Can you dry out damp wood in the oven? How about firewood? The short answer to both these questions is “yes.” Even so, there are quite a few factors to consider – not just for your safety, but to conserve energy and ensuring that the wood you dry in the oven emerges well-suited for its intended purpose.
We need to keep in mind that much of the wood that we buy in the lumberyard is kiln dried in large commercial kilns. So the idea of drying wood in the oven is really not all that strange. The big difference is that our kitchen ovens are much smaller than the kilns typically used for drying lumber. You also might want to check with your wife, before starting, so that she doesn’t freak out when she sees what you are doing.
How to Dry Wood Using a Kitchen Oven: Get Firewood Ready Faster
On its face, the idea of oven drying firewood at home might seem a touch ridiculous, and maybe even a bit dangerous. But if you live in a cold climate and have a fireplace or woodstove as your primary or secondary heat source, it may actually be necessary at times. For other times, you can prep at least some of your firewood in your kitchen’s oven. This method isn’t meant to season an entire shed full of firewood, but it’s a good answer to the occasional damp log or under-seasoned kindling.
Any of us who heat with wood recognize that problem. Storms blowing in can make your wood pile wet, even if it is covered. The ends of cut firewood absorb moisture quickly; and the drier the wood is, the more likely it is to absorb that moisture. At times, it can be difficult to find any wood in your pile, which is dry enough to ignite easily.
This problem is especially true when trying to start a fire, rather than adding wood to an already existing fire. A hot fire in your fireplace or wood burning stove will dry out any new wood you put in there. But if you’ve let your fire die down or are starting it from scratch, you’re going to need dry wood to work with.
Perhaps the biggest question for any of us is: What temperature is best for drying firewood in the oven? This is tricky. The ignition point of wood is approximately 500 degrees F, it’s important to be careful with higher temperatures. You want your wood to dry quickly, but you don’t want to risk starting a fire.
This puts an “ideal” temperature for drying the wood at about 300 degrees Fahrenheit. This allows enough heat to dry the larger pieces, without singing small pieces of kindling. On the other hand, if you’re just drying larger pieces and you’re going to be on hand to watch the oven, you can go higher. Some people have had success drying green wood in an oven set as high as 425 degrees F.
In order to set your oven up for this, start by placing the lower rack at the lowest position possible, and covering it with a large cookie sheet; one big enough to cover the entire shelf. This will protect you from starting a fire caused by falling sawdust, bark, or other debris.
Next, set your oven’s center rack in the second-lowest position, right above the lowest rack. Place your firewood on it, leaving at least an inch or two between pieces. If you have a large oven with a third rack, set it above this, and use that space for kindling and other smaller pieces of wood.
All that moisture in the wood has got to go somewhere, so it is going to be released as steam. Therefore, it may be a good idea to turn on the overhead exhaust fan to get that moisture out of your home. On the other hand, if your home feels exceptionally dry, the moisture emitted by firewood drying in the oven might add some much-needed humidity to the air.
The amount of time needed to dry firewood in the oven varies depending on the wood’s size, density, and moisture content. You can use a wood moisture meter to determine if your wood is ready to burn, if you have one. If not, you’ll have to go by guesswork. That’s really not as bad as it might seem though, as any amount drier than you manage to make it than what it was when you put it in the oven is to your advantage. It’s not as if you could “overdry” it.
The correct moisture level for firewood is 20 to 25 percent or lower. Even so, wetter wood will burn so long as it’s placed into a fire that’s already hot. That’s the key; how hot your fire already is, not how much flame you see. In a wood fire, the flame is actually the cooler part; the hot part is the coals. Note that wet wood produces more creosote than dry wood. So, while it’ll do in a pinch, it’s not a good idea to burn wet wood frequently.
How to Kiln Dry Lumber at Home
As experienced woodworkers know, lumber needs to be dry when using it for projects. Ideally, that means a moisture content of 7 to 11 percent. In most cases, this is the moisture content when you bring it home from the lumberyard, although that’s more likely to be true with select grade boards, than it is common grade. In either case, it is usually best to simply bring your wood inside for about a month and let it dry before use.
Keeping a stock of lumber on-hand, in your workshop, allows you the opportunity to always be sure to have boards which are dry and ready to use. You need to be careful how you store it though, so that you are not putting strain on the board, which could result in warping, cupping or twisting. Once boards are warped, there is little chance of straightening them, without planning; although it is fairly easy to take the warp out of plywood.
If you’re in a hurry and needing to use a particular piece of lumber which is not dry, you can kiln dry wood in a kitchen oven. While the size of your kitchen oven poses a limitation on the size of the lumber you can place inside, it is possible to oven-dry enough wood for small projects.
The question is, how to dry wood in an oven without making it too dry to work with? After all, wood that is too dry will reabsorb moisture from the air, causing it to swell. This can result in joints popping, gaps in your finished piece and even warping or cupping, if the piece doesn’t have room to expand.
Depending on the importance of the item you plan to build and the cost of the wood you plan to use, you may want to test-dry a few pieces before you move on to oven drying wood for your actual project. This will allow you to be on the lookout for drying defects as you inspect the wood throughout the process. For that matter, you might want to run some test pieces anyway, even if you aren’t planning on drying anything in the oven right now; just so you can have an idea for future reference.
As you are drying your wood, watch out for bowing, warping, twisting, cupping, and other forms of distortion. All of these indicate that the wood drying temperature is too high, and moisture is leaving the fibers too fast. You may have to test multiple batches of wood to find the ideal drying time and temperature for the material that you’re using. It will vary by wood type, so don’t assume that what works for one species of wood will work for others.
Low temperatures work best for drawing excess moisture out of wood that’s intended for woodworking projects, as they dry the wood slowly, reducing the chance of distortion. Choose a temperature between the oven’s lowest setting (often simply called “warm”) and 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher temperatures could cause warping, or might overdry your wood and render it useless. Standard kiln drying temperatures are low – around 120 degrees Fahrenheit or so, and drying times vary by wood size and moisture level.
If you don’t have a moisture meter, note the weight of individual pieces of wood before you get started. You’ll be able to tell that the drying process is working even at low temperatures by checking the wood’s weight as you go. You can do this with a kitchen or postal scale; or, if you don’t have a scale to use, you can simply gauge the way the wood feels in your hands.
Place a large metal cookie sheet or multiple cookie sheets on the lowest rack. If you have very small pieces of wood that might fall through the gaps in the oven rack, you can place them directly on the cookie sheet. Make sure that the wood pieces are not touching one another.
Check your wood an hour after placing it in the oven. Take a reading with a moisture meter if possible, as this is the best way to determine whether your oven-dried wood is ready to use. Be careful, as the wood will be hot to touch when it emerges.
Return it to the oven if you feel it needs to dry a bit longer. Continue to check it at one-hour intervals, and then at 15-minute intervals as moisture content gets closer to your ideal level.
Once you’re satisfied, place the wood on wire cooling racks, supporting the full length of the boards, before moving on to the next phase of your project.
Now that you know the answer to the question of whether it’s OK to put wood in the oven, let’s go over a few important safety tips.
Because wood is combustible, it’s very important to make fire prevention a priority. Drying green firewood in the oven might not seem like a huge fire risk, particularly if it is very wet. But outer layers will dry faster than the core of the wood, meaning that you might have some very hot, dry tinder inside your oven, just waiting to catch on fire. Protecting the oven’s element from this tinder falling on it is the best way to keep dangerous sparks from creating an inferno.
Choose a safe temperature of 425 degrees F or lower when drying firewood in a kitchen oven, and never place firewood under the broiler. The broiler has the potential of heating the wood to its flash point, causing a fire.
Don’t leave home when oven-drying wood, even when you’re using low temperatures to kiln-dry wood in your kitchen. Always pay close attention to what’s happening, checking on the progress regularly.
If possible, have a fire extinguisher on hand in case of emergency, and know how to use it. While it’s not likely that you’ll cause a fire while drying green wood in an oven, it’s best to be prepared.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can you dry out wood in the oven?
A: Yes, however there are many variables to keep in mind including desired moisture level, size of the wood, and whether the process is worthwhile in terms of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. This method works best for small pieces and small amounts of wood.
Q: How do you dry fresh cut lumber?
A: Fresh cut lumber (unless it’s a very tiny amount) shouldn’t be kiln dried in an oven. You’ll get the best results by air drying it; carefully stacking wood to prevent problems like warping and distortion, and by using small slats called stickers between the wood to support proper airflow. If you do decide to dry fresh cut wood in the oven, choose the lowest possible setting and check moisture content frequently.
Q: What’s the best way to dry kindling in an oven?
A: Small kindling pieces are anywhere in size from the diameter of your fingers to the diameter of your wrist. They are ideal for warming in the oven, particularly if they’ve already been seasoned and are simply too damp to use. If you like, you can try placing your kindling in the oven after something else has been baked. Turn the oven off and simply allow the temperature to drop naturally. This is usually enough to re-dry kindling that has been subject to moisture. For fresh, green kindling, you may want to opt for a temperature between 200 and 300 degrees. Leave the kindling drying in the oven for about 2 hours.
Q: What temperature should you dry wood?
A: The answer depends on whether you plan to use the wood for a project, or if it is simply to be used as firewood. Project wood needs to be dried slowly, at lower temperatures, for the most part. It’s OK to dry kindling and firewood in the oven at temperatures between about 200 and 425 degrees F.
Q: How long does it take for wood to dry out?
A: Seasoning firewood can take several months or longer than a year depending on its size and initial moisture content. It’s not practical to season firewood in the oven when you have a huge stack to get through, but you can easily dry enough wood for a nice, ambient fire over the course of a few hours. Actual drying time varies depending on the temperature you choose as well as the wood’s characteristics.