So I managed to pick up the wood about 3 weeks ago, and it has been drying and acclimating in my garage ever since.
I picked out four very nice 12’ long 4”x4” pine beams, and another six 10’ 4”x4” pine beams that were all very straight along their length with the straightest grain I could find. None contain any pith, which is key in a project like this, as you don’t want the top cracking. And if you’ve never seen it, a 4”x4” with a pith in it, or anything else for that matter, will almost certainly crack and split over time, and many times will bow and twist as well. Not what we’re looking for!
The only downfall to buying local lumber like this is that it has never seen a kiln. It wasn’t as dry as it needed to be at close to 12% moisture as read by my cheap General pin meter. So, I decided to take action and get this wood down to a useable moisture level. And not wanting to wait all summer, I did what I could to speed things along.
First, I skim planed the outside of all the beams with my #5 Stanley Jack plane using an iron with a good bit of camber. This will basically remove the “crust” and let the fresh wood in the middle breath a bit. I also cut an inch off each end of the beams with a handsaw. Since I bought the wood long and made sure I had a fair bit more than necessary, I don’t mind losing a little to checking if it means I can get it dried faster.
Now, I brought the wood into my garage where I had arranged a row of pallets for the wood to set on and dry. I also used 2×4’s on edge every 18” to raise the beams off the pallets for increased airflow, and used 2×4’s between each layer of beams too. I then weighted them down with a row of cinder blocks along the top to try to hold them down and keep them from moving too much while drying.
Since I want to get this stuff dry ASAP, I made a sort of “tunnel” over the stack by placing pallets on edge down each side and draping a tarp over the top. I then put a box fan at each end to create a wind tunnel effect, and I keep them on low and run them on timers, 4 hours on, 4 hours off. I’m sure this isn’t the best way to dry this stuff, not by far, and I’m not telling you to do it. But I want it dry!
I’ve been checking the wood regularly, and every third day I shut the fans off for the whole day and let the wood normalize a bit. After nearly 3 weeks of this, they’re down to 9%, and the stack is now sitting open with a small fan circulating the air in the garage and the windows open. I’ll be bringing the wood into the basement in a few days, where it will sit for about a week for it’s final acclimation before I start to tear into it and get this bench built!
Now for any of you who plan to build a bench like this or similar, if you buy your wood at a lumber yard or box store and it has been kiln dried, you obviously won’t need to go to the lengths I did to get it dry.
BUT, you do need to bring it into your shop and let it acclimate before you start cutting and building. This is a good practice with any project. Chances are, your shop is at a different temperature and humidity level then where you bought the wood, especially if it was an outdoor lumber yard or inside in a box store and your shop is in your basement, like mine is.
Box stores run massive heaters in the winter and A/C’s in the summer, and both dry the air out a lot! Your shop will almost always have a higher humidity level than a box store, so be sure if you go that route to give the wood a week or two to acclimate so it doesn’t start to swell one you get started building and cutting joinery.
Once this stuff is acclimated and dry, it’ll be time to start cuttin! Should be soon, in a week or two I’d think.
Until then, Stay SAFE! And have fun too!