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Thread: Air Drying Walnut

  1. #1
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    Air Drying Walnut

    I read Scott's Sticky, but have a few questions and somewhat specific to Walnut. My source for KD walnut dried up during Covid and is no longer transporting or selling dried lumber. He was probably a few years away from retirement and the pandemic hastened his departure. This has me now considering two smaller mills that are 40-50 miles away and buying green walnut to air dry. Looks like 3,000-4,000 bdft of ungraded walnut is in the $1.90-2 a bdft range. I spoke at length with the one sawyer and he said most of the walnut logs he buys and saws produce select and better boards with some 1com and some FAS mixed in. It sucks because im used to buying KD walnut for $3-4 a bdft for select and better, but those days are done. Here are my questions:

    Do i have to worry too much about bugs and walnut heartwood? Ive noticed PPB in walnut sapwood before, but i dont know that ive ever seen heartwood affected by the bugs. Ive been under the impression the heartwood is poisonous to most insects? This may be my own myth, which is why i want to ask.

    On drying rates, does lumber dry much during the winter, or not at all? Scott's sticky dispels the 1"=1 year myth, but does anyone have experience air drying 4/4, 5/4, and 8/4 walnut in the northeast? Im not necessarily in a rush to dry this wood as fast as possible, but it will be convenient if its down to 15% MC come next spring/summer so i can move it inside my shop and get it out of the elements. It also factors into the decision to do this in the first place. If the 4/4-5/4 can be used next summer and the 8/4 shortly thereafter then its worth the time and effort. If i will be waiting 3 years for the 8/4 to mature, then this probably isnt for me.

    Generally is this a worthwhile experience, or do a few of you have horror stories? I like the price and ive noticed air dried material has slightly better color and workability, but those characteristics go out the window if bugs are unavoidable and my wife has to look at a stack of lumber in our driveway for 3 years.

  2. #2
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    Oct 2007
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Kane View Post
    I read Scott's Sticky, but have a few questions and somewhat specific to Walnut. My source for KD walnut dried up during Covid and is no longer transporting or selling dried lumber. He was probably a few years away from retirement and the pandemic hastened his departure. This has me now considering two smaller mills that are 40-50 miles away and buying green walnut to air dry. Looks like 3,000-4,000 bdft of ungraded walnut is in the $1.90-2 a bdft range. I spoke at length with the one sawyer and he said most of the walnut logs he buys and saws produce select and better boards with some 1com and some FAS mixed in. It sucks because im used to buying KD walnut for $3-4 a bdft for select and better, but those days are done. Here are my questions:

    Do i have to worry too much about bugs and walnut heartwood? Ive noticed PPB in walnut sapwood before, but i dont know that ive ever seen heartwood affected by the bugs. Ive been under the impression the heartwood is poisonous to most insects? This may be my own myth, which is why i want to ask.

    Black Walnut heartwood is toxic to many pests, but I have seen one instance of fresh termites in it. In general, black walnut air dries very easily, and the heartwood is not susceptible to most pests.

    On drying rates, does lumber dry much during the winter, or not at all? Scott's sticky dispels the 1"=1 year myth, but does anyone have experience air drying 4/4, 5/4, and 8/4 walnut in the northeast? Im not necessarily in a rush to dry this wood as fast as possible, but it will be convenient if its down to 15% MC come next spring/summer so i can move it inside my shop and get it out of the elements. It also factors into the decision to do this in the first place. If the 4/4-5/4 can be used next summer and the 8/4 shortly thereafter then its worth the time and effort. If i will be waiting 3 years for the 8/4 to mature, then this probably isnt for me.

    Lumber drying rates slow down significantly below 70 degrees, and especially below 50 degrees; however it does still dry somewhat. In general, air drying that is started in the fall and winter months will result in higher quality lumber - especially less surface checking. I much prefer to start air drying thick slabs in the cooler months. Your 8/4 BW should be fully air dried by the end of next summer; and the 4/4 at the start of summer. Sometimes BW though can plateau, and stop drying for a while. This is more related to the individual log though.

    Generally is this a worthwhile experience, or do a few of you have horror stories? I like the price and ive noticed air dried material has slightly better color and workability, but those characteristics go out the window if bugs are unavoidable and my wife has to look at a stack of lumber in our driveway for 3 years.
    My advice is go for it! It's best if you can air dry under a shelter - such as a carport - that has unrestricted air flow. The prices that you referenced are excellent considering the current market. If you're interested in a mix of live edge and straight edge lumber, I would request that your sawyer edge any BW boards that have a wide sapwood band along the edge, and only select logs with narrower sapwood bands for the live edge lumber. Fast growth BW is notorious for splitting severely from the ends - even with end sealer. The reason why is that although it dries at the same percentage, BW sapwood dries much faster than heartwood and it shrinks as it dries. Thus there can be a tension band running down the perimeter of the live edge slabs that tends to rip them apart from the ends. Boards with narrow sapwood bands are not as problematic.

    IF at all possible, buy your BW lumber in boule form. That will allow you to easily bookmatch a lot of the boards in your projects.

  3. #3
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    I live in WNY. I have not had problems with bugs in the heartwood of walnut, or most other woods for that matter. Drying is very much dependent upon when the wood was cut. If I cut 4/4 lumber in March it will be AD in 4 months, but if I cut it in October it won't be AD for at least 7 months. Winter drying is only 1%/month in my solar kiln so racks outside aren't going to be any more. 5/4 lumber is pretty similar to 4/4, maybe another month or two, but 8/4 takes more like 18 months to get to AD

    As impatient as I am I've learned not to try to rush things when air drying wood. I lost quite a lot of white oak from direct sun exposure once, so now I make sure my wood stacks are under tree cover and only get filtered sunlight. If you don't have a way to keep your stacks of wood out of direct sunlight then I would drape landscape fabric around them to shield the wood. Walnut is pretty tolerant but an added couple of months is far better than checking.

    John

  4. #4
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    Great, that is all pretty encouraging stuff. Especially on the bug front. I think this will be a go, im just waiting on a lumber trucker with a boom lift to give me a quote. The sawyer works with this guy a lot and guesstimated $300-350 which seems super cheap.

    Here are my stacking/stickering choices.

    Upper portion of my driveway that is mostly out of the way of vehicular traffic. Pros for this position is its asphalt on a concrete subgrade, which means weight isnt much of an issue. Should be relatively flat to begin with and easily shimmable for the base course. Cons are its in the driveway, so a bit of an eyesore, but it also receives about 6-8 hours of sunlight. I have scrap plywood and a tarp to keep the precipitation mostly off the stack, but the side and one end will get blasted with sunlight.

    Another choice is inside my recently completed shed. its 8' wide and 10' deep with a 16' ceiling. Pros are its under roof and completely out of the way. Cons are i didnt build the floor to hold 9,000lbs of lumber. The floor joists are PT 2x6s 12" on center connected to 6x6 sills via joist hangers. The sills are on buried deck blocks sitting on a deposit of sandstone. I have deck blocks every 3-4' on the perimeter of the sills. The floor joists are quite close to the ground. So much so that i am sure the floor joist would contact and transfer load to the ground before breaking. Still, i imagined putting 2,000lbs on the floor of the shed and not 5x that. I currently do not have front doors on the structure, and could leave the 4' by 7' door freely open for air exchange. I havent closed in the openings between the roof and the purlins either. I left this open for the timber frame to breathe and continue to dry until the spring. This might be overly cautious, but i didnt want the hemlock(was alive and standing in June) to mildew by sealing up the shed too soon. It wont see the air exchange that the driveway stack would, but it would be completely under roof.

    Scott, i tend to infrequently buy lumber in larger lots for this reason--well, and prices and delivery convenience. At wholesale lumber yards, if you buy 'whole packs' you typically end up with boards from the same/similar trees. Its my understanding that Boules are live edge material, is that right? Or does a boule just mean the tree is restacked in the same orientation of the original log, but not necessarily live edge? I would prefer not to have bark on the boards for the insect reasons. I have a slider, so i can straight line the live edge off, but its more convenient to start with square stock.

    One final question beyond 'where to stack the stuff' is how do folks typically allocate the cuts? I used to use a ton of 8/4 almost exclusively to make counters, islands, etc. Im doing that less and less these days, and originally considered splitting the order into 1500-2000 bdft for 8/4 and the remaining 1,000 split between 4/4 and 5/4. Im now thinking more of the future and cutting into that latter category for maybe 200-250 feet of 12/4-16/4. I know this is really thick material, but things like a maloof rocker's crest rail require short portions of 12/4. What originally turned me away from these thicker cuts is the dry time. If 8/4 could be ready by the end of next summer, it makes me think about stretching for the 12/4 which might be ready in a year and a half to 2 years.

  5. #5
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    Patrick, you will have the least degrade and fastest turnaround time if you air dry under an open sided shelter, such as a carport.

    Drying indoors - such as in a closed shed - will result in an extended drying time, but the wood quality will be high.

    One concern about drying adjacent to a driveway is for mud / dirt / moisture to be splashed up on the lumber.

    I like your suggested mix of 12/4, 8/4, 5/4 and 4/4.

  6. #6
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    Jun 2014
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    Sent the sawyer his $3,000 deposit earlier this week, and now i eagerly wait a few weeks to move 12,000lbs+ of lumber by hand. Im very interested in how this turns out. One, how quickly the lumber dries and is usable. Two, how well-tempered and true the lumber dries. Three, how awful moving that much in a day or two will be. Ive had my share of moving a few thousand boardfeet in one day, but never green material. If this goes well, i see myself doing this every or every other Fall, selling off the 1com the following year for a small profit, and keeping the select and better/FAS for a bargain of an investment.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Kane View Post
    ... move 12,000lbs+ of lumber by hand...
    Wet lumber is very heavy, especially wide 12/4 boards. A tractor with forks on the front saves a HUGE amount of manual effort. I slide boards onto the forks from the mill then set the stack out of the way on 4x4s until stickering time. If you have a tractor with a quick connect for the bucket you can switch between the bucket and forks quickly.

    JKJ

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