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How to Dry Wood Fast for Woodworking: What Pros Say

Are you a woodworking enthusiast seeking to improve your skills? One area often overlooked is the drying process. We’ve gathered insights from professionals to help you dry your wood faster and more efficiently, taking your woodworking projects to the next level.

To dry wood fast for woodworking, the primary methods are air drying (slow, inexpensive), shed drying (faster, some investment), and kiln drying (fastest, most expensive – requires equipment). Hardwoods like oak are best kiln-dried; softwoods like pine can air dry quickly. Proper stacking, spacing, weighting, and moisture monitoring are essential for optimal drying.

Are you using the proper drying method for your woodworking projects? Read on to find out how choosing the appropriate method can make a big difference in the final result.


Different Wood Drying Methods

Several methods can be used to dry lumber. From air drying to kiln drying and unique seasoning processes, all methods involve the removal of moisture from within the wood to the surface, where it is then evaporated into the air. Heat and air movement are significant factors that make drying possible and faster.

You can use a dehumidifier or a microwave if you only have a limited amount of wood. I will explain those methods at the end of this article.

Below are the three main methods of drying wood:

1. Air Drying

This involves employing sunlight and natural wind to dry wood. Air drying is done by stacking lumber on stickers and allowing the wind and sunlight to pass through the pile for drying. However, this method has some disadvantages.

Slow drying, which results from low airflow or high humidity, may result in stains. Fast-drying, on the other hand, which is caused by excessive airflow, can result in unsightly cracking and splitting.

If the lumber is required for furniture or other finished products that need 6% – 8% moisture content, then air drying will not achieve the result. Although air-drying is simple and easy, it is pretty standard to have over 10% loss in quality due to the variability and extremes of the weather.

– Pros Air drying

  • Less expensive: This method is less expensive to use (in fact, it is more economical when you need to air dry timber to a moisture content of 18% – 25%.)
  • High quality: The end products of air drying are usually woods of a higher quantity quality and more workable than kiln drying.
  • Vibrant colors: Lumbers obtained from air drying have more vibrant colors.

– Cons Air drying

  • Takes a long time: Depending on the weather conditions, it can take several months or even years to air-dry the wood completely. In the cold winter months, the drying rate is prolonged, especially in the northern part of the country.
  • Degradation: The hot, dry wind flowing through the wood may increase degradation and volume losses due to severe surface checking and end splitting in hot weather conditions.
  • Low moisture difficulty: In air drying, a moisture content of less than 18% is usually challenging for most locations.

Hardwoods like oak and maple are the most difficult to dry due to their high moisture content. Proper drying techniques are crucial to prevent cracking or warping.

2. Shed Drying

This method involves placing lumber in a shed with no walls, preventing direct contact with sunlight and rainfall while allowing for good airflow. In this drying method, drying rates are often regulated by using plastic mesh curtains, opening them during damp weather conditions, and pulling them closed during hot and dry weather conditions.

The construction of the sheds can be straightforward, but they can also become complex by adding adjustable walls and fans. These fans are powered by electricity (which may incur additional costs) and are used to remove excess moisture from the woods. This process may slow the drying rate at the beginning when some species are susceptible to checking.

– Pros Shed Drying

  • Low moisture content: In this method, the final moisture content of lumber is typically over 20%.
  • Depending on environmental conditions: Similar to the air-drying method, the ambient temperatures and relative humidity determine the final moisture content.
  • High quantity: If you shed-dry before kiln drying, the annual volume of lumber dried in the kiln can be tripled or even quadrupled, unlike when you dry green lumber from the saw.

– Cons Shed Drying

  • High investment: The investment cost is relatively high in proportion to the amount of drying that will be accomplished.

3. Kiln Drying

Kilns are closed chambers where air circulation, temperature, and relative humidity can be controlled so that the moisture content of the wood is lowered to a specific point where there are no drying defects. There are different types of kilns, some of which include vacuum systems, traditional heat and vent types, and radiofrequency dryers.

While kiln drying is effective, installing and maintaining the kilns may be prohibitive, except if the throughput of the timber is high. If the value of certain species of green wood is high enough, it becomes more feasible to kiln-dry them. Kiln drying may be done directly using natural gas or electricity or indirectly with steam-heated heat exchangers.

In my 20 years of experience, I’ve seen that the most common mistake in drying wood is impatience, leading to cracks and warps. Patience is key in this process.

– Pros Kiln Drying

  • Low moisture content: Lumber dried through kiln drying has lower moisture contents than air drying
  • Not depending on external conditions: Kilns can be used for most indoor applications in countries with cool or humid weather conditions.
  • Controlled result: Your lumber can be dried to any desired low-moisture content, as the drying conditions can be relatively controlled
  • Uniform moisture content: More uniform moisture content is observed throughout the wood.
  • Brighter lumber: Kilns are faster and produce brighter lumbers
  • Quickly: Drying time is relatively reduced (up to one-third), as well as the presence of drying defects.

– Cons Kiln Drying

  • High initial investment: Kilns are usually quite expensive, with increased initial investment and high energy costs. It is required that they are fully utilized, running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Loses color: Wood dried by this method often loses about 20% of its color, even when not steamed. This is due to the high temperature of the kiln.
  • More fragile: Woods produced are more fragile and break or chip easily, especially when working with hand tools or powered saws and knives.

What Kiln Drying method to choose

Typically, the factors that determine the drying process often depend on the size of the operation. For instance, a sawmill that produces a considerable volume of slow-drying wood will most likely select air drying, followed by kiln drying.

It’s essential to check for hidden cracks in the wood during this process. Softwoods, on the other hand, are often kiln-dried green from the sawmill.

The primary purpose of air-drying lumber is to remove as much water as possible while reducing the cost of dry kiln capacity and energy requirements. In air drying, lumber comes from the sawmill and is often placed on stickers until the moisture content reaches 20% – 25%.

• Air Drying: A Suitable Method for Certain Uses

Depending on the end use, the board may be ready for use or require further processing. The lumber will be kiln-dried if lower moisture content levels are required, such as for furniture factories. When the end-use of the lumber does not need low moisture content, air drying is usually sufficient.

Here are some tips for drying lumber: monitor the wood for warp and manage the drying process carefully. Rough-sawn hardwoods are usually air-dried at the producing sawmills to reduce the weight and shipping costs. One of the significant benefits of air-drying, particularly for hardwoods, is that it provides a way to add value.

Air drying can also be used occasionally to reduce the moisture content in woods, such as railroad ties, to a level where preservative treatment is suitable. This process of drying wood for woodworking can take a week or more, depending on the conditions.

Preventing Mold Growth and Decay in Wood

Kiln drying reduces the chance of mold growth and decay while the wood is being shipped, stored, or in subsequent use. Wood-degrading fungi and blue stains cannot grow in wood with 20% moisture content or less. Here’s a note about construction lumber: it’s often kiln-dried to prevent issues during construction.

However, some green lumber may need to be treated with fungicide to protect it from fungi, especially in the early stages of the air-drying process. It’s essential to check for hidden cracks in the wood during this process. If you plan to shop for a batch of lumber, inspect the board’s quality before purchasing.

Always remember that whatever you choose, ensure the wood has less than 7% moisture content. Also, it is essential to have a moisture meter to help determine the exact or correct moisture content.

Once your wood has attained this moisture level, it is ready for work, and you can now produce excellent woodwork and crafts without worrying about any potential defects caused by unwanted water content in the wood.

Do You Have to Dry Wood Before Using It?

Generally, it would be best to always dry your lumber before using it. Using wet or green lumber for your projects will often result in cracking or warping. Drying is an essential part of working with wood.

There are several methods to dry your lumber fast, as I have explained in this article. If you have only a limited amount of wood to dry, there are two other additional methods you can use:

● Limited amount of wood to dry: Dehumidifier

If you do not have to dry much wood for your project, use a closed room with a dehumidifier. You can use a residential dehumidifier, but I always recommend renting a commercial dehumidifier. They can remove a lot more water per hour than a residential dehumidifier.

A dehumidifier pulls in the moisture from the air and dries it out to release dry air back into the room. When used with a fan, this can be highly effective at drying out the drywall quickly. It’s essential to measure and monitor the moisture content with a meter regularly.

● Limited amount of wood to dry: Microwave

A microwave is another method if you only have small pieces of wood to dry. This method is probably the fastest way of drying wood. However, the wood may develop mold and crack if not properly dried. There are special microwaves for drying lumber, but you can also use a regular microwave for as long as the wood fits.

But always be extremely careful with this method. If you keep it in for too long, you can scorch the core and destroy the wood. Permanently seal the face or surfaces of the wood to prevent rapid moisture loss, which can cause cracking. I always recommend using a lower microwave setting, and only for a limited time.

For a 1- to 2-inch thick piece, start with 2- 3 minutes at 500 Watts. Please remove it from the microwave and use a moisture meter to check for the moisture content. Repeat this process until you reach your desired level. This process depends on how long the lumber comes into the range of acceptable moisture content.

One of my proudest moments was when we salvaged a large piece of walnut that had been improperly dried. It’s rewarding to see how my expertise can transform a piece of wood into a beautiful piece of furniture.

The Importance of Moisture Content in Wood

Having the correct moisture content for your wood before usage is essential. The most recommended percentage of moisture in wood is below 7%. Such a level ensures the wood is in perfect condition for use.

High moisture content is the number one catalyst for wood warping, cracking, and being unsuitable for crafting structures. It can translate into substantial losses, especially in construction and carpentry projects. Proper handling of wood is essential in preventing such occurrences.

• Accelerated Drying Using Commercial Dehumidifiers

Commercial dehumidifiers are the gadgets to turn to when facing a bulk of wood requiring quick drying. Thanks to their efficacy, these machines can be rented to significantly hasten the wood drying process.

They reduce the moisture content in the circulating air inside the kiln (or wherever the lumber is kept), reducing the moisture content in the wood. It’s an easy, efficient method that doesn’t require too much effort, especially concerning large timber volumes.

The University of Tennessee Agriculture Extension provides more information on how these devices work and when to use them.

• Special Microwaves: A Technique With Caution

An unconventional yet efficient solution for drying wood is using special microwaves. These are not your average kitchen microwaves.

They are designed specifically to dry wood. They heat the wood uniformly and quickly reduce the moisture content. However, they do come with a bit of caution. There’s a risk of scorching the wood if the temperature gets too high or if the wood is left in too long.

Using a microwave for smaller wood pieces rather than large planks is advisable. Always remember the golden rule: moderation is key. Be sure to keep a keen eye on the process to prevent overheating, which can cause irreversible damage.

• My Step-by-Step Guide to Drying Lumber Correctly

The process of correctly drying lumber is not simple, coming with a few notable specifics that need adherence. Here is my recommended step-by-step guide that will ensure you get it right:

  • Checking the Moisture Level: Always ascertain the moisture level of your lumber before and after drying. The aim is to ensure it is below the recommended 7% for optimal use.
  • Stacking Correctly: Proper stacking of wood ensures even exposure to air and heat for drying. Use “stickers” to separate wood layers and provide even weight distribution.
  • Preventing Warping and Cracking: These are the most common issues with drying wood. To prevent warping, use weights on top of your stacked lumber to apply downward pressure. To prevent cracking, avoid drying your wood too fast. Gradual moisture loss is the key.
  • Keeping an Eye on the Temperature: Keep your drying temperature moderate. Too much heat can cause the wood to lose too much moisture quickly, cracking and warping.

These are not exhaustive instructions; a more detailed guide can be found on the University of Minnesota Extension’s website.

By observing these steps and precautions, you’ll achieve the optimal moisture content of your wood, much below 7%, ensuring your wood is of the best quality for whatever purpose you intend. Remember, the key to drying wood correctly is patience and vigilance.

• Ideal Moisture Content for Woodworking Projects

Determining the ideal moisture content for wood used in woodworking projects is crucial. The acceptable range for most wood types lies between 6-8% moisture content.

Having uneven or excess moisture can lead to various issues, such as warping, cupping, and decay. The University of Maine has provided an educational resource which explains this in detail.

• Time Requirement for Each Drying Method

Numerous factors, such as wood species, thickness, initial moisture content, and relative humidity, can influence the drying time. Air drying, the simplest and most cost-effective method, can take several months to a year.

Kiln drying, on the other hand, can drastically reduce this to a few days. However, it requires significant energy input and specialized equipment.

• Cost Implications of Drying Methods

Air drying is a cost-effective method as it uses natural resources. However, it demands a lot of time and space.

Kiln drying is faster but involves substantial costs due to energy use and initial set-up expenses. Both methods have pros and cons; choosing the right one depends on the project’s urgency, volume, and scale.

• Selecting Wood Types for Each Drying Process

Different wood species respond distinctively to the drying process. Hardwoods like oak and maple are more prone to cracking and take longer to air dry but can be kiln-dried effectively.

Softwoods like pine and cedar air dry relatively faster and with less risk of cracking. Choosing the proper drying method for the correct type of wood is essential.

• Proper Stacking for air-drying

Stacking wood properly optimizes air circulation and minimizes warping or molding. Boards should be stacked with weights evenly distributed on them. Stickers should be inserted between each layer for air circulation. The pile should be restacked halfway through the drying process for more uniform drying.

• Safety Precautions for Microwave Drying

Microwave drying is another method to dry small wood pieces. Monitoring the process is vital since overheating can cause a fire risk. One should use microwave-safe containers, avoid using metal, and select the defrost mode to prevent rapid heat build-up.

• Using a Moisture Meter Correctly

A moisture meter is an essential tool used to measure the moisture content of wood. Always calibrate your meter according to manufacturer instructions.

Insert the pins or sensors into the wood, avoid the end grain, and always take multiple readings. The average of these readings provides a reasonably accurate moisture content.

• Factors Affecting the Drying Process

Environmental conditions like temperature, humidity, and air circulation significantly influence the wood drying. A drier environment results in quicker drying. Initial moisture content is also crucial; high initial moisture requires more energy and time to dry.

• Consequences of Improperly Dried Wood

Woodwork created from improperly dried wood may have compromised strength and durability. It can lead to warping, bulging, shrinking, and cracking, ruining the integrity and aesthetics of the finished product. In extreme cases, fungal growth and decay might occur, leading to structural failure.

• Alternative Methods for Drying Wood

Apart from air and kiln drying, there are a few alternative methods, like solar drying, a drying closet, and chemical drying. Especially worth considering is kiln drying services, where a third party handles the drying process, benefiting those who lack the equipment or space.

Let’s practice the best woodworking techniques to produce only the best pieces. Keeping these points in mind, one can confidently navigate the process of drying wood for their woodworking projects.

Patience is key in drying, as rushing it may result in a substandard final product.

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  1. Flenn Harper says:

    What type of wood is best suited for air drying?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      For air drying, hardwoods like oak are best suited, while softwoods like pine dry quickly. Proper stacking and spacing are essential.

  2. Ruben Taylor says:

    Is shed drying more cost-effective than kiln drying in the long run?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Shed drying can be more cost-effective than kiln drying in the long run for certain woods. It offers a faster drying time with some initial investment. Choose based on wood type and project needs.

  3. Bernard Diaz says:

    The pros and cons of each wood drying method are well explained.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Bernard Diaz! I’m glad you found the information helpful in understanding the pros and cons of each wood drying method. Keep improving your woodworking skills!

  4. Fernando Lane says:

    Are there any risks associated with using a dehumidifier to dry wood?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Dehumidifiers can be used to dry wood in limited quantities, but it’s essential to monitor moisture levels carefully. Consider alternative methods for larger amounts of wood.

  5. Shelly Anderson says:

    Are there any specific safety precautions to consider when using a microwave to dry wood?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Using a microwave to dry wood is possible, but proceed with caution. Make sure to use the correct settings and monitor closely to prevent any potential hazards. Always prioritize safety above all else.

  6. Bobby Beck says:

    Is there a specific technique to identify hidden cracks in wood during the drying process?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      To identify hidden cracks in wood during drying, proper stacking, spacing, weighting, and monitoring moisture levels are essential. Choose the right method for your project to avoid defects.

  7. Arron Wright says:

    What should be the ideal moisture content of wood before starting a woodworking project?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      For woodworking projects, aim for wood moisture content below 7%. Air drying is suitable for reducing moisture initially. Patience and vigilance are crucial. Happy woodworking!

  8. Willie Stephens says:

    I appreciate the detailed explanation of the importance of moisture content in wood.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Willie Stephens! Choosing the right drying method can truly elevate your woodworking projects. Remember, a little patience goes a long way in ensuring the best results. Happy woodworking!

  9. Maxine Hoffman says:

    Great tips on wood drying methods! Very informative.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Maxine! Choosing the right wood drying method is crucial for woodworking projects. Are you using the correct method for your wood? Keep creating amazing pieces!

  10. Kenzi Richards says:

    I never knew about shed drying as a method. Thanks for sharing!

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Kenzi! Shed drying is indeed a lesser-known method that can be very effective in speeding up the wood drying process. Happy woodworking!

  11. Kurt Stewart says:

    How do I know if my wood is properly dried before starting a project?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      For optimal wood drying before starting your project, consider using a dehumidifier or microwave for faster results. Monitor moisture content closely to avoid potential defects. Happy woodworking!

  12. Leslie Caldwell says:

    Thank you for explaining the different methods for drying wood, very informative!

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you Leslie for your feedback! I’m glad you found the information on wood drying methods useful. Let me know if you have any more questions or need further clarification. Happy woodworking!

  13. Flenn Ellis says:

    How can I prevent mold growth and decay in wood during the drying process?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      To prevent mold and decay in wood during the drying process, consider using kiln drying for faster and more efficient results. Proper monitoring of moisture content and storage conditions is essential. Best of luck with your woodworking projects, Flenn!

  14. Bernice Owens says:

    The video links provided added a nice visual element to the article.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Bernice! I’m glad you enjoyed the video links in the article. It’s always great to have a visual element to complement the content. Happy woodworking!

  15. Jacqueline Hanson says:

    Can you elaborate on how to properly stack wood for air drying?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Consider stacking wood in a criss-cross or log cabin style to optimize air circulation. Use stickers for spacing and weight on top to prevent warping. Rotate halfway for even drying.

  16. Alicia Rivera says:

    Can I use a regular microwave to dry small wood pieces?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Using a regular microwave for drying small wood pieces is risky. Consider a dehumidifier or alternative methods to prevent cracking or mold. Read the full blog post for more guidance on wood drying.

  17. Shannon Carr says:

    This article has really improved my understanding of wood drying techniques.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Shannon! I’m glad the article was helpful in enhancing your understanding of wood drying techniques. Are you planning to implement any of the methods discussed in your woodworking projects?

  18. Isaac Jensen says:

    Learning about the consequences of improperly dried wood was eye-opening.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Glad you found the information valuable, Isaac! Are you considering trying out one of the drying methods for your woodworking projects?

  19. Jack Frazier says:

    I had no idea about the alternative methods for drying wood, thanks for sharing!

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Jack! I’m glad you found the information on alternative wood drying methods helpful for your woodworking projects. Keep exploring new techniques to improve your skills further!

  20. Krin Martinez says:

    The step-by-step guide on drying lumber correctly is very helpful.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Krin! We’re glad the guide was helpful. Are you using the right method for your woodworking projects? Keep up the great work!