How to Dry Wood for Furniture Projects

how to dry wood
Drying your own wood can take a long time or a short time. It all depends on how you do it. Read on for critical details learned over 30+ years of woodworking.

Earlier this week I had a visit from a young man looking for advice on drying some 3″-thick maple boards he had sawn from logs for a dining table he’d like to build. This is a fairly common issue and reminded me of the kind of questions I get frequently, such as the one from a mother below.

Q: How can I  dry wood quickly? And more specifically, is there any way I can get freshly cut birch lumber dry enough for woodworking within two months? My daughter’s getting married in the fall, and in July I cut 3/4”-thick boards from a tree that was taken down in her yard. I’d like to make a wedding gift from this wood.

A: Yes, lumber like yours can be ready for working in less than a couple months if you handle it in the right way. Place the boards on their edges on sawhorses with an inch or two between them. Point a household fan on the pile, oscillating back and forth. With air blowing over the pile 24/7, I expect the wood will be dry enough to work in less than two months. I’ve used this technique to dry fresh cut white pine with a 30% moisture content down to 9% in six weeks. A moisture meter is a foolproof way to monitor the drying process, but there’s another option.

Carefully measure the width of each board down to 1/32”. Record the date and width measurements in pencil on each board each day, one measurement under the other. When the width becomes stable, you can begin cutting and planing for your project. Click here for more detailed information on how to dry lumber so it’s stable and works well for fine woodworking and furniture building.

Also, here are some frequently asked questions about how to dry lumber:

How to Dry Wood FAQs

Q: How long does it really take for freshly sawn lumber to dry?

A: Drying time depends on the thickness of lumber, the species and the conditions the wood is stored under. Freshly cut lumber could have a moisture content as high as 30%. You need to get this down to 7% to 9% for use building indoor furniture. The old rule of thumb is 1 year of drying time for each inch of thickness, but you can certainly make successful drying happen much faster. A fan blowing on a pile of lumber with strips placed between each layer of boards can easily cut drying time by 80% or more.

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Q: How do I know my lumber is dry enough to build furniture with?

how to dry wood moisture meter
This is my old moisture meter in action. The wood being tested above feels dry but is much too wet for indoor applications.

A: If you’re building furniture from your rough-cut lumber, you should invest in a moisture meter. This is an electronic device that tells you the moisture content of lumber at a glance. They’re inexpensive, effective and they take the guess work out of the equation. Aim for 7% to 9% moisture content, but there’s more to it than this. Wood can be dry on the surface, but too wet internally. This is why it makes sense to work with wood in stages. Cut and plane your wood, then let the pieces sit for a few days with a fan blowing on the pieces. By giving your wood time to dry further after each cutting and planing step, you’ll go a long way to avoid the disappointment of parts that twist and warp after assembly.

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Q: How long does it take for wood to dry for outdoor projects like a deck or picnic table?

A: Wood for outdoor applications doesn’t need to be nearly as dry as wood destined for indoor projects. Even wood that’s as wet as 20% moisture content can be used right away for outdoor projects. If you buy “kiln dried” construction lumber you can use it right away. If you’ve had some pine or cedar cut for you at a sawmill, give the boards 2 months of drying time (under some kind of roof), and it’ll be dry enough to build with.

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