Saturday, January 11, 2014

Making Kiln Dried Slabs of Wood

I dropped by the shop the other day to find Chris and a helper working 2 huge slabs of walnut through the planer. If you have never seen this nutty mahogany colored species, or smelled its acrid semi-sweet aroma during milling, it will stop you in your tracks. You won't experience it without dropping into Merv's shop near Collingwood Ontario on just the right day.

They routinely prepare these slabs for a local furniture company to make tables. The process involves much more than just slicing up great logs and planing it smooth. Your slab will twist, crack and check and won't be useful as a table unless it is expertly prepared.

Slabs always have to be dried for them to become stable. It can take months to properly dry hardwood in thick sizes, and Merv is picky. He wants the moisture content down to 6%. He attests that is the only way to make a stable piece of lumber that won't crack or twist. 

 So these slabs have been in the kiln for about 6 weeks, and now they are making them smooth again. Surface inconsistencies become more pronounced during the drying process, some twist, others distort and some parts shrink during drying. Depending on the grain cracks develop--which most people like the look of. If you want to avoid cracks you need to use quarter sawn material, which means you have to start with a very large log.

When the bark is left on the lumber we refer to it as "Live Edge". This option is popular for furniture people. Many use these for mantles and counter tops for a home with lots of wood. If you need this kind of thing, get in touch with Merv. Please give him 2 or 3 months of lead time. Good things take time. He can supply just about any species of lumber. Pine or other softwoods dry faster--but are less durable.