Don’t Forget the Quality of the Kiln
While I prefer to work with air-dried lumber, that’s not always possible for woodworkers who use a lot of wood or don’t have access to a dealer who air-dries stock.
One of the major problems with kiln-dried lumber is that it is sometimes rushed through the kiln to get it to market. As a result, the stock can become case-hardened (among other defects). You can’t tell a piece of lumber is case-hardened by looking at it. But you will be able to tell when you cut it.
It will pinch, sometimes violently, on the blade of your saw. The pinch can bend a handsaw or stop dead a 3hp cabinet saw. Even if you manage to rip it, the stock is likely to move constantly throughout the project every time you work with it.
As woodworker Rob Young notes: The best tool for that piece of wood is the fireplace.
This week I’ve been processing a lot of white oak for a 20’ run of shelves and have been amazed at how well behaved the wood is. No stresses. No warping. No case hardening.
It’s not luck. It’s because the wood is from a mill that is fanatical about its kiln schedules and knows how to dry white oak better than any other source I’ve encountered. The mill, by the way, is Frank Miller Lumber in Union City, Ind. I’ve been using that company’s oak for 20 years, and it has always been primo. And it’s remarkably inexpensive because I buy it right from the source.
I have found that it pays to form a relationship with a mill. Take a tour (if they’ll let you) to find out how the wood is processed. If you read up on typical kiln schedules (it’s different for hardwoods and softwoods), you can find out how much care they take in drying.
If you aren’t that hands-on, try this: Buy wood directly from the mill. If it stinks, never go there again. If it’s mild and behaves, give them as much business as you can.
This is a lot more trouble than going to a hardwood dealer – I have to drive four hours round trip to visit Frank Miller. But I throw away a lot less wood. It actually saves me money and frustration.
— Christopher Schwarz