How to Dry Wood for Woodworking


drying logs for woodworking

How to Dry Logs

Are you curious about how to dry wood or how to dry logs for woodworking? Freshly cut wood is full of moisture. As the water dries out, the lumber might shrink unevenly, because of the varying sizes of the cells. So, to prevent your wood from warping, cracking or looking out of shape, dry it well before using it.

So, how can you dry wood for woodworking? Air drying is probably the most straightforward and least expensive way to dry lumber. However, it’s also the slowest method. Drying times may vary significantly according to the wood type, initial moisture content, ambient setting, lumber thickness and processing methods.

Here, I take a look at how to dry wood, how to dry logs and how to dry wood fast for woodworking.

I’ll also answer, how long does it take for wood to dry? Can you dry wood in an oven? Read on for more details.

Steps of How to Dry Wood through the Air-Drying Method

1.      Preparations

You should start by knowing what you want to make with the lumber. That is especially essential, because wood tends to shrink as it losses it’s moisture content.

Knowing the dimensions enables you to cut the wood bigger than what you require, leaving space for size reduction.

Begin by cutting the lumber planks with a circular saw and then sand the sides with a sanding machine.

Also, look for a wide open space for storing the planks. The storage area should be free of moisture.

You’ll also need a moisture meter, (link to Amazon) wooden sticks for support, concrete blocks and plywood.

2.      Measure the Moisture Content

It’s essential to know the moisture level within a wooden plank. The moisture content is a term that denotes the level of water in wood and it’s read in percentage form.

The figure can at times exceed 100%. That’s because it’s the ratio of wetness in a wood piece to the weight of the wood when it’s fully dry.

Different wood species have different readings of moisture content.

For instance, Willow, which is one of the wettest species, has a moisture content of 180%. White ash has a content of 60%.

Wood-drying firms usually look to bring the moisture levels down to 25% and then they utilize a kiln to lower it to 7-8%.

If you’re air-drying at home, you should aim for a reading of 15-20%.

You may also want to understand the notion of equilibrium moisture content (EMC).

Timber typically reaches its EMC when its moisture content balances with that of the surrounding air.

Thus, if you store your wood in a wet setting, it will become wetter until it balances with the level of the surroundings.

You can measure the moisture content of your timber using a moisture meter.

It’s a handheld device that provides the moisture reading as a percentage of the wood’s weight.

When the reading reaches about 6-7%, you can stop the drying process and start your woodworking project.

3.      Position Your Planks

Put the wooden sticks on the floor. Maintain a distance of about 20cm between every stick.

Continue the process until the sticks cover the length of your planks.

Put a layer of planks on top of the wooden sticks until the width of the planks covers the length of every stick.

4.      Extra Layers

After placing the first layer, you can commence with adding a second layer of sticks on the planks.

Keeping the same 20cm gap between the sticks, place the sticks until they cover the length of the wooden planks.

After that, place the planks on top of the sticks. Repeat the process until you reach the height you want.

5.      Place the Top Layer

After reaching the height you want, place plywood on top of the wooden planks.

That will protect them from the rain and exert pressure on them.

Additionally, you should place several concrete blocks atop the plywood, so that they add weight on top of the planks.

The constant downward pressure from the concrete blocks will prevent the wood from warping upwards.

Moreover, it will ensure you achieve a uniform wooden plank without any cuts or grooves.

As you air-dry your wood, please keep the following things in mind:

  • Use proper storage methods: You need to stacks and store the planks well to prevent them from warping or developing cracks
  • Do not use wood from younger trees: Wood from younger trees is unstable and prone to longitudinal shrinkage. The wood will require more time to dry up and has more chances of getting cracks
  • Stay away from knots: Knots are former base connections of braches. You should avoid knots because the wood in them is susceptible to warping and cracking
  • Avoid branches or leaning trees: Any wood with slanting growth does not have uniform ring spacing. The abnormal growth can lead to several unpredictable warping issues during drying.
  • Be careful with spiral grains: Some wood types have spiral grains, whereby the wood fibers grow in an interlocking manner. That can cause drying problems like twisting. Careful drying with proper staking and weighing will help to alleviate the challenges of irregular spiral grains.

How Long Does It Take For Wood To Dry?

Multiple factors impact the rate at which lumber dries, so it’s not easy to tell how long it will take.

Different types of wood take different amounts of time to dry.

And the relative humidity of the atmosphere will impact the drying rates.

But, for most wood types the drying takes around a year per inch of thickness. 

How to Dry Wood Fast for Woodworking

Without a doubt, the air-drying process takes too much time.

That may be inconvenient for people who want to accomplish a fast woodworking project.

If you are wondering, can you dry wood in an oven? Yes, you can use a microwave oven to dry small wood pieces faster or a conventional oven for medium pieces.

1.      How to Use a Microwave oven to Dry Small Pieces of Wood

The first step is to weigh your wood pieces with a postal scale.

You can purchase an electronic postal or a pocket scale from an office supplier or a big-box store.

One you have the scale, set it to measure grams and put your wood onto it. After that, take your moisture meter and measure the water levels.

If the moisture content reading is 15-25%, heat the wood using the lowest setting on your microwave for 45-60 seconds.

Start by putting 3-5 paper towels on the plate of the microwave and put your wood sample on top.

Set your oven to a “Low” setting and watch out for smoke. Also, if you’re heating multiple pieces, don’t let them touch as they can light on fire.

If the moisture content is 30% or more, heat using the second-lowest heat level for 1.5-3 minutes.

Begin by layering five paper towels on the appliance’s plate and place your lumber on top.

Set the heat to “Defrost” level and if you smell smoke or burning switch to the “Low” setting.

After the first round of heating your samples, weigh them on a scale and record the weight.

You’ll notice that every piece is lighter, which is a sign that moisture is escaping.

The aim is to continue heating the pieces of wood until you can’t notice any weight change anymore.

Keep in mind that different wood species dry at different rates. So, do not worry if some pieces lose water slower than others.

2.      How to Use a Conventional Oven to Dry Medium Wood Pieces

Here, start by preheating your oven to 217ºF or the closest increment like 215ºF.

After that, put one kitchen rack on the base and another in the middle.

Now, put a large baking pan on the base rack and an oven thermometer on the middle rack.

Monitor the oven thermometer every ten minutes.

Given that it’s too high, reduce the temperature, or increase it if it is too low.

Adjust the temperature using the smallest increments for maximum accuracy.

Place your wood samples onto the middle rack and let it sit for one hour. Ensure that none of the wood pieces are touching.

After one hour, test the wood’s moisture levels and reheat for 15-minute intervals as necessary.

Remove the wood samples from the oven after reaching the desirable water content.

3.      Tips on How to Speed Up Drying for Large Pieces of Wood

  • Process the wood as quickly as possible: After cutting down your tree, turn the timber into lumber as soon as possible. Processing will help to open up the wood and help in drying. That can prevent staining and rotting
  • Keep the timber in a shady area with ample airflow: Look for an indoor place like a shed or a shady outdoor location. Avoid garages, basements, or other places with insufficient air flow
  • Seal the ends immediately: Apply some paraffin wax, latex paint or polyurethane on the ends of the wood pieces to prevent moisture decay. Sealing also helps to prevent cracking and splitting from drying too fast

Conclusion

Drying green timber for making furniture or other items is something wood companies and carpenters do all the time.

Now that you know how to dry wood properly, hopefully you’ll avoid warping and twisting in your next woodworking project.

Correct wood drying is essential because things can go wrong if you don’t follow the right steps.

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