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I have a very old (approx 200 years) white-oak that is going to be cut down in the next few months. There is a mobile mill that is going to come out and help me cut it in to boards. I will likely end up with a variety of 1-in and 2-in boards that are between 6 inches and 24 inches wide.

I'm aware that I don't want to start using these for woodworking projects immediately, but where and how should I store/dry them?

I have a shed that serves as my shop and it would be possible to store some of the wood in there. Is stacking the wood on blocks (to keep it off the ground) and covering with a tarp a reasonable answer? How should I properly space the wood while it dries? How long does it need to dry before I can use it?

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  1. Seal the ends as wood loses moisture from the ends faster than the face. You are trying to lower moisture throughout the wood evenly. Latex paint is a cheap effective sealer.

  2. Pick a location with good airflow; you want the wood to dry and not rot. Outside is fine but you will need to protect it from the weather.

  3. Sticker and stack. upon a base that will keep the bottom layer off the ground by 6 inches and support the boards every 12-16 inches. Use stickers (dry 1x1's are good) and stack the boards placing stickers directly over the base supports the whole way up. leave space between boards in each layer.

  4. Place weight over the top boards again directly over the stickers. This weight helps constrain the boards as they dry to lessen warping. The stack provides weight for the boards on the bottom, but the top boards need weight as well. You can also band the stack together with plastic strapping.

  5. Cover the stack. The stack needs a roof to keep weather away (if outside). Do not wrap in plastic as that will block the much needed air flow.

  6. Wait. Air drying is easy and cheap but slow. Outside at least a full year, inside at least 6 months with enhanced ventilation. You should reach a moisture content of 10-12%

Optional: If for furniture/conditioned space use and you don't live in the arid Southwest, you will want to kiln dry to get to a 6-7% moisture content.

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    Great overview of the process. One critique though is in Step 1, about using latex paint and it being effective. What we call latex paint is specifically made to be breathable, the very property you don't want in a sealer for end grain to slow moisture loss. – Graphus Mar 2 '18 at 15:19
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How long does it need to dry before I can use it?

Short answer is, until it's dry enough to use.

Ideal moisture level for seasoned wood is dependent on how it'll be used, dried wood for interior furniture you would usually want at a much lower MC than if you intend to use it for a pergola or a garden table that will be stored outdoors. And of course some work can be done with the wood actually green.

Assuming you are intending to season, drying time varies with the moisture level you start with (how much sap is in the tree varies across the seasons), local weather, storage conditions and the thickness of the boards. So, as usual, it depends!

Now you will read an oft-repeated rule of thumb for drying is "a year per inch of thickness" and while this is a gross simplification* it does give a good idea of how patient you have to be when air-drying wood.


*A note for future readers, this is also the rough figure for hardwoods specifically as softwoods generally dry more quickly.

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