Drilling Holes and Putting Screws Into Wet Wood: What you Must Know

Wood as a material for construction and making furniture has no peer. It is easy to work with, has tremendous strength and durability, and can last for decades. However, like all materials, wood isn’t indestructible, it can also break apart with enough force, but most of all, it can get damaged as it gets wet. Though a little bit of water does not cause irreversible damage, it can survive being submerged in water for days without harm. The real issue is the workability of wet wood, as wood can soften if it’s in contact with moisture for a period of time. This article will cover a section about drilling holes and putting screws into wet wood: what you must know!

Yes, it is possible to drill holes in wet wood and put screws in it. In fact, it is easier to drill holes in wet wood as it does not split. You can even drive in screws in wet wood as well, but it is not recommended you do so. Wood contracts and expands as it gets wet and dry. This might cause problems later on as the screws’ grip might loosen or tighten according to the dryness or wetness of the wood. So it is not recommended to drive screws in wet wood, though you can definitely drill into it if you don’t have time to wait for it to dry.

Wood is a pretty durable material with resistance to a lot of abuse. Depending on the species of wood that you might be using, it will not even be affected by being wet. Some woods are so resilient against water that you can work them even when they aren’t fully dried. Of course, dry wood gives the best results since even the most resilient and resistant wood will contract and expand due to changes in moisture and temperatures. When you drive in metal fasteners in wood that might shrink as it dries, the fasteners will not hang on as tightly as they should.

Can You Drill Into Wet Wood?

Yes, you can drill into wet wood, drilling into wet wood is at times better as then the wood does not splinter or crack due to the fibres of the wood being soft enough. 

However, that does not mean it is a hack to drill holes without splintering or cracking wood. You should avoid wood from getting too wet as it can damage it in the long term. Not to mention even if a species of wood is resistant to rot and decay, there is also mildew to consider. So to avoid that entirely make sure your wood is dry and then work with it.

What Happens if You Drill Into Wet Wood?

Depending on the type of wood you are working with when wood gets wet, it becomes slightly softer. So when you drill into the wood it does not cause it to splinter or crack. However, even if the wood is water-resistant, it will swell up when exposed to moisture. The hole that you made in the wet wood will end up contracting as it dries. So if you made any measurements and your project is very precise, it will mess those up.

It also depends on the purpose of drilling the hole into the wet wood. Because mostly you want to drill holes into wood for driving in screws. This is also not recommended and we will explore it in the next section below.

Can You Screw Into Wet Wood?

Yes, you can drive a screw into wood, just like you can drill in it. However, it is not recommended again as wood expands and contracts as it gets wet and dries up.

As we said before, it is not recommended to work with wet wood unless absolutely necessary. In this case, though, it is highly advised by most woodworkers to avoid driving screws into wet wood. 

What Happens When You Put a Screw in Wet Wood

The whole concept of drying wood to use it is because wood is susceptible to water damage. While wood catches fire instantly and gets destroyed, water destroys it from the inside. Even the most resistant wood will end up decaying from water damage. When you screw inside wet wood while it swelled up or softened, it will drive in perfectly. Though as the wood dries it will start to contract again as the moisture evaporate.

When the wet wood into which you have driven the screw dries up, it will contract. This might loosen the grip of the driven screw and it might not have the strength to hold onto it as great as it would have when it was a perfect fit. It also depends on how much moisture the wood absorbed when it was wet. If it expanded a lot due to absorbing a lot of water then you should dry it first at any cost. Because as it dries, it will contract just as much as it has expanded.

Why You Should Let Wood Dry Before Using it

You should absolutely let wood dry before using it. It is very imperative that the wood dries properly and that it has the least amount of moisture present in it before you work with it. While not immediately, water causes damage to wood if it stays wet for too long. It makes the wood weak, makes it rot and decay, and also makes it home to fungal growth like mildew. All of these are plenty of reasons why you should dry your wood first.

These are the obvious reasons why you should avoid working with wet wood. Then there are the technical aspects of how wood shrinks, contracts, warps and bends as it absorbs water. So it will just hinder your project measurements and cause unnecessary headaches. This can be avoided if you let the wood you are using dry first. As when it completely dries out you will be able to work with it without any technical issues.

Lastly, you cannot apply a finish over wet wood as then the moisture that is trapped in the wood cannot escape. Most finishes seal the wood so as to prevent it from absorbing moisture. This also means it will not let any moisture escape the wood as well. This will create white spots and bubbles to form inside the finish when it dries later. This trapped moisture can only escape if you sand the finish off in that area and then reapply the sealer. So using wet wood is not ideally recommended.

FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions

How does moisture affect wood?

Moisture can soften the wood, it can cause it to rot and decay while also making it expand and warp. This is why people apply waterproof sealers and finishes to make sure that the wood does not get wet by any means.

Does wood have moisture content?

Wood naturally contains a set amount of moisture depending on how it has been dried. This set amount of moisture is pretty condensed that was naturally collected by wood when it was still a tree. Trees only absorb enough water from the ground and do not oversaturate themselves.

Can you cut wet wood with a saw?

Yes, you can absolutely cut wet wood with a saw, but it is highly advised against doing so. It might clog the saw blade as dry sawdust can be vacuumed and blown away but wet wood chips won’t do so as easily.

Can you drive in nails in wet wood?

Yes, but as with screws, you shouldn’t drive in nails in wet wood. As the wood dries it will contract and the screws and nails might loosen their grip. So any joints made with these might not be as strong as they should be.

Final Thoughts

While one might lose patience and try working with wet wood, it is not the best of ideas to do so. Wood is dried before being sold for a good reason, otherwise, people would just start selling wood straight after you mill it from trees. So let the wood dry if you are planning on working with it. A little moisture is not a huge problem though, as it will dry off in a day or two at most. Drilling and driving screws into wet wood is possible, but should be avoided.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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