how to dry live edge slabs (1)

Drying live edge slabs properly is a process that can take over two years. I know, you just cut some beautiful slabs that you're ready to use for your next project, but the problem is that they're green and not quite ready to use just yet.

As a general rule of thumb, you should let your live edge slabs air dry for 1 year per every inch thick they are.  Then, they should be kiln dried.  You'll want them to be at most 20% moisture level when they are going in the kiln.  When they're removed from the kiln, the ideal moisture level varies based on the environment the slab is going in.  Typically this is 12% or less throughout the entire slab.  For most of our wood slabs, we shoot for 8% moisture content.

If you do decide to build a dining room table or something else from a green slab, it will look fine, at first. The issue will arise after it's put in your home. As the slab naturally dries with time, your piece will begin to crack, warp, and ultimately become an eyesore of what was once a beautiful piece. Glued joints will begin to fall apart, and if you sold the piece to a customer, you'll likely be seeing a bad review shortly after this happens.  These issues can happen as quickly as week 1 of being in a home or even as long as a year down the road.

So, now that we know the consequences of not drying your slabs properly, let's talk about how to dry them properly so your live edge furniture ages as it should.

Air Drying Your Slabs

Air drying is an essential first step to properly drying your slabs. At Lancaster Live Edge, we allow all of our slabs to air dry after they're cut for about 2 years. Allowing these to air dry prior to putting them in the kiln will help keep them from getting large cracks and warping from drying too fast.

After your slabs are cut, you'll want to immediately put them on sticks. This process is simple. We use small 1"x1" sticks in between each slab. We place these sticks every 16" or so across the face of the slab. When the slabs are then placed in storage as they air dry, the sticks allow air to flow through each slab so they all dry at the same rate.

These sticks also help support the weight of the slab. Some of the larger slabs we have weigh over 300lbs when they're cut. By supporting the slabs throughout the log with these sticks, and stacking them on top of each other, the weight and supports help keep the slabs straight and avoids warping. Below is a picture of green slabs that are being put on sticks prior to starting the air-drying process.

How To Know When The Slabs Are Done Air Drying?

We typically let our slabs air dry for 2 years, but many sellers do not. A general rule of thumb is that live edge slabs are ready to kiln dry when they reach 20% moisture level. This can be tested using a moisture meter.

If you're wondering how long this takes, the answer is that it will vary. Obviously, a thinner slab will dry much faster than one that's cut a few inches thick. A 2" slab dries in about 6 months, whereas a 3"+ thick slab will take much longer.

Kiln Drying Live Edge Slabs

After your live edge wood slabs are air-dried, you'll want to put them in a kiln for about 1-3 months. Assuming you don't have a kiln, you'll want to find a local shop that does. Many places that manufacture hardwood lumber, flooring, or other finished wood products will offer kiln drying services.

If you're using a third party to dry your slabs, you'll want to coordinate with them months in advance. Some places will have a backlog for their kiln and it may be months until they have room for your slabs.

After your slabs are kiln dried, it's important to verify their moisture levels. This will vary depending on where you're located.  Where we're located in PA, we ideally want every slab to be 8-12% moisture level when we're building a table.  The moisture level will vary at different parts of the slab, but the 8-12% range is what we shoot for.

How The Kiln Works

A wood kiln is essentially a chamber where air circulation, humidity, and temperature are controlled so that the moisture in wood gets reduced. When properly kiln dried, wood will get to a point where it won't have any drying defects.

A conventional kiln uses steam that's pushed through pipes and radiates heat into the chamber. The water within the wood is then converted to vapor and is released from the chamber with hot air. This type of kiln is not as efficient as a dehumidification kiln, so it isn't used as much anymore.

Dehumidification kilns are much more common. This type of kiln continuously recycles heat within the kiln. The water is condensed on the coils of the dehumidifier and removed as a liquid.

The Art Of Kiln Drying

Kiln drying lumber is an extremely delicate process.  Every kiln and every species and cut of wood can dry a hair differently.  At Lancaster Live Edge, we use an iDry Vacuum kiln.  We have experts in-house at drying lumber.  After all, we're the sister company to a sawmill that's been serving the east coast for several decades.

If you're looking for DIY drying for your slabs, being honest you're better to hire a professional.  This process is extremely delicate.  The larger (wider) of slabs you're working with, the more that can go wrong.  You can get moisture pockets in your wood and even have your wood warp and crack to the point it's no longer usable.  We've commonly heard customers with stories of drying their own wood.  Some do things like sitting cinder blocks on the lumber to try to keep it from warping.  At the end of the day, if wood wants to move, it will.

As with any art or craft, kiln drying slabs and lumber will require the right tools and equipment. At Lancaster Live Edge we're equipped with a professional kiln, as well as professional moisture meters and staff to ensure our lumber gets dried properly.  The right equipment for this is not cheap, but it does help us ensure the quality of our furniture.

Finishing The Slab

After your slabs leave the kiln, they are ready to use! It may look a little uglier than you remember, but it'll look like it did when it was green after it's planed and sanded. You'll want to use a slab flattener to do this.

After you surface your slab, you'll want to use it in the near future. If you let your slab sit outside, or even store it against a wall once it's surfaced, it may warp with time. When it's surfaced the pours of the wood are opened back up, making it vulnerable until it's finished. This is typically only an issue if slabs are stored in humid locations or left outside for long periods of time after drying.

Have any questions or comments? We'll try our best to help! Drop them below in the comment box!

25 Comments

  1. D. Ross Gange on August 19, 2022 at 7:48 pm

    I am in Brisbane – virtually an Australian sub tropic. We have felled a few Camphor Laurel (Cinnamomum camphor) and wish to air dry for whatever period needed then kiln dry to ensure there are no insects/moulds/fungi in the timber and the slabs are stable.
    Can you please inform me of your thoughts?

    • Lancaster Live Edge on September 6, 2022 at 5:48 pm

      Definitely kiln-dry them! However – that’s not a wood we have any experience with so I would recommend to hit up a local lumber store for more information and advice on drying this species!

  2. Bob Neipp on August 7, 2022 at 6:22 pm

    My son is in the process of making a bench using live edge maple slabs about 2 1/4 inch thick. What would you recommend as a finish for the bench? He’s thinking about using linseed oil.

    • Lancaster Live Edge on September 6, 2022 at 5:59 pm

      We haven’t used Linseed Oil.

      We typically use LED hardwax oil. We have also used epoxy, polyurethane, rubio monocoat, odies oil, and a few others upon customer requests. All mentioned have had good feedback. The Odies oil is probably the easiest for a DIYer to use.

  3. Richard Robert on July 5, 2022 at 6:35 pm

    Hi, tomorrow I’m having 7 logs (1 oak and 6 maple, 6 feet in length and 16” to 24” in diameter cut into 3” slabs. To air dry them, what do you use in between the slabs to stack them and how far apart. I heard someone mentioned stickers, what those?

    • Lancaster Live Edge on July 5, 2022 at 6:43 pm

      Stickers are just small pieces of wood typically 1-2″ wide by about an inch high. Size doesn’t have to be exact on them, it’s more about them just being consistent in size and placement. We typically place 1 every foot between slabs we cut and stack. It helps them dry properly.

  4. RICHARD F HARPER on June 20, 2022 at 7:52 am

    Hello Nolan
    My question, once im down yo 14 to 20% on slabs,
    What sequence do i perform for my solar kiln?
    I have 4 vents behind baffle, 2 fans. Do i keep vents slighlty open, and introduce electric fan heater blower and set it for high temp 110 to 130 and keep.low rh 50s? to reach a desired mc 8 to 10%. Its libe oak, sycamore.

    Thx
    Richard Harper

    • Lancaster Live Edge on June 21, 2022 at 8:17 pm

      Hi Richard,

      I don’t have much hands on experience with drying in a solar kiln so unfortunately I’m not sure what the answer would be to that.

  5. Dan on June 16, 2022 at 9:49 am

    I have 3 black walnut trees I’m taking down (2 18″ diameter & 1 36″ diameter). I would hate it to just go to waste or firewood. If I cut into slabs and air dry outdoors, how do you recommend storing them. What thickness would you recommend (I don’t have a specific use for them)

    Thanks.

    • Lancaster Live Edge on June 21, 2022 at 8:16 pm

      We typically saw 3″ thick. It’ll lose some thickness from drying and also some from flattening the slabs when you’re ready to use them. Normally you’re left with 2-2.5″ thick pieces!

  6. David on June 16, 2022 at 8:56 am

    We have a 24″ hickory tree that died over last summer – from new home construction when driveway was cut in near it. Its been standing about 1 year dead and we are getting ready to take it down. I would like to cut some slabs from it – does the 1 year it has been standing dead be considered when determining dry time?

    • Lancaster Live Edge on June 21, 2022 at 8:15 pm

      Whoever you hire to cut your slabs may have a moisture reader! It’s hard to say as it depends on a lot of factors, but a moisture reader will give you a reading on the moisture content of different areas of the slab.

      The portable one we use is made by wagner. Cheaper ones are typically less accurate in my experience.

  7. Tyler on June 5, 2022 at 2:08 pm

    I am about to get three 8 foot sections of red oak (38 in-28 in diameter) slabbed at the local sawmill to sell. This is my first time doing this and so I appreciated this posting! I intend to stack it European style (stacked in the same order and alignment that they came from the tree, with 1×1 stickers every foot between each slap and with one on the ends to prevent end warping. Once it is all stacked under the storage tent, I will seal the ends with anchorseal from UC, and put some cinders on top to keep them from warping. Then let it sit for the next 2 years. Am I missing anything vital?

    Thank you for your post again, super helpful!

    • Lancaster Live Edge on June 21, 2022 at 8:10 pm

      The stickering is the most important! Also stacking them on a level surface. The cinders don’t typically do a whole lot. When wood wants to move, it does. You can always flatten them once dry, so we normally cut ours a bit thicker than we want them knowing we’ll lose some of the thickness at that time.

  8. Paul Hyduke, Honey Brook, PA on May 1, 2022 at 11:51 am

    Hi Nolan,
    Should slabs be cut immediately after felling the tree?
    Just cut down 36-inch black walnut. Have 3, 10 foot logs.
    should the ends be sealed before slabbing or after?

    • Lancaster Live Edge on June 21, 2022 at 8:21 pm

      Hi there,

      We typically seal the ends after cutting. It doesn’t hurt to cut right away or leave sit. Some of our logs sit in our sawmill’s logyard for a year or so before we cut them.

  9. Mike Diebold on April 10, 2022 at 6:05 pm

    I had a large Maple tree cut down and the lowest section of it has a very interesting shape. I’d like to turn it into a table. It is roughly 4 feet in diameter, but the perimeter is very irregular. I’d like your advice on a few things, since this slab is cut perpendicular to the tree. Do I still dry it the same way as a conventionally cut plank? I’ve seen recommendations of sealing the end grain to prevent splitting, but the entire surface is end grain – surely I don’t seal it, or do I? My plan is to use a chain saw to rough cut a round slab, then use a router sled to make the slab uniform thickness (larger than my eventual end thickness). Once it dries, assuming it isn’t split, I’ll use the routing sled to bring it evenly down to my desired thickness. Does this sound reasonable, or like I have no idea what I’m doing?
    Thanks very much!!

    • Lancaster Live Edge on June 21, 2022 at 8:23 pm

      The process is relatively similar. You sticker the slabs and dry. No need to seal the grain on them! The do often check, but when that occurs we use epoxy resin to fill the void.

  10. Tim Liberty on February 23, 2022 at 7:52 pm

    Nolan. I Have a 4 ft by 4 in white oak round slab. Current moisture readings average about 28%. Thinking of putting it out this summer in the sun with a tin roof covering and on sticks for air circulation. Any thoughts. Currently in garage on cement slab and on sticks. Cut in March 2021. Thanks. Tim

    • Lancaster Live Edge on February 24, 2022 at 2:32 pm

      to me that seems like the ideal way to air dry it. You might wanna put some weight on it so it stays flat

      • Lancaster Live Edge on March 22, 2022 at 7:28 pm

        And put sticks every few inches to keep everything flat!

  11. Tom W. Potter on September 29, 2021 at 10:45 am

    I have just cut down a 5 foot diameter silver maple. I am interested in cutting some slabs and cross sections for future projects. I read your information about drying and I wonder if the end grain should be sealed as soon as it is cut. I was told to use a Green Wood Sealer such as Anchor Seal From UC Coatings. Thanks in advance for any information you can offer. Tom

    • Lancaster Live Edge on December 28, 2021 at 4:29 pm

      Hi Tom,

      Yes we would typically seal the end grain after it’s cut. This helps with the wood checking and getting large cracks at the ends since they dry the quickest.

  12. Maria Azeredo on August 29, 2021 at 2:01 pm

    Thank you. This was very helpful as I’m trying to have a live edge table made and everyone has a different opinion about the drying process

    • Lancaster Live Edge on December 28, 2021 at 4:38 pm

      To each their own! Glad the blog was helpful. Best of luck with getting your table built!

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