Air Drying Lumber
For exterior or construction uses, best results can be obtained by
air drying lumber. The degree of wetness in wood is called moisture
content, and it's expressed as a percentage. Depending on your
particular area air drying can bring the moisture content down
below 7% making your material suitable for interior cabinet work
and furniture. This process is easy and free.
Green lumber should be stacked on stickers as soon as possible
after sawing. This improves air circulation between the boards,
speeds drying and prevents discoloration. Applying an end sealer
to the boards will reduce splitting and saves as much as 10% of the
Properly stacked lumber dries quickly in warm, dry weather.
Softwoods like pine and cedar will air dry to suitable moisture
content in as little as 6 weeks during the spring and summer
months. Hardwoods like Maple, Oak and Walnut will dry in 6 -12
months. Little or no air drying takes place in wet damp weather.
The illustration below shows a properly stacked pile of green
lumber. The "stickers" (1" X 1") and top weights should be aligned
vertically and placed about 2 feet apart.
Cover the top of the pile with a tin sheet with overhang on all sides.
Leave a space between the cover and the lumber pile.
According to the U.S. Forest Service's Forest Products Laboratory in
Madison, Wisconsin, it takes 1"-thick green boards from 45-60 days to
air dry to 15-20 percent moisture content in sunny, temperate,
not-too-humid weather. If you live where it's colder and damper, count
on more time. Inside a garage or barn the drying process can prove
slower, taking three or four months before the wood reaches its
optimum moisture content and can be worked. But achieving workable
stock means starting with a proper stack.
Site your stack, then build it right
Pick a storage spot for your boards that's in the open, but avoid low,
damp, or boggy areas. And, keep the stack from under trees that can
litter it with twigs and leaves. On the other hand, don't pick the sunniest
spot in your yard, your boards might dry too rapidly. Keep wind
direction in mind, too. The (prevailing) wind should blow through the
side of the stack, not through an end. It'll dry much quicker going
through the side, and you won't get as many end-checks.
Things to remember about drying wood
Drying your own wood can be great, if you follow this advice:
Be sure to level the stack's foundation, but provide for a slight drainage
slope. Put down a vapor barrier if the ground seems damp.
Check the stack occasionally. Stains or mildew signal drying too slowly.
Excessive checking means drying too fast.
A moisture meter (about $100 at woodworking suppliers) is the most
reliable means of determining moisture content. Check the wood every
few weeks outdoors and after moving it indoors.
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