Can you use air dried lumber for furniture? There are a lot of misconceptions out there. Let us answer all your queries in one place
Furniture builders find it a daunting task to finish their creation if they do not have complete control over the process, from conception to creation. Now, imagine that you come across a freshly cut tree that you would like to use to make your furniture.
The problem is that this freshly cut tree would have a high moisture content, say anywhere between 30 and 40 percent. This wood is known to be green wood and is used by many chairmakers for their projects.
However, you cannot make furniture from this high moisture content (MC) wood. This is because wood tends to lose its moisture content over time and reach an equilibrium with its environment. So if you use green wood for your project, the wood will lose volume over time, and then it will start to bend and crack.
This is why woodworkers dry the lumber first. This dried lumber enjoys a moisture content of about 6 to 9 percent, which is considered perfect for making furniture.
Well, this is where air-drying comes into the picture, reducing the moisture content in lumber. However, the question is can you use air-dried lumber for furniture? Is this air-dried lumber good enough for your chairs and tables? Well, let me answer your queries in this write-up.
Equilibrium Moisture Content (EMC)
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of drying wood, it’s important to understand something known as equilibrium moisture content (EMC).
Manufacturers analyze the quality of the wood with a moisture meter to measure the EMC (Equilibrium Moisture Content). If you want to avoid the post-construction misery of twisting, cupping, or warping of wood, you should ensure that your wood plank is air-dried to EMC 6% such that it conveniently acclimates itself to that end-use region.
Lumber with 8% EMC is the most suitable for wood projects such as furniture, cabinet, and flooring. However, you may need to maintain your patience if you are solely opting for air-drying techniques for drying the lumber for furniture to reach the desired EMC. The rate of air drying is relatively slower in comparison to its alternatives.
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What Is Wood Drying?
Have you ever wondered why a log of wood is kept out for days together under the sun before using it for a furniture project? If you read the introduction, you probably know the answer by now. Yes, you have guessed it right!
The trunk of a tree acts just like a sponge that absorbs moisture from its environment based on conditions such as temperature and humidity level. But when that same tree is cut down, the trunk loses that moisture and becomes dry. You have to wait for that process to be over before you start using it.
Thus, it is only sensible to use dried lumber for furniture. Every woodworker knows that working with damp wood can spell disaster for them. Air-dried logs save woodworkers from the trouble of cracking, shrinking, and expanding raw wood while sculpting furniture.
Now there are two ways: air drying and kiln drying to reduce the MC of your logs and bring it down to the EMC level.
Air drying is just what it sounds like: you leave the timber out in the air and let it dry out naturally. Kiln drying is an artificial process where the logs are dried in a specially designed oven called a kiln. Chemicals are added to make the product stronger and dry faster.
In this article, we are going to talk about air-dried lumber. I will cover the pros and cons of air-dried lumber and where it can and cannot be used.
The Technique of Air Drying
Air drying is a natural drying process where the lumber is exposed to the environment. It is also called shed drying since the pile of woods is stacked under a shed. The sawn logs sit in the shed to let the moisture escape into the air.
The lumbers arranged such that they are ventilated for uniform drying. They are separated by layers of stickers and placed on a raised concrete foundation to achieve the best results.
In most cases, air-drying reduces the moisture level considerably to 12 – 14%, depending on the region’s humidity level and air circulation.
Thus, air drying is a process that every woodworker should keep in mind as that big maple or oak tree keels in the yard, and the tree person asks what you want to do with it?
Now, rather than just standing and watching the log be reduced into mulch or firewood. The woodworker can save the day by air drying the wood and using it for manufacturing the furniture.
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Pros of Air Drying
- Air-dried lumber does not break off easily as compared to kiln-dried wood.
- No internal tensions get baked into the lumber in case of air drying.
- Air-dried lumber is not fragile.
- The wood does not lose its color with air drying, even when it is steamed.
- You need not keep air-dried lumber in a climate-controlled environment as compared to kiln-dried lumber.
Cons of Air Drying
- You may find insects, bugs, and fungi in the air-dried wood. However, since kiln-dried wood is heated to 170 Fahrenheit, insects or other external objects are not present.
- There is no check on log shrinkage or log checking.
- You may need to go for chemical treatments to sanitize the air-dried lumber.
Air drying is the traditional method of drying timber. Air drying or natural drying is a prerequisite for any woodwork. Experts suggest that air drying is an indispensable feature before Kiln drying.
Air drying can help you reduce the moisture content by approximately 14 to 20%, depending on the climatic condition of the region. You can derive the desired outcome of 6% EMC when you adopt Kiln drying as your concluding process of lumber drying.
Despite the sluggish rate of achieving the desired EMC, air-dried lumber is the most cost-effective technique. Air drying lumber for furniture is economical and conserves energy. It is the most eco-friendly method since it does not involve the burning of fuel.
Controlled Loss of Moisture
When air drying lumber, you can control the rate of loss of moisture by glazing the raw wood with mineral oil for its optimum quality upon drying. Since air-drying a log of wood is time-consuming, you should consider oiling it. Oil coating also protects against fungal infection. A long-term timber storage demand is painting it with petrol, gasoline, or mineral oil.
Can You Use Air Dried Lumber For Furniture?
Air-dried lumber and kiln-dried lumber possess unique features. If you are a woodworker, then you will love to work with air-dried lumber. Well, this is because air-dried lumber is not as hard as kiln-dried lumber. Also, it is easy to twist and give versatile shapes. Also, the wood is not so harsh on tools which makes it ideal for woodworkers.
On the other hand, if you buy furniture for home or office, it is better to go for kiln-dried wood. Kiln-dried wood is meant to last not years but centuries. So based on toughness and longevity, air-dried furniture is not as good as kiln-dried lumber, but for projects that require a bit of finesse and versatility, it’s the best way to go.
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Is air-dried wood good for furniture?
Air-dried wood is one of the best wood for furniture. If you wish to have furniture that lasts generations, then air-dried wood is best to go with as it remains unchanged over time. The wood is hard but also easy to twist and turn for interior work, unlike kiln-dried wood. Also, the wood is friendly for tools which means that it does not cause much wear and tear. It does not react to water-based glues. This feature makes it perfect for external furniture.
The best quality of air-dried wood is that it is an all-weather wood. If you live near the coastal regions or anywhere where the humidity levels are always high, air-dried wood is always recommended. Well, this is because it has already been exposed to all-weather elements for an extended period.
How dry does the wood need to be for furniture?
There is no fixed answer to this question. But still, I will try to make it simple for you. If you live in an area where the relative humidity is 19-25%, your wood needs to be around 95% dry. But if the relative humidity is more, say approx 47-52%, the wood can be 91% dry.
However, the acceptable moisture levels of the wood are in the range of:
- 6% to 8% for interior use
- 9% to 14% for exterior use.
Is air-dried wood stable?
If you are using kiln-dried wood or air-dried wood, it is stable for woodwork if you are using wood with 8 to 9 percent moisture content. However, if you need to bend or twist the wood for the furniture, always opt for air-dried wood. Well, this is because air-dried wood remains more pliable than kiln-dried wood.
But if the question arises which is more stable, then the clear winner is kiln-dried wood. Air-dried wood remains wetter in the middle than on the edges despite drying it for a long time. Hence if you wish to use harder and more stable wood, then go for kiln-dried wood.
Is air-dried wood costlier than kiln-dried wood?
No, air-dried wood is 20% cheaper than kiln-dried wood because the wood is left for years in any place before it is available for use without any processing.
On the other hand, kiln-dried wood is heated in an oven or a kiln to evaporate the moisture, which increases its price. Also, before inserting in the wood is cut into slabs which adds to extra cost. Hence, we can say that air-dried wood is cheaper than kiln-dried wood.
Air-dried wood being naturally dried is good for exteriors. It is perfect for shaping and twisting, which makes it a carpenter’s best friend. It is less brittle than kiln-dried wood and all-weather wood. It absorbs less moisture and stays intact for many years.
If you are planning to buy wood for exteriors, select air-dried wood as it requires no maintenance and looks stylish at the same time.
However, if you want to use it for furniture, you can do that too. Your woodworker can give it any desired shape and make your furniture look modern. Before you plunge into the woodwork, it is best, to begin with, air-drying lumber for furniture. If you want to save your effort and energy, it is best to check the equilibrium moisture content of your wood.