inspected the lot and noticed that most of the boards were splitting at the ends. Is there a good way to recondition this wood? Should I cut it to size, and then inject epoxy glue into the cracks? Should I fix the cracks before cutting? Any help you can give me would be appreciated.

-- Scott, San Diego

8 replies so far

View Earle Wright's profile

Earle Wright

121 posts in 4638 days

#1 posted 04-09-2008 12:57 AM

The splitting at the ends, also known as ‘checking’, is the result of the ends of the boards drying more quickly than the parts further in resulting in non-uniform stresses that have to be relieved. When prepared properly, freshly-cut lumber is coated on the ends with any substance (wax, for instance) that will retard the drying out the end of the boards.

Probably your best use of time and energy is to cut the boards off a few inches beyond the checking, and dedicate the split offcuts to smaller work such as boxes.

Another thing you should watch out for is any ‘cupping’ in the boards with splits. Sometimes, when you run those boards through the planer, the pressure of the planer rollers can propagate the split the full length of the board.

In the case of a spectacular wood specimen that you really don’t want to cut off, you can join the split halves with the artistic application of a butterfly dovetail and view the split as a ‘feature’.

Any way you look at it, though, free wood is good wood!

Hope this helps.

-- Earle Wright, Lenoir City, Tennessee

View swied's profile


74 posts in 4680 days

#2 posted 04-09-2008 01:26 AM

Thanks Earle. I actually already did what you mentioned, and cut off the first few inches from one of the boards. I resawed the piece and made it into a triple picture frame (I’ll post a project with pictures soon). Everything looked nice until I applied some Watco Danish Oil to it. I think the oil caused the thirsty fibers to swell, and expanded a previously invisible crack. The crack spread about four inches down the piece, which is twenty inches long. I was thinking about adding one of those butterfly dovetails, but I have no idea how they work. Can you or someone else please explain this procedure (or provide a good link)?


-- Scott, San Diego

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4906 days

#3 posted 04-09-2008 01:30 AM

There is no reason why you can’t try to glue the checks. Try clamping and see if that will close the gap.
If so glue it.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Earle Wright's profile

Earle Wright

121 posts in 4638 days

#4 posted 04-09-2008 01:32 AM

Try this link from Fine Woodworking. There are others, as well.

-- Earle Wright, Lenoir City, Tennessee

View frank's profile


1492 posts in 5124 days

#5 posted 04-09-2008 02:57 AM

Hello sweid;
....what I’m wondering first of all is where do you or maybe a better question to ask is….how is this wood being stored? Temperatures and climate, will effect ‘how that wood is going to move’. I have seen in my experience a lot of wood movement….and this very often happens when changing location of the wood. Since I also make wooden tables and benches that are sold, I must also concern myself with what will happen after that piece of wood leaves my workshop and arrives at a new location (home). There’s not much profit in having a piece go to a new location and then the wood starts moving and checking.

I also often visit estate sales, which is a great way of picking up wood that has been stored over many years in barns and workshops. And then after moving the wood to my location in my barn, there is further movement and checking of the wood, which really means that the wood needs to start adjusting all over again. So usually I expect and watch for checking of the wood.

From my experience, wood that is checking, will still check some more even after cutting the ends clean by a ‘foot’ or so, so in reality what you can expect is for the checking to possibly continue….unless you are going to stop that check with a ‘dutchman’ or ‘bowtie’ and ‘butterfly’.

I might mention that this leaves you with various solutions, (three I will mention)....and there are other ways, but the skill level will increase and since you mention that you are unfamiliar with the ‘bowtie’, I would strongly suggest you limit yourself to these three. The three ways are:

1.)—cutting off the ends by a ‘foot’ or ‘two feet’, painting the ends with an acrylic latex paint and forgetting about the wood for awhile; while the wood starts adjusting all over again….and yes, you may still get checking….

2.)—admitting that the checks are great ‘character’ and then deciding to use the ‘character’ of the wood to your advantage. This will mean learning to make the ‘dutchman’, which will only increase your woodworking skills and draw respect from those who see your work. I might add that there are many books out there on making ‘bowties’, but since your connected to the internet….you can find many and much information on how to do this by reading for free. I like making these butterfly’s by hand, but an-other easy way to learn is by router. I have also wrote a short blog story on this type of joinery, which I prefer to call by the Japanese name of Chigiritsugi….which makes for some good reading. So if I still have your attention and you want, here is the link to that article; Chigiritsugi used in Wood Joinery. Also I might mention from my experience, that if you are going to try and squeeze….clamp those ends together and glue….and if you are successful in this….when that wood decides to move, the wood will win and overcome any glue…..

3.)—then there is the possibility of using ‘breadboard ends’, however this will be one I will leave you to explore and requires more skill….

Just some thoughts here from one who has worked with checks in the ends of wood over time and has found a love for those checks….still this is only my ‘two cents’ worth of opinion and so….

Thank you.

-- --frank, NH,

View Pretzel's profile


93 posts in 4663 days

#6 posted 04-09-2008 06:48 AM

check out what Dadoo used to fill cracks

-- Pretzel L8agn

View John Ormsby's profile

John Ormsby

1288 posts in 4655 days

#7 posted 04-09-2008 07:21 AM

cut the ends a bit and then put on a product called anchorseal . It will seal the ends and keep the ends of the boards from absorbing or drying faster or slower than the rest of the board. You could also paint the ends with a couple of coats of latex paint. Or wax the ends. The point is that the ends must be sealed. John

-- Oldworld, Fair Oaks, Ca

View swied's profile


74 posts in 4680 days

#8 posted 04-13-2008 05:23 AM

Thanks to everyone for your help. Frank, I enjoyed your description of the Chigiritsugi. I want to go buy a chisel now, and practice. I ended up just finishing over the check in the end of my picture frame project. It is so small you wouldn’t see it unless you knew to look for it. Hopefully, it won’t get too much worse over time.

I just posted some pictures of my first project using this batch of wood.

-- Scott, San Diego

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