Q: I am dealing with a serious problem. We've been manufacturing a white pine dowel for use as a handle. What has happened is the handle is breaking too easily. The MC is 13-16 percent. Is there anything we can do to help with the breakage?
A: You need to consider using a different species of pine that can be up to twice as strong. The key item will be the density of the wood: the denser the wood the stronger, usually by a large amount.
With respect to strength, moisture content itself is not an overwhelming issue in your case. So lowering the MC will not increase the strength substantially.
Also, if the handle holder crushes the wood when the dowel is inserted, it will weaken the wood substantially. You want a good fit, but not too tight. I suspect that you have an extremely tight fit now so that it does not loosen as it shrinks. Specifically, your wood is a little on the wet side. The dowel will shrink as it dries to its final MC (perhaps 10 percent if stored in an unheated area and 6 percent if stored in a heated area) and become loose unless it is really tightly wedged in when first made.
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