Rough sawn lumber is essentially untreated lumber that hasn’t been kiln-dried. Because this lumber hasn’t been treated, the planks are thicker, which allows woodworkers additional versatility when working with this wood. However, it also means that the lumber carries more moisture than kiln-dried lumber does – which, in turn, means that it cannot be stored in the same way you would treated wood.
Rough sawn lumber will need to be stored outside, away from any treated and dried lumber you own. The moisture from rough sawn lumber can impact both dried wood and the humidity in your workspace. Additionally, you will need to dry rough sawn lumber before using it, and storing it inside can significantly extend the drying time.
If you’re considering using rough sawn lumber for your next project but aren’t sure how to handle it, you’re in the right place. Keep reading for a quick guide to properly storing rough sawn lumber.
Right Way to Store Rough Sawn Lumber
Ideally, wood used for woodworking should be at between 6-8% moisture. While rough sawn lumber has its advantages, it tends to be significantly wetter than this.
Because of the moisture content in rough sawn lumber, it must be stored extremely carefully. It cannot be stored with dried and treated lumber – as the rough sawn lumber dries, the moisture is released into the air. From there, it can cause issues with your treated lumber.
Additionally, if you’re considering storing it inside your home or workspace, you will need to consider that the drying process can also affect the humidity of the enclosed space. If you have a small house or woodworking studio, the moisture from the drying lumber could make it extremely uncomfortable.
These considerations are why it is generally best to store your rough-sawn lumber outside. When storing it outside, you should:
- Stack the wood horizontally – unseasoned wood should never be stacked vertically.
- Separate the wood using stickers. Stickers are essentially small squares of dry wood (generally 1 inch x 1 inch), and if you don’t have any, you can make your own using scrap wood from your last project. All you need to do is take dry, scrap wood, and cut it to size!
- Stickers should be spaced evenly and shouldn’t be more than 16 inches apart. Rough sawn lumber is very pliable, and if it isn’t properly supported, it will bend easily. You can stack 2 or more stickers vertically between each “layer” of lumber for more support.
Depending on the climate and the humidity where you live, you may need to cover your lumber with a tarp.
It should be noted that it is possible to store and dry your rough sawn lumber inside, and some climates specifically require indoor drying. This is because the humidity in the air will prevent your lumber from drying properly.
However, if you do decide to store your lumber inside, you’ll need to be careful about how you do so. You’ll need to:
- Store the lumber in a cool, dry place. The area you’re storing it in shouldn’t be humid, or you defeat the purpose of indoor storage.
- As mentioned above, you will need to keep your rough-sawn lumber away from treated wood.
- If you have wooden floors, cabinets, or other significant wood elements in your home, you’ll need to consider how they will be affected by the moisture from the drying lumber.
In some cases, you may find that it is best to simply get your rough-sawn lumber kiln dried and treated, especially if you live in a humid area and don’t have the space to store it indoors.
Best Preservatives for Rough Sawn Lumber
If you’re not looking to kiln-dry your rough-sawn lumber and instead want to use it as is, the best way to preserve the wood is to treat it with sealant, use it for your project and then stain the final piece. This will help protect the surface of the wood and extend its lifespan.
If you’re looking for a sealant for your rough-sawn lumber, here are some of our favorite options. All mentioned products are available on Amazon.com:
This sealer can be used for all types of untreated wood, no matter what your final project will be. Regardless of if you’re working on deck flooring or a bowl, this is a great option to protect your wood surface.
The Anchorseal 2 sealer can prevent at least 90% (if not more) of drying splits and is a great eco-friendly option when it comes to an end grain sealer. It is made with wax and plant-based polymers and helps control how quickly moisture is lost from your lumber.
However, it should be noted that this product does not dry completely clear. This sealer should only be used before working on wood and is not a good choice if you’re looking for something you can use after staining.
This sealer contains UV stabilizers, which help prevent long-term yellowing of wood. Additionally, the fact that this is available in a concentrate formula means that it is:
- Good for the environment
- Easy to use
- Extremely affordable
It doesn’t alter the natural appearance of your wood and is completely safe for people, animals, and plants. Additionally, there’s very limited maintenance required with this product in the long term, so you can essentially apply it and forget about it.
Aside from a sealant and stain, you shouldn’t use a film-forming top coat when finishing rough sawn lumber, which means that varnish and lacquer are both out as options for use. These finishes alter the rough sawn look of the wood, robbing it of the rustic look that makes it so popular.
Instead, you will need to use a finish that dries clear. Oil-based products are generally good options, and two relatively affordable options include boiled linseed oil and polymerized tung oil. Though tung oil is slightly more expensive, it creates a water-resistant finish that is often a good option if you’re installing your project outdoors (like deck floors).
When choosing a stain for your rough sawn lumber project, it’s essential to choose carefully. The stain should be designed for use on rough sawn woods and should be a good penetrating option, which means you should avoid hardwood stains.
You should also ideally avoid film-forming stains, though this depends on what look you’re hoping to achieve with your project. If you’ve chosen rough sawn lumber due to the affordability of the materials and aren’t keen on a rustic look, a film-forming stain might actually work best for your needs.
Important Factors to Consider When Storing Rough Sawn Wood
Before you decide where and how to store your rough sawn wood, here are some factors you’ll need to consider:
- The weather: As mentioned above, storing rough sawn wood outdoors is not a good idea if you live in a particularly humid area.
- Space: You’ll need to determine whether you have enough space for your lumber, especially if you are also storing treated wood. This is especially important if you’re storing your rough sawn wood indoors – you’ll need to ensure you have the space to keep your treated wood a significant distance away from your untreated wood. Even if you’re storing your lumber outdoors, you’ll need to ensure you have the space needed to store the amount of wood you’re planning to buy.
- Local wildlife: This is a consideration not many people take into account when storing wood outside. However, you’ll need to keep in mind that local wildlife may be able to get in your stored wood and damage it, especially if you’re storing it out in the open, as opposed to in an open-air shed on your property. It’s a particularly important consideration if you’re located in the countryside or in an area where outside wildlife is relatively common.
Tips for Storing Lumber
Once you’ve determined how you’re going to store your lumber (and whether you have the space to do so), the next step is to actually start preparing for storage. Here are some tips that will help ensure your rough sawn lumber lasts for as long as possible:
- Don’t let the lumber touch the ground. Direct contact with the ground can affect the moisture levels in the wood, and the pieces stored directly on the ground can become compromised. More than that, moisture absorbed by the pieces directly in contact with the ground can travel upward to the rest of your pile, especially if the wood isn’t separated with stickers.
- Coat the ends of each piece of lumber. This step isn’t really necessary if you’re only storing your rough-sawn lumber for a couple of days before you start working on it. However, if you’re storing it for months or even a year plus, you risk the ends of each piece developing splits and cracks, which can impact the integrity of the whole piece. Sealing the ends will help your lumber last significantly longer, and you can use the Anchorseal 2 Sealer mentioned above for this purpose as well.
- Make sure the foundation of the pile is flat. As mentioned above, lumber should not be stored directly in contact with the floor. However, whatever surface you do place the lumber on should be completely flat. Rough sawn and untreated wood is at higher risk for warping and bending, and a flat foundation significantly reduces this risk.
- Place weights on the top of the pile – doing so reduces the risk of your wood cupping and becoming unusable.
- Use lumber wraps. These are designed to prevent the effects of weathering on your wood, including the effect of atmospheric moisture. At the same time, they allow the moisture from your rough sawn lumber to disperse into the atmosphere, allowing it to dry. They’re a good option for people who live in slightly humid environments – too humid to place their lumber outside unprotected, but not humid enough that their only option is to store their rough sawn lumber indoors.
- If you’re planning to use the lumber for framing, it must be stored under a roof. It can still be stored outside, but the space it is kept in must be enclosed at all times. Even the slightest mistake can damage the integrity of your wood, and you need to be confident that the lumber you’re using as the base of a residential structure is as stable as possible.
If this is your first time working with rough sawn lumber, getting your head around the new storage requirements for this type of wood can seem challenging at first. However, once you’ve worked with untreated wood a couple of times, this will come naturally to you – and you’ll soon realize why storing your rough-sawn lumber outside as far as you can is the best possible option.