Ever use the "wet rag and iron trick" to close a hairline crack?

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Forum topic by barringerfurniture posted 11-23-2013 07:02 PM 1409 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View barringerfurniture's profile


224 posts in 1949 days

11-23-2013 07:02 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question cherry finishing repair split

Unfortunately I have no pics to share of the problem yet but I’ll describe the situation in detail. Any advice is much welcomed.

Just built a miniature dovetailed blanket chest out of cherry. Some of the dovetails at the corner of the chest were a bit tight and when I drove them home, I got a hairline split at one of the pins. I smooshed some glue in there and clamped it tight. Seemed to be okay and silly me, I thought it wouldn’t be too visible. Since I really liked the grain pattern on that side of the box, I decided to make it the front! I used some Watco Danish oil for finish and when it went on, that crack showed up nice and vibrant like a big dog!

So, I’m thinking of using a sewing needle to surgically remove the glue and Watco finish that is now dried, from inside the crack. Then I’ll apply a wet rag and hot iron to it, causing the wood to swell and hopefully close it up.
I wonder though if the one coat of Watco will prevent the wood from swelling.

Wood putty or filler stick would be the last resort.

I’ll post some pics Monday but in the meantime, anybody have a better idea?

-- Scott Barringer, Sacramento, CA

9 replies so far

View kdc68's profile


2692 posts in 2513 days

#1 posted 11-23-2013 07:33 PM

I’ve used an iron and a dampened rag to swell wood fibers on dinged or dented wood….works like a charm. I wonder if you’d be able to swell the crack closed, after the finish, and even if you pick it out. I wonder if you’d reacivate the glue….curious myself….will follow your post and see what the experts say

-- Measure "at least" twice and cut once

View papadan's profile


3584 posts in 3605 days

#2 posted 11-23-2013 07:37 PM

Steaming will return compressed wood (like a dent) to it’s original state. It will not expand wood from it’s original size, when it dries it will have shrunk back to normal. Maybe clean out the crack with an exacto knife and then fill the crack with a sliver of the original wood.

View bondogaposis's profile


5150 posts in 2588 days

#3 posted 11-23-2013 07:38 PM

Well, it will swell up but then shrink again as it reaches equilibrium with the ambient humidity. So I don’t think that is more than a very temporary fix. What you should have done is taken it apart and reworked the dovetails, then glued it together putting some glue in the crack as well. I think the best you can do here is to use a gap filling glue like an epoxy and then sand it flush or you can mix some sanding dust w/ hide glue for a filler instead.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5623 posts in 3949 days

#4 posted 11-23-2013 08:08 PM

Could yoy over cut the cfack and place a filler piece in as mentioned above? The swelling fromk moisture may actually make the crack worse once the fibres dry out.

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5234 posts in 2730 days

#5 posted 11-23-2013 08:19 PM

I’m willing to bet your plan will make a more noticeable spot. The cut and fill is probably what I would try.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View barringerfurniture's profile


224 posts in 1949 days

#6 posted 11-23-2013 08:40 PM

Great advice everyone! Thanks.

I didn’t think of the fact that the wet rag/iron trick probably only works for compressed wood (like a dent) and that the crack would most likely return. Thanks papadan and bondogaposis for that enlightenment! It’s really just a hairline split but it’s in a highly visible spot on a really small piece. After some more thought, I believe I’ll just use a sewing needle to remove the dried glue and finish, then fill with a cherry putty. Just not sure yet.

My overall feeling is that the more I mess with it in any way, the worse it will get. Might just have to live with it. It is a gift to family so no pressure from a business standpoint. But I was so happy with the piece overall until this crisis.

Come Monday, I’ll post pics of the whole adventure (whichever way I handle it) for you all to laugh at.

-- Scott Barringer, Sacramento, CA

View PaulDoug's profile


1710 posts in 1940 days

#7 posted 11-23-2013 09:31 PM

so could the bad spot now become the back of the box?

-- “We all die. The goal isn't to live forever; the goal is to create something that will.” - Chuck Palahniuk

View barringerfurniture's profile


224 posts in 1949 days

#8 posted 11-23-2013 10:11 PM

No PaulDoug, I wish. No turning back now. Projects basically done, bracket base and all.

-- Scott Barringer, Sacramento, CA

View barringerfurniture's profile


224 posts in 1949 days

#9 posted 11-24-2013 07:26 PM

Did some reading into the way luthiers handle splits in the tops of instruments. Seems the consensus, as well as further thoughts of my own, would indicate steaming as a bad idea. It’s clear now that by steaming, I’d essentially be trying to “create” wood that was never there to begin with, asking for trouble later. Plus, I could imagine swelling the surface of the piece beyond flush, sanding flush, then ending up with a recess later when it dries out.

Thought about cleaning out the crack, then regluing and clamping. Not sure I’d get enough pressure though and it would be awkward due to the bracket base at the bottom being offset from the top of the box itself.

At this point, I think I’ll just clean out the crack with a needle and fill with cherry putty, hoping for the best.

Really sucks because this is a very small, somewhat intricate piece and that split just bugs the heck outa me. Live and learn, Live and learn.

-- Scott Barringer, Sacramento, CA

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