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Listen for dryness

Post in 'The Wood Shed' started by ratkillingdog, Aug 26, 2010.

  1. ratkillingdog

    ratkillingdog New Member

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    I've been a furniture and cabinet maker my whole career, so far 42 years worth. I've made a few stringed instruments and milled and sold material for quit a few makers more skilled than I am. I've developed the habit of listening for dryness by knocking with my knuckle or scratching backwards with a fingernail. Been a woodburner for a long time so I am ahead on wood and I also have a pretty good idea of how long it will take to dry, but I still find myself "scratching" the latest batch of splits. It might be worth a try. The splits can be stacked or in a pile. Try raking a fingernail backwards across the growth rings. Dry sings and moist is dead and all kinds of tones in between.

    A moisture meter requires a great deal of dedication and experience to be of real value. Highly dependent on temperature, relative humidity, and interpretation. The best use of a meter is to have a known dry sample of the same species to stick for comparison and under the same conditions.

    Just my ideas.

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  2. chrisfallis

    chrisfallis Member

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    There is always the "clunk 2 chunks together and listen for the ringing sound" or the "gee, these pine splits were much heavier a year ago" method. I even use the sniff test (does it smell wet?), the "is it gray and checked on the ends" test or the pliability of splinters on the splits test.

    These are all very qualitative, but I can generally tell fresh from seasoned wood. I have burned oak and pine logs and kiln dried everything over the years.
  3. Corey

    Corey Minister of Fire

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    I think you are on the right track. You can definitely tell wood is wet when it makes a dull 'thud' versus a dry 'crack' when two pieces are smacked together. Though I would be curious if just scraping a fingernail on the end may only tell you about the dryness of the end...the same way a moisture meter can only tell you about the surface it's in. The end surface can dry out in a few days after cutting. So to see a better representation of the overall moisture, you'd need to re-split the wood and take a moisture reading, fingernail scratching, or other observation near the center of the length on the freshly split surface.

    Though maybe after 42 years, you have a 'super tuned' finger and hearing which can detect tones a tone-deaf guy like me can't?? :)
  4. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Never tried the fingernail test, but it sounds interesting. I do the clunk test to see if the splits are dry. It works pretty well for a lot of wood. When the splits are large I will resplit one in half and press it against my cheek. It it feels cool and damp, back on the woodpile. I don't have a moisture meter. Instead I've learned to trust these simple tests.
  5. Battenkiller

    Battenkiller Minister of Fire

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    The fingernails are one of the most sensitive parts of your body. Run your fingertips lightly over a painted wall and it will feel smooth, but brush your nails over the same surface and you will feel every bump in the paint. They act like a phonograph needle to pickup the imperfections in the texture and conduct it to the sensitive nerve endings. When I sharpen a chisel of gouge, I can tell how sharp it really is by the feeling of it when lightly touched to the back of my thumbnail. That trick keeps the hair on the back of my forearm.

    I don't understand your comments about using moisture meters, though. I have never heard of a MM being effected by relative humidity, and I don't see how this would occur since the meter is reading electrical resistance inside the wood. Even at 100% RH, air has virtually zero capacity to carry electrical current. Temperature does effect the reading to a very small degree, but there are correction tables if you need to get that anal about it. Maybe if you're building a fine violin, but for firewood, I think a MM is a great learning tool. Even the cheap ones. I tested an "El Cheapo" HF unit ($12) against a 100% accurate oven-dry assessment of MC and it was spot on for black cherry over a wide range of moisture content. Now I'm sold.
  6. Backwoods Savage

    Backwoods Savage Minister of Fire

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    Hey, welcome to the forum.


    I've been lazy all my life and keep my fingernails short. So when I need wood, I just go to the wood pile and grab what is needed and never test for dryness. But then, we have been known to keep wood in the stack for many, many more moons that other palefaces do... That is an interesting observation though. Maybe I'll have to give it a try.
  7. rdust

    rdust Minister of Fire

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    x2, I put it to my cheek or forearm, seems to work pretty well.
  8. John_M

    John_M Minister of Fire

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    I burn a lot of ash. If, when I hit two splits or small rounds together, they sound like baseball bats colliding, I assume they are pretty dry and good to burn. John_M
  9. ratkillingdog

    ratkillingdog New Member

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    I don't understand your comments about using moisture meters, though. I have never heard of a MM being effected by relative humidity, and I don't see how this would occur since the meter is reading electrical resistance inside the wood. Even at 100% RH, air has virtually zero capacity to carry electrical current. Temperature does effect the reading to a very small degree, but there are correction tables if you need to get that anal about it. Maybe if you're building a fine violin, but for firewood, I think a MM is a great learning tool. Even the cheap ones. I tested an "El Cheapo" HF unit ($12) against a 100% accurate oven-dry assessment of MC and it was spot on for black cherry over a wide range of moisture content. Now I'm sold.[/quote]

    I meant how relative humidity affects the wood, not the meter. "Dry" near the oceans is wetter than "dry" in the deserts. Splitting hairs instead of rounds. Meters measure conductivity and the charts for different woods take into account cell structure and mineral content, but I do agree with you, they could be a great learning tool for firewood.
  10. burntime

    burntime New Member

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    What are you, a wood whisperer? :lol:
  11. Ratman

    Ratman Feeling the Heat

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    I meant how relative humidity affects the wood, not the meter. "Dry" near the oceans is wetter than "dry" in the deserts. Splitting hairs instead of rounds. Meters measure conductivity and the charts for different woods take into account cell structure and mineral content, but I do agree with you, they could be a great learning tool for firewood.[/quote]

    RKD - what no avatar or location. Are you a BrotherBart alias?
    :)
  12. ratkillingdog

    ratkillingdog New Member

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    Rat to Rat, I am no Brother Bart. Live in N. CA., Sierra Valley, Plumas Co. The handle is in honor of the best working Border Collie that ever lived. Eliminated more varmints in her spare time than any two cats.

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