How Dry Should Wood Be Before Turning, Staining or Burning?

Dry wood with paper towel on woodshop work bench large

If you’ve ever considered working with wood to turn it, stain it, or burn it, you probably know there are quite a few things that need to be gathered and prepared in order to do so. Working with wood is extremely rewarding and the results are great when instructions are followed properly; however, working with wood can be tricky!

One of the big factors that is important for preparation before working with wood is its dryness. Wood typically needs to be dry before turning, staining or burning it.

So, how dry should wood be before turning, staining or burning? The answer can get a little complicated. If you’re planning on using wood you acquired yourself and air drying it, a general rule of thumb is to allow at least one year of drying time per inch of wood thickness. You can also dry wood in kilns for a much faster result, or purchase wood that has already been dried.

Knowing how dry wood should be before turning, staining or burning can get complicated depending on what you plan to do with it. If you want to make sure you know how dry your wood needs to be before working with it, you’re in the right place. We’ve researched and written what we mean by “dry” wood, what turning, staining and burning wood are, and just how dry your wood needs to be before working with it.

How Dry Wood Needs to be Before Turning, Staining or Burning: An In-Depth Look

How dry wood needs to be before turning, staining or burning depends on quite a few factors. First, it’s important for you to know what “dry” wood means, what turning, staining and burning wood is, and why it’s important to use dry wood for those tasks. We’ll go over these in-depth before taking an in-depth look at how to dry wood needs to be!

What We Mean by “Dry Wood”

You may think wood is most always dry when you come into contact with it, but it turns out that’s actually not the case. Wood is like a sponge for moisture, and it gets wet and holds moisture really easily.

Why does that matter? When wood has or doesn’t have moisture, it changes shapes and warps. Damp wood gets wetter, bigger and heavier. Drier wood is smaller and lighter. As wood takes in and releases moisture, it actually expands and shrinks.

This means that when working with wood that isn’t dry, it can warp, hold materials less effectively, crack, and change shapes.

Those who work with wood tend to split it up into two different distinctions when it comes to moisture: dry wood and green wood. Dry wood is wood that has been dried to ensure its shape stays the way it is, where green wood is wood that still contains moisture and hasn’t been dried.

All About Turning Wood

Turning wood is the process of using a tool called a lathe to quickly turn and spin the wood. While the wood is spinning, the woodworker uses special tools to shape the wood to desired shapes, as well as to form patterns and grooves.

Turning wood is commonly used to make the legs of furniture, like table chairs and leg chairs. It’s also used to create wood dishes like cups and bowls.

Why It’s Important to Dry Wood Before Turning

Those who turn wood have actually been known to use both green wood and dry wood. However, there are a few benefits that may make using dry wood better than green wood for turning.

When the wood is wet before turning, the turning tools can easily and quickly get clogged with material that comes off the wet wood. This can slow the process of turning considerably. It can also be harder to get debris from wet wood off turning tools than debris from dry wood.

Using wood that isn’t dry before turning can also lead to the finished product shrinking and/or warping. This can be a huge issue, especially in furniture making. Additionally, wet wood may not hold color and stains as well as wood that’s dry.

All About Staining Wood

Staining wood is essentially the process of adding more color to wood. It can be used to bring out grain patterns, to darken the wood, and to match one variety of wood to another variety of wood. Staining wood is a dramatic and permanent change to wood, and it’s important to test a small section of the wood before staining an entire piece.

There are many different varieties, colors and brands of stains, and there are also two main types: oil-based stains and water-based stains. Because of the large variety of stains, it’s very important to research what type of stain would be best for the wood being used.

Why It’s Important to Dry Wood Before Staining

Using dry wood is perhaps most important when it comes to staining. Like you read earlier, wood is like a sponge for moisture. The same can be said for stains. If the wood is dry before staining, the stain will soak in and permeate the wood to its full potential.

Using dry wood for staining will create a better looking, longer lasting result and ensure that the desired effects are maintained.

All About Burning Wood

Burning wood, also commonly referred to as pyrography, is the process of burning a design onto the wood, typically by using an electric tool called a woodburning pen. Pyrography is relatively inexpensive and professional and non-professional woodworkers alike can enjoy it.

While technically any wood can be used for wood burning, soft woods are typically easier to work with. Softer woods include pine, birch, ash, fir, and birchwood. It’s also easier and safer to go out and purchase wood for pyrography rather than going out and gathering it yourself.

Why It’s Important to Dry Wood Before Burning

When it comes to burning wood, the dryness of the wood isn’t as big of an important factor as it is in turning or staining. Actually, wood in pyrography may actually need to be a little wet or damp to allow the burn to work effectively.

Since you want your wood to be a little wet for wood burning, this can be achieved by taking a wet sponge over the surface of the wood. The wood needs to be wet or damp, but definitely not dripping. Once the sponge has been rubbed over the wood, the wood should be dried for 2-3 hours before burning.

How Dry Wood Needs to be Before Turning, Staining or Burning

Now that you know what turning, staining and burning are in woodwork, you can get a better idea of why and how long wood needs to be dried for.

Like you read before, when air-drying wood, the general rule of thumb is to allow one year of drying time per inch of wood thickness. So, if you’re attempting to air dry wood that’s a ¾ inch thick, it should be air dried for roughly 9 months.

However, as you’ve probably gathered by now, the dryness of wood for the different techniques of turning, staining or burning can vary between the three. Below is a chart of estimates for how to dry wood should be before turning, staining or burning.

How long should wood dry before turning? One year of drying time per inch of wood thickness when air drying.
How long should wood dry before staining? One year of drying time per inch of wood thickness when air drying.
Green treated or pressure treated wood should dry out for 30-90 days before the first stain is applied.
How long should wood dry before burning? One year of drying time per inch of wood thickness when air drying.
Once a wet sponge is applied to the wood’s surface to dampen it, it should be allowed to dry for 2-3 hours before burning.

How to Dry Wood Before Turning, Staining, or Burning

Now that you know how long wood needs to dry before it can be worked with to turn, stain or burn, you may be wondering how to dry wood before working with it. There are actually two main techniques for drying wood: air drying and kiln drying.

Air Drying Wood

Air drying wood is a relatively simple, cost-effective method of drying wood that can be done at home. Air drying wood involves drying the wood by exposing it to the air. So, how do you do it? When air drying wood, these tips should be followed:

  1. Find a cool, clean, dry, shady place to air dry the wood
  2. Make a stack of wood on a raised foundation (it needs to be off the ground!)
  3. Arrange a continuous air flow. This may be achieved by separating the wood from each other through the use of “Stickers”, which are simply 1″ x 2″ pieces of wood that you space out in between each board.
  4. The rate of moisture absorption in the wood can be controlled by coating the wood with a substance that is mostly impermeable to water. Mineral oil is commonly used and works well.

There are a lot of different ways to arrange wood to air dry it, and it’s generally open to interpretation. This method for drying wood is less expensive, but remember – it can take a long time! Air drying can take several months to several years to dry wood.

Kiln Drying Wood

Kiln drying wood is the method for drying wood that is basically just how it sounds: a kiln is used to dry the wood. Kiln drying is also often referred to as artificial or oven drying. This is done by exposing the wood to a bit of heat to relieve the moisture.

In kiln drying, wood is fitted into a chamber that regulates the temperature, humidity and air circulation of the wood. Doing this in an internal area gets the wood dry, and gets it dry quickly. This method is much more effective and less time consuming, but it can be more expensive and less available to everyone. Kiln drying should also be done with caution; it can introduce some defects into the wood if not done properly.


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