Wood Scence 101 (21) – The Mystery of Wood and Water

The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry is holding their annual Kiln Drying Workshop again next month. While the program is considered one of the premier and must-attend workshops for professional hardwood kiln operators, there might be reasons for you to consider a trip to upstate New York in the dead of winter.

 
 

As much love for wood as I find out in the world, I also constantly see a great deal of misunderstanding of the issue of wood, water, weathering, mold, rot, warpage, and other moisture-related wood performance issues. Quick story from this weekend at the Ray mansion…I had been given a small gift-size oak barrel several years ago, designed for seasoning a bottle or two of whiskey. I had used it a few times, but made the mistake of trying it for wine (which didn’t work well, because the wine needs to be consumed shortly after the bottle is uncorked), and the wine residue tainted the barrel enough so that it was no longer good for further use in seasoning whiskey.

 
 

My eye landed on the deserted barrel this weekend, and I had the brilliant idea that it would make a great in-tank prop for my aquarium. So, I picked up the barrel, headed outdoors to fill it with sand, brought it back in and sank it in the tank. It looked great.

 
 

But then the family questions began, with several of the little wood rats wondering if the barrel wouldn’t “rot away” in the tank. I was aghast, and explained more than once that wood rotting is a function of wet-dry cycles in wood…and that wood that stays saturated with water will last forever, at least until some organism in the water might possibly consume it. In my fish tank, the chances of that happening are very, very small.

 
 

That experience got me to thinking about how folks really don’t understand wood relationship with water, and why wood drying, seasoning, and finishing are done improperly so often. Wooden decks, roofs, and siding are the worst case scenarios, as they are constantly exposed to extremes in temperature, ultraviolet light, and temperature…and with improper drying and maintenance, they often disintegrate in short order.

 
 

Wooden furniture and crafts also tend to fall apart when improperly dried and stored lumber is used in its construction. The hardwood dry kiln operators job is to ensure that it doesn’t happen…but even in the professional ranks, I find operators who seemed genuinely confused about how to make end-of-kiln-cycle decisions according to how the specific load has responded in the kiln.

 
 

I also find that more often that not, persons involved in the sales of wooden furniture give absolutely incorrect information when discussing the qualities and environmental properties of the wooden products they represent.

 
 

Crafters at the local fairs often create their works of art under conditions and using techniques and materials that practically guarantee their short life.

 
 

And non-woodites routinely make wood products purchasing decisions under misguided assumptions about how that product can be used in application.

 
 

All reasons why I would like you to consider attending SUNY’s Kiln Drying Workshop next month. Even if you’re not one of the folks who dry lumber for a living, you’ll find that a few days spent learning the science of how to properly remove moisture from wood will benefit every aspect of your appreciation of it as one of the greatest of raw materials on the planet.

 
 

Here are some details on the workshop. Only five days left to take advantage of the early registration rates.

 
 

If you truly are one to Go Wood, you’ll find it time and money well spent.

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