How dry is dry enough?

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Blog entry by Zipsss posted 01-18-2008 08:55 PM 2616 reads 0 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch

About three years ago, a magnificent Elm that was at least 90 years old finally died, after agonizing for the last several years. It was in my brothers yard and we decided that it will be honored by transforming it into furniture. We cut it in November 2006, we ended up with 10 logs that ranged in between 2’ and 4’ diameter and about 10’ in lenght. The month after, we hire a portable mill and cut it in several thicknesess and withds. After sitting for nine months in a tent with plenity of air and wind I moved them to my shed. The humidity level in the 1” thick pieces went down to 12%, while the thicker ones are at about 19%. My question is, considering the local humidity in central New Jersey, at what percentage can I start working without risking warpage or end cracks?

As you can see in the pictures, there is about 700 bdf of lumber plus a few turning pieces. So far no warpage and a minimum of end cracks. The piece with the bolt in it cost me $50 in a new blade. It was embeded very deep in the wood and the metal detector did not registered. The blade did.

One of the logs is 4’ in diameter. To big for the portable mill, and to heavy to bring it to a bigger one. We spend many hours tryng to cut it in half, we even put a 20 ton jack in a cavity that we carved. So far it is still sitting in the ground. We are waiting for the spring to give it another try. Any ideas are welcome. No explosives please.

-- Zipsss

12 comments so far

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4498 days

#1 posted 01-18-2008 09:01 PM

For furniture I thinks it’s about 6 to 9%

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 4395 days

#2 posted 01-18-2008 09:02 PM

Dynamite may be you only solution….. ;>) If you can find part of the log with no or little twist try using a series of wedges there. My 2 cents.

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View Zipsss's profile


206 posts in 4623 days

#3 posted 01-18-2008 09:56 PM

No explosives, thank you, from experience, very unpredictable. I try with the wedges, they go in like a nail.

-- Zipsss

View DocK16's profile


1186 posts in 4597 days

#4 posted 01-18-2008 11:07 PM

Generally air drying has limits of about 12%. To get any lower you’d have to have it kiln dried. If you’re planning on making furniture out of it, it needs to be dried to 6-8%. Kiln drying hardens and stabilizes the lignen in the wood and makes it more stable for furniture making. What I was taught anyway.

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4332 days

#5 posted 01-19-2008 01:07 AM

The problem with elm is that it just doesn’t split like other woods. It tends to tear rather than split. I know this is shocking but I had access to several dead elms and converted them into firewood. That was before I was interested in woodworking of course. Just trying to split the logs with a sledge and maul was a workout in itself. I eventually got it done but only because I am stubborn. Any rational person would have given up on the wood since I literally had to drive the maul through the wood rather than splitting it as oak or maple would.

For the bigger stuff you may want to look into a chain saw mill for cutting it into slabs. Dorje has a video series posted on this you might want to look at it.

Good luck

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Karson's profile


35201 posts in 4910 days

#6 posted 01-19-2008 01:43 AM

I’ve seen some pictures where people basically stand on the log and cut strait down through the heart of the log and cut it in half. A 32” blade cut from both sides should be able to get it done.

It might then also require that each of the halves would be needed to be cut in half again. Some of the bandsaw mill would not be able to get to the top of a 48” log.

So having 4 quarters would be usable.

I’ve seen some of the homes in the older section of Northern NJ and the tree’s are mammoth big and tall to the first branch. Good luck on that.

The boards that I had stored in my barn in New Jersey would be around 15% moisture in the first floor of the barn. That floor had a dirt floor and water ran by the doors when it rained.

In the attic, with a tin roof, I’d get 7% in the summer because it would get to 135 deg in the hay loft where a good portion of my lumber was stored. So it was like baking it in an low temp oven.

Good luck, I’m waiting for my wood.

If you stored some of the pieces in the shop they might get down to the required percent in a short amount of time. Rough cut it to overside in your rough cut room and then store the smaller pieces in the basement shop to age.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 4507 days

#7 posted 01-19-2008 03:19 AM

I’d suggest the same as Karson…bring it inside until it acclimates to the indoor environment. Check the moisture content of furniture in your home so you know what it needs to get down to during this season…approximately… (different wood species will give you different readings). Around my neck of the woods 7-9% is workable…

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6866 posts in 4489 days

#8 posted 01-19-2008 03:51 AM

Hi Zipsss;

You’ve gotten good information here. Not much I can add, although for air drying a rule of thumb is one year per inch in thickness.

Then bringing it indoors to acclimate is required. Obviously, stickered at all times.

I don’t know how close you’ll get to the 6 – 8 % moisture content you be able to achieve without the use of a kiln.

Maybe you can find a local kiln owner who will do it for you at a modest fee.

I personally don’t have the patience, or the storage space for the process. I’d rather go to Hearne Lumber and buy it.

Have fun;


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 4384 days

#9 posted 01-19-2008 12:06 PM

I guess “free” wood isn’t free. I hope to see some future projects from your stash.

View Tony's profile


993 posts in 4540 days

#10 posted 01-21-2008 08:51 PM

you can air dry wood down to the lowest humidity you have in the shop – there is no limit. I air dry most of my lumber I cut. The shop humidity is between 30 & 45% most of the year with temperatures in the mid 60’s – most of my lumber is at 7 to 9%, but it takes time. If your shop is at 90% RH then you will never get it down, but any KD lumber will also get wetter.

Air dry it outside until it about 20% (removes the chance of mildew setting in), then bring it inside and re-sticker it and ensure you get some air flow betwen the lumber, a un heated fan (on low) is good for this and forget about for 3 months or more, depending on the species.

Don’t forget that even KD lumber at 6% will increase/decrease in humidity to the RH of the workshop eventually – all wood is breathing and adjusting to its environment.

Just be patient and keep it dry – it will be worth it eventually.

-- Tony - All things are possible, just some things are more difficult than others! - SKYPE: Heron2005 (

View lance's profile


170 posts in 4498 days

#11 posted 01-22-2008 07:25 AM

Good luck and I will be looking forward to see that furniture.

-- Bob Lance, DE

View Ron Christensen's profile

Ron Christensen

2 posts in 4479 days

#12 posted 03-02-2008 05:26 PM

I came across this and thought I may have need for it, someday! I hope it helps.

I have a neighbor with a monster elm. Its actually tipping his garage over, the roots are so large they have grown under the floor. the garage is listing about 15 degrees to starboard. The first branch is over 30 feet up.

I saw an article some time back where a high end furniture studio in England did a dining room table in elm, It was quite nice. Its our forgotten wood. I’m told it splinters when working it and not to use it so I bought some for a tool chest. I haven’t started on it yet, I’m still finishing up several pieces.

I like using the relatively unknown species. Its the rediscovery of the past.

best of luck

-- Ron 01960

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