Microwave Your Wood

In addition to putting in several outlets and bashing holes in the drywall in my new shop I also spent some time microwaving a piece of wood.  Really.

I’m late finishing a birthday present for my brother.  I turned a pepper grinder for him almost two weeks ago, and realized the exotic wood blank I’d picked up at the local woodcraft store was soaking wet.  I mean, it turned really nicely, but there was no way I could fill it with peppercorns and expect anything other than mold.  Not cool.

I let it sit for a week, thinking it would dry pretty quickly, but I was deluding myself.  So this weekend I googled “microwave wood drying” and found several articles claiming it worked pretty well.  Shoot, if it’s on the internet, it has to be true.

Microwave on High, Season to Taste

Microwave on High, Season to Taste

I started by putting both parts of the pepper grinder (already turned to shape) in a large ziploc bag and zapped them for two minutes on high.  At 1:30 the bag was puffing up with steam, so I stopped the timer.  I took the parts out of the bag, dried them off and let them cool for 15 minutes.  I checked them, no cracks or problems.  So I repeated the process in the bag for 1:30, then let it cool outside of the bag for 15 minutes.  After a few cycles I ditched the bag, it was a good crutch to get a sense of how much to cook the parts at a time, but I don’t think it helped after that.

I probably cycled the parts like this 20 times over the weekend.  By the last cycle the part was noticeably lighter, and no visible steam was coming off.  A scale and or moisture meter would help to know where you were in the process, but my only goal was to get the part dry so I could finish it.

Tonight after work I chucked it up in the lathe again and re-turned it.  There was enough warping that the junction between the top and the body wasn’t smooth anymore.  It was probably 1/16 out of round too from drying.  And I got dust from turning instead of big wet curls.

Re-Turning

Re-Turning

I sanded from 150 to 600 on the lathe, then hand sanded with 1,000 off the lathe, with the grain.  One coat of oil-wax finish and it’s set aside to dry.  I expect I’ll put the hardware in tomorrow and then apply another couple of coats of finish.  The wood was labeled “Orange Agate”, it has a nice color and I think it will take a nice finish.

Nearly Finished

Nearly Finished

 

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