Welcome to winter. Whether the winter weather in your area of the country has been below average or unseasonably warm in recent weeks, chances are pretty good that you’ll be experiencing some below freezing temperatures sooner or later as the season progresses. When that happens, working conditions at the lumber yard can get downright bone-chilling. Naturally, we adjust, and that means cranking up our heaters and carrying on with business as usual.
One thing we absolutely have to do is take into account how the use of those heaters is going to affect the wood in our shops. To ignore the impact could create some major headaches both now and down the road when the weather warms up in the spring and summer months that lie ahead.
Heating units, whether they be central or space heaters, are an absolute necessity for those who live and work in cold climates during the winter months. Not only do they help workers to cope with the freezing weather conditions, but they also allow finishes and glues to keep performing optimally when they typically wouldn’t. When the temperatures get below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, adhesives and finishes don’t work as well as they should, or may not work at all if it gets too cold.
So for those who run lumber yards and wood shops, it’s not a question of whether or not you’ll turn up the heat, but what kind of heaters you’re going to use and how warm you’re going to turn up the dial on the thermostat.
Heat Impacts the Moisture Content of Your Lumber
The downside of cranking up your heaters is that, aside from increasing static shocks, the moisture content in the air and in your lumber will greatly decrease. Whether it’s lumber waiting on the shelf to be used in future projects, or lumber that you’re currently working with, it will all become far drier than it would naturally be during the warmer months of the year.
Even lumber outside or in covered sheds is susceptible to getting extremely dry during the winter months, because the air this time of year typically isn’t as moist as it is in the summer. But in a heated shop, the moisture content of the air is even lower than it is outside. Even with a humidifier, it’s not uncommon for wood in your shop to get below 6% moisture content in the wintertime. If your supplier is in a warm climate, which is often the case, the lumber will undergo a pretty dramatic decrease in moisture as soon as it reaches your shelves.
Low Moisture in the Air can Cause Checking
When this rapid change in moisture content occurs, it’s extremely common for tiny splits, known as “checks” to emerge on the surface of your boards. You may even start to notice more significant checking on the end of your boards. This is especially true of fresh lumber, but it can even be seen in kiln-dried lumber boards as well. Any checks that already existed can become more significant.
If you notice this phenomenon, don’t be alarmed. It’s perfectly normal for wood to move and for checks to occur when there’s a change in the temperature and moisture content of the air. In our next article in this series, we’ll take a look at some of the other effects that dry air from heating your shop can cause and what steps you should take to prevent any long-lasting negative results to your lumber.