Storing and Handling Large Volumes of Sawn Lumber

      Advice on how to stack and store 20,000 board feet of roughsawn lumber. September 6, 2010

My local Amish sawyer is going to cut about 20,000 bf of white and red oak for me. The larger logs he'll quarter saw. I'm assuming we'll be air drying this wood in stacks about 4' high and 4' wide, with 8' boards. Can I stack these wider and still get proper air flow? What's the amount of room I should leave around each stack? How many stacks should I plan on coming up with, for 20K bf?

Also, neither my sawyer nor I have the room to store this lumber indoors, after it's fully air dry. So what care should I give the boards once fully air dried (full equilibrium with the outdoors)? This is Central Wisconsin.

I will be selling some as air dry, and for buyers that want kiln drying, I'd kiln dry the purchased amount to 6-8%. Thus I'd like to leave all of it outdoors and kiln dry it to order, but I want to be sure it's properly protected.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor S:
I'm in northern Wisconsin. Your 4x4 stacks are about 500 b.f. We pile three high no more than 2 deep, going cross way of the prevailing winds. I will keep wood outside for 12-18 months, and no longer. I don't cover the top pile - to me it's not worth the time. It's cheaper to lose the top row than fool around with having a good cover. I'm moving way too much wood to deal with that. I typically have 60 -100,000 b.f. on stickers at any one time. For air drying the most important thing is air flow, air flow, air flow.

From the original questioner:
Sounds like you may be stacking your piles using a forklift. I don't have that capability. After the stacks are fully air dry, can I dead-stack the boards under cover? Or might they mold, or have other issues? Should I move into a covered shed, and then wrap in plastic?

How are you moving so much lumber? What's your market?

From contributor P:
You can stack them much higher than 4' without a forklift.

From contributor J:
A row of lumber 4' x 8' has an average of 30 bd ft assuming 4/4 stock. 20,000 bd ft would require about 660 rows. Assuming 1" thick sticks, that would make 110'. If piles are 4' high that would make 28 piles.

If you have kiln capacity, why not dry the lumber after it air dries? Then you can dead pile it and reduce space by 50%. Most stock will eventually be kiln dried before use. I would also coat ends of boards prior to air drying to minimize end checks and splits.

From the original questioner:
Is it fine to cover the end of the log, prior to cutting, with Anchorseal, rather than paint the end of each board later?

From contributor S:
Yes, we pile with loaders. As far as markets, I have niche markets all across the USA. Sealing the ends might work, but is the cost and time spent worth saving some ends? For me, the answer is no. Proper stickering will go a long way to saving your wood. Always have your outside sticker 2" from the ends (cracks only go into the first sticker usually). Keep your rows of stickers going straight up. Use dry, same thickness stickers. For 8' lumber we use 6 stickers.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. Yes, I'll plan on using dry stickers, placed 2' apart, starting 2" from the end, and I'll be sure they are in line vertically. I'm thinking, since my kiln drying is so cheap, at 16 cents/BF, I may as well dry all of it. That way I can dead stack to save on room, and won't need to worry as much about bugs. If I don't have room inside, do you think I'll be okay wrapping my dry lumber in heavy plastic, and leaving it outside? Maybe elevated a foot or so, just in case some rogue rabbit wants to drift by and do some nibbling?

From contributor S:
Don't store your dry lumber outside under a tarp. The condensation from heat and cool will damage your wood. I would dry it as you have room for inside storage. This gives you more incentive to sell it faster.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
First, with 20,000 feet Scribner, you might find 22,000 bf of lumber (depending on log size, blade thickness, etc.). Of that, you might find that some or a lot is No.3 common and should be sold ASAP (pallets perhaps), as it is not a profitable grade to hold and air dry. Also, it might be reasonable to saw a few ties rather than sawing the entire log. Tie prices are better than lumber. If not ties, maybe some white oak landscape timbers, mailbox posts, etc. will be more profitable. With all the snow this year, there will be a good market for all sorts of posts that the snow plows have damaged, etc.

Check on air-dried prices, as seldom are they much higher than green prices. Hence, selling green instead of air-dried is more profitable if you find a market. On the other hand, selling kiln dried is even more profitable.

A stack 4' wide and 8' long generally contains 28 bf of lumber (less than 32 due to gaps and shorter pieces). If you assume that 75% of 22,000 BF will be air dried and it is all 4/4 (no ties, timbers, etc.), then you are looking at about 550 layers of lumber and so you will need about (5 x 550 =) 2800 4' long stickers. Probably not much more than 5' wide piles would be suggested. As stickers are almost always 3/4" and the 4/4 lumber is 1-1/8" max., each layer is 1-7/8". So you will need one stack of lumber that is about 70 feet high, or several smaller piles (4' is common height). Often several 4' high stacks are combined to give an over 12' height; any higher gets too tippy.

The arrangement of the piles is important, as you want them fairly close so that the wood does not dry too quickly. See a good text, such as "" for ideas. Usually we see 4 piles wide with two foot between them edge to edge, with the ends of a pile being close to the ends of the next pile (to help control end checking). You need pile covers to prevent rain damage.

Once down to about 30% to 25% MC, the risk of rain damage goes way up, so it would be ideal if you had an open shed to store the lumber at this point. Although you can air-dry to 20% MC or a bit drier, quality loss can be quite large unless protected from rain and sun.

Note that air dried lumber is still subject to insect damage, but is safe from stain, decay, checking, etc. You might find that kiln drying it all is the best, as that would allow you to respond instantly to a buyer, small or large orders. In fact, you might find that buyers are most often contacted by you rather than having them contact you first. In other words, you have to do the leg work. Kiln dried lumber should be stored at about 35% relative humidity; the outside air is about 65% RH, so a closed shed is necessary.

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