Sweetgum checking like crazy, butterflies?

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Forum topic by garlandkr posted 02-14-2016 05:08 PM 524 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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57 posts in 928 days

02-14-2016 05:08 PM

So I bought this piece a few months ago and did some cleaning up on it then left it in the shop. I let it sit and go through the weather changes and I’m regretting that now.

My initial plan was to epoxy it all and throw some metal legs on it. Now that the checking is so deep I’m worried it is just going to keep splitting. Should I put some butterfly keys on it? I’m hesitant as I haven’t done that before.

I checked (no pun intended) the depth of these with a feeler gauge, about 1/2”.

There are a few spots on the edge with really thin cracks like this which appeared as recent as this weekend.

These were the initial checks on the edge which have grown.

7 replies so far

View crank49's profile


3979 posts in 2395 days

#1 posted 02-15-2016 12:49 AM

I don’t know if what you call sweet gum is the same as what I call sweet gum. It seems different trees around the country have the same name locally.
I had a farm for the last 37 years with about 40 acres of woods. Probably half the trees in my woods were sweet gum. A pretty useless tree as far as I ever knew. Very unstable when cut. Warps and twists and checks very badly. Hard as hell to split and too sappy when green and too light when dry to even be decent firewood. Dropped annoying seed pods all aver the yard and clogged up my gutters all the time.
Your sweet gum might be a different species of tree than the one I speak of, but judging from the photo you posted, with the warpage going on, I don’t think so. I wouldn’t waste my time on it.

-- Michael: Hillary has a long list of accomplishments, though most DAs would refer to them as felonies.

View rwe2156's profile


2126 posts in 904 days

#2 posted 02-15-2016 02:58 PM

I remember (almost 40 years ago) one of the professors said he had a sweet gum tree he wanted split up into firewood. I needed the money.

He was from California and this is Florida.

First blow the the axe is bounced off the wood and almost hit me in the face. Gotta be one of the most knarly wood I’ve seen live oak is right up there with it.

So I agree with crank this is probably the same stuff (where are you located).

My only thought is to flood it with epoxy but I think its still going to keep cracking.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View garlandkr's profile


57 posts in 928 days

#3 posted 02-15-2016 04:00 PM

I’m in New York. The grain in this wood is all over the place and there are so many interesting things going on. Streaks of colors here and there, spalting, etc. Very difficult to work with, feels like it’s nothing but sapwood to be honest. The one side which I didn’t show a picture of appears to have a bit of the heartwood in it. I’ll post a photo now of that.

View Randy_ATX's profile


835 posts in 1866 days

#4 posted 02-15-2016 06:04 PM

I’d check the moisture content of it as it likely is still drying. Was it kiln dried when you got it?
You may need to leave this slab sit for a while before it’s done doing what “wet” slabs do.

-- Randy -- Austin, TX by way of Northwest (Woodville), OH

View TheFridge's profile


5682 posts in 910 days

#5 posted 02-15-2016 06:18 PM

Good luck. Sweet gum is notorious for checking and movement while drying and in service. Know a guy a guy that turns it green and still loses most of his bowls to checking.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View garlandkr's profile


57 posts in 928 days

#6 posted 02-15-2016 08:00 PM

I d check the moisture content of it as it likely is still drying. Was it kiln dried when you got it?
You may need to leave this slab sit for a while before it s done doing what “wet” slabs do.

- Randy_ATX

It was kiln dried, I don’t have a moisture meter to keep tabs on it. This project is making me want to get one to check when boards have acclimated to my shop/house with accuracy.

View JBrow's profile


754 posts in 344 days

#7 posted 02-16-2016 02:23 AM


A method I employ to cosmetically address checking and other surface defects is to mix my own wood filler. It is not a structure repair, since the glue used in the process does not penetrate deep enough into the defect to be structural. When the unstained wood is varnished with clear polyurethane (the varnish I normally use), the filled areas are a different color than the surrounding wood, generally darker (with standard PVA woodworker’s glue). Since I use sanding dust from the wood in which I am repairing, the finished repair compliments the color of the project. I have used two variations.

The method begins by applying a small amount of wood glue to the defect. Press the glue into the defect as deep as possible and limit glue on the surrounding surface. Put a bit of wood dust over the glue and press and rub the wood dust into the glue in the defect. Lightly sand to expose the defect after the glue is dry. Then repeat the process. I have found that at least two applications are required (sometimes more).

A variation of this method is to mix wood glue with wood dust to form a paste a little thicker than the consistency of toothpaste. The paste sets up within a few minutes, so mixing small batches and working quickly are good ideas. Press wood glue as deeply as possible into the defect. Then press and rub the wood paste into the defect. Two or more applications are usually required. The repair must cure before a subsequent application. This variation is probably best when the defect is large.

Once the defect is filled, sand it flush.

If interested in this method, I recommend first using it on scrap to ensure you like the look once finished is applied.

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