Alcohol Soaking

Welcome to my blog on alcohol assisted drying of wood. The intent is to provide an avenue for information sharing about the process. Much time has been spent answering individual emails from around the world and countless questions on many woodworking forums. As time permits I will share information about current pieces I am drying as well as the final outcome in the form of pictures of finished pieces.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Turner feedback on alcohol soaking

The following is some of the feedback I have received from turners that have tried using the alcohol drying process. I will add more responses as time permits.

I had to start the post with my favorite feedback message because of this one sentence, "I have been using the paper bag and wet chip system for some time and last week took 2 cherry bowls out to check them and threw them in the burn pile." That pretty much sums it up for me.

Email 12/14/2005

Dave I have started using the alcohol soak. I have about 6 bowls wrapped now and finished one cherry bowl. 14" and 2 1/2 deep. Soaked it for 3 hours and set aside for a couple of weeks. Last night I unwrapped it and was surprised it did not look like a potato chip. I have been using the paper bag and wet chip system for some time and last week took 2 cherry bowls out to check them and threw them in the burn pile.

The one I soaked had no cracks and did not warp much at all. I had no trouble retruing the bowl what so ever. I have a oak burl and 4 walnut bowls drying now.

Will keep testing and let you know. As of now I love the system.

Dick Hines

Email 3/27/05

Alcohol Bowl Drying Results
Kevin Gerstenecker

Dave, here are my results of my experience in drying green, rough turned bowls using your method involving Denatured Alcohol. To say I have been impressed with the success of this method would be an understatement. Listed below are the techniques I have found that have provided excellent results for me.

To date, I have roughed and dried, from green turning stock approximately 45 bowls. (There may be a couple that snuck by me when keeping track of my progress.) ;-)

Species: Using the Alcohol Drying Method, I have dried the following with excellent results:
Apple -– Both Crabapple and Fruiting Tree Wood
Ash -– Green Ash, White Ash
Box Elder
Bradford Pear
Cherry -– Black Cherry and Pin Cherry
Cedar -– Eastern Red Cedar
Dogwood - 1 small piece
Elm - Chinese, Red
Hawthorn -– Washington, Cockspur
Maple -– Silver, Norway, Red
Osage Orange
Walnut - Black

Problem Species: The only problems I have experienced using the Alcohol Drying Method have been with Ash and Walnut. I have roughed, soaked and dried about 8 Ash Bowls, and I have had some cracking in the end grain area of each bowl. To date, only one has been severe enough to not be able to turn the cracks away during the finish turn. Most of the cracking is light, and shallow. I have different wall thickness on my rough turned bowls, but it seems to make little different. All of the Ash Bowls have been above 6"” in size. I have one Natural Edge Ash Bowl drying that showed cracking within 8 hours of removal from the Alcohol. One Walnut Bowl has some end grain cracks as well, but I have hopes they will turn away during the finish turning process.

Wall thickness: I think it is very important in the success of this drying process to pay attention to wall thickness of your rough turned items. On bowls up to 6" in diameter, I try to maintain a 3/8" to 1/2"” wall thickness on the rough turned bowl. I have found on some species, where movement is limited, that is not necessary, and on other species, like Apple, it is essential to have good thickness due to the severe movement of that species.
On larger bowl, of which I have used the Alcohol Drying Method on bowls up to 15" in diameter, I try to maintain a wall thickness of 5/8" up to 1"”, depending on the species. (As a side note to the Ash bowl cracking problems, those were all larger bowls, in excess of 6"”, and had thick walls, at least 3/4” or more. I think wall thickness, in this case too thick, is a direct contributor to the cracking I have experienced. Others I have talked with have dried Ash with no problems.)

My Process: Here is the process I use drying my green, rough turned bowls using a Denatured Alcohol Soak.

My blanks are cut round on the Band saw, and turned right away. I rough turn the bowls, and either blow them clean with air, or brush away any dust and shavings, to help keep the Alcohol debris-free.

I submerge the rough turned bowl in Alcohol immediately after they are rough turned. If they tend to float, I use scraps of Corian placed in the bowl to hold them under the Alcohol. I soak the bowls standing upright, as they would be when finished.

I soak all of my rough turned, green bowls a minimum of 24 hours. This is mostly due to convienience for me. If I turn a bowl on a weekday evening, I soak it, and remove it the next evening after work. On the weekend, I just remove it the next day, but it is more times than not a 24 hour soak. My results have been so good, I will continue this timeline.

Upon removal of the bowls from the Alcohol, I wipe the exterior surface lightly with a paper towel, or shop rag. I wrap my bowls immediately using brown grocery bag paper, and I secure the paper with one wrap of masking tape around the exterior of the bowl, near the rim. I always make sure the paper is folded tightly over the rim in into the inside of the bowl about 1/2" to 1"” or so. I trim away any excess paper inside the bowl that could impede proper air circulation.

I dry my bowls on a plastic shelving unit that has grate-like shelves with large openings. The bowls are dried bottoms up, with the interior facing down, like Dave suggests. I also write the date on the masking tape on each bowl, so I know when it was removed from the Alcohol for drying. I have finish turned small bowls in as soon as 6 days of drying, but I now wait at least 2 weeks, and I have been unwrapping the bowls after 14 days and letting them air dry "naked"”, facing down, for another week, or when I can get to them. I find no problem doing it this way, as the bowls are dry enough after 2 weeks to be problem free. Another thing I think contributes to the success I have had using Dave Smith'’s Alcohol method is the environment where I dry my bowls. I have a basement shop, and I feel that the conditions in my basement are perfect for drying these Alcohol soaked bowls. It stays cool, without a lot of air circulation directly on the bowls. The humidity is constant, but not really high, as I use a dehumidifier. The humidity is still a bit high though, as it is in most basements. With a dedicated shop in the plans, I will still be drying my Alcohol soaked bowl in my basement, as I think the environment there is ideal for the task.

In summary, I have had what I consider excellent results in drying rough turned, green wood using this method. Some of the wood I have used this on was turned as soon as 1 day after being harvested, and without saying, it was VERY wet. Literally "“dripping wet"” in some instances. I have had very little movement in the finished bowls I have turned using Dave'’s method. The bowls that did exhibit some movement were turned before a minimum 2 week drying period. Some of the historically "“difficult"” woods to dry, Sycamore and Apple come to mind, have been the most problem free for me. On the bowls that I have allowed 2 weeks or more for drying before the finish turn, have had no movement, or movement that is hardly discernable.

Dave Smith should be highly commended for bringing this technique to the turners of the world. It is very effective, and I will not turn green wood without an Alcohol Bath waiting. This method helped me fill last years Christmas Bowl Orders before the holiday deadline, of which would have never been possible otherwise. This has brought much joy and satisfaction to my "turning affliction"”, and I am forever grateful for the foresight and work Dave has put into this technique. I am even more grateful for Dave'’s visit last October when he told me about this process. I have been using this method since, and I will use it as long as I am turning. Good Lord willing, that will be a long time!

Thanks Dave!!!!!!, you have made a pleasurable experience just that much more enjoyable. For that, I offer my heartfelt thanks!

Email 4/29/2005


I tried other suggestions for drying such as dishwashing detergent, and boiling. I did not have a lot of success with these methods so I went back to coating my bowls with Anchorseal and setting them aside to dry for a long time span. When I heard about your new method I decided to try it because of the reliable turners that had used it for a year, and recommended it. I have had remarkable success with it, recommended it to fellow turners, and as you know I let turners know about it on the web. I appreciate your work in developing the method of using DNA, and letting us know about it, and I am impressed you did all of this with no profit comming to you. Thanks Dave, from South Georgia. If you are ever in this neck of the woods stop by and visit.

Glenn Hodges
Nashville, Ga

Email 10/17/2005
Ultimate alky test

Hey Dave.

I've been using your alcohol soaking protocol for several months with great success. When I came across a Pear downed by hurricane Katrina, I snatched it up. It had a cluster of 2 crotches side by side that I just had to try a hollow form from the entire cluster. I'm not sure if you remember me posting it on SMC and the WOW sites. To me, it was the ultimate test for the alky soak, and it worked like a charm! The turning has a total of 6 piths around the circumference, every single one came through perfectly intact. I was discussing it with Jim Ketron in chat, and told him it could be the poster child for alcohol soaking. I just wanted to drop you a line of Thanks again, for bringing this out.

Sure, you have my permission to put it on your site, that would be great. The finished size ended up at 10.5" in diameter x 5.5" tall, with wall thickness just over 1/4". I had roughed turned the walls between 1/2" and 5/8". It was soaked about 24 hrs. If I'm not mistaken, it was a total of 17 days from the time I wrapped it until I took the finished pics.

Travis Stinson

Email 3/19/2006


My name is Jeff, I am from Massachusetts, I found your site about a year ago. You know looking for a way to dry wood faster and effectively, ethanol alcohol works very well. I've done big bowsl to vessels, big and small. I just wanna say Thank You!!! for putting up such useful information! I could not find ethanol any where that had it in 95% or better. I had to go on line and order it $135.00 for 5 gal. The only problem wood I had was modrone burl from OU, but that was do to human error not the ethanol.

Thank You again,

*Note to the reader.*

Read the Alcohol Source article for info to locate a source for denatured alcohol with a high ethanol content. Do It Best has Sunnyside denatured alcohol in 5 gallon containers for $41.49. Some affiliates will take free delivery of on line orders.

Posted 5/28/2006 on Woodturner's Rescource Woodturning Forums

For the last month I have been using the DNA method for drying and wanted to pass along the results.

Quantity 11 bowls rough turned 1" thick for every 12
" in diamiter. Placed in bucket of DNA overnight, then one hour drying on rack, then bottoms covered in craft paper placed upside down for 2 weeks.

Wood used Maple, Birch, Chestnut, Mohagany.

Results: on all pieces noticed less wood movement, all dry after 2 weeks, one piece of birch cracked alittle, but not sure if the crack was already there or not.

This is my new preferred method and will use this now on for green turnings. I get quite a bit of free green wood and now always have dry rough turnings to finish is great.

Just a little info to pass on.

Yakima, WA.

Posted on
I read your article over at WoodCentral 'bout a year ago on using DNA, experimented around with it, and have used it countless times since. I also introduced it to a number of our club members in a Saturday demo I did on drying wood. Even had a chemist friend at the demo (when mentioning 'bonding water and alcohol I needed someone much smarter than me :)

Your process has worked amazingly well for me.

Sorry, didn't mean to ramble on in the ad area (did I mention I am totally impressed with your process/work :)

And you are more than welcome to add my post to your blog.

I would add pictures but the bowls I have completed have (happily) been sold
Woods used have mostly been spalted beech, walnut,cedar, pecan, cherry, mulberry,poplar, and holly.

John P
Chesapeake, VA

Posted on Wood Central Turning forum
Friday, 20 October 2006, at 3:08 p.m.

Here's a photo of a Ambrosia Maple bowl I just finished. Watco finish but still needs to be buffed. 12" by 3.5". This was alcohol dried and was a log 3 weeks ago. Thanks for looking and all comments and critiques welcome.


Posted on Wood Central Turning forum
Saturday, 21 October 2006, at 2:23 p.m.

Sycamore bowl measures 14.5" by 3.5" Wall thickness is a heavy 1/8". Bowl weighs 13 ounces. This is another alcohol dried piece. Sycamore responds well to this method of drying. Watco finish. I think on the next one I'm going to try bleaching the wood. Does Sycamore bleach well? As usual all comments and critques are welcome.


There are many more feedback messages to be posted.
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Monday, December 05, 2005

Alcohol Soaking Q and A

I have answered many questions since publishing the alcohol drying process in November 2004. My intent here is to compile a collection Q & A to make it easier for people to understand the process.

The following 4 questions were asked by Greg in an email dated 12/04/2005

Q: Does the alcohol itself take on water as the bowl takes on alcohol? Meaning do they exchange liquids?
A: Yes, water and alcohol are miscible. The water in the wood and the alcohol in the container will exchange until they are at equilibrium.

Q: Does alcohol retard mold, staining etc.?
A: Alcohol in high enough concentration will kill most organisms. The same process that causes alcohol to achieve equilibrium with water in wood will essentially dehydrate an organism which isn't good for it. Once the alcohol evaporates new organisms can colonize the surface of the wood. Some people speculate that natural mold inhibitors in wood are destroyed by soaking in alcohol or boiling. This is not something I am inclined to delve into since the alcohol process drys pieces in a short time making the wood too dry for most organisms to flourish.

Q: Does the alcohol lose strength with use?
A: Yes, alcohol concentration in the soaking solution will decrease over time. In my initial testing I used fairly small pieces in a small container. I added alcohol as the level in the container decreased which kept the concentration from drooping too low. I have done some tracking of alcohol concentration recently to identify a lower limit in which the process is effective. I hope to have more on that soon.

Q: I currently boil per Steve Russel's method. ...Would you recommend alcohol soaking over boiling? It would be much easier to throw bowls in a large container rather than boiling.
A: I am familiar with Steve Russel's method. Steve has done a lot of work developing the boiling process and has freely shared his information with the turning world. I used boiling for a while but it is inconvenient especially if you are only doing an occasional turning. Also, boiling does not speed the drying process. One of my goals was to devise a passive method for improving the bowl drying process. Just drop the piece in a bucket of alcohol and take it out the next day or next week if you want. I haven’t boiled a bowl in over three years so you can conclude that I recommend alcohol soaking over boiling.

A few more questions from Greg in an email dated 12/08/2005

Q: With the alcohol soak method is the tendency of the wood to distort diminished, if so, how much?
A: Bowls do not distort as much when soaked in alcohol before drying. It is counter intuitive to think thinner walls result in less distortion. I found it to be true when I started testing the process.

Q: Do I ignore the 10%wall thickness rule?
A: I don't use the 10% rule with alcohol soaking. When I started the testing process instead of starting with the 10% rule of thumb I started at 1/2" which I thought was extremely thin. It turns out that 1/2" is usually a good thickness for up to 8" bowls. I usually turn small bowls to 3/8" thickness and finish turn to about 1/4". There are a lot of factors in bowl distortion so my wall thickness recommendation are just an other rule of thumb.

Q: Once the bowl is dry is there any odor from the booze and will polymerized tung oil be compatible as a finish?
A: Alcohol will completely vaporize and leave no odor. There will be no problem with any finish you use on the dry wood. Most people forget that shellac is thinned with denatured alcohol and once the alcohol evaporates the finish is food safe.

Richard Dowling asked this via email on 1/3/06.

Q: "I picked up some Madrone in California last week. It's very green. Do you have any experience turning it?"

A: My experience with madrona is that it needs to be turned thinner than the 10% rule. Also, use fresh alcohol and soak the roughed out bowl at least 24 hours. I had some spectacular failures when I left the walls too thick and soaked them in an old solution that had a low percentage of alcohol. Subsequent pieces that were turned thinners and soaked in fresh alcohol had very few problems.

Madrona needs to be turned soon after cutting. It splits every which way you can imagine. It needs to be sealed on all surfaces and kept out of drafts and sunlight. Madrona is also susceptible to blue stain which will develop in the sealed blanks.

Questions from Barb and Mike Hays. Email dated 2/26/06.

Please let us know about how long to soak 10 pen blanks taped together. Green maple.

The following answers assume the wood in question is straight grained with no defects.
Q: How long do we soak them?
A: Seperate the blanks before placing in alcohol. Soak them over night or about 8 hours.

Q: Then what do we do with them?
A: After removing them from the alcohol set the blanks on a rack and let the surface dry. It takes about an hour. Once the surface is relatively dry, coat the ends with an end grain sealer. Coat the sides about 1/2" from the end. Leave the rest of the blank unsealed. Place the coated blanks on a rack. It take between one to two weeks for the blanks to stabilize. I cut pen blanks from 1/2" to 1" square with lengths from 4 1/2" to 6".

An alternative to sealing the end grain after soaking in alcohol is to put the blanks in a paper bag and close the opening. This method leads to more end grain checks and extends the drying time. However, it is expedient when generating large numbers of small blanks.

We enjoyed your program at the Olympia woodturners meeting last month.

Barb and Mike Hays

Questions from Terry Bourk.
Email dated 2/26/06.

Q: Is there some reason why you don't give the composition of the DNA sold by Home Depot on your blog??

A: I have listed the brands of DNA that are mostly ethanol. Klean-Strip SLX
brand is about 45% ethanol and over 50% methanol. I also miss read the MSDS for SLX brand DNA. After someone on WoodCentral commented on the deception I took a closer look. That is when I put the info on my blog about brands that have high ethanol content.

Question from Michael Stadulis
Email dated 6/13/2006

Q: Maybe you've written this someplace, but I'm curious if you have any empirical data about how much less warpage you get this way(alcohol drying process)....?

A: When I began investigating methods for shortening the drying process I decided trying to quantify warpage was going to be very difficult. I decided the easiest way was a go, no go test. Can I turn a finished bowl from the dried piece? As you may guess nearly every piece passed the test. A while back I began measuring the maximum thickness I could turn from a dried bowl. What I do is retrue the rim of the bowl and then scribe the largest and smallest circles and measure the difference. From the small amount of data I have gathered a bowl roughed to 5/8" will yield a finished piece with wall thickness of about 7/16". I abandoned making control pieces early in the experiment because I was not writing a Masters Thesis. I just continued with what worked and used it.

Question from Suzanne
Comment dated 10/21/2010

Q: I have some fresh walnut blanks that are 3" x 3" x 11". Do you think there's any chance of drying them using your DNA method?

A: Yes, it is possible to dry the turning squares using the DNA method. Soak the squares in denatured alcohol over night. Remove and coat the ends and about 1/2" of the sides with end grain sealer or wax. Stand the pieces on end and allow to dry. Although I can't prove it helps the drying process, I flip the squares end for end each time I weigh them. Walnut is a porous wood and will dry fairly quickly.

Question from Anonymous
Comment dated 12/25/2010

Q: David, when we pull our blanks from the DNA and begin drying them...what are we removing during the drying process? Are we removing water, or has most of the water in the bowl been replaced with DNA, and we are now waiting for the DNA to migrate to the surface, to evaporate off?

A: When the bowl is submerged in alcohol water in the wood will exchange with alcohol in the solution until an equilibrium is reached. When the bowl is removed from the solution alcohol will evaporate quicker than water because of a higher vapor pressure.

Question from Dora
Comment posted 11/25/2010

Q: I design jewelry in wax, and I am interested in locating pure solvent alcohol for heating the instruments I use. I have not had much luck finding it lately. I have only been able to find denatured alcohol. Unfortunately, this type of alcohol emits a strong odor and smoke and leaves an oily residue. I was wondering if you have an idea of where I could locate the pure solvent alcohol. I would appreciate any information you can provide me. By the way, I live in Houston, Texas.

A: Pure ethanol is Everclear liquor and is highly taxed. Find a brand of denatured alcohol that has a high ethanol content of 90%. Three brands I am familiar with are Parks, True Value and Sunnyside.

Question from Anonymous
Comment dated 01/19/2011

Q: You mentioned that you also tried isopropyll alcohol, but didn't like its smell. I can get isopropyll alcohol that is 99% alcohol....better than denatured. Does the smell finally leave the wood, like denatured does?

A: I did not pursue drying bowls using isopropyl alcohol. A few people reported satisfactory results using isopropyl alcohol. Remember isopropyl alcohol is poisonous. Consult the manufacture's MSDS for precautions when using isopropyl alcohol.

The odor did disipate which is to be expected since isopropyl alcohol has a high vapor pressure. If you do use isopropyl alcohol for drying bowls please notify me of your results so I can share your finding with others.