February 25, 2021

How to know if a wood carving is going to split

Whether for business or as a hobby, you are in the wood carving business, but you always seem to wind up with cracking wood? It can be annoying, and at times you may feel like you have to throw out your carving because it is cracked. But there is a way to see it a mile away. This will also help you understand what you need close by to repair it if it happens, or better yet, how to avoid it.

It also helps to understand what causes wood to crack. Most large carvings tend to crack as they dry out, and weather elements can also cause cracks and rot, and other types of wood degradation. In this article, we look at how to know if a wood carving will split.

List of things that you may need to use:

  • A moisture meter.
  • The wood carving.

Step By Step Process.

Even though wood will not always give you clear signs of cracking, you can use a moisture temperature to tell you how much moisture is in the wood by using a moisture meter. This is one of the best ways to ensure that the moisture levels will not cause damage. To use the moisture meter, here’s what you will have to do:

  1. Push the meter’s pins, if it has them, into the wood that you want to test. 
  2. Ensure the pins are aligned with the grain
  3. Switch on the meter and wait for a reading. This comes about by electrical current being moved from one pin to the other, through the wood, checking to see how much interference. 

Or you can use a pinless meter.

  1. These may be easier for you to use. All you will need to do is place the meter against the wood.
  2. Take the reading.

How Long it will take

The general rule of thumb is that it will take about a year to dry an inch of wood; thus, timber can take years to finally dry to the core. You will then need to repair it. But thankfully, taking the reading will take a couple of minutes. 

Expected Results

Wood will need to have between 6% and 8% moisture content. However, it can go right up to 19% depending on the relative humidity, also known as the area’s RH levels. Anything above these numbers could show the possibility of a crack. 

Knowing the moisture levels in the wood may also help you detect cracks before they have a chance to become a problem. The moisture meter helps you know what levels are in the wood.

Things to look out for

If you do not quickly sort out cracks in wood, they are likely to spread. It is important to spot them far off or try avoiding them together if it is possible. Solve the problem as soon as you can. 

The tricky thing with checks is that you can see some of them while not seeing others. In most cases, you will find that wood dries along with growth rings rather than across the growth lines. Knowing when the wood will crack is almost impossible. 

The best thing you can do is keep it away from places and conditions that can exacerbate shrinkage. However, keep in mind that shrinking, which leads to cracking, is natural for all wood types. 

There are a couple of reasons why wood shrinks, such as; 

Natural and environmental factors

Rain, humidity, or moisture can cause the wood to crack. Whether it’s wood used for building or carving, cracking is prone to happen. When the wood begins to swell, it’s a clear sign that it will probably crack soon.

You may notice this after the wood has been exposed to moisture or water. For instance, a door may swell up when it rains, and you may notice that it is now harder to close. As the wood tries to get rid of the moisture, it may crack. These are also known as checks.

Lumbar cutting

Cracks in wood can be hazardous, especially if you are turning the wood. It can cause a workshop accident that isn’t prepared to handle. Also, when lumber is being cut, the process can cause a crack in the wood. This is thanks to the machinery being used. 


As the wood dries, it tries to be at par with its surrounding environment. As such, it may crack. It is also known as checking, whereby the grain separates as moisture leaves the wood. As the wood dries, it shrinks.

You will need to look out for the wood’s moisture content, and it is acceptable for the wood. This way, you will know what you can expect in the long run if you use the wood.

For instance, if you use wood for floors, you want no more than 4% moisture for a 3inch wide floor. If the floors you are making will be wider than this, you will need less than 2%moisture.

Moisture levels can also differ depending on the place the wood is from. Before measuring moisture content, it helps to ensure it has been dried. You want to get a true reading as much as possible, and this will help you know what steps to take next. 


Cracks in wood may not be a structural problem, and they may be due to high moisture content. This is why moisture meters can help you detect cracks, even before they become visible. 

Once you identify them or the potential of the wood cracking, you can then decide if you still want to go ahead with the project or something that you need to discard altogether. 

We hope this helps you check moisture levels and not get surprised by cracks in your wood unless you are going for that rustic look on your final product. You should also see our post on How to join two pieces of wood side by side for wood carving & How to get rid of big chunks of wood when carving.

David D. Hughes

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