How to Store Lumber in the Winter – Indoor and Outdoor Storage

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Take Care of Your Wood – How to Store Your Lumber

Particularly in northern climates, your options for storing valuable lumber on a job site can drop when the temperature does. The extremely dry air of a cold spell often follows humid and wet conditions. These cycles can ruin good wood. So, whether you have a climate-controlled workshop or must store lumber in an unheated building or outside, there are several things to note to keep lumber clean, dry and ready to use.

When to Store Lumber Indoors

Ideally, you store lumber in conditions similar to where the final work will be located to avoid a number of problems. According to WoodZone.com, lumber absorbs and releases moisture even if it has been kiln dried. The swelling and shrinking can warp and twist lumber. In finished work, this process can cause wood joints to come apart, cabinetry drawers and doors to bind, and panels to crack.

If you’re building furniture or working on a small job, store wood on short shelves. For bigger supplies of wood and longer boards, stack them horizontally on the floor, placing thin strips of wood called stickers every 12 inches along their length and between every fourth or fifth layer. Place plywood sheets vertically against a wall. Store large amounts of plywood flat, with several 2X4s between the floor and the sheets.  Woodworking expert Dan Pattison also wrote about indoor lumber and woodshop storage in a recent BTP article.

If you’re bringing lumber in from outside, acclimate it to the indoor environment for several weeks or months, depending on the climate difference. Participants in a finewoodworking.com forum advise that if lumber is wet, stack and sticker it. Then use a box fan placed nearby, powered for 30 minutes a day with a timer, to move air around the wood to gradually dry it. Weight the top layer to prevent warping. To know exactly how dry your wood is, use a moisture meter. If the moisture content is higher than 15 percent, seal the ends of each board with wax to prevent checking (cracks that open up along the grain at the ends of boards) while the pile dries.  You can also read more about wood and lumber storage, misc. woodworking tips and tricks and saving wood scraps on our Pro Forum.  Also, you can read more on general tool, jobsite or workshop storage and organization on our forum.

How to Store Lumber in the Winter - Indoor and Outdoor Storage - Indoor Stickered Lumber

Image from 10rem.net

Store Lumber in Unheated Indoor and Outdoor Spaces

Unheated garages, barns and partially finished structures are common places to store wood in winter. They often have moisture-permeable concrete floors, so be sure to sticker lumber stacks to prevent the moisture from transmitting to your wood. Stickers can cause discoloration where they rest against your lumber, but the stain should be easily worked out by planing or sanding, if desired.

Use scrap lumber or medium-density fiberboard to make stickers. The key is to use the same size stickers between rows of lumber and enough of them to prevent bowing. If you plan on keeping lumber stacked for long periods of time, rotate the supply so that bottom boards get used.

Outdoor Lumber Storage

If you must store lumber outside in the winter, stickering it from the ground up is critical. Cover the stack with plastic or a tarp to keep snow and rain off, and check the pile periodically for nesting animals and insects. Pine will turn gray and weathered-looking after extended exposure, so bring it inside before that happens. Finally, consider building a ventilated shed for lumber storage to free up space in your workshop or job site. It will help keep your wood dry and mold-free.

Stored properly, lumber will keep outdoors during the winter just fine – and even for a number of years. For more tips on how to store lumber and protect wood from the elements with stickering, watch this video from home renovator George Allen.

How to Store Lumber in the Winter - Indoor and Outdoor Storage

Image from core77.com

How about you?  How do you store your wood and lumber if you live in colder climates?  Share your experiences or questions in our comments section.

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Joe Sainz (Google+) is a union carpenter with experience in concrete construction, landscaping, carpentry and electrical mechanics. He currently works at Bosch Power Tools... Read more

9 comments on “How to Store Lumber in the Winter – Indoor and Outdoor Storage

  1. Brent Mills

    I have a portable band saw I run when I am not working on a construction site so I have made several solar powered natural drying kilns for my wood also get at least one good quality moisture meter so you can dry down to 6% to 8% moisture and store in the top of an old barn This works great I don’t cut a lot of wood but have as many as 10 different species dried and ready for sale as well I do specialty woods such as Wormy Soft Maple and Spalted Hard Maple for high end furniture grade lumber’s Core stress or end stress starts at 14% moisture if dried too fast on most variety’s and always remember wood can rot or worse mold at 14% to 16% moisture in still air if you find black mold this is real bad news health wise use a quality respirator and gloves when handling black mold and Spalted lumbers at all times And get the black mold out of your house fast you don’t want it in a house environment even Spalted wood should be worked with and stored in a cool dry shed or shop and only handle with care

    1. gtaylor

      Great info that I can use . Will take precautions on the black mold also. My brother in law saws lumber for my furniture from re-purposed historic beams as well as freshly cut wood. He built a saw mill from recycled materials using school bus frames to make a bed length of 40′. It seems to be very accurate.

  2. James

    This article was great, it actually answers some questions I have been thinking about for storing my own wood outdoors this winter. I don’t have a lot of indoor storage space and outdoor is a much better option for me.

  3. Curtis Koth

    Great article for those thinking of drying some lumber. In addition, under the heading ” Store Lumber in Unheated Indoor and Outdoor Spaces ” paragraph 2 it is imperative to have good vertical alignment of stickers. Not only does this deter bowing as the article states, but twist and cupping.

  4. Kathie Smith

    I have a question. We ordered a wood plank that is 122 cm long and 70 cm wide to be used as a counter top in our kitchen. We are not ready to put it on the cabinets yet and have been storing it in our bedroom. It is up against the wall on its side. We live in an apartment. So far we see no warping, but the other pieces we have, which will be used for our window ledges are sightly bowed now. Are we able to correct this before it is too late? There is one that measures 50 x 80 cm that is slightly bowed as well that we are planning to use as a sink top for the kitchen sink. Thank you so much for all of your advise.

  5. james

    Does it matter if lumber is stored in the shade of trees or in open space away from trees when lumber is stored away outdoors for the winter? Does this matter at all?

  6. Lee

    Here’s a question.
    Does wood get moisture in it from being stored outside during the winter even with tarps covering it and keeping it elevated with a wooden slab, whatever they’re called, not slab but.
    Anyways, been having an argument with my dad for the longest time that the wood he brings in from outside in the winter to heat the house has moisture in it, he disagrees. Meanwhile I’m sitting here right now listening to the moisture soaking out of this log that was just brought in and is in the woodstove currently.
    Doesn’t the wood get moisture from the cold?

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