Are you planning on taking your woodworking to the next level by using fresh lumber instead of buying some from the hardware store?
Before you start using your freshly chopped wood, there’s one thing you need to watch out for: fresh lumber is called green wood, because it has a lot of moisture in it.
In this post, we’ll take a look at how to dry wood fast for woodworking. So if you’ve chopped some wood yourself, or found that the wood you bought from the store has absorbed some moisture, here’s how you can fix it.
Do you need to dry wood?
You may think that it’s ok to use green lumber as long as it’s not soaking wet. After all, you can hardly see the moisture!
Do not make this mistake!
Wood can absorb moisture very quickly, and it takes a long time to lose it. As moisture evaporates, the wood will contract due to the temperature changes caused by the evaporation process.
If you’ve cut up and fixed pieces of wet wood, they’ll probably end up cracking or warping as the moisutre evaporates. This will be especially apparent around joints where there is more pressure.
So the next time you end up with green lumber either by cutting it yourself or because the wood you bought absorbed some atmospheric moisture, make sure you factor in the drying time as part of your project.
Which method you choose to dry wood with depends on how thick and long the lumber is.
Unfortunately, you can’t even measure wood before drying it as it will contract as it dries. However, if you’ve got very large pieces of wood and just need to make them smaller before drying them, you can certainly do that. Just don’t expect the measurements to remain exact.
How to dry wood for woodworking
There are two main methods for drying wood: air drying and kiln drying. You can also dry wood using an industrial microwave, but not everyone has easy access to one.
The method you’ll most likely use is the air drying method as it hardly requires any equipment. However, it does require dry weather conditions, so if you live in a naturally humid area, you’ll need to purchase an additional dehumidifier or try the kiln method.
How to air dry wood
Before you dry wood, it’s important to know how much moisture is actually in the wood. For this, you’ll need a wood moisture meter. This device measures the wood’s moisture content. You just touch the probes to the wood and it will measure the amount of water in the wood.
You’ll want to periodically test the moisture content to see how far your wood is in the drying process. As a good benchmark, you can work with wood that has a moisture content of 7% or less.
Anything higher than 7% must be dried.
To effectively dry wood, you’ll need to use small blocks of wood called stickers. Stickers are just small pieces of already-dry wood. Place the stickers on the ground with gaps of around 1.5 feet between each.
The layer of stickers is very important because it will raise the wood you’re drying above the ground. This will increase airflow on the bottom of the wood and result in even drying. It will also prevent any moisture in the ground from getting into the wood.
Make your layer of stickers using as many stickers as you need.
Stack the wood on the layer of stickers. Lay them perpendicular to the stickers and leave about an inch or two between each piece of wood. The whole setup will look a bit like railroad tracks!
Depending on the amount of wood you need to dry, you can add another layer of stickers on top of the wood you’ve already put down and stack more lumber on top.
You can increase the height of the stack as high as you need to go.
Remember to separate each layer of wood with stickers, as proper airflow is absolutely critical.
The only way the moisture will leave the wood is if it comes in contact with a good amount of air!
Moisture will evaporate from the ends of the lumber pieces much faster than it will evaporate from the other parts. If moisture evaporates unevenly, it may result in your wood splitting or developing cracks. To prevent this from happening, you must seal the ends of your lumber pieces before you leave them out to dry.
A pro tip to prevent any extra warping is to weigh down your entire stack with a piece of plywood and some bricks or cinderblocks.
Place a large piece of plywood on top of your stack and add cinderblocks to keep the plywood in place and increase the pressure on the wood.
An added bonus of this final step is that it will protect your air-drying stack from any occasional rain.
Can you speed up the air drying process?
Air drying is a pretty slow process by nature. The best way to dry wood fast is to dry more wood than you need, meaning you’ll have a stack of lumber ready for your next few projects instead of just for your next one project.
You’ll have to wait a little for the first project, but all your subsequent projects will be pretty quick.
You can also try to create conditions in which air drying occurs as quickly as possible. Place the wood in an open area that has good air circulation. The windier the area, the better, as that much more air will come in contact with the wood.
Also try to place it where there is ample sunlight.
If you live in a generally humid area, the air will already hold a lot of moisture, meaning the wood will lose moisture more slowly as the air does not have the capacity to absorb quite as much. In this case, it’s better to dry the wood indoors with a humidifier and a fan.
Build your drying stack in the garage or shed, and add a dehumidifier and fan to help dry the air. You can also try adding a heater and an extractor fan to promote good air circulation.
Throwing a dehumidifer into the equation is one of the best ways to really speed up the air drying process for wood. Just remember to empty out the dehumidifier regularly. If the water tank becomes full, it will not function properly until you empty it again.
Air drying pros
- Low cost
- Can dry a lot of wood with one setup
Air drying cons
- Takes a long time
How to dry wood in a kiln
Kiln drying is one of the most effective ways to dry wood, but there are two caveats:
- you need to own a kiln
- the pieces of wood need to be quite small
Kiln drying your wood lets you control variables like temperature and humidity, and it’s super quick. While air drying may take days, kiln drying takes hours.
It may be much cheaper to find a nearby shop that has a kiln and pay them to dry your wood than to go out and buy a kiln yourself.
How to dry wood in a microwave
Many lumber and woodworking industries have access to wood-drying microwaves. However, chances are you won’t have one in your garage.
You can dry small pieces of wood in a home microwave.
Realistically, this method will only be practical if you need to put the finishing touches on a project very fast and the only lumber you have lying around is something with excess moisture content.
If you do plan on drying some wood in the microwave, be very careful: putting the wood in the microwave for too long may scorch the wood!
Ideally, microwave the wood for short intervals and keep testing the moisture content until you get to the level you need.
A good benchmark is to put a piece of wood 1.5 inches thick for about 2 minutes.
Microwaves are really effective because they’re designed to energize water molecules, so this method is even faster than drying wood in a kiln. It’s more energy-efficient, too.
Air-drying, kiln-drying, and microwave-drying are your best bets for removing moisture from and drying wood. Make sure you invest in a moisture meter first, as that will help you determine how long you need to really dry the wood for in the first place.
Removing moisture is a critical step in any woodworking project, and failing to do so properly may result in your project suddenly developing cracks!