Whether to Use Reclaimed Pickle-Vat Lumber for Stickers

An interesting discussion on the properties of old-growth lumber that has been used in a vat for brining pickles. June 13, 2014

I have inherited some cypress lumber that I intend to make into stacking sticks. This lumber came out of Heinz Company pickle vats and still smells of vinegar. This lumber had been dried to 12%. I'll be drying it down to 6-8 %. Will it be ok to use this lumber as stacking sticks for ask and hickory?

Forum Responses
(Commercial Kiln Drying Forum)
From contributor G:
I would think that the lumber, having been soaked in vinegar, might cause adverse effects as stickers for green lumber. This is only my opinion. I wouldn't use it for that purpose until I had the opinion of a professional.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
I think that the high salt content will transfer a little salt to the wood being dried and will affect finishing eventually and may actually affect other properties. I do know that salt dried lumber has different properties and such wood can actually sweat when the RH is high. I do not know for certain, but my advice is that stickers are not the best product to make from this wood.

From contributor C:
I re-sawed a bunch of pickle vat lumber from Paramonts Louisville plant. The lumber was beautiful and planed nice. The owner took it home and stickered it. A year later he brought some back to have planed. Where the stickers were, there was intense buildup of salt. You could see the crystals. I would think any steel in contact would rust quickly and the salt would come out and contaminate any lumber that you would sticker with the pickle vat stickers.

From contributor T:
Why not soak the lumber in fresh water to leach out the salts/vinegar first then mill it. I'd imagine the salts/vinegar would do bad things to your mill too.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Unfortunately, leaching the salt back out is like trying to get water (moisture, spit) out of a balloon.

From contributor F:
The salt you are seeing could be some sodium salt from the process in the presence of acetic acid (vinegar), and therefore crystalize as sodium acetate. If it is highly hygroscopic (water absorbing) when the RH is high the salt will be more soluble and appear as the sweat Gene talks about. You could conceivably soak the stickers to leach out the salt but youíre relying on the concept of equilibrium. Since the salt is higher in concentration in the stickers it will dissipate into the water at some rate and refreshing the water will facilitate the transfer but all in all the economics of this exercise added to the detrimental effect of rehydrating the wood just to make stickers probably does not make sense.

Itís the same reason the stickers will probably leave stain on your lumber if it has a high MC. As the moisture moves out of the charge and hydrates the salty stickers the salt will dissolve and move from high to low concentration, then salt out again (on your lumber) when the moisture content drops. If you are just cutting it up and it is 12%MC and you sticker lumber that is around 12%MC you probably won't see any problems, but who wants to take a chance?

From the original questioner:
I decided to do a little experimenting and I just got in from buying and then sticking a little hickory and ash from a large commercial sawmill fairly close by. The lumber was cut yesterday and today. I used the pickle wood sticks and covered the little pile and left for a while. I am embarrassed to say that the possibility of problems arising from using the pickle wood didn't occur to me until I had made 4000-4500 sticks out of the leftover scraps. I was happy to get these sticks with only two or three days of my labor involved.

From contributor V:
About 25 years ago I floored my front porch with old pickle vat lumber. Itís still there and still rock solid, although I have to re-nail it every once in a while.

From contributor Z:
To contributor V: Did you paint your wood on the porch. I'd think tracking salt into the house could be a concern?

From contributor C:
The person I re-sawed and planed the lumber for was using it for a deck also. The wood was some of the most beautiful that I have ever sawn. The grain was very tight. The old growth cypress must have been 400 to 500 years old. There may be some old water tanks out there made from old growth cypress. I wonder if they would re-saw with such beauty.

From contributor V:
We paint it ever five years or so. I can't tell there is any salt in it, except that we have to re-nail every so often. It does have a roof over it and only gets wet from blown in rain and such.

From contributor D:
I live a couple of miles from Heinz' pickle factory, and we've seen the lumber from the vats show up fairly often. Thirty years ago we turned about a thousand spindles from the wood and the whole shop smelled like an open pickle jar. The wood usually gets used for outdoor projects, because it will never rot. The city of Holland, Michigan is planning to build 500 feet of boardwalk along the lake below the pickle factory using the pickled wood. You may not find much of this wood in a couple of years. All the new vats are made of plastic.

From contributor A:
I use to work for a wood water tank manufacturer and occasionally the company would take down an old cypress tank to replace. With water tanks you need to look at how long they have been up (weathering), and figure that the top few feet (the freeboard) will be rotted as it will not be soaked all the time. Given that, what remains sound is usually beautiful if properly dried and surface planed. The problem is most places only replace a tank when they fail - weathered on the outside, leeched on the inside.