Starting any woodworking project with wood that hasn’t reached the correct dryness is dooming that project from the start, as wet wood begins to rot and form mold/mildew extremely fast. Not to mention that sanding a piece of wet wood can completely ruin your sandpaper and turn it into mush because of the moisture trapped inside. The process of drying your wood for any woodworking process is extremely long, but there are many methods of drying wood and some of them are so easy and accessible that anyone can do it at home, provided that they follow the instructions carefully.
Figuring out the fastest method for your wood highly depends on the size of wood you’re working with. The larger the piece, the more time it’s going to take to dry.
Unless you have an enormous microwave lying around, this method of drying wood is only going to be suitable for smaller pieces of wood as it’s all you’re going to be able to fit into a regular microwave oven. This method is really quick, but it requires a lot of caution since you can easily scorch your piece of wood to its core if you don’t carefully carry out this process. First, you need to get a small piece of wood (around 1.5-inch thickness) that contains a high level of moisture so you can begin the process. Next, you need to place the piece of wood in your microwave oven for 2 minutes increments and then take it out and let it rest for 3 minutes.
Repeat this process until you get to your desired moisture level. It can be easy to either over-do or under-do this process if you don’t have a moisture meter. This tool allows you to accurately track the moisture within your wood so that the drying process is a lot faster and more successful. Make sure you always have protective equipment like protective gloves and a face mask while handling the pieces of wood as over-doing this process might cause you to scorch your wood, rendering it useless, while also building up a large amount of smoke in your woodworking station.
Drying pieces of wood in a regular oven is one of the most accessible methods you can utilize to dry your wood quickly and economically. The steps to perform this method of drying are fairly simple, however, they require a lot of attention during this short period. The pieces of wood dried using this method can’t be too large to fit in your oven, but you can easily use smaller pieces of wood with varying sizes.
This process involves three primary steps. First is to heat your oven to 217 °F (103 °C) and place your wood on a baking pan on the bottom rack of your oven. You then need to place an oven thermometer anywhere on the corners of the center rack to track the temperature accurately. Once that first step is done, you leave your wood in the oven and check on the temperature every 10-15 minutes to ensure that the heat is still the same. If the heat is too low, bring up the temperature back to 217 °F (103 °C) and vice versa. The third and final step is done after an hour of repeating the second step, and that‘s to take random pieces of different sizes out of the oven and measure their moisture levels using a moisture meter to ensure that they have reached your desired moisture levels and once they do, the process is complete.
This process is extremely quick, but it only works for smaller pieces of wood and requires careful monitoring, much like the microwave oven method. Failing to monitor your wood carefully might result in the loss of an entire batch of wood for your next woodworking process.
If you have the time and space required to dry your wood indoors, you may want to consider air drying indoors as a viable method to get your dry wood. Using this method allows you to dry much larger pieces of wood but at the cost of a lot of time. Generally speaking, air-drying wood indoors can take up to a year to achieve the desired moisture levels if you don’t use any extra tools to speed the process up. One very important aspect to consider before delving deeper into this drying method is what you‘re going to use the wood for as it‘s recommended to expose the wood to an environment that‘s similar to the one you‘re going to use the wood for. An example of this is if you wanted to make a table for your house then it’s recommended to dry the wood in an environment that shares the same room temperature.
After getting your desired wood for drying, you want to chop it up into even pieces that you can stack on top of each other. This can be done by placing a few 2×4 pieces on the ground to elevate your slabs and separating each slab with a spacer. In woodworking terms, the separating pieces of wood are called stickers and they provide a moisture barrier while also minimizing warping. Once you’ve carefully placed your slabs, you can then allow them to dry by providing them with a constant airflow using fans and speed up the process using a dehumidifier. From there, you flip the slabs every 7-10 days to minimize warping and check the moisture levels using a moisture meter.
During this process, mold or mildew might start to form on some of your slabs and if that happens, you can simply apply undiluted white vinegar and restack the slab once it completely dries. This stops the spread of mold/mildew and leaves a mark that’s easily removable during the sanding process.
Air-drying outdoors is only made possible based on the weather conditions around you as it can allow you to have a smooth drying process if you have dry, warm wind to assist you with the drying process. If the weather conditions outside are either too humid or too cold, the drying process is going to be slowed dramatically.
If you live somewhere with constant risks of rain, you might want to consider getting yourself a waterproof trap to help you protect your wood at all times from the rain. Elevating your wood higher with the use of stickers can also prevent your slabs from absorbing any moisture from the ground. Following the same timings as air drying indoors, you will be able to dry your wood outdoors without any issues as long as you protect your wood from any of the elements. You can also add a fan to increase the airflow and decrease the drying time considerably if you’re short on time with the project you are working on.
Air-drying large pieces of wood indoors or outdoors can take a lot longer when you can’t regulate things like the temperature and the humidity levels. This isn’t something you ever have to worry about if you’re looking into kiln drying as this method controls both of these aspects very carefully to provide a very short and efficient drying process that’s perfect for larger pieces of wood. Some kilns are even automated to constantly regulate the perfect drying temperatures for your wood at all times with the minimum amount of effort expended, however, this requires you to have an automated kiln at your disposal. While a lot of people don’t personally own a kiln to dry their wood, a lot of woodworkers still use kiln dryers near them to dry large pieces of wood if the weather around them doesn’t support air drying. Places like Manchester often don’t meet the weather requirements needed to efficiently dry large pieces of wood while also constantly battling with the elements all year round.
Some sawmills even offer the option to purchase wood that has already been dried so that you completely avoid the drying process. As mentioned over at Buyfirewooddirect.co.uk, and many other sawmills that offer dried wood, you can easily find the drying process mentioned on any of their websites and cross-compare them to air-drying indoors/outdoors near you to determine whether purchasing dry wood is better for you. Long-established sawmills describe the automated kilns to “have all the vital elements required to provide you with the highest quality of consistently dried hardwood logs.”
When your slabs of wood go through the milling process, you’ll find that there’s a lot of leftover sawdust all over them. This sawdust can prevent moisture from leaving your slabs of wood and cause higher chances of mold and mildew forming. The sawdust can also be a nuisance if you’re drying your wood indoors as it’ll be scattered all over your house and can cause a very unnecessary vacuum cleaning chore. To avoid this hassle, all you have to do is brush off your slabs individually before you take them indoors to ensure that all the sawdust is taken care of before you bring them inside your home.
A lot of insects reside within pieces of wood and they can still be there after the milling process. You can easily spot whether or not insects are present in any slab by simply looking out for holes where they’re usually burrowed in.
The area where you’re placing your wood to dry may seem leveled at first glance, but after the drying process begins, you might spot a few things that indicate otherwise. If the area you’re drying your wood in is slanted, you’ll start to notice that your slabs are also slanting towards that general direction and that can cause your unevenness after the drying process is complete.
This is one of the most important things to watch out for at the beginning of your drying process as sealing the ends of your slabs can reduce the chances of your wood splitting drastically. You can do this using a sealing substance specifically made for drying wood or you can opt for some latex paint, however, latex paint doesn’t work as good as an engrain sealing substance but it works a lot better than doing nothing at all.
There are many aspects to consider when picking the sticker size and each one of them impacts the drying process drastically. If you’re drying your wood indoors without having a lot of space to work with, you’re going to benefit a lot more from using thinner stickers. If you’re drying your wood outside, then you’re going to benefit a lot from thicker stickers that elevate your slabs higher to avoid any moisture from the ground if there’s any rain. Some other things to consider are the access to airflow as the thinner the stickers, the more airflow you’re going to need to efficiently dry your wood and vice versa.
Professionals in woodworking always recommend sticking to around 7-9% moisture levels as those are generally known as the ‘sweet spot’ where the wood is dry enough for you to begin any woodworking projects. A percentage as high as 14% can still be worked with but it isn’t recommended due to higher risks of rotting, mildew, and mold. You can’t track any of these percentages without a moisture meter so make sure you grab one to help you accurately dry your wood.
Keeping track of all the variables that go into drying wood can seem very difficult at first, but once you have a little bit of experience, you’ll be able to easily determine the fastest and most efficient way to dry your wood for your woodworking projects. Make sure you pay attention to all of the things you should be watching out for as the worst thing that could happen to you while you’re drying your wood is to lose some of the slabs by not paying enough attention to them during the drying process.