There’s an old method of shipbuilding that requires you to wet wood to make it malleable.
You want to know how to dry wet wood fast before it begins to rot: we’re here to explain that, and so much more.
There are three different ways that you can dry out wood very quickly. These could be the difference between your wood being perfect for use, and rotting completely.
Three Ways to Dry Wood
Space Wood Out in a Ventilated Spot
So what is a well-ventilated area?
You want a cross breeze and a few fans going, wide-open spaces where it doesn’t get damp and musty, and plenty of access to fresh air as well.
A garage with the front door open would be ideal, so long as you have a few fans in the back of the room to circulate the air.
So long as air can continuously flow around the wood, then it will expedite the air-drying process.
If you have any metal wire shelves, this would be a good spot to hang the wood up to dry. The roomier space, the better.
Expose Every Single Side
Capitalizing on the previous point, you need to make sure every single surface area of all wood is exposed.
Every end, every corner, no matter what. This gives the most air-to-surface ratio and exposes more fibers for the air to leach the water out of.
When lumber is wet, the fibers tend to stand on end. Once those begin to dry, they’re stuck in that position.
If you’ve ever felt a piece of freshly dried wood and it felt kind of scratchy, this is exactly what we’re talking about.
Those fibers are like conduits to the deeper parts of the wood and will help with the drying process.
The heat will dry your wood out, as you might have imagined.
If you follow the previous two methods in tandem, this will help accelerate everything.
Your wood still needs to have the “sweet spot” of moisture content, which is between 7-9% (at the very least, below 11%). There’s no real way to measure this though, and that’s a problem.
In your well-ventilated space, with each side of each piece of wood being exposed, set up a few fans and a couple of heats.
You want to distribute the heat evenly throughout the room.
The best place to do this is in a garage or a shed, which should give you the most amount of space to move around depending on how much lumber you’re drying.
Why is Wet Wood Bad for Woodworking?
If your lumber’s moisture content is above 11%, you’re going to run into problems.
Woodworking becomes increasingly difficult, and should not even be attempted: you could end up wasting your time, damaging salvageable wood, and wasting valuable materials and resources that could be better spent on another project.
Here’s why wet wood is bad for woodworking.
Glue Doesn’t Stick
There are some wet glues that can withstand a 15% moisture content on your lumber, but that generally means that you apply a tiny bit of water to the area prior to placing the glue.
It’s not meant to advise you on strictly handling damp or ruined wood.
When you sand wood that is completely soaked through, it ends up drying in a warped way.
Because wood absorbs water and moisture from the air, it swells up in an uneven way.
You’re basically sanding and shaping something that’s not done transforming because if you decide to dry it out afterward, it’s going to shrink back down to its normal and dry size and look totally different.
You’ll see imperfections, scratches, and swell marks on the wood that ruin the aesthetic appeal.
After it dries, it’s not the same. If you inflated a balloon, then deflated it, and kept that process up, you’re eventually going to expose a growing weakness in the balloon.
The same goes for wood. The wood was already moist when it was cut down and through its year-long initial drying process, so now it’s getting wet again and drying again.
It can only expand and contract so much.
If you’ve ever looked up projects that you can make with driftwood, you’ll find that almost none of them are made to support the weight of a person or be used as shelves.
That’s because the wood has weakened from constant waterlogging and drying.
Turning it to Mush
What happens if you add water to sand?
You guessed it. The same will happen as the sandpaper quickly extracts the water from the wood, and it will not only turn the sandpaper to an unusable state but will scrape away the wood for a short time and leave a layer of mushy wood on top.
That’s not your goal, and it’s not going to help you out in the least.
How Long Does Wet Wood Last?
It doesn’t take long for rot or mold growth to occur.
However, there are two different types of moisture in wood, and it’s important to know the difference.
There is bound water, which is the normal moisture content of what is in the cells of the wood.
If you’ve ever seen freshly-cut green wood or used it yourself, you know that it needs to dry out for a considerable amount of time before being used.
Bound moisture isn’t going to rot the wood.
Then you have applied water, which is when the wood is left out in the rain and water soaks into the wood fibers.
This causes wood to expand and retain that moisture, but this can be dried out of it rather quickly.
Wood that is wet from applied water can still last for a while, so long as you dry it out as quickly as possible.
You want to avoid the growth of bacteria and microorganisms that feed off of moisture and prevent rot from occurring.
Wet wood will last for about a week before this really starts taking its toll. Dry it out effectively in that time frame, and you shouldn’t run into any problems.
Will Wet Wood Rot or Mold Before it Dries?
Wood will undergo something called wet rot, which you may have heard in construction terms before.
This occurs when enough moisture hits the wood, is absorbed by the fibers (non-finished or lacquered wood). When it sinks deep enough, the wood is too wet to be used or resealed.
That wood can be dried, and most of the time it can be salvaged. Once the wood is below about 12% moisture content, any rotting should stop.
However, if the moisture content was significantly higher for a long period of time, you will eventually hit dry rot, which works on its own to deteriorate and destroy wood from the inside out.
The wood will not rot if you can change the conditions.
In order for wood-eating microorganisms to begin growth and multiply, they need a warm, moist environment.
When the wood is cold enough, it can kill all of the organisms.
You could leave wet wood outside in a well-ventilated position in the dead of winter, and it will kill the growth of rot.
Alternatively, you could also raise the heat in your workshop with a fan and some well-placed space heaters.
The organisms can’t continue to grow past a certain heat.
This method means that you’ll also be drying the wood out at the same time, and eliminating the total area that the organisms have to grow.
Can I Seal Moist Wood?
There’s an adhesive quality to just about any sealant, and moisture is going to kill it. You have to get the moisture content down to 9% or lower.
When wood is freshly chopped down, it’s considered to have a 100% moisture content, and it takes seasons (sometimes a full year) to dry it out properly.
The absolute highest that wood is sealed is around 14%, and that’s usually in construction.
When wood is dried too quickly, usually through a kiln method, it undergoes what is called equilibration.
That wood is not only volatile and may rot anyway, but under no circumstances can that be sealed either.
In woodworking, you should only seal dry wood. Sealant needs dry fibers to cling onto and create a layer or barrier over the wood.
If you’re familiar with wet sanding, then you know that those initial fibers that grasp onto the finish are then shaved down, and another coat of sealant or finish is applied.
Since you need multiple coats of sealant, you would basically make a cocoon for moist wood to continually rot in, even if the sealant did stick to it the first time around.
It’s not just ill-advised, it will ruin your projects from the inside out.