Using Air Dried Lumber

“I have a barn full of red oak, some black walnut and some white oak; it was sawn by my Dad 7 to 9 years ago. It seems to be very dry and ready to be used. The material is off of our farm and I would like to use the material for tongue and groove flooring, wainscoting and cabinet fronts. I have been told by a couple of people not to use this material because it is not kiln dried. Can I use this wonderful lumber for these projects without experiencing cracking or shrinking down the road?”

Submitted by: bwmartin

WWGOA Editor Response:

As a rule, air drying brings wood down to 12-14% moisture content, maybe slightly lower. The mill I talked to here in Wisconsin would like to see material come in at 6-8% if they’re going to make it into flooring. Same applies for most cabinet and furniture making projects, as well as wainscoting.

I recommend that you purchase a moisture meter and check your stack. For tongue and groove flooring, try to hit 6-8% mc.You may have to send the material to a local kiln for ‘finishing.’ If, by cabinet fronts, you mean face frames, you’ll be fine using the material at an air dried mc level. You could use air dried lumber for raised panels in doors, but you’ll need to allow a little more room for movement than you would on a kiln dried panel.

In addition to a moisture meter, another good investment would be the Lee Valley Wood Movement Reference Guide. You can use it to determine just how much a piece of wood will move, specie by specie, depending on initial moisture content.

George Vondriska

Managing Editor

Got a woodworking question you need answered? Comment or Email us at editor@wwgoa.com

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Discussion
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4 Responses to “Using Air Dried Lumber”
  1. FRANK

    Doesn’t wood that comes out of a kiln at 6-8% moisture content pick up moisture from the air, and end up in the 10-12% moisture content that air-dried wood is at? In other words, why put wood into a kiln after it has air dried, if it’s only going to pick up moisture after it comes out and return to the moisture level it had before it went in to the kiln?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Frank. Kiln dried wood does still fluctuate in moisture content, but not as readily as air dried wood it seems. I use almost exclusively air dried lumber. I dry wood down to 7-9% up in my attic, and it works extremely well for furniture. When I take it down into my shop, the MC doesn’t change to a measurable degree. If I move it outside, it will rise up to the 10-12% range, and then I would have to let it sit inside again for a while before using it on a project of any size. I find no practical stability advantage with kiln dried wood. The only times when I would consider drying in a kiln would be if I were in a hurry, or if I had reason to believe that the wood might have some insect infestation. Kiln’s can dry wood at a high enough temperature to kill insects and larvae, whereas air drying generally doesn’t achieve this.
      Thanks
      Paul-WWGOA

      Reply
  2. Randy Baldwin

    I bought some cherry planks (2.25X17) that have been air-drying for about 1 1/2 years. They check about 13%MC How long can I expect it to take to reach 8-10% MC ? Want to make a dining room table

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Randy. It depends on some other variables, in addition to just time. In some areas if they are stored outside they might never get below 12%. Move them inside, sticker and stack them, and run a fan on them for the for the fastest results.
      Thanks
      Paul-WWGOA

      Reply