Timber Basics, a Small Amount of Timber Technology

On this timber page.
Saw milling | Seasoning | Stacking Correctly

Saw milling.

sketch of quarter sawn timber
Timber - Ideal looking end grain for joinery work, including door making.
slab sawn timber
Timber - Not good for joinery work.
shrinkage in timber
Timber - Half way between the best and the worst.
stacking timber
Timber - Stacking, right and wrong.

Once again I am just touching on a very complex subject, there is a lot of information on the web expanding on what I am talking about here.  So this is just a short primer, that may help you when you go to a yard to select some timber for your next project.  No matter what you are going to do, making an informed selection (if you have any choice of course), will result in a better job.

The first requirement of any carpentry or joinery is the timber, it has to be cut out of the log right, then it has to be well dried, or seasoned as we say.

  • There are certain ways of milling timber that make for good joinery work.
  • The best cuts are from timber that has been radially sawn.   That gives timber that shrinks less and more evenly than any other way.
  • Radial or quarter saw timber if it has been sawn that way on purpose, will be more expensive, because of increased handling and more waste than slab sawn.
  • Slab saw timber also gives a few pieces of good timber, (from the center cut), but from then on it gets worse until the very edge boards are used.
  • Just looking at the sketch you will be able to see that slab sawn timber has less waste and will go through a saw where the blades are ganged together in one pass.  A lot faster, so no prizes for guessing which is the most common method.

Timber suppliers are in the business of selling timber, quickly an profitably, in unopened packs if possible and they are no doubt quite happy to see the end of old farts like me who believe in selecting each stick by hand and dismissing the ones with defects. One guy said to me once, "we've got to sell it to somebody", my answer was "Yeah, but not to me"!

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When a tree is cut down and turned into a log, that green log can contain more weight in water than it does in finished timber.  To get to a usable product that water has to be removed, or as we say, the timber has to be seasoned.  The difference between well seasoned and not has a huge impact on the quality of the timber.

A sign that I have noticed recently with the growth of the Internet, people are swapping information about seasoning timber and a lot more amateur and professional woodworkers are having a shot at drying there own timber.   Where I am there are a few guys with solar kilns (made out of old steel shipping containers) who are drying their own timber.

  • When the timber has been milled it has to be seasoned correctly.
  • In the old days it was stacked undercover with air gaps around each piece and it was allowed to dry naturally over a period of years.
  • Greater demand for timber with faster turnarounds, produced the methods known as kiln drying.   The timber is stacked and spends time drying out under controlled conditions in in heated chambers.

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Stacking Timber Correctly

So assuming that you have had your timber delivered to site, I always at a minimum stack it on skids, that is lumps of timber, steel etc, anything to keep it off the ground.  To stop it from soaking up moisture or just bending because it isn't sitting straight.

  • If you have to store it for any length of time try to stack it correctly.  That is with the packing stick under each other.
  • Even quite short periods of time, like a few days can put a permanent bend in fresh timber if it is stacked wrongly.  The weight of the whole stack above can force a bend into quite large pieces.
  • If you are storing it to aid drying out put thicker sticks between each piece to allow the air to circulate better.

Here is a link to Kate Taylor's site. A artist and craftswoman who makes wonderfully detailed boxes.

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Please Note! The information on this site is offered as a guide only!  When we are talking about areas where building regulations or safety regulations could exist,the information here could be wrong for your area.  It could be out of date!  Regulations breed faster than rabbits!
You must check your own local conditions.
Copyright © Bill Bradley 2007-2012. All rights reserved.
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