Dead Standing Douglas Fir: Is It Dry Already?

A discussion about the useability of wood from dead standing tree logs without further drying, and a little bit of kiln-related history. April 27, 2007

I recently purchased a TK 1220 for the farm, and have a fair number of Douglas fir that have been dead 2-3 years and are still standing. The wood has been beautiful in the few I have cut so far, and seems rather dry. I'm building a shop and would like to line the inside with boards cut 3/4 right off the mill. I'm wondering if I would be able to get away with nailing them right up, or if they are still likely to dry enough to cause problems. Part of the shop will be heated, but not all of it. I'm afraid I haven't got a moisture meter yet. I'm here in wonder wet NW Washington.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor W:
I'm here in eastern Oregon and have sawn a lot of standing dead pine, fir and juniper, and most has ran over 20% mc. So if you don't want wide joints, it needs to be dried. If you're cutting at 3/4, they will dry 5/8.

From contributor S:
And don't forget the bugs in the sapwood!

From contributor L:
Nail! When the joints get too wide, cut some shiplap to cover. Bugs? Shucks, they won't eat much :-)

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
D-F has been widely used without seasoning for building. In your case, if you use it, nail only one edge so that the other edge can move. Insects would make me think twice about using it without drying.

From the original questioner:
Thank you all for the responses. I think I get it now - trees won't dry on the stump. I might be able to put up with the gaps between the boards (shiplap?!) and I could saw the boards 7/8 instead of 3/4, and nailing on one side is pretty smart, Doc. But am I going to have problems with curling and cupping and twisting if the boards aren't nailed down on one side?

From contributor L:
Dry kilns are a fairly recent invention - 1946 was the first one built in the state of Illinois. In those days, by our standards, most lumber was green when used. Today we want to complicate everything.

Cut your lumber from straight logs; the bowed and twisted, use for firewood. Standing dead logs still have a lot of moisture; lumber that you stack and sticker is heavy. If stacked under cover, in 2-5 weeks that same lumber will be a lot lighter (dryer).

Moisture meter? Unless you are going to be making furniture, save your money. After being stacked, any board that is going to warp or twist, you will know it when you see it.

Bugs? Take a drive through the country and look at the old buildings that are still standing - they had bugs in those days also. Most important, enjoy your mill!

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
I wonder if you mean that the first Illinois lumber dry kiln *heated with steam* was built in 1946? The patent and records of using kilns go into the late 1800s, so I wonder why IL took so long to get a kiln. These early kilns were natural draft and had a fire built under the load of lumber. Kiln drying was discussed by the US Forest Products Lab prior to that time (they are in WI).

Apparently, some of the responders do not know that D-F has very low MC on the stump. It is not uncommon to see just over 30% MC. The trees would dry quite a bit in 2 to 3 years, especially if there were needles on the tree when it died.

There are more species of insects and diseases today that affect lumber than there were 50 years ago. They have been brought in from other countries. Hence, we are more careful now than in the past.

If we use bowed and twisted logs for firewood, many sawmills will not have any logs to saw. We do indeed saw these logs. In fact, that is why curve sawing was invented.

From contributor W:
I understood he was using this for paneling in a heated area, and I would not use wet wood without drying or killing the bugs . Green wood is alright for outside use, but never for interior. From 20% to 7% is a lot of shrinkage on paneling.

From contributor L:
In 1946 a man by the Name of Delbert Helle built the first dry kiln a mile out of Farmington, IL. Yes, it was steam - had someone dried wood by building a fire under it? You will find several of his sons at that location building commercial mills today. If anyone has worked around a commercial mill in the past sixty years, you will have seen equipment used that his family still owns patent rights to. Main one being the Helle hyd log turner and a host of others.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
The small furniture builders (such as we see at Williamsburg, VA) would first air dry and then finish dry lumber in the rafters of their heated shop. However, as we began mass production of furniture, we needed a more efficient drying system. The kiln was invented over 100 years ago. The early kilns would have a pit under the lumber stacks and in this pit there was wood that was burned to provide the heat. Most of these kilns were called natural draft kilns, as they did not have fans. The lumber stacks had spaces between each piece of lumber, edge to edge, to facilitate air movement. I would think that there would have been some of these kilns along the Ohio River in the early Southern IL and southern IN furniture factories.