I’ve learned a few things the hard way and so I thought it only fitting to share a bit of what I’ve learned here among my fellow wood enthusiasts!
Wood craftsman and wood sculptors understand the importance of starting any carving or sculpting project with wood that has been sufficiently dried or seasoned. Once dried, it becomes the perfect medium for sculptors because of its pliable and durable (yet soft) nature! Sculptors select wood based on the color, grain, its degree of workability, fiber density and the amount of resin. Identifying wood as well-seasoned for any sculpting or woodworking project requires accuracy; otherwise, we run the risk that the wood will warp, shrink, crack, stain or even split over time. Checking the MC (moisture content) of any piece of wood requires a meter that can measure with precision.
As mentioned, unseasoned or green wood can be carved, but the sculptor runs the risk of the wood changing over time. Most advanced sculptors or woodcrafters prefer hardwoods such as cherry, mahogany, oak or maple- some type of wood that exudes a beauty in color and pattern. Generally, it’s recommended that beginners start with a soft wood, one that is resinous, such as basswood, aspen or linden. Experienced wood sculptors choose these woods for detailed carving or painting. :)
Regardless of the level of woodworking experience or the type of wood chosen, working with wood that has been properly-seasoned is important. Drying wood allows it to withstand staining, and makes it less susceptible to insect infiltration. The two types of drying methods used most is air drying and kiln drying.
Air-drying Wood for Your Project
Since most kiln drying procedures requires an oven, most woodcrafters start with the process of air drying, as it is the most affordable method, provided you have the needed space. For smaller projects, a dry indoor location or somewhere out of the nature’s elements will work. In order for moisture to escape, woodcrafters need to remove the bark from their chosen wood piece. Experienced woodcarvers also recommend that the ends of the wood be sealed with shellac or melted paraffin before beginning the drying process. For any sculpture or woodworking piece, it’s important that as the wood dries to provide air circulation. It’s recommended that the wood be stacked on shelving and separated with bricks or sawhorses and, of course, it must be kept out of the rain and off the ground. For fine art wood projects such as carving, air drying is the preferred method, simply because kiln drying can remove the variations of color and pattern in the wood.
Considerations to Air Drying
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it may take anywhere from 170 to 210 days to properly air dry 2-inch thick poplar lumber to obtain the correct MC. Of course, these are just estimates. Other factors to consider when air drying include the level of humidity and the time of year. Before carving the wood, be sure to take measurements periodically.
There are tons of wood moisture meters on the market today. I like the pinless meters for accuracy and precision. I think the easier it is to use and more compact…the better. I am like many wood fanatics and find that the Wagner MMC220 “Extended Range” Moisture Meter to be great, reliable, and fancy. Here's a short video on YouTube about it.
I also hunted down a great piece of inforamtion on Drying wood!