Lumber for Cabinetmaking: Air-Dried Versus Kiln-Dried

Cabinetmakers explain why they prefer kiln-dried, skip-planed stock for solid wood cabinetry. April 13, 2010

I have always built my kitchen cabinets from milled 3/4" stock but I am getting sick of having to run it through my planer to get it clean from all the dents and footprints and junk that is on it. At that point I may as well get rough sawn lumber and mill it myself. In my search for a supplier here in northeast NJ, many of the lumberyards have air dried maple and cherry (which is what most of my cabinets are built from), but I was told by a retired sawmill operator to only use kiln dried. Kiln dried is only slightly more expensive, but the suppliers are not located very close to me. Is it worth the extra hour of driving to get the kiln dried?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
Why drive? Lumber distributors deliver for free if you order $500 or 500 bd/ft. Less than that, I believe it's about $30 per delivery. You can mix and match flavors to get the minimum order as well.

Air dried lumber will eventually bite you in the butt, and nullify by orders of magnitude the pennies you are currently saving by not purchasing kiln dried.

Many cabinet shops have found that by having the lumber distributor skip plane to 15/16 or finish plane to 13/16 they save a ton of labor in planing expense. Take the last lick in your own shop if you choose. Depending on the job we sometimes have them straight line rip one edge. It makes jointing/straightening the boards a little quicker.

From contributor L:
I only order rough sawn when I am building passage doors. Otherwise it is always skip planed. It gives you the best of both worlds. You get a thicker stock in case you need some and you still have the option to true the board up if it is not. Plus you get the majority of the chips from the skip planing into their hopper, not yours. It will usually yield a nice flat board with little or no cupping. Straight along the length depends on what the board looked like before it was milled.

From contributor R:

Don't use air dried! It will never be at the proper moisture content no matter how many years it was in the barn. We have a molder and order all of our lumber skip planed to 15/16". We could run direct from rough, but would have to put all the dirt and grit through our molder. At 15/16 they have taken most of the grit before we have to use it. There is still enough material left to do some face jointing when really needed. The big distribution yards run their trucks on a route every week - much cheaper than spending your time to pick it up. If you are a hobby operation and only get a few boards at a time that's a different matter. If you order in full unit quantities you will get a better selection of boards in each unit, as they will not have been sorted by a retailer. It will be cheaper too.

From the original questioner:
Ok, so kiln dried it is and I will talk to the supplier about skip planning today. What you all said is right in line with what the retired sawmill operator told me. The only good supplier I found around here recommended that I take a ride down the first time to get a feel for their product and them and what they can do. Is that worth it, or should I just tell them to stick it on a truck and bring it up?

Also, since I have your attention, how much waste can I expect when finishing my own lumber? For example: say I need 200 LF of 3/4X1 1/2 (or 1X2 nominally) - how many BF should I plan on buying?

From contributor M:
I agree that the stock should always be kiln dried. If skip planed at 15/16 is available from the supplier, that is also a great way to go. You can see the color and grain for the most part, but get to clean it up after you make your rip selections. There are plenty of hardwood sources in North Jersey. If you are looking for a few pieces, there are retail hardwood guys and hardwood stocking lumberyards. You need to get one that doesn't only carry 3/4" or S4S. If you can do larger quantities or will pay for trucking, there are wholesalers in NJ like Rex Lumber that you can check with. Maybe worth the extra couple bucks to buy 8" and wider to get better selection of rips out of the board, as well as more opportunity to rip for sap/heart depending on the specie.

From contributor S:
I would always use kiln dried. Why? Bugs! It will kill powder post beetles, termites, etc. Other than that, I strongly disagree with the moisture comments. After coming out of the dryer, the milled lumber is then stored in the outside shed for possibly months before you buy it. Moisture will normalize in less than a month. At that point there is no difference in moisture content between air and kiln dried.

From contributor V:
I disagree. Kiln dried gets all of the core water out, which gives it the stability; air dried only gets the surface moisture out. The point about equalizing, yes - only on the surface. Cut a board in half, check the MC - it should still be at 6-8% in the center but might be 10-13% on the surface.

From contributor R:
If it's not too far I'd opt for the ride to the supplier and look them over. As for yield - we figure 50% surface area yield for moldings. Buy twice as many board feet (4 quarter) as the square feet of molding you need.

From contributor K:
I don't know any cabinetmakers that buy RL/RW lumber pre-milled to 3/4. Most buy S2S or S3S at 13/16 or 15/16 h&m/sp or rough.

Dry is dry. Wood will acclimate to the environment it is stored in unless sealed in plastic. Improperly kiln dried is no better than improperly air dried. Defects can occur in either. Either can be bug free or infested. Water will wick to the surface eventually. Kiln drying speeds up drying and controls the risk of defects and bugs, if done properly.

Assuming you are buying FAS or selects, 50bf should suffice, but there are a lot of variables to consider. With cherry, you may get better yield from #2 or 3 unless you spec the sap/heart percentage.

Take some time and read Doc Gene's articles on wood. The man has supplied a library's volume of information on the subject, and it's a free education - why not take advantage of it?