Drying a Large Butcher Block

There are ways to dry a large one-piece block without checks developing. October 20, 2005

I recently bought a nice round butcher block turned from a maple tree section, about 12 inches in radius and about 14 inches thick (cut on the end grain). I'm wondering how they made these without massive checks. I'd like to turn some but I'm afraid all the work will wind up in the boiler when the thing produces a massive check. Any ideas?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor A:
If your bought piece is a complete log section, with the pith in the center, I can only imagine that they plugged the checks with wedges as they occurred since there is no way to dry a thick disk without checking. If you want to make some round chopping blocks, I would laminate some thick dry lumber and then turn the block from that.

From the original questioner:
I've gone over this pretty well and see no wedges or fillers at all. That's why I was so amazed.

From contributor B:
It is possible that the wood was treated with polyethylene glycol; a waxy, waterborne polymer. It can be infused or absorbed into green wood, substituting for the water in the wood. After submersion in a thick PEG solution, the polymer absorbs into the wood in substitution for the water and once the wood is removed the wood is essentially de-watered but retains the original dimensions due to bulking with the PEG. It is not toxic so use in cutting boards is alright.

From contributor C:
I have owned two blocks like the one you describe. One was about 30 inches across the other about 34 inches. They puzzled me too. Both were old, turned from a solid tree section. One was around 14" thick and the other maybe 11", it had probably been used more and dressed down. Both top surfaces were tight, no cracks or wedges. One did have wedges in cracks in the bottom side, some about 3/4" thick, but nothing showed on top. What really stumped me was the cracks were in the center - they did not run to the edge. Both had decorative turned curved sides and 3 turned legs that fit in mortises in the block. To move them, you laid them on their sides, pulled out the legs and rolled the blocks.

From the original questioner:
Does anyone know how long PEG has been in use for stabilizing wood? I'm sure these blocks weren't made recently but I have no idea how to estimate when they might have been manufactured. I'd love to know when they were (or estimate when the tree was cut) so I can identify tree rings with historical events.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
PEG was developed for wood use in the 1960s. You can dry a log cross section without cracks if you put it in salt water for a while, or if you bury it for a while, or if you bore out the center, or if you bury it in a pile of manure. I do know that such butcher tables were common in Europe and they do not have any checks or cracks, but I do not know how they are dried. It probably is a softer wood, which will help somewhat.