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Tips & Tricks: How Lumber is Dried

3316 Views 20 Replies 18 Participants Last post by  WDHLT15
What are your tips/tricks re: Dried Lumber
- kiln-dried vs air-dried, what to look for, what to expect, benefits, how to dry lumber, etc

(also add links to helpful blogs etc that are related to the topic)

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Because of an ice storm I had to take out a large maple and a ash tree. I had a local saw mill cut them up into lumber (4/4 and 8/4). Got a pretty good yield out of them. I stored them in the attic of my storage shed. I sticker-ed them of course. After about 8 years they were dry enough to use for furniture. I still have a few feet left but am always afraid of the possibility of powder post beetles. Have not seen any sign of them as yet.
If I had had the lumber kiln dried there would not be that possibility.

My advice is to always buy kiln-dried lumber, it is worth the extra cost.
If you're drying it yourself,
Sprinkle some anti-insect powder on some of the layers to deter critters.
Make sure it's off the ground whether inside or outside.
Make sure you put some weight on top.
It's possible to build your own "sun" kiln to dry it faster.
Don't be in a hurry. It takes time to dry it yourself….sometimes years.
You can always ask a mill that kiln dries if they will dry it for you. Some will.
I air dry a lot of lumber. The key is a good level foundation. This will keep all the boards perfectly flat. Put stickers between the layers on the ends and every 18" apart.

Put the best grade lumber on the bottom so the lower grade boards on top will provide weight to keep the better grade stuff flat. Place stack in an open shed, never inside a barn or building, preferably open on all four sides. Air flow is critically important. Too little air flow leads to mold, mildew, and the dreaded gray stain. If you don't have a shed, place a roof over your stack a few inches above the topmost layer. Roofing tin is a good choice, NEVER cover the stack with a tarp. Remember, it is all about air flow, and covering the pile with a tarp is a recipe for disaster and poor quality lumber.

Read "Drying Hardwood Lumber" from the Forest Products Laboratory. Google it.
I towel dry all my lumber. I find that a good, fluffy bath towel, and maybe a bit of lotion on the endgrain makes my lumber very reasonable to deal with…
I am a big fan of air dried lumber, as long as it is dried correctly. I particularly like working with air dried cherry and walnut, which are more pleasant to hand plane and have color I prefer over their kiln dried counterparts.

Here is an article that I wrote on this topic:
I have several times bought 2-300 bdft of green sawn lumber. It is a lot cheaper that way if you have the time and the space to store it while it dries. I have a drying rack in my pole barn that can hold 600 ft or so of lumber drying. The rule of thumbe is one year per inch of thickness. My natural work pace is three or four years from idea to putting in service. I have not had any problem with wood moving too much but I have had problems with some oak that I have stored for 25 years now started to rot under the stickers. Moral of that is to rotate the lumber and move the stickers every so often. I don't paint the ends, which would probably stop some checking, but I buy the cheaper grade and never try to use boards wider than 6". That is because my jointer is 6". I recently put in 200 bd ft of 3/4 maple No 1 and 2 that I got at the saw mill. This is specifically for drawer sides and small boxes. I got a pretty good deal on that. To do this, you need a jointer and a thickness planer, or a great bench, good planes, strong arms, and more experience that I have.
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Window Wood Interior design Shade Architecture

Nothing takes the moisture out of the air like a wood stove…......
I lack patience. Eight years, four years, no thanks…........


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I had a tree that had to come down for an addition. I laid out a nice flat area for drying, On the bare ground.When the cement blocks were set, I made sure they all were alinged. After the wood was stickered, I tied the wood down to pegs that were pounded in. That helped the wood to be held flat. The first year, I retied the straps often to make they were tight. They are inside now, and they are nice. do twist,or any thing. I will use them in a workbench, Rolbu, (I hope)
"I towel dry all my lumber. I find that a good, fluffy bath towel, and maybe a bit of lotion on the endgrain makes my lumber very reasonable to deal with…"

I almost spit out my coffee…lol

MsDebbieP, I recommend you use your search engines and do your home work. It would be impossible to answer those questions in just a few paragraphs.

Read this:
Hi Scott .. thanks for the feedback.
The intention of these tips & tricks are not specifically for my benefit. Members have asked for a "wiki", compiling terminology and tips for easy access, especially for beginning woodworkers.

I hope that people not only post their own tips/tricks but also provide links to blogs, projects, and forum discussions to help explain/explore the topics.
Here's a good site I found a while back. I haven't tried any of their suggestions yet, but I plan to build a solar cycle kiln sometime in the next year!
This is going to sound crazy, but I discovered this sort of by accident. Got a wonderful load of planked cherry, and received it in late January, where it was stickered out in a snowy field in SW Pennsylvania. Been off the tree maybe two months. Didn't have a place to put it, so we had to use one of those rental storage sheds. My wife and I stacked it, stickered, in the shed with some other junk we had in there. Went back in May-June, (after the shed had seen some hot days), to find wonderfully dried cherry, all ready to go, about 7%. Since the rental space stayed dry, and had a nice, flat concrete floor, the wood came around great. So if you rent on of those things, they make a great place to air dry wood with the help of the sun beating down on the roof of the building!
Some species can tolerate fast drying. Some, like oak, cannot. Other woods need a lot of air flow to avoid mold, mildew, and stain. Cherry is pretty forgiving.
Yet to try the microwave method but will one day.
"Yet to try the microwave method but will one day." <<<Need a big one!
The sawmill, where I get my wood, has a vacuum dryer to dry his wood. It pumps the air, and along with it the moisture, out of a chamber with the wood stacked in it. Much like pumping down an air conditioning system with a vacuum pump.
Tips learned through experience:

1. When stacking, remember that the closer the board originally was to the outer edge of the tree, the more prone to cupping (all those with that nice cathedral grain). Put them on the bottom of the stack, weigh them heavily, or strap them.

2. Sun screen netting works well to wrap the stack on the sides. It will minimize any morning/afternoon sun, stops most wind-driven rain, stops the pile from collecting leaves and debris, and still lets air through. If possible, put it at least a foot away from the lumber. It will slow the air flow some, which is a good thing during the first half of drying walnut, oak, etc. Sam's club here has rolls of it during the summer, so Costco or Menards may also carry it.

3. When transporting your stack of newly cut lumber from the mill, cover it!. (This is the one time a tarp or plastic sheeting is your friend). The boards in an open pick-up bed or trailer exposed to sun or just air flow at highway speeds will be damaged significantly by the fast drying of the high air speed. (learned this the hard way, losing about 20 bf of a 100 bf load of 8/4 walnut to severe checking along the entire boards when transporting it 60 miles home on the interstate. The damage didn't show up until several months later).

4. If stacking/storing on a bare concrete slab, raise the boards at least 6" (more if possible) above the concrete. This is particularly true in a closed building like a garage. The concrete has a lot of moisture in it that will affect the bottom boards. If standing them on end when keeping in the shop awaiting use, put a solid board or other moisture barrier under the ends touching the floor.


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I've compiled a large bibliography of articles on drying hardwoods and here are a few sources.

Fine Woodworking, 9/10-1996, p68.
Fine Woodworking, 9/10-2001, by Garnet Hack
Drying Hardwood Lumber and others: Google "Drying Hardwoods" and the first results lead you to a website that has many many articles for download. I think these are from the USDA and other Federal Agencies.

If there are things you can't locate, let me know and I can email them to you.
Build a covered shed with a large overhang, start with a level base, stich each row at about 18 inches, leave space between each board,seal the end grain with paint, weight the top, spray for insects and go away for 3 years for best results.
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