7 Woodworking Nightmares Caused by Moisture

Posted by Tom Laurenzi on Apr 30, 2014 4:02:00 PM

Poorly-made wood can ruin a professional's reputation.Professional woodworkers know that there are many risks attached to allowing moisture in wood to go unchecked for too long. In order to monitor their specific moisture-related risks in wood, these professionals use a number of moisture meters, such as pin-type and pinless meters to find moisture in wood. With the aid of these devices, woodworkers can verify that the wood they’re working with is properly dried before sending out their products, whether they’re drying lumber, making wood flooring, furniture, or structural supports for a house.

However, what happens when moisture meters aren’t used in the manufacture of wood products? Without the use of a reliable moisture meter, finding pockets of moisture in wood is reduced to a woefully inaccurate process of “eyeballing it” that will miss moisture problems that could be hiding within a piece of lumber, even something as thin as a plank.

Wood needs to be in the appropriate equilibrium moisture content (EMC) determined by the year-round conditions it will be exposed to before being shipped out. If the wood does not reach the right EMC, numerous problems may occur, such as:

1) Shrunken Wood Planks

What happens to wood that is stored in an environment with a significantly higher moisture content than the site of its final installation? Wood is a hygroscopic material, meaning that is prone to absorbing moisture: however, the reverse is also true.

Wood can lose moisture in a dry environment just as easily as it absorbs moisture in a humid one. When wood that is stored in a place with high excess moisture is moved to a location that is devoid of moisture, it loses some of its excess moisture to the air of the new environment. This, in turn, can cause the wood to constrict over time.

Dehydrated wood loses its shape and can become unsightly. The severity of this effect will vary depending on the specific species of wood used, what it is used for, and just how much of a discrepancy there is between the conditions that the wood was acclimated to and the conditions in which the wood is being used.

2) Swollen Wood Planks

Swollen floor planks crown, creating an uneven surface. You can see this effect by looking at the shadows cast on each plank in this photo. The opposite of the previous problem occurs when wood starts to absorb excess water. Plank flooring, boards, beams, etc. that have too much moisture in them are susceptible to a host of problems, not the least of which is the physical swelling of the wood.

In wood floor planks, swelling from excess moisture can cause cupping, crowning, and buckling, even in engineered hardwood.For furniture, swollen wood can be a severe problem, as it can make assembly of the wood more difficult, and the final product unstable. Joints where multiple pieces of wood that are swollen connect can become broken by the pressure caused by the swelling, essentially breaking that piece of furniture.

3) Delamination

Also known as buckling, this is one of the more obvious and extreme forms of damage to wood flooring. This problem is identified by the complete separation of a section of flooring from the subsurface material.

There can be a number of reasons why this happens, from improper sealing of the wood planks to the adhesive beneath, to a lack of sufficient nails, or to severe flaws in the subfloor itself (such as too much moisture). When moisture is the root of the problem, there may be other issues as well by the time the damage is severe enough to cause the planks to start separating from the floor.

4) Mold Growth

Mold-ridden wood can pose a serious health risk to people with allergies. This is one of the more insidious hazards related to excess moisture in wood. Not only can mold compromise the strength and integrity of wood, it can pose a severe health risk to people who are exposed to it, particularly to those with compromised immune systems or allergies.

Excessive mold spores coming off of a piece of wood can result in minor to severe respiratory infections, so preventing the growth of mold colonies in the first place is a very important task. By inspecting wood thoroughly with a moisture meter, woodworkers can make sure that there is no hidden moisture in their wood just waiting to become mold colonies.

5) Weakness in Load-Bearing Wood Items

As wood swells or shrinks from changes to its moisture content, the changes in its size and shape caused by this phenomena can distort the joints in an object made of wood. Joints where multiple pieces of wood are connected may weaken as the wood pushes against or pulls away from the joint, loosening fastenings and weakening that joint.

Weakened joints are more susceptible to catastrophic failure when exposed to sudden force. For example, a chair that has loosened joints may break if someone jumps on it, or the frame of a house might collapse under hurricane-force winds. It is rare that the swelling of large objects such as a wooden support beam are so affected by moisture, but it is a concern nonetheless.

6) Insect Infestations

Termites can destroy a piece of wood with incredible speed. Other insects can prove to be a nuisance as well. Moisture-rich wood is a key source of nutrition for many common pests, such as ants or termites. A large pocket of moisture attracts pests to that piece of wood, which incurs a host of problems. Given enough time, these infestations can spread to the rest of the building, causing more problems. Few things will upset a customer as quickly as finding out that their brand new couch is full of stinging, biting insects.

7) Bad Odor

Improperly-dried wood can stink to high heaven. As mold spores spread and the wood rots, the musty odor given off by that piece of wood can become overpowering.

This problem might not sound as severe as some of the others on this list, but it can ruin a woodworker’s reputation. After all, nobody likes their house and furniture to smell bad.

Thankfully, this problem is rare because woodworkers use moisture meters to spot excessive moisture in wood before working with it.

Get the Job Done Right with a Moisture Meter

Of course, the old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true for all of these moisture-related issues. Using a moisture meter to detect a potential problem before it becomes an absolute catastrophe can save you money, time, and headaches down the road.

Don’t gamble with the 7 woodworking nightmares; be sure of your work with a reliable, top of the line moisture meter from Delmhorst today.

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Topics: Wood Flooring moisture meters productivity