For most woodworking projects, green wood is dried before it is used. The process is an age-old art. Before there were modern lumber kilns (which use heat to accelerate the drying of wood) there was the time-honored method of drying lumber slowly — in the open air. In this video, I spend time with fine-hardwood dealer Rick Hearne to learn more about the air-drying process. Rick, who has decades of experience turning harvested trees into properly sawn and dried lumber, has a particular affection for the air-dried process, and while Rick’s yard (Hearne Hardwoods) uses a kiln for the final finishing of his lumber, he still focuses considerable attention on drying his yard’s lumber slowly — by air.
This concise video takes you inside Hearne Hardwood’s air-drying yard for a tour of how lumber is air dried including tips on how to stack lumber, recommended drying times, target moisture levels, and the benefits of “peacefully” drying lumber slowly and naturally. It’s useful information no matter what your skill level or area of woodworking interest. (3.5 Minute Woodworking Video)
Rick Hearne is President of Hearn Hardwoods in Oxford, Pennsylvania
Hello. I want to thank you for the video. I build solid and semi hollow body electric guitars. People often ask what is flame, or quilt or quarter sawn. Especially when terms like tiger stripe, fiddle back, ribbon, quilt, and the like are bandied about. Or to explain why a quarter sawn neck is more desirable. You mentioned Northern Pa and NY state as where some of the wood came from. I’m from Potter County. I bet you get some of the wood from there. My granddad had a sawmill near Genesee, Pa.
Keith’s Note: Thanks for sharing that Richard. Rick and his son Brian have told me that the Pennsylvania/NY region has almost ideal growing conditions for some species.
I have always wondered how ‘we’ did it before the kiln was invented. What a pleasure to see and hear. It’s like being there. Thanks.
Well done, informative video. Thanks again. I wouldn’t mind a bundle or two of that wood sitting in my backyard. I’m just not sure I could keep my hands off it for three to five years. Cheers
A neighbor down the street has some 5 year old hickory that has been airdried only. I have looked at some of your videos and am wondering how crucial is kiln drying for the constuction of a bedroom set? I was thinking that even if it is kiln dried to 8%, as soon as you bring it home and it sits for a couple of weeks moisture content will jump to whatever percentage the ambient air is, correct? Any advice you can give me on this subject would be appreciated.
Keith’s Note: Great question. One way to look at this is to remember that before the modern age, air drying lumber was the only way to prepare wood for furniture making. The finest cabinetmakers seasoned lumber by letting it age naturally – in the open air. So you are in good company.
Now let’s look at your situation. Your hickory is 5 years old. Using the “one inch per year rule” (as noted in this video), if the log was milled into a 1 to 5/4 inch thick rough boards, then one year of proper seasoning should usually be sufficient – two years would typically be more than adequate. Make sure it was stored per Rick’s recommendations here. The fact that your hickory has seasoned 5 years, would seem to imply that it is ready to go – if it was re-sawn and stacked/stored/stickered properly. Check for insect infestation and perhaps use a moisture meter to be sure you are at the ambient humidity for your area. If it checks out, you should be good to go.
And yes, the wood will acclimate to your location and climate. Perhaps move it inside to your shop and let it settle there for a few weeks to make sure it adapts to you your shop and home conditions, which may be different than the outside humidity in your area. This will allow the raw lumber to “move” a bit as it adapts to its new home and before you begin milling it, thus minimizing movement after you’ve started working with it.
Do air dry logs (that are recovered) from under water need the same amount of (drying) time as fresh cut logs?
Keith’s Note: Boy Don, you’ve stumped me on this one. Hearne doesn’t specialize in bog logs. I’m not sure who is the definitive source for the answer on this. Anyone want to pipe in?
I just bought some black walnut boards that were sawn out of logs that were cut 2 years ago. About how long would it take to air dry to build cabinets with the boards? Thanks for any info.
Keith’s Note: Rick Hearne says here that it takes one year for each inch of wood thickness. One inch thick boards take at least one year to dry. Two inch thick boards take at least two years. Etc.
On the bog logs as you label them, for info concerning the drying of similar items there is an outfit in Ashland WI, Timeless Timber 2200 E. Lakeshore Dr. Ashland, WI 54806, area code 715 #685-9663 that retrieves logs from Lake Superior and sells them all over the world because of the fine growth rings and strength associated to them. They would know the info you seek. I also know there is one other in Bayfield WI but I don’t know the name. Contact Bayfield Chamber of Commerce I’d think. That should get you started. Terry
Keith’s Note: Thanks for the heads up on that.
I use ash, maple, birch & hickory for baseball bats and recently found a supplier. I was told that I could dry the wood on my own by keeping the bark on the cut section (about 40 inches). Is this true? And about how long would this take? I live on long island.
Keith’s Note: Rich Hearne says that you should allow approximately one year per inch of wood thickness. I haven’t heard that it is necessary to keep the bark on the wood. You are seeking a target moisture level of between 6% to 18% depending on the climate where you live. In a tropical area, you target final moisture level will be higher. In an arid, desert climate, your target will be a lower moisture level. In long island you should be seeking a moisture level in the middle of the range. If you are inexperienced in gauging moisture levels, you should buy or borrow a wood moisture meter and periodically check the wood to determine your progress.
Thank you for your response. With regards to keeping the bark on the wood, “my supplier” indicated that this would help insure even drying and eliminate any twisting, etc. My supplier also indicated the process should only take a few months. I can deal with a few months, not years. That being stated, do you know anyone in Long Island area that can dry 12/4 in the types of wood I mentioned? I haven’t been able to find anyone.
Keith’s Note: Bill, perhaps you want to kiln dry this lumber. That’s going to be much quicker. And feel free to leave the bark on. The wood can be best kept from moving by stickering the cut lumber and binding it into packs. These stickered bundles hold the wood flat and help minimize twist, cup, bow, and warp. Of course it won’t eliminate it entirely. Rick does a fantastic job of explaining the process in this video. I hope all this helps.
I don’t have any referrals for yards with kilns in Long Island. Sorry.
We are drying rough cut pine in a shop building. We have fans and a dehumidifier helping the dry process. Do you have any other suggestions that could speed up the drying? Thanks.
Keith’s Note: Gee, I think you are probably going about as quick as you can without resorting to a kiln. Make sure it’s stickered correctly. Mostly it’s about letting nature take it’s course. Good luck and keep us posted.
I would like to know about how long it will take for green maple to dry in my basement. It is by a wood stove, about 3 inches thick, and 20 inches long. Liked your video.
Keith’s Note: For one, be careful it’s not too close to the wood stove. We don’t want a fire :-). As for time to dry, we can only use the rule of thumb for one year per inch of wood thickness. On thicker boards it may take even longer. If the climate in your basement is very warm and dry, then you are likely to see faster drying times, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how much faster. And also you’ll likely get some pretty severe checking, warping, and cracking on that board, given it’s relatively short length and the fact it is drying alone and not in a stack.
I have an Alaskan log mill and have started sawing my own lumber from my property and people giving me logs, as well as urban logging free tree removal. I am stumped on staining from stickers and what to type of wood to use for stickering. Also what about bug control, I ripped a down red oak that has bugs in it. I have read that they will die once the moisture content gets low enough they cannot survive, but I am Leary about bringing it into my shop, I don’t want to infest my house. Thanks.
Keith’s Note: I recall Rick mentioning what wood is used for stickering, but it might not have made it into the final cut. Sorry. Regarding infestations, I’ve talked to several guys in the business. Two things can help. One is to load the air-dryed wood into a kiln and do the final drying there. This will kill the bugs. I don’t know that specs for temperature or duration. The other alternative is to get a professional exterminator to “tent” the dryed stack, just as you would fumigate a house.
I’ve recently cut down a few dead trees and plan to use parts of the trunk as natural side tables in the home. I’ve removed the bark, and have them sitting on the driveway doing some air drying right now, waiting for when I can begin to sand, finish, and polyurethane seal them. Stumps are 24 inches tall, and about 18.5 inches in diameter. What’s the best way to ensure the any bugs inside are dead and how long should I allow these to dry for before bringing them into the house? Or will the polyurethane coating be enough to stop them from getting out?
Keith’s Note: I’m told by those in the business that the cleanest, slickest way to eliminate risk of insect infestation is to kiln dry the lumber. Hearne Hardwood does this only after fully air-drying their premium timber. Vintage Timber out of Southern California treats their wood by fumigating it. They hire a professional fumigation company and “tent” their stock prior to sale. For the home dryer, you are left with perhaps careful inspection and possible spot treatments with insecticides. Remember that the the “old-timers,” centuries ago, didn’t have chemical treatments, so they likely used the visual inspection method. Depending on the project, it should become apparent as you work with your material if there is an infestation
We have a walnut tree cut down and stored for about 10 yrs. We just cut it into 1.5 ” slabs about 6 months ago. How do you know when it is dry enough? So I need a tool to measure moisture content?
Keith’s Note: Yes. That’s a sure way to tell.
I had a hedge (osage orange) tree sawn up into 1″ lumber. I stacked it up in an open ended building to let it air dry. Most of the boards are 8′ long and 6″ wide. I stacked it up like (Rick Hearne) suggested and stickered it on two foot intervels. My question is will it hurt the air drying lumber to get wet when rain blows in from the ends of the barn? Thanks for the video and information, I really enjoyed it.
Keith’s Note: At Hearne, they simply cover the top of the topmost bundle, typically with corrugated sheet metal. This keeps water from pooling on the top boards and it also keeps the intense sun from overheating the top of the bundle. They don’t cover the ends. By watching the video, you’ll note that Rick says that the bundles need to be stacked where they get good air flow. This allows the boards to dry evenly all the way around. So make sure you provide for air flow.
I just got some wet chestnut and box elder – both cut to 5/4. The only place I have to dry them is in my shop – OK in the summer maybe, but the relative humidity hovers around 45 in my space now (Boston, winter – thermostat is at 55 degrees). So I have the stack wrapped in plastic, but I don’t want to reduce air flow too much. I’m not in a hurry for the wood, but I’m worried about sticker stain on the box elder if it stays too wet. Any idea on how much humidity I need to maintain to avoid checking at low temperatures (compared to a kiln). Any general advice on sticker stain?
Keith’s Note: I wish I had some specific answers for you on this, but what I know, I’ve learned from Hearne and their method. That fact that you are drying inside does make a difference, but I would wonder why you need to wrap the bundle in plastic during the winter? What is your reason for that? Regarding sticker stain, Rick mentions in the video that he uses two types – one type is less likely to cause staining.
Hi. We just had some white pines from our property cut down and milled to 3/4 inch 1 x 6 boards to install as our ceilings. We stacked them outside and tarp them at night to air dry and are wondering just how quickly we can install them …approx. how long to dry in other words? Any way to improve the speed of drying… Thanks, Shannon
Keith’s Note: Watch this video and I think you’ll get your answers – direct from hardwood expert, Rick Hearne. And good luck with that project.
Rick Hearne didn’t mention end sealing the lumber… Isn’t that an important step in air drying? Melted Parafin or liquid wax such as anchorseal put on the ends of lumber to prevent cracking while drying?
Keith’s Note: That is not one of the typical Hearne air-dry steps. Still, their process results in just minimal end-checking, which is not excessive. Part of their process is their location and method. Lumber at Hearne dries slowly and as they say “peacefully”.
Sir, do we consider the weather conditions of the air drying process? What if it rains?
Keith’s Note: As Rick demonstrates, this is not really a concern.
I got walnut from a sawmill, that is 1 1/2 inches thick roughly. The boards were about 9 feet long then I had them sawed into thirds. They are drying in my basement, with inch thick spacers do I need to cover the ends with wax to prevent splitting, some of the boards already have splits in them. Thank you
Keith Note: Rick, in the video, doesn’t suggest that, but it might slow down the rate of evaporation at the ends and help minimize checking. Try it.
I recently purchased 3 oak boards 1″ thick x 16″ wide x 8′ long. I have them just laying on the table base that I made a year ago inside my house to dry. I dont plan to use the table or do anything with the wood for a year but is it ok to dry the wood like that? We have a lot of humidity in GA and I didnt want the boards to warp in my garage although 2 of the boards started to warp on one end already.
Keith’s Note: I don’t see anything wrong with drying your wood this way. You might want to keep some weight on the boards to minimize warp or twist while they dry.
Thank you for this boost on air dry lumber. I have 5/4″ Black walnut old growth milled at 5-8″ wide 5-7 feet.Is this wood better to kiln dry to kill bugs or is 1 year in our barn ok? It is dry and no heat. Only good air flow in room stack and sticked with spruce.
Keith’s Note: According the Rick, finishing the air-drying process by kiln drying the lumber does kill bugs, however, this is not practical for the most hobbyists or smaller producers of air-dried lumber. In those cases, a careful inspection of the wood, looking for bugs, will probably be sufficient. I know of one producer of re-claimed lumber who applies a pesticide (don’t know what type) to the stack and covers it for a period of time to kill bugs prior to selling the lumber to the public. This might be an option.
I have red oak table boards and a 4″ thick mantle piece that were sawn from airdried logs(5 yrs). How long before I can work with them?
Keith’s Note: Watch this video and I think you’ll get your answers – direct from hardwood expert, Rick Hearne. And good luck with that project.
Does black walnut cut for 3/4″ flooring need to be kiln dried if it is saw cut at 1″-1/8 “. We will let it sit air drying for one year.
Keith’s Note: According to Rick, as a rule of thumb, allow one year of air drying for one inch thick lumber.
Hi there, great video!
I have managed to get hold of some beautiful Redwood from a tree here in the UK which was struck by lightening and had to be felled. I am going to make it into a guitar amp cab and some other bits and pieces. The tree was left lying where it fell for a while (5mths) for visitors to the park where it stood to see the struck tree, and I recently went and took a central piece of trunk and am having it milled into boards this week. What would you recommend using to seal the end grain, or is this not necessary?
Keith’s Note: Sealing the ends may minimize the checking, but it’s not necessary. I recall that Rick doesn’t do this at his yard. As always, when you finally get around to using a board, you’ll probably cut off the end of any board to remove any checking or split defects. — You’ll have a great story behind that amp won’t you.
I have been air-drying sycamore since the end of May. It is now registering on my moisture meter as 8-14%. I have been cautioned that sycamore goes crazy when drying, and have significant weight holding it steady. Do I need to kiln dry this now to stabilize it, or should I assume its good to go?
Keith’s Note: Rick Hearne kiln dries his lumber to “finish” it. He tells me the main reason is to make sure that he eliminates the risk of infestation by pests. Otherwise, you will probably be fine to simply use in its natural dry state. Remember, before there were kilns, artisans simply dried wood naturally.
I have four 5 inch cross sections of Oak. I plan to store them in my garage. Can I store them vertical since they are rounds. From your video I am assuming that the rounds at 5 inch thick will take 5 years to dry? Thanks.
Keith’s Note: One inch per year is what Rick says.
I have some round slabs of spruce roughly 30 inches around and about 4 inches thick. Wanting to make some rustic end tables. How do I properly dry it and for how long? Some cracking and splitting would not be a huge problem for me as that is the look I am going for. How much splitting can I expect if I was to use it inside of a year of it being cut down. Thanks for any help you can provide.
Keith’s Note: In this application, I don’t think you will have an issue using green lumber. It may dry more quickly once inside and therefore you may get more cracking than if left outside, where the slabs might dry more slowly. Of course, the drying rate depends on your geographic location and climatic conditions – in this case your conditions inside and out.
Great site. Enjoyed all the comments. I have a 1935 Chevrolet I am re-wooding with ash. I am about to soak a 7/8 thick x 3 1/4 wide board for 2 days then steam it for 1 1/2 hours in order to be able to bend it 90 degrees around a form. Question is now that its been steamed /soaked, how long to dry it so i can stack and bisquit toal 9 3/4 high.. Thank you ….Mike.
Keith’s Note: Sounds like you’ll need to do some tests.
I would like to know how to dry chopped trees. (Big logs) Can someone help. I am living in Zambia and we get a lot off rain during November to March. Will I have to put these logs under cover?
Keith’s Note: The video here featuring Rick Hearne describes the process. Good luck.
I have red oak hard wood cut 8′ x 12” x 1.5”. How should I prevent checking and cracking on the ends?
Keith’s Note: The video above, featuring Rick, is very instructive on the techniques that an expert uses to dry wood. Good luck.
I am looking to make some side tables from cuts of ash stump. How long would I need to let these dry before beginning to sand and finish them?
Keith’s Note: Please see this video.
I had some 3 year old black walnut cut 1x6x6′, 2x6x5′, and 3x8x8′. I didn’t have a good covered air drying outdoor site so I put it in an unheated garage, stickered well, and covered with a loose cardboard sheet. Some of the 1″ boards got some bowing.
Question 1: Could turning it over reverse this bowing?
The ends were not sealed, but there is little end checking.
Question 2: When I move it into a more open covered place to continued to be stickered and air dried, should the ends be sealed now? And what would be recommended sealers?
Keith’s Note: Thanks for dropping by. It’s best to view the video (here on this page) and get recommendations straight from Rick. These guys are the pros and he tells you exactly how he does it.
Great video! I have a stack of black walnut 4/4- 8/4 air dried 10 yrs and sitting indoors for the past 5. I am relocating and due to space constraints considering storing it outdoors. I’m in New York getting ready for a harsh winter. Is this a bad idea? Will the wood freak out? Is there any precautions I should take? Covering with a tarp? Storing vertical or horizontal? Or am I better off stacking the boards inside under my mattress or in my living room to avoid any disasters? Or maybe outside is ok? Thanks!
Keith’s Note: Again, Rick is the expert on this, but if you’re stock is seasoned for 10 years, it’s pretty well dry by now. I don’t think you’ll have significant issues if you keep the wood covered, off the ground, and dry… with good circulation. You might want to store flat and keep some weight on it so that it doesn’t move on you during the acclimation period. Good Luck.