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Low Humidity and Workability of Wood

I live in Las Vegas and wondering if anyone has the same problem.  During the summer the humidity in my shop is 1-6% and it seems the wood becomes very brittle.  I use mostly Basswood for picture frames so there's not a lot of space for carving.  I've heard of "spritzing" the wood with denatured alcohol and water -- does that help carving dried wood?  I know people who have driven to coastal areas of California to purchase wood and can hear it cracking in the back of their van on the trip back to the desert!!  Any suggestions appreciated -- John

Hi John,

Wow - that is definitely not an issue I have had to deal with here in South Carolina. It may be the specific piece of wood itself, as occasionally basswood is brittle. I would be interested in knowing if it is actually the moisture content in the wood, or the source of the wood itself. I have heard of people soaking oak to make it easier to carve, but if you soak basswood my first concern would be it warping. Try just spritzing it with water and let me know. I'm curious now!

I have the similar problem, only year around 🙂 I tried to spray on the wood the mix of water and isopropyl alcohol, it has little effect on the carving - the mix wets only surface, carving goes deeper.  I put the piece of wood what I am going to carve for the several days in the metal box (from cookies 🙂 ) with a couple small glasses of water and store this piece of wood there between carving. I found it is easier to carve now. In several weeks some mold can grow there 🙂 I had it once, but I was using a terrarium with plants 🙂

Someone suggested to put under the wood a wet sponge for several hours or putting it on the morning grass (when there is some dew) - did not try it.

I can definitely relate to your struggle! I live in a desert area as well, and the low humidity during the summer can wreak havoc on wood. I've experienced similar issues with brittle wood and difficulty carving, especially with delicate materials like Basswood.

Spritzing the wood with a mixture of denatured alcohol and water can indeed help to clean. It's a common technique to reintroduce some moisture to the wood, making it more workable. Just be careful not to overdo it, as you don't want the wood to become too damp and potentially warp.

The idea of people driving to coastal areas for wood is quite interesting, and I can imagine the cracking sounds during the trip back must be nerve-wracking! It's a testament to how much of an impact humidity can have on wood.

If you're looking for more solutions, you might consider using a humidifier in your shop to maintain a slightly higher humidity level. This could help prevent excessive drying of your materials. Additionally, sealing your wood projects after carving can also help preserve their integrity.