Different Ways to Dry Wood Outdoors and Indoors: A Comprehensive Guide

Drying wood is an important part of the strengthening process and provides a better base for many paints, finishes, and adhesives. Failing to dry the wood can cause uneven coating, allowing insects or fungi to attack the weak points. Improperly dried wood can cause warping, and changes in dimensions, and in the worst case, it can lead to rotting and decay. Properly drying wood is also one of the most important steps in flattening wood slabs.

There are a few different ways to dry wood outdoors and indoors:

  1. Air drying
  2. Kiln drying
  3. Dehumidifier drying
  4. Oven drying

Whether you’ve got a large workshop or are just getting started in woodworking, drying wood is an important part of the preparation process and something you should certainly invest some time into getting right.

The rest of this article will go over how you can dry wood properly through these 4 different methods, how to dry lumber at home or outside, why it is important to work with properly dried wood and what is the desired moisture range to work with wood safely.

Air drying lumber, air drying wood, how to dry wood correctly
Air Drying lumber

Why Is Drying Wood Important?

First, let’s discuss why is it important to dry wood properly. From a technical and performance standpoint, wood is always better when it’s dried, and different types of drying methods can produce different quality lumber.

Drying wood is necessary for glued wood products like plywood, furniture, and laminated wood. It’s important to note that some species of wood are more water-resistant and less prone to warping, twisting, or cracking when exposed to water, such as teak and white oak.

Drying firewood is beneficial, too, since dried wood burns cleaner, can be burned at any time, and can save you some money as well.

It is possible to work with wet wood though, but that usually leads to undesirable results that become apparent only in time. Those are, mainly, warping, shrinking, or cracking. Especially in carpentry, this is something you have to avoid. However, regardless of what you want to use the wood for, you need to make sure that you are using wood that is sufficiently dried.

how to test moisture in wood, how to tell your wood is dry, what is the optimal moisture level in wood
Testing the level of moisture content

1. Provides Structural Consistency

More importantly, dry wood is essential for structural framework; without being properly dried, rot and decay can set in where free water is present, impacting the structural integrity of the wood.

2. Minimizes Flaws

Drying wood minimizes warping and changes in dimension, afflictions that can drastically affect the quality or the structure of a build. Lumber that fails the drying process is sometimes referred to as “green” lumber and can be repurposed for various other processes.

3. Allows the Use of Paints, Finishes, and Adhesives

As a woodworker, your goal should be to dry your wood thoroughly, since dry wood is always a better base for different paints and finishes, as well as adhesives you’ll need to connect the structure of your build. Greenwood simply doesn’t work, as paints and finishes won’t adhere as well, and adhesives might not bond at all.

Similarly, preservatives can’t be used effectively on wood with water in its cells, limiting its protection against fungi, bacteria, and other agents that contribute to wood rot.

Wood moisture, Perfect level of moisture in wood, cracks on board caused by gradual drying of the wood
Cracks on board caused by gradual drying of the wood

4. Reduces Shipping and Installation Costs

As insignificant as it may seem, dry wood weighs much less than “wet” wood. Since many truck and freight shipping services are based on the weight of the product being transported, dry wood is always preferable.

The same is true on the job site since the lower weight of dry wood allows for easier transport of lumber by hand.

Also, apart from transport benefits, knowing the weight of the wood can let you calculate the total weight of the final product correctly.

How to Tell Your Wood Is Dry?

There’s no visual or tactile way to verify that your lumber is dry and ready for use. You can easily tell the wood is green, but if dry, it is almost impossible to determine the moisture level by sight or touch.

Wood within the 6-8% moisture range is safe for use in your shop, and most wood you pick up at the lumber yard will be kiln-dried under the appropriate conditions and ready to use.

For exterior wood, the acceptable moisture content is 9-14%. For structural applications, such as framing and decking, the moisture content should be between 15-19% for softwoods and 12-16% for hardwoods, as this helps prevent the wood from warping or splitting. For firewood, the moisture content should be below 20%.

Of course, if you don’t want to take any chances, then you can use a device designed to evaluate the moisture content in your wood:

  • Pin-type moisture sensors – Pin-type sensors use electrodes to evaluate the electrical resistance in the wood. This can let you know whether your wood is ideal to use
  • Pinless moisture sensors – These sensors read the surface by contact at a depth of ¼ – ½ inch, offering a more wide-lens view of the wood piece as a whole, although not at the same depth as a pin type.
Pin moisture meter for wood, how to test moisture in wood
Pin Type Moisture Sensor for Wood

Pin-type sensors are more suited for detecting moisture pockets, while pinless sensors are better at checking the entire surface area. Both can help you determine whether your wood is ready to use.

Of course, if you can poke and prod your wood by inserting the electrodes without impacting the finish quality of your project, then a pin type gives you a better reading deeper into the wood. 

If you need a precise moisture level for your project, like fine cabinetry or fancy joinery, it’s worth investing in a high-end sensor to ensure you get quality lumber 100% of the time.

Also, take into account the relative humidity (RH) of the environment where the wood will be used and where it will stay.

Pin moisture meter, different ways to dry lumber
6% moisture content is safe for use in the shop

How to Dry Wood Fast?

Drying wood and lumber can be achieved through different methods, typically with air drying, kiln drying, or by using a dehumidifier. The average time to dry wood properly ranges from a few weeks to a few years depending on the method used and other factors.

Rushing of drying of the wood is not advisable and can have several drawbacks. These are for example cracking and warping, reduced strength, internal stress, cracking, or uneven drying. 

Overall, it is important to dry wood slowly and carefully to avoid these drawbacks and ensure that the wood is suitable for its intended use.

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Different Ways to Dry Wood Outdoors vs Indoors

There are several factors that directly affect how quickly and well the wood will dry to achieve the desired results. These are primarily the thickness of the wood, the species of wood, the starting moisture content, the local climate and environmental conditions, and the drying schedule used. Based on these factors, you should choose the best way to dry wood. Different types of wood require different drying approaches.

The table below describes how much time it takes on average to dry properly wood by using air drying, kiln drying, dehumidifier drying, and drying with an oven. These are rough estimates. The factors described above have an important impact on the duration. Each drying method is described more in detail below.

Drying methodAverage time to properly dry wood
Air DryingAt least one year depending on the thickness.
1-inch thick board would need to air dry for at least 12 months
Kiln DryingSeveral days to several weeks.
Softwood - 1-3 weeks per inch of thickness.
Hardwood - 4-6 weeks per inch of thickness
Dehumidifier DryingUp to several weeks. On average longer than kiln drying
Oven DryingSeveral hours for a 1-inch thick board

Each drying method is described more in detail below.

1. Air Drying

Air drying is an inexpensive method of tackling woodworking projects – the downside is that you’ll have to keep the wood for a year or longer. Different species will require more or less time. To start, pick a storage spot out in the open but avoid damp areas. The wind should blow against the broadside of your board stack, not against the end.

To aid the drying process, you may want to consider applying a coat of anti-stain sealer and placing each of your wood pieces on stickers, which are strips of wood designed to separate layers of your project pieces.

Using stickers helps to ensure even drying and avoid end-checks. Some home woodworkers can use latex paint on the ends to combat this problem, too. Lay out the stickers every 2’ along the length of your boards.

Check the moisture levels regularly to ensure the wood is drying at the appropriate rate.

Time to properly dry the wood: air drying lumber typically takes at least one year depending on the thickness. For example, a 1-inch thick board would need to air dry for at least 12 months, while a 2-inch thick board would require at least 24 months of air drying.

Summary: air drying is a slower process compared to kiln drying, but it can produce a higher quality product and is often preferred for certain types of wood and woodworking projects.

Air drying lumber, air drying wood, how to dry wood correctly
Air Drying Lumber

2. Kiln Drying

Kiln drying is one of the most popular wood drying methods, and many woodworking shops will offer pre-kiln-dried wood or let you kiln-dry greenwood at a price.

To kiln dry at home, start by milling and air drying the wood. You’ll want to let them sit for a couple of months to shed 8-10% of their moisture. The same principles apply: good airflow, lots of stickers, and anti-stain.

Transfer your wood in bundles to the kiln drying area and set the temperature. Higher temperatures will dry the wood faster (in as little as 32 hours) but require more fuel.

Restock your kiln as necessary to maintain a consistent core temperature and even drying in your wood. Once done, follow your kiln instruction manual to cool down the kiln and store the kiln-dried wood somewhere clean, dry, and protected from the elements.

In particular, elevate the wood off the ground to avoid moisture or bacteria from damaging it. Kiln drying correctly will eliminate harmful bacteria, fungi, and insects, readying your wood for immediate use.

Time to properly dry the wood: kiln-drying lumber can take from several days to several weeks. Drying time in a kiln for softwood species can take 1-3 weeks per inch of thickness, and for hardwood species  4-6 weeks per inch of thickness.

Summary: kiln drying is a faster process compared to air drying. It is a more controlled and consistent process, but usually more expensive and may result in worse quality compared to air drying.

3. Dehumidifier Drying

If you’re wanting to take the DIY route to drying wood, a dehumidifier can get the job done with no problem. Technically speaking, wood kilns are controlled dehumidifiers, involving a fan circulating the airflow, while the dehumidifier removes the moisture.

Conventional dehumidifiers operate on the same principle, removing excess moisture from the room and providing an ideal environment for the wood to dry out.

You’ll need to make sure you have a spacious room insulated from outside conditions so that the room doesn’t lose its heat and the air can be circulated properly. You can either section off a room in your home or build a small space using plywood to make your own DIY kiln.

Ensure your lumber is stacked and spaced with stickers, just as you would when air drying it. Lastly, you’ll need a fan and dehumidifier, the two primary pieces of equipment that run the kiln. The dehumidifier dries the air, while the fan circulates air through the lumber, drying it in the process.

Keep in mind that this process will be much slower than a traditional kiln, which can regulate conditions more effectively. In addition, the size of the lumber and the porosity of the wood can affect the drying time. As usual, you’re aiming for the 6-8% moisture range to make the wood ideal for use.

Time to properly dry the wood: It may take up to several weeks to dry wood to an appropriate moisture content

Summary: dehumidifier drying can be slower compared to kiln drying, but it can be a more controlled and consistent process compared to air drying. It is a good option for woodworkers who don’t have enough space for air drying or access to a kiln.

4. Oven Drying

Believe it or not, you can use a conventional home oven to dry your wood. While you may not get the same consistency and accuracy as kiln drying or air drying, it works well enough in a pinch.

Of course, if you need to dry large pieces of wood or large quantities of wood, then an oven will not work. For smaller wood, an oven could be a good option.

Always keep a close eye on your wood in the oven; even under ideal circumstances, it can ignite, in which case you’ll want to have a fire extinguisher nearby.

In addition, make sure you use a pair of heavy oven mitts or tongs to remove the wood when testing for dryness to avoid burning yourself.

Follow these simple instructions to oven-dry your wood.

  1. Measure the wood moisture level
  2. Prepare your oven
  3. Set the temperature slightly below 200 degrees Fahrenheit (to avoid excessive drying and potential fire hazard)
  4. Bake for 30 minutes
  5. Check moisture level and repeat
  6. Remove and place on a cooling rack
  7. Supervise the process the entire time
  8. Inspect the wood for cracks or defects

Time to properly dry the wood: For a 1-inch thick board, it may take several hours to dry to an appropriate moisture content for woodworking projects.

Summary: Even though you probably have an oven at home, drying wood in an oven can be dangerous and unreliable. It can cause the wood to dry too quickly and unevenly, leading to cracking, and warping. Besides, the entire process can cost a lot of energy and money. On the other hand, it is a quick process that can produce great results for smaller pieces of wood, like cookies. Drying wooden cookies in an oven brings good results, it is fast, and you won’t spend much energy.

Using the oven to dry wood requires supervision at all times.

How to dry wood in oven, how to oven dry wood, different ways to dry lumber
Drying wood cookies in an oven

Final Thoughts

Regardless of how much space you have available in your workshop or in your yard, you can still complete this important step to ensure your wood is properly dried before use. Doing so ensures that each of your projects will be completed with high-quality wood that’s resistant to rot and decay.

Air drying, oven drying, and dehumidifier drying are the 3 wood drying methods that can be used at home or in a small workshop. Kiln drying is more demanding on space and equipment and is not something you can easily access.

Whether you choose to air dry, kiln dry or use an indoor solution, make sure you have a moisture sensor to accurately determine when your wood is properly dried for use.

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Different methods to dry wood, different ways to dry lumber, how to dry lumber fast

Common Wood Types and Their Humidity

Here is a table with the top 15 most commonly used wood types in the workshop, their relative humidity range in nature, and their recommended humidity level when used for projects:

Wood TypeRelative Humidity Range in NatureRecommended Humidity Level for Projects
Pine30% - 50%6% - 12%
Oak30% - 50%6% - 12%
Maple30% - 50%6% - 9%
Cherry30% - 50%6% - 9%
Birch30% - 50%6% - 9%
Walnut30% - 50%6% - 9%
Ash30% - 50%6% - 9%
Mahogany30% - 50%6% - 9%
Teak45% - 55%8% - 12%
Cedar30% - 45%6% - 12%
Poplar30% - 50%6% - 12%
Ebony50% - 60%6% - 9%
Rosewood50% - 60%6% - 9%
Hickory30% - 50%6% - 9%
Beech30% - 50%6% - 9%

Note that the humidity range in nature can vary depending on the specific species and location, and the recommended humidity level for projects can vary depending on the intended use of the wood.

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About the author, Lukas
About the author, Lukas

Meet the creator of AllFlavor Workshop! As a passionate DIYer and woodworking enthusiast, Lukas is always looking for ways to make things himself rather than buying them off the shelf. With a keen eye for design and a knack for working with wood, Lukas enjoys sharing his craft with others and helping them discover the joy of building. Whether you're an experienced woodworker or a novice looking to try your hand at a new hobby, you're sure to find plenty of inspiration and tips on AllFlavor Workshop.