Air Drying Lumber: Is there a bad way to do it?

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Forum topic by ShannonRogers posted 04-29-2010 05:12 PM 4747 views 1 time favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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540 posts in 3211 days

04-29-2010 05:12 PM

Topic tags/keywords: lumber air drying harvesting

I was listening to Matt Vanderlist’s latest interview with Hendrik Varju the other day and the topic of “poorly dried” wood came up a few times. I’m no sawyer and I don’t do this very much, but I do keep an eye out for found wood and fallen trees to potentially harvest for my own use. I have sliced up a few cherry and maple logs and let them air dry in my shop for several years. This past month I used the cherry in a project and I didn’t have any issues as I believe it had sufficient time to dry and acclimate (more than 2 years for 6/4 thickness). My question is: “is there a bad way to air dry wood?” It seems to me if you seal the ends to prevent major checking and set it aside for a long time there won’t be a problem. I understand that kiln drying can lead to a lot of problems if done too fast, etc, but air drying seems pretty straight forward: set it and forget it.

Anybody have any best practices or pitfalls that I need to be sure to avoid. I ask mainly because my neighbor just took down a cherry and a walnut and he has offered up the bulk of the wood for my use as long as I promise to build him something too.

-- The Hand Tool School is Open for Business! Check out my blog and podcast "The Renaissance Woodworker" at

9 replies so far

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 2406 days

#1 posted 04-29-2010 06:11 PM

The one thing you didn’t mention was stickering the wood. The stickers should be set the same as you stack the pile. This allows for air flow and even drying. Stickers that are staggered will tend to lead to uneven drying and create warps in the lumber. Stacking green wood on top of one another without stickers would be a wrong way to dry lumber. If your drying indoors a fan set on low will help to circulate the air flow.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View araldite's profile


188 posts in 2827 days

#2 posted 04-29-2010 06:14 PM

I’ve done it just the way you have and never had a problem. Just make sure the boards have staves in between them to let the air circulate. A moisture meter will help you know when they’re ready.

-- Failure is the road to success if you learn to learn from your mistakes - Vince, Greenville, SC

View Daren Nelson's profile

Daren Nelson

767 posts in 3328 days

#3 posted 04-29-2010 06:15 PM

There are mistakes that can be made, if that is what you mean by ’’bad way to air dry”...improper stickering and stacking, bad location (in the sun/elements or a place where you don’t get good air flow) etc.

I guess the best thing is to learn the “right way” and just go from there. Here is some reading for anyone interested.

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10850 posts in 2538 days

#4 posted 04-29-2010 06:19 PM

ooohjaa there is serdently some big mistakes you can do or shuold I say
there is deffently something you shuold avoid
in the aighti´s I destroyded three month of work in a lumberyard becourse
they didn´t told me how to stack it the propper way, I think nearly all the wood
I had stacked had make knots on them self… believe me there is a wrong
to do it
the right way is to place your pins between ich layer of wood
straight a cross with 1½-2 foot between ich pin and for every
new layer place the pins excacly over the pins from the bottom layer wood
and on the top layer of wood you place at least one more layer of wood
and place something haevy on that to prevent warping in the woods of
the few layers of wood at the top of the stack
and then you have to be sure tha t the air can flow free thrugh the stack

thats it I don´t hope my bad english is confusing you too much


View John Ormsby's profile

John Ormsby

1283 posts in 3160 days

#5 posted 04-29-2010 09:05 PM

I have found through my research and practice that air drying wood vertically reduces or eliminates checking. I have never had a problem when drying this way. This method has been used for centuries. For example, on a recent job, we removed a large pecan tree. The home owner asked if it was possible to save some of the wood and use it to make some boxes and other small things for the kids to have as a remembrance of the once large tree. I selected and milled some sections of the tree and started drying them vertically. I only sealed the ends with latex paint. Fast foreward 7 months. They are now at 11% to 12% moisture content and have no checks and no twisting. They are around three feet long and 1 1/2” thick. I believe this wood would have show some checking on the ends if stickered horizontally. You might do an experiment and try drying some planks each way.

-- Oldworld, Fair Oaks, Ca

View Nomad62's profile


726 posts in 2381 days

#6 posted 04-29-2010 09:19 PM

Like anything else there’s right and wrong ways to do everything. Stickering is way important, as is sealing the ends of the wood; I recommend buying a container of sealant (I use Anchorseal, but many are available) and “painting” it on the end grain as soon as possible; preferably as soon as it is cut down. Store it out of the sun and the rain, with air flow available. Cherry and walnut are less prone to spalting, they aren’t too difficult but maple, alder, poplar, and other easily spalting woods will tend to get “sticker stain”, marks where the stickers were that are made from mold forming between the sticker and the wood you are drying; it will need to be milled off so cut those woods thicker and dry them well. Many people use air dried woods, I recommend making sure to put it inside your home for a while, maybe a couple months, to acclimate to the drier air before final machining.

-- Power tools put us ahead of the monkeys

View Les Casteel's profile

Les Casteel

159 posts in 2482 days

#7 posted 04-30-2010 12:17 AM

I get most of my wood green and air dry it. I use mainly 8/4, and its almost always kiln dried way to fast and the insides separate. And, the grain looks better in air dried wood in my opinion. So, I buy and dry my own. Now, you must keep the stack dry, obvious right? My wood gets stickered and placed in a shed that is open to the south west and north east. The prevailing wind blows through all year long without any rain or snow hitting it. I live in Arkansas, so I need at least two complete summers to do it, better with three.

If you didn’t have the shed, I’d cover the stack first with plastic or builder’s felt. Then that with corrugated metal. Overlap the metal at least 4 grooves. I would have at least a foot or more metal hanging over the sides and ends of the stack. Remember to put weight on the metal to keep everything down and not flap. You can buy cinder blocks that are “seconds” to save money or search the construction sites for weight.

Finally, don’t let the wood get too close to the ground and for goodness sakes keep everything LEVEL!! I keep it off the ground at least 20” or so. I’ve never had any trouble with bugs. Some guys re-stack everything at the end of the first summer. That’s a good idea but I usually don’t have the time.

Good Luck!!

-- Les, Arkansas,

View joey's profile


396 posts in 3327 days

#8 posted 04-30-2010 04:13 AM

I think what he was referring to is lumber that had been dried outside where there was a constant change in weather. the green wood under goes to many changes in moisture resulting in the some parts of boards case harding while other parts of the board remain soft. this can be dangerous while working the board.


-- Joey~~Sabina, Ohio

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


17577 posts in 3099 days

#9 posted 04-30-2010 05:20 AM

If you have a board with the pith in it, it will check full length.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

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