Certainties and Drying Timber

Death and taxes are said to be the only certainties in life, but as far as I can see the Repbulicans are dealing with the former and spiritualists and scientists the latter. But there are other certainties and that is the need by cabinetmakers for well dried timber when making a piece of furniture. When you work to a tolerance of 1/32″ and finer, you can’t use wood that isn’t dry.

There are several rules of thumb that cabinetmakers used in the 18th century. For every 1/4″ thickness, a piece of timber needed a year of drying. Proper air drying for a dining table top of 7/8″ took at least four years. The repercussions of not taking this time are evident over a long period of time or over a very short period of time when subjected to central heating.

The average humidity in an English home without central heat is 55%–a NYC apartment’s 3-5%. (During the summer it rises.) Since wood never stops absorbing and releasing moisture, great disparities of moisture in the atmosphere will wreak havoc on a piece that was made with poorly dried timber. It will also affect one made with dried timber but much less drastically.

I remarked a breakfront bookcase several blogs ago where the doors and drawers were sticking or out of line. I know the piece suffered many trials, but it was clearly made with timber that had not been adequately dried. That cabinetmaker could not have known that there would be such a thing as central heating, let alone NYC apartments, but even so, the quality of his materials has since been revealed. Maybe death and taxes are certainties after all.

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