Seasoning

Now saw out thy timber, for board and for pale, to have it unshaken, and ready to sale: Bestowe it and stick it, and lay it aright, to find it in March, to be ready in plight.

— Thomas Tusser, Five Hundred Points of Husbandry, 1557

The carpenter's work may come first on a new house, but the joiner's wood was the first cut. Stock for floors, doors, windows, and trim needs this extra time to lose the water of life. With the loss of water, the wood shrinks across the grain and becomes harder, stronger, and lighter—ready for the joiner.

Seasoning is so important that it is common practice to make critical items like doors in stages, allowing for "second seasoning." The joiner brings the material almost to its final size, then sets it aside for a week or two before continuing. Oak is particularly prone to shrinkage after a fresh surface is exposed. A builder's guide of 1726 warned of this: "For it has been observ'd, that though Boards have lain in an House ever so long, and are ever so dry, yet when they are thus shot and planed, they will shrink afterwards beyond Belief." Court records show that one builder working on the College of William and Mary in 1704 was hauled into court because "the Plank & timber being green and unseasoned," the work "was shamefully spoilt."

You can't hurry wood. An experienced artisan can easily tell air-dried wood by the sweet way it cuts. Some of the best artisans I know have mastered the art of drying wood by forgetting about it. They stack it outside, protected from the rain, but open to the air. After a year or two or three, they bring it into the shop and put it in the rafters. After another year or two or three, they start to look at it again. The longer they can forget about it, the better. They have no idea of its numerical moisture content, but they know when it's ready.

Still, it's the American way to hurry things along. In My Year in a Log Cabin, William Dean Howells recalled kiln-drying lumber for his family home in the 1850s:

The frame had been raised, as the custom of that country still was, in a frolic of the neighbors, to whom unlimited coffee and a boiled ham had been served in requital of their civility, and now we were kiln-drying the green oak flooring-boards. To do this we had built a long skeleton hut, and had set the boards upright all around it and roofed it with them, and in the middle of it we had set a huge old cast-iron stove in which we kept a roaring fire.

This fire had to be watched night and day, and it never took less than three or four boys of the neighborhood to watch it, and to turn and change the boards. The summer of Southern Ohio is surely no joke, and it must have been cruelly hot in that kiln; but I remember nothing of that; I remember only the luxury of the green corn, whose ears we spitted on long sticks and roasted in the red-hot stove; we must almost have roasted our own heads at the same time.

The heat was surely hard on the oak boards as well. Wood dries on the outside first, with moisture deeper in the wood taking longer to get out. That's what causes the checking and cracking as wood dries too fast—the inside is still fat while the outside shrinks. Slow seasoning gives the deeper wood a chance to keep up with the outside.

Wood also shrinks and swells differently in different directions. It never gets longer and shorter, just fatter and skinnier—and it does that unevenly as well. From green to oven dry, wood shrinks about 10 percent in line with the growth rings (tangentially) and about 5 percent across the rings (radially). In a log left in the round, the wood will often crack open to relieve the stress of this differential shrinkage. But if you split the log first, either with wedge or saw, the timber can open up without cracking as it dries.

A radially cut or split-out panel will get smaller as it dries, but at least it will stay rectangular. The even shrinkage of a radial, across the growth rings, "quarter sawn" cut of a tree makes for even shrinkage. Boards cut tangential to the growth rings (flat sawn) will warp as they dry, cupping on one side and crowning on the other, the rings tending to flatten out. You can plane off the cup and crown, but wood is only as stable as its environment. If the wood gets wetter or drier, it will warp again. With individual pieces getting bigger and smaller across their width but not their length, your designs must allow the wood to move.

Much of the art of joinery is devoted to accommodating wood movement —but seldom from dead green to bone dry. It's a matter of steps along a

Drying wood will shrink more in line with the growth rings than across them.
Hold the ripsaw at about 60 degrees to the surface.

path. When making drawknifed chairs, you count on the shrinkage of the posts to grip the rungs tight. Even then, it's usually very dry rungs set into less dry posts—not sopping green posts. Dead green wood responds well to splitting and shaping tools, but the tools of joinery want wood that hangs tighter.

Joiners often plane wood before it has fully seasoned — it's easier and faster—but it usually works best after the wood has made a start on the path to dryness. Bob Simms, working in an English shop in the 1920s, was always glad to work on unseasoned elm:

We had a coffin maker next door to the cabinet shop. I often used coffin boards because you could buy what they called a "coffin set." It was rough and needed to be planed out, but they were cut to sizes for coffins. You could buy a whole set, the sides and the end pieces, far cheaper than you could buy one of the boards out of the stack in the yard. We used coffin boards because they were fresh cut and planed out beautifully. But if you dry it for a couple of years you couldn't work it with a bloody ax!

Woodworking Tools and Installation Tips

Woodworking Tools and Installation Tips

There are a lot of things that either needs to be repaired, or put together when youre a homeowner. If youre a new homeowner, and have just gotten out of apartment style living, you might want to take this list with you to the hardware store. From remolding jobs to putting together furniture you can use these 5 power tools to get your stuff together. Dont forget too that youll need a few extra tools for other jobs around the house.

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