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What to Know About Acclimating Wood

What to Know About Acclimating Wood

Ah, the age-old conundrum of wood acclimation – a topic that can leave even the most seasoned woodworker scratching their head. As someone who’s spent more time than I’d like to admit staring at stacks of lumber, wondering if I’m doing this “acclimation” thing right, I feel your pain. But fear not, my fellow woodworking enthusiasts, for I’m about to shed some light on this mystical process and hopefully save you from a few headaches down the line.

The Importance of Acclimation

Let’s start with the basics: why is wood acclimation even a thing? Well, my friends, it all comes down to the fact that wood is a living, breathing material – and just like us, it likes to adjust to its surroundings. You see, wood is constantly responding to changes in temperature and humidity, expanding and contracting as it takes on or loses moisture. And if you don’t give it the time it needs to adapt to its new environment, you’re just asking for trouble.

Imagine you’re a professional basketball player, and you just got traded to a team on the other side of the country. If you stepped onto the court without giving your body a chance to adjust to the new climate, you’d probably be a hot mess, right? Well, it’s the same deal with wood. If you just take a board straight from the lumberyard and start building with it, you’re setting yourself up for some serious warping, cupping, and other nasty surprises down the line.

The Acclimation Process

Okay, so we know why acclimation is important, but how exactly do we go about doing it? Well, the process is pretty straightforward, but it does require a bit of patience and attention to detail.

First and foremost, you’ll want to make sure your wood is stored properly before you even bring it into your shop. Stickering the boards, with small spacers between each one, is a great way to allow air circulation and prevent moisture buildup. And if you’re working with a particularly large project, you might want to consider breaking the wood down into smaller stacks to help the acclimation process along.

Once your wood is in the shop, the real fun begins. Depending on the climate and conditions in your workshop, you’ll want to let the boards sit for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, keeping a close eye on their moisture content. As one woodworker put it, “If moisture content is in the realm of acceptability and I have a tight deadline, I’ll do a preliminary oversized milling pretty quick and sticker it at least overnight to see if and how it moves. If I’m not rushed, I’ll let it sit in the shop for as long as I can before doing my first surfacing and then let it sit for two weeks stickered before moving on.”

And don’t forget to keep an eye on that moisture meter! Tracking the wood’s moisture content over time is the best way to ensure it’s truly ready for the next stage of your project. As another woodworker shared, “I grab a piece of scrap of the same species and see where that is, assuming it’s acclimated, and check the new wood to the old wood. Get a good pinless moisture meter and continue to check the lumber until the levels stop going down. To my understanding, it would be stable at this point.”

Dealing with Extreme Conditions

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But what if my workshop is in a super humid basement or an uninsulated garage?” Well, my friends, that’s where things can get a little trickier, but not impossible.

If you’re working in a damp, humid environment like a basement, you might need to consider using a dehumidifier to help stabilize the moisture levels. As one Redditor pointed out, “My workshop is in a fairly humid basement, dehumidifier running 24/7. How does this affect my wood? Will it cause problems?” The key is finding the right balance and monitoring the situation closely.

On the flip side, if you’re dealing with an uninsulated garage or workshop, you might need to bring the wood inside your home to fully acclimate. As one woodworker shared, “If there is any way to keep the wood in the house when you are not working it, that might be a viable solution. If you could limit the wood to 6 hours in the shop, that might help you. If you can’t do that, your design must account for wood movement – oversize holes, dados, etc.”

Sliding Doors and Other Tricky Projects

Speaking of wood movement, let’s talk about those pesky sliding doors that can really put your acclimation skills to the test. As one woodworker noted, “The FW article on sliding doors specifically cautioned against using boards, citing the possibility of boards warping. Am I being foolish to even consider using lumber for the doors?”

The short answer? Not necessarily, but you’ll need to be extra diligent in your acclimation process. As another woodworker suggested, “If you have rift or quartersawn wood, your chances of stability go up dramatically. Going in a modern climate-controlled house, wood needs to 6-8% MC. If it’s kiln-dried, you’re okay, if it’s air-dried, you’ll never get there without either a kiln or acclimate it inside your house.”

And don’t forget about those tricky breadboard ends! As one seasoned woodworker shared, “I’m always surprised how much breadboard tops shrink and swell.” Yep, those buggers can be a real pain, which is why it’s so important to give your wood the time it needs to settle in and find its happy place.

The Plastic Bag Trick

Now, if you’re really feeling anxious about wood movement, there’s one trick that might just save the day: the ol’ plastic bag method. As one woodworker put it, “I use this method all the time, and it works amazing. The wood does not twist or warp. And taken when taken out of the bag for 6-8 hours to work on, it’s fine. It goes back in the bag ’til the next day.”

The idea is simple: once your wood is all glued up and ready to go, you just pop it into a big ol’ plastic bag and let it sit for a year or more. This helps to stabilize the moisture content and minimize any further movement. And when it’s time to work on your project, you can just take it out, do your thing, and pop it right back in the bag when you’re done. It’s like putting your wood in a little humidity-controlled cocoon – genius, right?

Putting It All Together

Alright, now that we’ve covered the ins and outs of wood acclimation, it’s time to put all of this newfound knowledge into practice. Whether you’re building a sleek mid-century modern cabinet or a rustic farmhouse table, the key is to give your wood the time and attention it needs to settle in and get comfortable.

Start by sourcing your lumber from a reputable supplier, like our friends over at Timber Building. Then, follow all the steps we’ve outlined – stickering, monitoring moisture content, and letting your wood acclimate in the right conditions. And don’t forget about those tricky sliding doors and breadboard ends – they’ll require a little extra care and attention.

Ultimately, the more time and effort you put into the acclimation process, the smoother your project will go. So be patient, trust the process, and get ready to create some truly stunning pieces that will stand the test of time (and humidity).

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