What do I need to know about Air Dried lumber?

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Forum topic by BigMig posted 07-09-2013 04:22 PM 1184 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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427 posts in 2582 days

07-09-2013 04:22 PM

Topic tags/keywords: kiln dried air dried moisture content moisture wood movement

Hey, gang, I sometimes see lumber in CL or other places – and sometimes at very competitive prices. Often the lumber has been air-dried. So beside being stickered and dried for a certain amount of time, what esle do I need to ask the seller?

Can air dried be as good/better than kiln dried wood that I get from my regular retail supplier? Should I expect that the discounted price of CL sellers will be offset by additional checking and twist, warp, etc?

Are there other things I should know about air drying? I don’t (yet) own a moisture meter…

-- Mike from Lansdowne, PA

7 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10278 posts in 3617 days

#1 posted 07-09-2013 04:49 PM

I think for domestic hardwoods proper kiln drying produces the
most consistent product.

There’s nothing really wrong with air dried lumber. Some
boards can get case hardened or have hidden flaws
I suppose, but most boards will tend to be okay and
it’s the usable yield that matters so if you’re saving money
by the board foot and getting the lengths you need,
go for it.

You can hold the soft skin of your forearm against a
planed board and if it feels cool, it’s not dry enough for furniture.

View Tennessee's profile


2862 posts in 2483 days

#2 posted 07-09-2013 05:15 PM

I agree with Loren. I recently bought a load of air dried walnut, but it was 15 years off the tree, stickered under cover, and read out at about 9-10% on my moisture meter. So far, all is well.

Kiln dried, I expect it to come in below 8% and over the years I’ve learned that once through the kiln, it seems to take the moisture changes in your shop during the build better than air dried.

Personally, I don’t trust my skin to do the job right since I moved South. Everything down here can get warm, and the wood will still be wet. I trust my Ryobi moisture meter, although I use a pad meter, not a pin meter so I can only penetrate about 1/2-3/4”. That’s all right, since I don’t keep much really thick stock, and when I lathe a bowl from a log I know up front it’s gonna be green.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View fredj's profile


186 posts in 1787 days

#3 posted 07-09-2013 11:01 PM

A lot depends on how long it has dried, and did it dry where you are using it. Some of the most stable and most colorful wood I have worked with was very old air dried wood that had been salvaged from old buildings. Air dried wood also tends to be more tough than hard. The best walnut I’ve every used was from a tree that fell in the woods and had been out long enough for the sapwood to rot away. The heart wood was free of bugs and rot and had wonderful color.

-- Fredj

View WDHLT15's profile


1732 posts in 2445 days

#4 posted 07-10-2013 02:08 AM

Air drying lumber usually does not result in case hardening or honeycombing because the night-time rise in humidity conditions the wood somewhat giving the shell and core time to equalize. Kiln dried lumber only stays “kiln dried” as long as you leave it in a conditioned space that is heated and cooled. Store it outside in a shed or barn, and kiln dried lumber becomes air dried lumber, at least as to moisture content. Keeping it dead stacked does slow the process, so you do have some time to use the kiln dried wood before it increases in moisture content to an air dried level. My air dried wood usually measures 12% – 15% moisture content.

-- Danny Located in Perry, GA. Forester. Wood-Mizer LT40HD35 Sawmill. Nyle L53 Dehumidification Kiln.

View Nomad62's profile


726 posts in 2927 days

#5 posted 07-10-2013 03:48 PM

You should take good care in looking for bugs and/or the holes they leave behind. Little piles of sawdust here and there among the stack is another indicator of bugs. Air dried wood, all things considered, generally works just fine for most people. I wouldn’t recommend fully believing a CL seller as to the woods dryness, CL has proven (to me) to be a source of bottom feeders making me wary of anything I get off of it. I’d recommend letting any wood you get set under protective cover for at least a month for equalizing and bug inspection purposes. All that said, you can get some great stuff from some good people on CL if you are wary.

-- Power tools put us ahead of the monkeys

View BigMig's profile


427 posts in 2582 days

#6 posted 07-10-2013 04:36 PM

Thanks for your input! I think I’ll pick up a moisture meter and assess what’s on hand first before seeking lumber of CL. But when I do, a meter will give me a more complete picture.

-- Mike from Lansdowne, PA

View pintodeluxe's profile


5624 posts in 2782 days

#7 posted 07-10-2013 04:43 PM

Commercially kiln dried lumber is consistent. Consistently checked, warped, and cracked.

With the white and red oak I use, air drying is critical before kiln drying.
I buy lumber that has been air dried for 1-3 years, then finish drying it at home with a dehumidifier, heater, and fans. Typically I can dry from 14-15% air dried, to 6-8% in 2 weeks.

It is much nicer lumber to work. The main improvement is no internal checking and cracking.
When a board is cracked from the inside, it often gets exposed as you plane your stock. There is no way to sand that smooth.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

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