Drying Apple Wood

Advice on how to saw and dry a big old Apple tree trunk. May 10, 2007

I've got a cooking apple tree that came down recently. It's at least 50 years old and the trunk is around 24" diameter. I would like to mill it but I dont know if/how long to dry it. It already seems quite dry as it was grown on sandstone in the UK. I also dont know how to measure the % moisture in the wood.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor J:
It is valued by wood turners. If it was mine to work with then I would prepare it for turning. Not so sure about cabinet makers - it's not a commercially sawn wood, so finding the proper outlet for it might be difficult.

From contributor T:
General rule of thumb is air dry one year per one inch thick. I recommend air drying for one year spaced with 1"x1" stickers every 16". Then find and send the wood to a local kiln. The fee will be worth it because apple is valuable on specialty markets.

To measure the moisture content of wood I dry I use a Wagner MC220. If using a pinless moisture meter like this, plug the specific gravity (SG) into 0.64. This applies to three apples that grow in North America: Apple Crab (Malus Pumila), Sweet Crab (Malus Coronaria), or Common Apple (Malus Sylvestis).

I imagine the diameter of your apple makes it one of the species listed above, but Im not sure. I recommend (not knowing your final use) sawing but logs into cabinet grade (4/4+1/8 or 5/4) and flitching the top logs into 8/4, and maybe a piece of 16/4, which leaves table tops, and table legs as options.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:

Because of the grain, I suggest that you "grade" saw it (also called "saw it around"). You would be best served by cutting 4/4 as it will dry better and if someone needs thicker stock, they can glue it. The problem we have with cutting thicker is that you are likely to get one face of a piece of lumber looking real good, but the back side looking poor.

Generally, 4/4 apple should not be air-dried for more than 45 days. In face, it is best if you could try it under a shelter, but the shelter must be open to the breezes. Keeping the rain off is very important for apple. Also, you must weight the pile (6" of concrete would not be too much), as the wood likes to warp.

From contributor D:
All of the apple I've cut came from trees of a similar age. I think apple goes senile when it gets about 50 years or so. The trees I've cut were mostly orchard grown, so the trunks were quite short. I only had finished wood in the 4-5 feet range - max.

The Doc's right in that it warps badly, and has a shaky heart to boot. I therefore cut to 5/4 in order that I'd have plenty of material to get 4/4 or 3/4", whichever was doable from a given board. I also cut a good deal of 6/4 X 6/4 for the turners. The Doc's also correct in the need for good airflow through the stack, especially early in the drying process as this wood will fungus-up quickly. The heart is darker then the outer wood in all the orchard wood I've cut. I'm curious if all apple is like this. Let us know how yours comes out.

From contributor T:
Gene, I don't understand this: Generally, 4/4 apple should not be air-dried for more than 45 days. Do you mean it should go to a kiln afterwards? Why air dry for such a short period of time?

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
After 45 days of warm weather, the wood is nearly as dry as it is going to get. Exposure of this dry wood to rain will damage the color and create cracks or make cracks worse. The old adage of 1 year per inch of thickness or similar is not technically correct and should not be used or repeated.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all your advice. It is a Bramley apple (native to UK). The heart is dark to answer Contributor Ds question. The bigger bits are currently under tarps with plenty of ventilation. The smaller stuff is in a shed - one piece already has fungus growing even though it only came down a couple of months ago. I'll probably get the bigger stuff milled and leave most of the small for turning, although I am still unsure if it needs kiln drying first.