Preparing a stump for studio use

Hi Orchidians,

Since I have turned over the reigns of Penn Soc of Goldsmiths, I
have been working in my studio and home. I am catching up on all the
things I haven’t done in years and I have new respect for the
wife/husband/partner who stays home and gets this stuff done. It is
taking forever!

Anyway, I have such a basic question but looking in reference books
has not helped me. Nor has looking in the orchid archives. How does
one prepare a stump for studio use without attracting bugs into the
home. I am getting fresh logs and they all get buggy. What am I
doing wrong.

Esta Jo Schifter
Phila PA

Hello Esta,

... Nor has looking in the orchid archives. How does one prepare a
stump for studio use without attracting bugs into the home. I am
getting fresh logs and they all get buggy. What am I doing wrong. 

Here are some previous Orchid discussions on the stump and stump
prepping subjects:

And in one of those I wrote this (lengthy) description of prepping a

FWIW, I’ve done this a few times and my guess is that if your stump
gets bugs quickly it may well have come with the bugs. So you’ll need
to do something to solve that problem first. That probably means
nasty, de-bugging chemicals. I’ve heard smoke works too. Or if you
coat the thing in log sealant as I mention in the aforementioned
lengthy description that may well do it too since it basically soaks
the thing in methyl alcohol and seals it in wax. I’ve always wondered
why I’ve NEVER had the bug problem and that may be why.

Trevor F.
in The City of Light
Visit at

hello Esta Jo

Depending on the type of tree /wood you’re preparing,some are more
prone to bugs then others.Oak is hardier that way then say Pine or
Paulonia in the green stages.

your best bet would be to talk to a wood worker; since it is the
same process as seasoning a piece of wood. I personally have a few
logs and I also like carving largish pieces of log that I find/save
from fell trees. To begin with you have to make sure you start out
with a healthy piece of lumber and that means if you see bugs on the
log or going in and out of the log then pass on that piece.if I had
the choice I would not bring the stumps in until they were seasoned
well. that would basically mean after you have prepared the log to
your liking of lenght /height in green wood,I would seal the ends
with either paint,or wax or glue what ever you have on hand extra of
to slow down the loss of moisture.and cover the ends of the log
where they were cut plus about 4 to 6 inches onto the sides,you can
do this under a tarp /tent outside or a covered area/garage.the wood
itself should be off the ground 18 to 24 inches at least to
discourage bug activity,and have traps or other attractive materials
for bugs to go to if you have still an issue.Needs to have a good
amount of fresh Air movement so it isn’t just sitting in a damp
sealed area ;

one needs to check in and keep an eye on the log a few times a week
for bug activity. Depending on the girth of the log and the type of
wood the seasoning period would take a year or so. the trick is to
get the wood dry enough to make it UN attractive to bugs.just like a
home. If you can’t wait a year or 8 months you can bring it to a
wood seasoning service company that Kiln dry wood commercially, then
you have no bug problems as long as you keep the wood dry.but that
is costly vs. time waiting.

you do have your choice of wood workers to ask in Philadelphia,I am
in the city also if you need more info on that write me off list.
hope this shed some light on your wood troubles

In phila.

Hello Esta,

I love old stumps. We have several in our house to use as plant
stands and in my studio of course. When I see a stump I like to take
in I spray it generously with a pesticide and let it dry inside a
garbage bag for a couple of weeks, after that I clean it good, level
it, seal it with polyurethane. My stumps are 15 to 25 years old. I
clean them perioticly with Orage Clean and wax them with Johnson
paste wax. As far as catching up on your other projects take one day
at a time. You’ll get it done.

Have fun,

You need to let it age outside to get past the buggy stage just liek
you age firewood. that way as it dries it will sloff bark and any
cracks will occur and save you from some headaches. Drying time
depends on area tree type etc. Ask local firewood cutters for an aged
hardwood stump sure they can help.

Silver & Cameo Heritage Jewelry

First peel the bark as quickly as possible!

Then you want to dry the wood very slowly to avoid uneven shrinking
and checking. Seal the ends with paint or wax and wrap in heavy heavy
polyethylene sheet or a big poly bag… Be very patient! Normally in
green wood insects are killed by heat treatment. for a good overall
review see:

and “the bible” :

You will probably just want to look at chapters 13, 14 and 19.

Many of the really good treatments are more toxic than you may want
to use. Boric acid is the most likely one for you to use. I have used
the more unacceptable ones and PEG. I am an old chemical engineer so
am less emotional about these things.

The carbowax or PEG treatment is an excellent one but the raw
material is fairly expensive and it tales a LONG submerged soak.


If you select a freshly cut stump with the sap still in it and
remove the bark you should have no trouble with bugs.

Sam Trump.

I use tree roots in some of my work and the forester I get most of
mine from told me to soak them in antifreeze. I know that sounds
horrible but it works, I don’t know why but it does. I soak them for
a week or so depending on how big they are and then just pull them
out, rinse them off and let them dry out. No bugs survive that and it
seems to hasten the curing process. I am able to start to work on the
wood as soon as it dries out. It seems to reduce the possibility of
the wood splitting while it dries too. I buy the marine stuff because
it is pretty inexpensive and you need a fair amount to cover the
wood. Of course, you have to be VERY careful, it is poison. I use a
large tub that has a snap tight lid and then put it behind a locked
garage door. Actually, I just got my hands on 3 huge roots. Bigger
than I have ever worked on before and I am trying to figure out how
to soak them so I can bring them in the house to work on over the
winter. Don’t think it is going to happen this year though so they
will have to cure on their own for this winter. You might wonder if
the antifreeze leaves the wood icky for working on in any way…it
does not. It also does not stain the wood which surprised me.


Here are a few non-toxic suggestions. In order of nuisance required
to accomplish the goal.

1- This is the first and best thing to do first of all, especially as
you are using green, fresh stumps. Remove any bark. Most of the bugs
live in or just under the bark. If that is a daunting task to you,
ask for help from a woodworker. It isn’t a hard job if the stump is
green. It’s a little harder if it has seasoned and dried - but still
do-able with simple tools; A side-ax, a drawknife, a barking spud, or
even a fairly sharp square-ended garden spade can do a lot of the
job, depending on what kind of tree. A mallet and a big chisel can do
it too - a little slower. Or if it is a thin- barked tree, you might
even ask someone with an angle grinder and some really coarse grit
sanding discs ( 60 grit or even 40 or 36 grit) to grind off the bark.
Do it outside - a messy job.

2 - Wrap the stump in a garbage bag and put it into a deep freezer
and freeze it good and cold - below zero fahrenheit - for a long
time - a week - to kill any eggs, larvae, beetles and other critters
that are inside waiting to hatch. If it’s too big for your freezer
ask at your friendly butcher or supermarket for a little corner of
their walk-in freezer.

There are some bugs that’ll sleep in a piece of dead wood for years
and years, hot or cold - like buprestid beetles - but they don’t
come in great numbers so don’t worry about them.

3 - After de-barking and freezing you could get a big pot or tub and
boil the stump for a while to cook out some of the sap. That tasty,
sugary sap is what them little buggies love to eat. So new ones will
come to search it out if they smell that yummy sap in your studio.
Remove the temptation. Might as well add some ordinary salt and borax
to the boil water.

4 - When the stump has had a chance to dry - Powder post beetles can
be killed by mixing up a good strong saturated solution of common
household borax - cheap at the supermarket - 20 Mule Team - yeee-
haw! - add a little bit of dish detergent as a wetting agent and
paint on a few applications and let it soak in and dry. Paint it on
while the solution is good and hot. Especially put a lot on the ends
of the stump. That’ll kill the beetles when they try to eat their way
out to go forth and multiply.

Don’t use ANY of the wood preservatives which you can buy at the
hardware store - whether green, brown, or clear in colour. They all
have horrible dangerous chemicals which will ruin your life and kill
your baby - and besides that they are evil-smelling forever.

5 - My son-in-law at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has invented a
method which, for your purposes is probably overkill (pun intended)
whereby he puts wooden objects inside a sealed enclosure ( a garbage
bag would do) and replaces all the air inside with nitrogen. He
leaves things in that atmosphere for a considerable time, which
suffocates critters inside the wood eventually - probably too much
trouble - renting a nitrogen tank etc.

I’m sure you’ll get some other ideas. But I know the ones above do
work for their intended purposes.

Marty Hykin in Victoria BC where the bugs all hate my very name but
most other folks like me OK.

Hi Cori:

I use tree roots in some of my work and the forester I get most of
mine from told me to soak them in antifreeze.

Don’t know how big your tree roots are or how they “feel” after
soaking, but years ago I was told to cut the fresh green growth off
the bushes (ligustrum branches, holly branches, etc.) in the spring,
put it in a garbage can, weight it down, and cover it with
anti-freeze. Leave for a couple of weeks, then rinse and allow to
dry. The result was the green leaves stayed flexible for several
years, they kept their color AND were fireproof as well. I used them
to make Xmas wreaths for gifts and it was a delight being able to
“harvest” the materials so far in advance when they were nice and
fresh. What do you use your tree roots for?


An addendum.

Someone asked if CO2 would work as well as nitrogen to sterilize
wood. Here is what I had to reply ;

Interesting thought.

I knew that my nitrogen suggestion was over the top (overkill, I
said) simply because I don’t know quite enough to answer your
question or any others that might come back to me. I included it as
an interesting factoid, but if anyone is interested in pursuing it
further I’d send them along to my son in law for more detail.

My best guess is that CO2 would not work because some of the
parasites and hitchhikers that live in or on dead wood are not only
animals but others are vegetable, like funguses and mosses. These
would metabolize the CO2 and produce oxygen as a waste product
which, in turn, could be used by animal life forms in the wood The
nitrogen method removes /replaces all the oxygen so the animal forms
die out over time, even their eggs, if I recall what Gordon told me.

Whether the nitrogen method is suitable for the purpose of treating
a stump-size piece is also questionable. It would probably work but
only over a very long time span. It works well on furniture because
the cross-sections are small - thus the nitrogen can get in and
oxygen can get out within a tolerably reasonable time-frame.

Marty in Victoria where bugs are not respectable members of society.

ok i read all the posts some i’d avoid and some have great info…

  1. absolutely strip off the bark on greenwood

  2. absolutely use the borax treatment marty describes or if you have
    an abundance of money Planet Natural has a product called
    "boracare"- it’s a paint on, non-toxic to people viscous treatment
    meant for joists and rotting wood- to stop decay, and prevent termite
    infestation ( works excellently on old houses too!).

  3. If you have access to cedar or cypress wood, it requires no
    treatment other than curing it in freezing or below temperatures 9
    overwinter the stump outside raised off the ground with airflow
    around it.

  4. Sweetgum, liquidamber styraciflua, also has pest resisting
    qualities and may be easier to come by in Pennsylvania…it is the
    wood copal gum comes from, and it was used in mumification among
    other things (such as incense- still in use by North American-Mexican
    indians) no need ato boil anything out…you want the resin as an
    extra measure of protection, but stripping the bark and
    curing/drying the wood is essential

  5. Hickory works well and is somewhat pest resistant…however seal
    the bottom with boracare or waterglass (sodium silicate solution)
    they are superior to poly-anything and will never need reapplying. I
    noticed some people recommended sealing the entire stump with
    polyurethane…i would avoid that for many reasons…primarily if you
    pound on it it will eventually chip, flake, or peel off and in the
    case of direct contact with precious metals, i like to keep mine
    free of any contaminants that may react with pickle, or other
    chemicals i use…and there is no need for coating the entire

I was thinking about one post, and the size of the stumps at John
C. Campbell Folkschool’s Jewelery dept. for example…and wondered
who has a large enough-empty- deep freeze and enough upper body
strength to load one into it…seems like a big waste of energy and
electricity to me…

good luck sorting through the opinions…

Is anti-freeze not polyethylene glycol? PEG (wood preservative)

Whether the nitrogen method is suitable for the purpose of treating
a stump-size piece is also questionable. It would probably work but
only over a very long time span. It works well on furniture because
the cross-sections are small - thus the nitrogen can get in and
oxygen can get out within a tolerably reasonable time-frame. 

(And I’m being totally off the wall here)

As I try to figure out how to get my Vacuum caster around the trunk
and pull a nice Vacuum and boil the water out of the stump as well
as preparing it for the nitrogen phase so has to speed up the
penetration of the gas

The smallest roots are about the size of my forearm, the biggest are
about half the length of my small car. I find that soaking them in
the antifreeze also helps me get the bark off, yes, keeps it soft and
supple so it peels off. Once dry the wood is not too soft for carving
and sanding. I use the roots as a base for display pieces inlayed
with stone and metal. I had never worked with wood before and I
thought the roots would give me a base to start from. At first it
started out to be just a learning experience but has become a true
passion. I accosted a fella at the local dump to get 3 huge cedar
roots he had chained and pulled with a tractor. I thought I had made
a huge score! He was going to throw them away!! They are going to be


Many years ago I purchased a TREATED pole from a lumber yard that
specialized in lumber for marine and outdoor use. They had a few
broken poles and cut a piece just the right height for me. No
bugs, bark, and no problems.

Is anti-freeze not polyethylene glycol? PEG (wood preservative) 

Anti freeze is ethylene glycol a simple molecule. It is sweet and
toxic to the liver. The material advertised as non toxic is (usually)
propylene glycol also a simple molecule. It is non toxic and
in a food additive grade.

PEG is a very large polymer molecule and is considered a water
soluble wax wax. Search PEG or Carbowax for more. It has a lot of
uses other than as a wood stabilizer.


Egads. Egads!

I am sorry I ever mentioned the nitrogen technique for dealing with
this ferschlepter block of wood! It is provoking people to
unparalleled flights of inventive fantasy. In today’s posts we see
someone dreaming about how to use her vacuum caster to suck the
dreaded oxygen out of the suffering stump. Fuhgeddaboutit! Leave your
vacuum caster in the bench and make jewelry with it, or smoke pot
with it, or whatever people do with vacuum casters.

Still, I couldn’t help admiring the human tendency towards creative
problem-solving. I am thinking it might be interesting to have a
contest to find the most imaginative mis-use of a tool or machine to
accomplish the most unnecessary result. Any takers?

I never did ask the person who sent in the original query what she
was going to do with the stump. But I assumed it is meant to be used
as a heavy lump of wood to bang hammers on or stick anvils on. It
does not have to be treated like a Louis XIV gilded armchair. I only
mentioned the nitrogen thing because I enjoy kvelling about my clever
son-in-law, the international hit man (of bugs) who travels the world
teaching his murderous methods to museum curators.

On a serious note (I am capable of such) I really would not
recommend using “treated” wood. It is tempting but the stuff is toxic
to handle or to heat. You don’t want to be breathing the dust. It
won’t kill you overnight but it just ain’t what you want indoors if
you can avoid it.

Marty Hykin in Victoria where they are coming out of the woodwork.

I bought a stump that had been used by another metal worker that had
a stake holder on it, and they had had it banded three times by metal
shipping bands. It has some cracks down the side, but they do not go
into the top very far. Seems like what I would do if I had to do one

What’s all this hoo ha about using gas and chemicals to kill the
bugs in a stump? I’m just a country boy and if I see bugs I just
the stump on the fire and drag in another one.

Sam Trump