Is this the powder post beetle?!?!?!? Should I be concerned?

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Forum topic by jtm posted 03-23-2014 07:27 AM 3306 views 0 times favorited 24 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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230 posts in 1662 days

03-23-2014 07:27 AM

Hi all,

I’m in the process of finishing cherry stair treads. As I was about to give it a final sanding before staining, I noticed a few tiny holes on one board of one of the treads (each tread is a glue-up of three 3.5” boards). I remember reading once about powder post beetles, and I’m concerned that this might be what it is.

I immediately looked at the other 11 treads and could not find a single other hole. Then I looked through my entire pile of off-cuts, and I found one other piece with holes. Just based on the sapwood/grain pattern, it is entirely possible that this piece came from the same board that I used in the tread.

Curiosity got the best of me, so I cut a cross section right next to the hole. It looks like a channel that was bored by a beetle.

I’m obviously extremely concerned. I’m just about finished this entire stair project after three months, and the thought of finding a beetle infestation at the 11th hour is making me sick. Am I overreacting?

For the record, these boards were all kiln dried from a local hardwood dealer. Is it possible that the beetles had bored the holes, and then they were killed during the kiln drying? Since I already milled these and then found the holes, I was worried that these might have just happened. But when I cut the cross section, I could see that these channels can be fairly long. So I may have just exposed them when I planed the boards.

Is this a common thing in woodworking? What is the worst thing that could happen if I installed the stairs as is? Would I just end up with pinholes here and there? Or am I asking for a much bigger problem?

I’ve attached pics to show what I’ve found (the pencil is there for scale).

24 replies so far

View lanwater's profile


3111 posts in 2960 days

#1 posted 03-23-2014 08:04 AM


I did a blanket chest out of ash that show similar holes.
Because it was kiln dry I thought all larvae inside would be dead.

I was dead wrong. The next spring ( about end of march) I saw fine wood dust on the chest and small pile on the floor. Same thing the second year and just 2 weeks ago.

I am about to dump it and make another one.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View jtm's profile


230 posts in 1662 days

#2 posted 03-23-2014 08:19 AM

So are you saying that I very well may have a $1000 pile of firewood?

If that’s the case – as a newbie woodworker and after all the time and money I’ve spent on this project – I’d probably sell all my tools and say screw it.

I’ve done some research on Google and my stomach is in knots. I seriously cannot [removed] believe this.

Also, since I’ve kept this pile with all my other rough-cut lumber, does that mean I should toss that as well? Should I also be concerned that my workshop is in my basement?

Am I overreacting?

View AnonymousRequest's profile


861 posts in 1575 days

#3 posted 03-23-2014 08:42 AM

I wouldn’t sell your tools or toss your lumber. I don’t know enough about bugs or infestation to give you advice on that. EVERY project or job has sum sort of issue. Normally the kiln will take care of insects/larvae. I’m sure someone will be along to give better advice that has dealt with this issue. Relax.

View jtm's profile


230 posts in 1662 days

#4 posted 03-23-2014 09:16 AM

I wouldn’t really sell my tools.

This is just soooooooo frustrating. I’m making these for my parent’s house as a gift.

I started these in January, and have spent hours and hours and hours on them.
I bought the rough cut cherry from a local hardwood dealer. He has his own solar kiln, and a very reasonable price on cherry (~$4 b/f). So I bought what I thought would be sufficient.

Turns out, after milling, cutting around defects, and working around the fact that every piece cupped, twisted, and warped, I ended up with well over 50% waste (so that $4 a b/f just became $8+). Honestly, this stuff would be considered #2 common at best. (Is there even construction grade cherry? Because it was close).

I obviously needed quite a bit more, so I made the trip to Highland Hardwoods. This place is AMAZING.

The cherry cost me about $6 b/f, but I got almost 100% yield out of it. They only sell FAS, and it was FAR FAR superior to the earlier stuff from the local guy.

Now, just based on the grain, I can tell the piece of cherry with the possible powderpost beetle came from the local guy. The problem with that is that because I wanted the treads to look uniform, I combined boards from both batches in almost every tread. So it’s not like I could just dump some of them and keep the treads made from Highland Hardwood cherry.

So at this point, I’m not sure what to do. I obviously can’t just install them and hope there won’t be any issues down the road.

The easiest solution would be to just dump these and purchase pre-made cherry treads at a cost of approximately another $1000. I honestly don’t have time to buy more rough cut cherry and start from scratch.

I just can’t believe I noticed this at the last possible second. I was literally about to stain them tomorrow, and be completely finished by Monday.

Now I have no idea what’s going on.

View Tony_S's profile


871 posts in 3109 days

#5 posted 03-23-2014 10:31 AM

Call a reputable pest control company and see what they have to say. I don’t doubt the treads and the rest of the lumber, or your whole shop for that matter, can be fumigated, but have no clue as to the cost.

-- It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. Aristotle

View Randy_ATX's profile


879 posts in 2468 days

#6 posted 03-23-2014 12:09 PM

Since only one finished board has the problem I would try this with acetone and CA glue.

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

View WDHLT15's profile


1748 posts in 2502 days

#7 posted 03-23-2014 12:46 PM

You might be OK. Two things so far in your favor.

#1). PPB’s don’t usually infest cherry heartwood, only the sapwood. #2). PPB tunnels will be filled with sawdust (frass). The tunnels will not be open. The tunnels that you show in the pic look open. Ambrosia beetles are common in hardwood, and they infest the tree right after it is cut down. When you saw and begin to dry the lumber, they leave. The holes are there, but the beetles are not. They are harmless except for leaving the holes. Many times, the ambrosia beetle holes and tunnels are black lined from a fungus that they bring in on their bodies.

Where are you located? Your stair treads can be sterilized in a kiln by heating the wood to 140 degrees internally and holding that temp for 4 hours. I usually get the kiln to 145 degrees and hold that for 24 hours to insure that the wood reaches an internal temp of 140 degrees for 4 or more hours. If you are anywhere close to Perry, GA, I can sterilize the treads for you in my kiln.

Check any wood that has the holes carefully by exposing the tunnels and see if the tunnels are filled with frass. There is also a product called Bora-Care that is made of disodium octaborate tetrahydrate plus some other compounds to aid absorption that you can use to treat the wood with, but you have to saturate the surface with the Bora-care so that it can be absorbed into the wood. The good thing is that if these are powder post beetles, the borate should kill them when the adults tunnel out therefore they will not be able to continue their life cycle, lay more eggs, and infest any other wood.

Don’t lose hope yet.

-- Danny Located in Perry, GA. Forester. Wood-Mizer LT40HD35 Sawmill. Nyle L53 Dehumidification Kiln.

View tefinn's profile


1222 posts in 2463 days

#8 posted 03-23-2014 03:13 PM

I wouldn’t worry about it. The holes you show in the pics are to small for PBs. PBs. are typically 1/16” in size and the holes are about the same. Their life cycle is around three years from egg to adult. As WDHLT15 stated, the tunnels will be filled with frass (excrement) and the tunnels would be quite extensive from the years of the larva living in the wood.

I’d cut up the piece you found with the holes to see if you find any of the above. You’ll also come across larva or possibly some pupae or adults ready to emerge. If you find any of these, you could have a problem, but I don’t think you will. Discard any wood with holes if you don’t feel comfortable keeping it.

WDHLT15 recommended Bora-Care for treatment. That is good stuff, but treatment with any product containing salts of borate or boric acid will work. None of them will kill the eggs or larva in the wood, but it breaks the life cycle when the beetle eats it’s way in or out of the wood. To kill anything in the wood you need heat (cheap, easy) or fumigation (very hard, expensive). I used to work in pest control and was licensed to apply pesticides.

-- Tom Finnigan - Measures? We don't need no stinking measures! - Hmm, maybe thats why my project pieces don't fit.

View PineChopper's profile


188 posts in 2223 days

#9 posted 03-23-2014 04:51 PM

I’d say RAID to the rescue.
I used some kind of outdoor bug spray on logs I got from the mountains. Spray and let them set in the sun for a month before splitting and sawing.
It’s been a year now and I haven’t seen any more of the multi-legged offenders.

View Joseph Jossem's profile

Joseph Jossem

492 posts in 2294 days

#10 posted 03-23-2014 05:13 PM

i use the bayer poison from homedepot works good or freeze the lumber. not sure about freezing it but i heard it works to hot here to try

View woodchuckerNJ's profile


1276 posts in 1660 days

#11 posted 03-23-2014 06:01 PM

I second Tony S .. do some research online and then call a pest control company.
The cost might not be that severe.
You may have to tent the wood.

Insects are always a risk.

-- Jeff NJ

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2513 days

#12 posted 03-23-2014 07:02 PM

Gasoline and ice pick.

Set the boards out in the open.
Pour gasoline down each hole.
Set each hole on fire.
As each critter tries to escape, stab it with the ice pick.

Problem solved.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View Knothead62's profile


2584 posts in 2987 days

#13 posted 03-23-2014 07:25 PM

My son had these tiny critters in his hardwood flooring. He had to have several individual boards replaced.

View jtm's profile


230 posts in 1662 days

#14 posted 03-23-2014 08:29 PM

I’m thinking my best bet at this point would be to heat them to 140F.

However, I certainly don’t have an oven with enough space to heat 4ft wide treads (x12).

Anyone in the greater New England area with the ability to do so?

View Ocelot's profile


1981 posts in 2664 days

#15 posted 03-23-2014 08:55 PM

Check with a local metalworking shop that does powder coating. They might have a large “oven”.

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