Perhaps you’ve recently used your chainsaw to cut down some trees intending to do some woodwork, or you’ve purchased some damp wood from a local sawmill that needs drying before you can use it.
In either case, you’re probably looking for a way to dry your timber quickly so that you can get started on your woodworking project as soon as possible.
So for all the woodworkers and carpenters out there, in the following article, we’ll go over precisely what you can do to extract moisture from your own lumber, plus provide you with some expert tips for speeding up the process.
See Related: Where To Find Free Lumber
Why does Wood need to be dry?
From root to leaf, trees contain lots of moisture. This water content is essential for the tree’s growth and survival.
When it comes to using lumber for woodwork, freshly cut, wet wood or “green wood” (moisture content of over 19%) won’t do. You need to ensure it’s thoroughly dry before attempting any construction with it.
Otherwise, wood will take on a different shape and texture once dry and often shrinks significantly.
This means any structure you’ve built will slowly shift as the wood dries, altering your woodwork creation and probably causing damage. It may cause cracked joints, stability issues, and even end in a lawsuit against the builder.
It’s essential that you dry lumber sufficiently before attempting any construction with it. If you try to build a house with green lumber, the boards may crack, nails can pop out and other structural issues are bound to crop up.
Sometimes you can only purchase green lumber (especially when shopping exotic hardwoods), and you are tasked with drying it before use.
Drying Times For Air Drying Lumber
The amount of time it will take for green lumber to air-dry will depend entirely on the quantity and size of the wood you want to dry. It commonly takes from 2 months to 12 months for storebought lumber to dry to the 19% mark.
Air Dried Lumber will have a moisture content of 15 to 19%. Great for homebuilding.
Kiln Dried Lumber will be in the 6-8% range and will have even less shrinkage, which makes it ideal for furniture.
Side note: firewood can take as much as six months dry correctly and become properly seasoned.
As you follow the method outlined below, it should only be a matter of weeks or months before your wood is dry enough for woodworking.
How To Dry Wood For Woodworking
Air-drying lumber is the standard, time-tested method for effective drying.
While it might not be the fastest, it is the simplest and doesn’t require expensive equipment like a kiln or commercial microwave.
Below we’ll take you through the steps for successfully air drying your wood.
Choose Long Logs
Firstly, make sure you overestimate the size of the wood logs you’ll be needing, as the wood will shrink as it dries.
Opt for longer logs to ensure you still have enough timber to work with once it dries.
Use A Moisture Meter
The next step is to purchase a wood moisture meter, a tool that will tell you how much moisture is in the lumber.
A moisture meter comes with two metal probes, which, when placed into contact with the wood, will notify you exactly how much water content is present.
The optimal number you’re looking for is 7% or less moisture. This is the maximum moisture content suitable for woodwork.
After cutting live wood, it’ll likely have a considerably higher moisture level.
Therefore, you should check the relative humidity of your freshly cut wood, but it will need additional time for it to dry before using it.
The next step is to place a row of stickers on the ground. Stickers are small wood pieces that are already dry and will provide airflow around all edges of your lumber.
Lay them out with around 16 inches of space between them.
Stickers are essential as they provide an elevated base, which allows adequate air circulation around the lumber and prevents moisture from the ground from being absorbed by your greenwood
I like to use 4×4’s on the ground level to provide a little more airflow on that bottom row. Air gets pulled in through the bottom thanks to the chimney effect of the stack.
Essentially, using stickers will help expedite the drying process.
Take the logs you want to dry and begin placing the first layer on top of your stickers.
It’s essential to make sure you stack the wood perpendicular to the stickers and leave a space of at least one inch between each log. This will allow for sufficient airflow, further aiding the drying process.
Put Stickers Between each Layer
Now you’ve laid down the first layer, you will need to proceed with another layer of stickers.
Remember that greenwood cannot be stacked directly on top of each other as that would prevent airflow.
Therefore, you need to alternate between layers of stickers, each spaced about 16 inches apart, and layers of wood to be dried, each spaced an inch apart.
Cover Your Stack With Plywood And Weigh It Down
The final step is to weigh down the woodpile and take steps to protect it from the rain if it is stacked outdoors.
Cover your stack with as many sheets of plywood as needed, and then place some weight on top, such as a few bricks or cinder blocks.
Weighing the pile down is vital to ensure that the wood does not warp and helps it maintain its original shape.
Warped wood, or wood bent out of shape, will not be helpful for woodwork, so be sure to take this step. Covering the stack with sheets of plywood will also protect the wood from the rain.
Wood can warp very quickly. I had a green board that sat in my garage for 4 weeks. It was stacked wrongly with another board trapped under one end, and by the time I built my office wall, the board was unusable.
Turn Your Garage Into A Kiln
NOTE: Proper Precautions are needed to keep this from becoming a fire hazard. For example, I wouldn’t build this in my new house with my attached garage and master suite over it. Too much risk of building my own funeral Pyre. Proceed at your own risk.
If you have a small quantity of wood that you are trying to dry, you might try drying it in your garage or storage shed.
Using a dehumidifier, heat lamps and box fan, you can wood down to 8% moisture content for furniture making.
You basically stack the wood with stickers the same way discussed above. Then you create a “box” around the lumber stack using 4×8 sheets and plastic.
You need to get the kiln to about 100 degrees, and to prevent the risk of fire, you will want the heat lamps plugged into an outlet that has a temperature controller on it that can turn the lamps on and off.
A space heater is the first thought on these builds, but their internal fuse shuts them off at around 80 degrees fahrenheit.
With a system like this, you can dry the wood in a couple of weeks.
Once dry, you can then raise the temperature to around 150 degrees to sterilize the wood from insects.
Industrial And Other Wood Drying Solutions
So far, we’ve discussed traditional ways of drying wood on your own.
However, the lumber you purchase from the hardware store is usually processed and dried using the following industrial methods.
Kiln drying is a high-speed drying method, which usually only takes a few hours to dry a large quantity of timber.
It is far more efficient than air-drying as you have complete control of both the temperature and the humidity, meaning you can manipulate them as needed for optimal results.
The advantage of this is that the wood dries evenly, and the outer shell and inner core both dry at the same pace. This will result in a uniform finished product without any of the drying defects you’ll often encounter with conventional methods.
If you do not have access to a kiln, you can do a quick search online and will likely find one available for hire near you.
Microwave Wood Drying
Microwave drying is best for smaller pieces of wood unless you have access to something like an industrial-sized microwave drier.
If you decide on this drying method, be very careful about the time you microwave to avoid scorching the wood.
Generally speaking, around 2 minutes of microwave time is recommended for a 1.5-inch thickness of greenwood. You can then use a moisture meter to gauge the moisture content of the wood.
While this is a faster method than air drying, it is only suitable for small pieces of wood.
However, if that’s all you need, microwaving is a viable option as it dries wood extremely fast.